54 years ago today, just as Neil Armstrong was finalising preparations ahead of his momentous one small step for man, Manchester City were embarking on their own giant leap into Club folklore.
Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison’s boys of 1969 – already the reigning champions of England – achieved lift-off into the blue stratosphere of their own once again, this time in the hallowed surrounds of Wembley, as City overcame Leicester City 1-0 to win the FA Cup final.
Our Wembley wonders of April 26th, 1969, provided a fittingly flamboyant final full stop to the swinging Sixties and the Cup triumph offered further evidence – if any were needed – that the City side assembled by manager Mercer and visionary coach Allison was one of the finest post-war teams produced in this country.
The fact that half a century on, the names and faces of that squad still resonate so powerfully across generations of City supporters is arguably the greatest testament to their precocious talent and enduring impact.
Ever dependable goalkeeper Harry Dowd was a reassuring presence between the sticks and was marshalled by the rock of granite that was Mike Doyle with teenage titan Tommy Booth a formidable figure alongside him. That powerful central defensive duo was bookended by ever-dependable full-backs, skipper Tony Book and Glyn Pardoe, whose combined reading of the game and skill on the ball made their colleagues’ task all the easier.
The midfield shield was chief engine room stoker Allan Oakes. Formidable and forthright on the pitch, quiet and unassuming off it, his tireless work in the trenches allowed the majestic Colin Bell to exert his shimmering midfield talent to the full, with the sight of Nijinsky in full flight one of the wonders of the English game.
Equally memorable were the contributions from City’s wing wizards Mike Summerbee and Tony Coleman.
Now club ambassador, Buzzer was blessed with a blistering turn of pace and was one of football’s great entertainers though Mike could blend that silk with a touch of steel when required. TC, as he was affectionately known, was a more mercurial mischief-maker who led a many a befuddled defender a merry dance as he hugged the left touchline.
They provided the ammunition while Francis Lee and Neil Young served up a formidable firing mechanism – Lee a rumbustious, persistence presence in and out of the box with a laser-eye instinct for goal that saw him carve out his place in City legend
Young, meanwhile was the very epitome of attacking elegance with his slaloming runs and foot-sure presence allied to a happy knack of scoring when it mattered most.
Making up the 12 on duty at Wembley as substitute was ever-dependable defender David Connor who over the course of seven years at the Club never once let City down.
And overseeing that gifted group of players, of course, were messrs Mercer and Allison, a duo whose gifts and talents complemented one another to a tee.
Joe was the wise owl who helped mould all the disparate elements together into a cohesive winning formula, Malcolm the visionary coach who was light years ahead of his time in his tactical approach.
“The boss was like Sir Matt Busby - he had that history and was a great footballer and had won things as a player. But the boss needed Malcolm though,” Mike Summerbee recalls.
“Malcolm was so special, and he made players believe in themselves and feel part of it and proud to put the shirt on. He was also a brilliant man manager much like Pep today.”
Half a century on, the hair may now be greyer and thinner while the waist-belts have been loosened by a notch. But for the boys of ’69, memories of that wonderful day – and their adventures along the road to Wembley - are still emblazoned in vivid, glorious technicolour.
That said, our route through to the final wasn’t without its fair share of drama and intrigue.
Captain Tony Book recalls: “During the cup run we never looked too far ahead which I think was very important. We played each tie on its merits.”
After a 1-0 third round win over Luton Town, courtesy of a Francis Lee strike, it needed a Maine Road replay to overcome the challenge of first division rivals Newcastle 2-0 after a goalless draw at St James’ Park, thanks to goals from Neil Young and Bobby Owen.
Tommy Booth recalls: “We had a good run and when we beat Newcastle, you started to get that feeling it could be our year.”
An impressive 4-1 success at Blackburn followed in a delayed fifth-round tie interrupted by the vagaries of February frost and a bout of flu which laid the Rovers squad low, where Lee and Coleman both bagged braces, to set up a Maine Road quarter-final with Tottenham Hotspur.
As so often was the case back then, it was lethal weapon Lee who proved the decisive difference, the England striker firing City into the semi-final with a late winner.
For our late, great full-back Glyn Pardoe that was the moment when belief that City’s 13-year quest for Cup glory could be on truly took hold.
“When we drew Tottenham at home in the quarter-final that was the round where you needed to be at home,” Glyn recalled speaking in 2019. “Get through that and you were just one game away so we won that 1-0 thanks to Francis and I just thought our name could be on it.”
That set the scene for a titanic and tumultuous semi-final encounter at Villa Park against a vibrant Everton team which, just a year later, would be crowned English champions.
While City maintained their attacking ethos, the Merseysiders adopted a tactic of containment which looked like bearing fruit until a dramatic late intervention from teenage defensive titan Booth.
With less than a minute remaining, Mike Doyle headed down Neil Young’s in swinging corner and Tommy pounced by firing the ball into the roof of the net to secure City’s ticket to Wembley.
As a chuckling Francis Lee recalls, that day was also memorable for a somewhat unconventional motivational speech delivered by former City chairman Albert Alexander.
“Looking back to every game during the run they were positive wins. We just felt confident and then our biggest hurdle was in facing Everton in the semi-final at Villa Park,” said Francis.
“Most memorably, Albert Alexander our then chairman made a tear-jerking speech ahead of the game. The dressing room was reeking of embrocation when Joe suddenly said: ‘Quiet boys, the chairman would like a few words with you.’
“Albert, bless him, came in and said: “It’s a very good to be here. Good luck to everybody and if we win, we can get to Wembley. Then we’ll get plenty of money and win in front of a big crowd and then we can buy some new better players!
“You can imagine how well that went down!”
Come the final itself, it wasn’t just the poise and panache of the City side on the field that captured the nation’s attention that late April afternoon.
City also stood out from the crowd thanks to an eye-catching change kit that featured vertical red and black strips along with black shorts and socks.
Having also worn it in earlier rounds, including our semi-final victory over Everton, City cut a flamboyant dash underneath the Twin Towers and it has subsequently become firmly established as amongst City fans’ all-time favourite strips.
“The special kit was Malcolm’s idea I think,” reveals Tommy Booth.
“I believe that Malcolm had seen AC Milan wearing that shirt playing in Italy and he said he thought they looked awesome in that. He told us: ‘We’ll wear that too.’ And it seemed to work!”
The City squad travelled to begin their final preparations in the capital more than 48 hours before kick-off, first to attend the 1969 Footballer of the Year banquet before decamping to the Oatlands Park Hotel in Weybridge – a strictly teetotal establishment back then.
For many of the squad, the journey to Wembley prior to kick-off was almost as memorable as the game itself with the City team coach greeted by a wall of sound and a backdrop of blue as it approached the stadium.
“Coming up Wembley Way in the coach with police escort and seeing the twin towers and all the supporters and then driving into the tunnel area, it was just magical,” remembers Buzzer.
The walk from the old Wembley dressing rooms through to the tunnel out into the sunshine where they were met by a cacophony of noise from the 100,000-strong crowd was to prove both an unforgettable and nerve-wracking occasion.
“For me, the best part was when you walked out of the old Wembley. As you stepped out from the tunnel, you really did feel that sense of emotion,” Glyn Pardoe recalls.
“It was brilliant and really did get to you. I wasn’t really an emotional person when I played but that day, I must admit, it was a real spine-tingling feeling.”
It proved an equally emotional and moving moment for Buzzer who reveals why walking out to prepare to play in an FA Cup final was especially poignant.
“The FA Cup final is something so special and to be able to say you played in the final means so much,” Mike recalls.
“You also think of the players who never got the chance to play in a final like my father. He was 12th man for Preston in the 1938 final but never played and he had passed away by the time we got there in 1969.
“So, walking more than 100 yards out of the tunnel all those things flashed through your mind. The Stanley Mathews final of 1953, Bert Trautmann in 1956 playing with a broken neck… and suddenly you are there.
“Your family are there watching - it’s the occasion you dream about it from being a young boy.”
"An occasion you dream about as a young boy"
It was hardly a surprise then that the nerves were more than jangling as both sides lined up to await their introductions from guest of honour Princess Anne.
With the tension nigh on unbearable, the players needed a pressure-release valve and, as Tommy Booth giggles in recollection, chief joker in the pack Tony Coleman proved just the man for the moment.
“When we found out we would be introduced to Princess Anne so we didn’t quite know how to address her. Did we say “Princess’ do we call her ‘Anne?” no-one had a clue,” Tommy recalls.
“Then before we knew it, we were there lining up and the skipper Tony Book was introducing us all as we tried to get some air back in our lungs.
“Next to me was Tony Coleman and as he was introduced Tony just said straight out to Princess Anne: “Alright love, how are you doing?
“She said: ‘I’m fine thank you.’ Then Tony followed up with: “ How’s your Mam and Dad? ”
“We were all thinking ‘What’s TC doing?
“Tony then followed that up by saying: “Tell them I was asking about them, won’t you?’ and Princess Anne replied: ‘Yes, I will do.”
“I couldn’t believe it. Then about a week later the Club received a telegram from the Queen, saying “Thank you for asking how Princess Anne’s Mum and Dad were!
“That was TC down to a tee, but it really helped settle the nerves. That three or four minutes of introduction was important in calming us all down.”
For the City players there was not only the challenge of trying to release that pent-up tension and anxiety. For as well as coping with the enormity of the occasion, opponents Leicester would prove formidable opponents.
Though their season would ultimately end in the agony of relegation, in the formidable shape of teenage goalkeeper Peter Shilton, full-backs David Nish and Peter Rodrigues – who later captained Southampton to FA Cup glory in 1976 – and potent forwards Allan Clarke and Andy Lochead to name but a few, the Foxes possessed talent in abundance.
“It was a very talented Leicester side and they were a real handful,” Tony Book remembers, a point amplified by Skip’s colleagues.
“People mustn’t forget that Leicester were such a good team,” Glyn Pardoe added. “They had a bad season which can happen, but they could beat anyone on the day. And many favourites have been beaten at Wembley.
“Fortunately, though we were a side that always seemed to do well in big games and always came out on top.”
“It was an excellent Leicester side full of wonderful players,” Buzzer adds. “Crucially though, we got that early goal.”
Francis Lee remembers a game played by two sides determined to entertain and showcase their respective attacking armoury both to the Wembley fans and an expectant worldwide audience watching on TV.
“We were two very good, open, attacking football teams,” Francis adds
“It wasn’t the best of surfaces which didn’t suit our type of football but, despite that, it was a real good football match. It was very enjoyable to play in and all the more so given that we won!”
Chances aplenty were created by both sides, especially in a thrilling first half, with Harry Dowd having to spectacularly save a Clarke power-drive.
Young and Coleman both went close for City before Rodrigues spurned a golden opportunity for Leicester while a mis-hit Len Glover effort was cleared off the line.
However, as was to prove so often the case during that magical period of City dominance spanning the late 60s and early 1970s, it was elegant midfield maestro Neil Young who proved to be the man for the big occasion.
Debate about who provided the assist has been the subject of mirth and mickey-taking between Franny and Buzzer down the years but what isn’t in doubt is the beauty and aplomb of Neil’s 23rd minute finish.
Receiving the ball from Lee’s quick throw-in, Summerbee raced down the right flank, showing trademark tenacity and bravery to evade the attention of Allan Woollett before brilliantly firing in a pinpoint cross that fell to Young who unleashed a thunderous left-footed shot which powered past Shilton.
It was a thing of beauty befitting the gilded backdrop of a Wembley Cup final and a reminder of just what a special player Young was.
“Why Neil never played for England I’ll never know,” Tommy Booth laments. “He had one of the best left-foots going and he could use his head. He was just a lovely lad and a hell of a player.”
Skipper Book concurs, adding: “Neil had an educated left-foot and was a wonderfully elegant player and a huge talent as he showed that day at Wembley. He was definitely good enough to hold down an international place.”
Arguably the man with one of the best seats in the house was substitute David Connor who lived through every kick, header and chase from the bench.
“I was probably a bit younger than a few of the other guys and being a Manchester lad, it was an incredible experience for me,” David recalls.
“It’s every footballer’s dream to go to Wembley.
“My only frustration was that though I had played in the semi-final Malcolm said he wanted to go with a more attacking set-up for the final and I didn’t manage to get on but, to be fair, the win was everything.
“In those days, of course, there were only 12 players selected and the experience of the day and being involved was out of this world.”
Though both sides strove every sinew in search of more goals, Young’s strike settled the contest and secured the Cup for City, sparking scenes of utter jubilation amongst players and fans alike.
For our captain, Tony Book, the opportunity and honour of leading City to that FA Cup final success was all the more remarkable given that the full-back didn’t turn professional until he was 30.
At 35, Book became the third oldest captain in FA Cup final history and Tony’s pride and passion for the Club and his former team-mates still resonates when ‘Skip’ recalls guiding his colleagues up Wembley’s 39 steps towards the Royal Box before being presented with the iconic trophy by Princess Anne.
“To be captain of that side was something very, very special,” says Tony. “Leading the team up to the steps to the Royal Box at Wembley and lifting the Cup was one of the proudest moments of my career.
“Going up to receive the trophy from Princess Anne in front of all the City fans was so, so special.”
Francis Lee was equally taken with the sheer magnitude of what City achieved that day.
“When you climb up the steps you receive your medals as so many teams had done for decades before, you got a sense that you were walking on hallowed ground,” Francis recalled.
It was a heady feeling shared by Lee’s legendary City and England colleague Colin Bell, who sadly passed away in early 2021.
“In those days to win the FA Cup and to play for your club at Wembley, it didn’t come any better than that,” Colin recalled speaking in 2019.
“To get through all the rounds and all the challenges we faced and then to win the trophy – it was such an unbelievable feeling for us all.
“For me, winning the FA Cup was one of the big highlights of my career. I was lucky enough to play at Wembley for England on a lot of occasions but to be able to play there with City in a Cup final was indescribable.
“From being a small boy growing up in the North East, the whole village closed down when the FA Cup final was on and we all gathered round the few televisions there to watch the game.
“It was so special and unique – every single person gathered to watch it. You knew what it meant to everyone.”
Job done on the pitch, City’s post-match celebrations staged at London’s upmarket Café Royal, proved to be an equally memorable affair.
“The goings on afterwards were unbelievable,” Tommy Booth reveals. “We went back to a top hotel in London and you had to be there to believe it… but it was a very long night!”
For a fresh-faced David Connor, hailing from a humble Wythenshawe council estate with little or no knowledge of what the bright lights of London would entail, the whole experience was almost too much to take in. But City’s cup party wasn’t the only cause for jubilation for the young defender.
“When we went to the celebration, I can’t tell you as a young local lad what the experience was like. It was actually probably a bit beyond me in fact,” David admits.
“On the day we stayed at a fabulous hotel and we moved on to the Café Royal and I took my girlfriend, Val, with me.
“On July 5th we will have been married 50 years so that’s how I remember it as well. As you can see, 1969 was a double-special year for me.
“And for Val to get to share that experience was so, so special. For her, like me, to have come from a council estate to go to Wembley and London was such an amazing experience.”
The next morning, nursing the all-important silverware and one or two sore heads, City took the train back to Wilmslow where they boarded an open-top bus which carried the triumphant players, staff and trophy all the way to Albert Square in Manchester where they were greeted by an adoring 250,000 supporters.
“Coming back on the train to Manchester the next day and then getting the open top bus into the city centre was just as brilliant,” Tony Book remembers.
“From the station all the way through to the city centre the crowds were fantastic. The turn-out was amazing.”
Colin Bell adds: “To go the town hall on the double decker bus and see so many people there along the route and in the city centre really brought it home and reminded you what a big occasion it was and just what we had achieved. It was brilliant.”
Reflecting on that special achievement fifty years on is, though, a bittersweet exercise.
Three of the totems of our Wembley success, goalkeeper Harry Dowd, true blue central defensive rock Mike Doyle and Neil Young have sadly passed on.
And the off-field architects in manager Mercer, visionary coach Allison along with key backroom lieutenants such as Dave Ewing and Johnny Hart are also no longer with us.
To this day however, their collective influence still resonates a powerful hold on City fans across several generations.
For their part, in looking back all those years, one constant unites all the players as to why that special squad was able to achieve such great things.
The genius of Joe and Malcolm’s unique managerial alchemy were, of course, essential ingredients.
But the boys of ’69 also point to a shared unity of purpose and collective spirit that forged a team capable of overcoming any challenge and which created a host of memories that sustain to this day.
“There were some outstanding players in our side but it was a team and we played as a team,” stresses Francis Lee. “Looking back at clips of us from the time, I think we played a brand of very attractive open football.
“Don’t let anyone say that we didn’t have good players. That side was as good as anything City have had up until the recent years.”
Mike Summerbee is equally passionate about the collective power of that squad and the factors that combined to ensure that golden generation helped City amass so much silverware in such a short space of time.
“We were a complete team. You can’t pick individuals out. We were a unit and we won things because we played as a team,” Buzzer stressed.
“That Lee/Bell/Summerbee tagline is a fallacy. Neil Young was fantastic, Tony Coleman was a superb player and the best crosser of a ball from the left-hand side you would see.
“The late Mike Doyle, Allan Oakes, Glyn Pardoe, Tommy Booth, our skip Tony Book who I played against in the FA Cup for Swindon when Tony was at Bath City and he kicked lumps out of me! – I could go on.
“They were all such a special group of players.”
"It was a real team effort from one to eleven"
Colin Bell concurs: “As the other guys have said, it was a real team effort. From one to eleven, everyone settled down and we all pulled our weight and we got the results we deserved.”
For Glyn Pardoe meanwhile, another crucial factor behind City’s success in that period was easy to identify.
“I always put it down to being like a family,” Glyn adds. “From Joe and Malcolm down, we were one big happy family. Everyone knew everybody, the wives and families were close…it was terrific
“I still regularly bump into a lot of the lads and, immediately, it’s just like we were back in the dressing room all those years ago. We just get along like any other family.”
Above all though what resonates most powerfully is the sheer joy securing what was our fourth FA Cup triumph brought both to the players and supporters.
“Winning the FA Cup ranks with my very best memories,” declares Tommy Booth. “We won the league, the League Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup but winning the FA Cup was extra special.”
“To be able to say you played in an FA Cup final and won it meant and still means so much,” adds Buzzer.
“The league is harder to win and is the ultimate test, but I still think of the FA Cup as the favourite trophy to win,” states Glyn Pardoe.
“No-one can ever take that away from us,” David Connor added. “To get to the final and win it meant everything and I was just so lucky to be a part of that squad and will be eternally grateful to everyone at the Club.”
Fittingly, the final word as to the achievement and legacy of our 1969 triumph – as so often happened on the pitch – goes to Francis Lee.
“I think it’s the occasion and the whole build-up that make it so special. And in those days winning the FA Cup was more important to your club than winning the championship,” Francis recalls.
“It was always the highlight of the football calendar. There was so much written about it in the build-up and it was amazing to see the way that it gripped the nation.
“To win the FA Cup a year after winning the league and then to go on and win the League Cup and Cup Winners Cup the following year just proved what a special side we were.”