1981 revisited

Forty years on, we chart the dramatic story of City's action-packed - and heartbreaking - FA Cup final and replay against Tottenham Hotspur

It may have subsequently ended in the heartbreak of a Wembley replay defeat but 40 years ago today, City played their part in one of the most memorable and dramatic of FA Cup finals.

The 100th staging of the world’s oldest and most revered football knockout tournament saw a resurgent City side tackle Tottenham Hotspur.

It was a classic encounter.

North versus South, a star-studded Spurs side buttressed by Argentine World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa pitted against the perfect blend of youthful exuberance and gritty experience embodied by John Bond’s City cavaliers.

It was a contest that was to stretch over 120 draining and dramatic minutes on the Saturday before taking in a pulsating Thursday night replay under the Wembley lights that see-sawed one way then the other.

The two games featured fantastic goals, moments of anguish and a host of indelible memories.

Yet the 1980/81 season that ended at Wembley had begun in turmoil with City mired at the bottom of the old Division One table before Malcolm Allison was sacked in October and replaced by John Bond who was recruited from Norwich City.

The transformation in fortunes, as City skipper Paul Power admits, was almost instantaneous.

“I’ve never seen such a turnaround,” Power recalls when weighing up Bond’s impact.

“They were both super confident men, they both knew the job. I don’t know if Mal thought that because he had had time at City before he was the top man, maybe didn’t have to listen to his assistants around him.

“Whereas John Bond had his team of three coaches and they did everything together. They were like a team as much as we were.

“John brought in Bobby McDonald, which allowed me to play wide on the left and then Tommy Hutchison brought us width on the right and he brought in Gerry Gow too. As good as Steve MacKenzie was, he needed somebody with him and that was Gerry. 

“Malc had his qualities in regard to individuals on the pitch and their roles.

“But when John Bond came in, his philosophy was get the ball to the front players.

“He had Kevin Reeves and Phil Boyer and they were both hard-working. Reeves was as good outside the box as Kenny Dalglish but probably not as ruthless in the box, a tremendous player who could hold the ball up.”

Former City and England goalkeeper Joe Corrigan, a man who more than most was used to the cavalcade of managerial comings and goings at the Club in his long and storied Maine Road career, was also impressed at Bond’s instant impact upon taking charge.

“He brought three really good, experienced players in in Bobby, Gerry and Tommy and played the young lads around those experienced players.

“From the day he took over to the end of the season we had one of the best records in the league.

"The change when John Bond came in was almost instant"
Joe Corrigan

“He changed the whole attitude in the way the lads trained. We kept the ball out wide with Tommy Hutch and got the ball in the box, coming in from wide angles and we thrived on that.

“It just boosted everybody’s confidence.”

With Corrigan the reassuring rock in goal, City’s back line saw full-backs Ray Ranson and McDonald supported by prodigious young centre-halves Tommy Caton and Nicky Reid.

Scottish terrier Gow brought the bite to a midfield also supplemented by captain Power’s lung-bursting energy with local lad Dave Bennett and the vastly experienced Hutchison providing the width on either flank.

Steve Mackenzie – purchased for £250,000 as a raw rookie from Crystal Palace by Allison – and former Norwich and England striker Kevin Reeves added the forward thrust to a side that was so much more than the sum of its parts.

From being at rock bottom, under Bond’s leadership City were suddenly a team transformed and reached the semi-finals of the 1981 League Cup before going one better in the FA Cup.

Ironically, our third and fourth round ties saw us pitted against a Crystal Palace side now managed by Allison for a second time and Bond’s former Norwich charges.

Bond’s cavaliers swept both away with contemptuous ease, romping to 4-0 and 6-0 victories respectively before City then demonstrated that we could also marry grit and character alongside our dashing verve and vivacity.

A banana skin of a fifth-round assignment away to fourth division Peterborough United was successfully navigated thanks to Tommy Booth’s smartly executed finish.

Our reward was a titanic quarter-final clash away to Everton that saw Power strike a dramatic 84th minute equaliser to secure a 2-2 draw and earn us a Maine Road replay.

A midweek crowd of more than 52,000 then shoe-horned into our famous former home to roar City on to a 3-1 victory – Power adding to Bobby McDonald’s brilliant brace to seal the deal.

And the skipper proved the man of the moment again in the semi-final, his stunning 100th minute effort via an indirect free-kick enough to deliver a 1-0 extra-time win over title-chasing Ipswich Town and set up that mouth-watering final against the men from White Hart Lane.

It was our first Wembley appearance in five years and, being the Centenary final, was a milestone moment for everyone involved.

Not least City winger Dave Bennett who also achieved the proud, historic distinction of becoming the first Black player to play for the Club in an FA Cup final and who produced two tremendous Wembley displays.

“I found out I was playing in the week. In those days they liked to name the team earlier to prepare you as it was a major event,” Dave recalls.

“The FA Cup final was a massive event – it was an all-day thing.

“With 1981 being the 100th final, there was even more on it between the two sides. Spurs obviously had the two Argentine lads and there was more publicity to the games.

“Being the first Black player to play for City at Wembley didn’t hit home. At the time I was just glad to be going.

“I was proud but didn’t want to let anyone down. You are proud for your parents and your friends… you want to make them all proud.”

“The build-up to the game was so exciting,” Paul Power recalls. “But nobody gave me the impression that they were nervous. John Bond and his coaches had prepared us really well and we took that into the game.”

Indeed, City did.

Tottenham may have been many bookies’ favourites, but Bond’s Blue bloods set about Keith Burkinshaw's Spurs with relish.

After Corrigan had made some fine early saves to deny both Graham Roberts and Tony Galvin, City seized control.

And on the half hour we deservedly took the lead thanks to a stupendous header from, of all people, Tommy Hutchison, a man never previously noted for his aerial prowess.

A slick City move saw Ray Ranson float in a teasing cross from the right flank with Hutchison – the oldest man on the field – defying all of his 32 years to rise and power past Milijia Aleksic with a bullet header from 15 yards.

“Sometimes I think Tommy’s goal gets forgotten,” Power says today.

“He never scored with his head, he rarely got into those areas – although he was a decent size, so he was always more than able and it was a tremendous effort.”

Dave Bennett had one of the best seats in the house when it came to watching Hutch’s wonder goal, with the winger involved in the build-up that led to Ranson’s pinpoint cross that the Scot finished off in such devastating fashion.

“I was chasing on to Ray’s cross and Hutch got in the way trying to head it and he did!” Dave chuckles today.

“It was a fantastic header, and just what we needed.

“All of a sudden you started to run harder, and those 30-70 challenges became 50-50 ones and we thought: ‘Get a second goal and the game is ours’, but unfortunately we never did.”

Steve MacKenzie came closest, seeing a shot cannon back off the post but even so, with just 10 minutes left and City holding firm, it looked as if Bond’s boys would prevail.

Instead, the game – and City’s fate – would turn on the cruellest of own goals as Hutchison went from the highest of highs to a sickening low as a Glenn Hoddle strike from an indirect free-kick deflected off the Scot’s shoulder and diverted away from a despairing Corrigan into the net.

“We had worked on defending that free-kick on the Thursday when we were training at our Selsdon Park hotel,” Joe recalls.

“Because of Glenn Hoddle’s ability with free-kicks, John Bond asked if we wanted a man on the post.

“I said no as if a man has the ability like Glenn has to bend it in the top corner, then you put your hands up.

“Hutch actually heard what they were thinking of doing and just as Glenn ran up, he decided to break away from the side of the wall.

“If he had stood tall and the ball had hit him in the chest who knows… it’s all if and buts.

“But he didn’t. Instead, it deflected off his shoulder into the opposite corner and there was me like a flying trapeze artist going the other way.”

It’s a moment that is still etched in Paul Power’s memory too and he echoes the goalkeeper’s regret.

“The coaches had prepared us really well about the threat of Hoddle from free-kicks and we set up in training and Joe said: 'Do not move off the wall',” Power added.

“We talked about Tommy Hutch coming off the wall in case Glenn bent it into the post or bar. We then decided we would stay as one and Tommy for some reason decided he was going to do what he wanted anyway, and it deflected off his shoulder and went in the opposite corner.”

Hutchison himself was always a larger-than-life character on and off the field, and still can’t resist a wisecrack about the moment that saw the Saturday game come to be immortalised as The Hutchison final.

He also took time to debunk – in his own inimitable style – the urban myths that had built up around what happened.

Speaking back in 2017, the former Scotland World Cup star revealed: “I remember being interviewed by Sky Sports. It was in a cafe, but the reporter was rude to the woman behind the counter, ordering her to keep the place quiet.

“She was probably paid a pittance so I decided to have some fun with the reporter and annoy him. 

“‘So Tommy’, he said, ‘What did it feel like to score at both ends?’ ‘I didn’t’, I said, ‘Both goals went in the same end’. He shouted ‘Cut’ and began again.

“‘What did it feel like to score with two headers?’ ‘I didn’t – their equaliser came off my shoulder’. ‘Cut.’ The woman couldn’t stop laughing.”

Back then however, the moment did leave its mark on Tommy as Joe Corrigan reveals.

“After the game Hutch was devastated – really devastated,” Joe recalled.

“I always remember on the Friday after the replay, driving back to Manchester and from the motorway, we could see the old Wembley with the twin towers in the distance on the coach.

“Hutch suddenly said: ‘I never want to go back there again.’ It was tough.”

“I think we outplayed them and outbattled them and that they were lucky to get another bite of the cherry,” Dave Bennett asserts.

“We were all sick after Hutch’s own goal, but we battled back, we hit the post and at the reception afterwards we said: “We’ve had a taste of it, now let’s win it on Thursday night.”

However, the feeling lingered that the Cup had been there to be won on the Saturday.

Corrigan – who was to earn the notable distinction of being voted man-of-the-match in both the final and replay – concurs.

“We should have won on the Saturday, but we didn’t so it’s bittersweet memories,” the City legend says today.

“Our day was Saturday and I think the replay was a bridge too far.

“On the Saturday we were the fitter and fresher team… even in extra-time and that’s where we should have won it but we just could not score the goal.

“Then we were all stood on the pitch at the end of extra-time almost wondering what happens now.

“You didn’t know what to do. In the end we walked up the steps, were introduced to the Queen Mother, walked back down and went to the dressing room.”

The skipper concurs that Saturday was the one that got away.

“Absolutely, we deserved to win it on the Saturday,” Paul Power asserts.

“We finished so much stronger. They had players who were sat down and who couldn’t run anymore. Glenn Hoddle had cramp like you wouldn’t believe, so their threat going forward was eliminated.

“While we still had players like Nicky Reid bombing through, playing it out from the back.

“I’ve never been as tired as I was in that extra-time, but we definitely would have gone on to win if it was a golden goal.”

It meant the sides had to do it all again the following Thursday and it was only the second time in the trophy’s post-war history that an FA Cup final had gone to a replay.

The 1970 replay between Leeds and Chelsea had taken place at a neutral venue – Manchester United’s Old Trafford.

However, with the FA Cup celebrating its centenary, the desire amongst the FA’s power brokers at Lancaster Gate was for Wembley to again stage the re-match on the Thursday night.

They also opted to put 20,000 tickets on open sale in London on the Sunday morning – much to Tottenham’s delight and City’s consternation.

Looking back now, that decision still rankles with Joe Corrigan.

To add to the keeper’s frustration, England played host to Brazil at Wembley, 24 hours before the replay.

Joe had been selected as part of the Three Lions squad and been told by manager Ron Greenwood that he would start.

But with a replay beckoning, the keeper then had to withdraw from the England squad in order to face Spurs once more.

“In my opinion the replay should have been at a neutral venue and held somewhere in the Midlands where it was fair for both sets of fans,” Joe says today.

“We then had to go all the way back to Manchester, all our fans had to go back to Manchester and the FA decided to put tickets on open sale in London on the Sunday morning.

“It was a travesty and then they arranged a game against Brazil at Wembley on the Wednesday. I had been picked for the squad and told I would play but then, obviously, had to withdraw.

“There were more than 50,000 Spurs fans there and I thought it was wrong asking all our fans to travel down to London again.”

Looking back 40 years on, Power also believes the physical and mental exertions of playing twice at Wembley inside five days, alongside the upheaval of travelling to and from the capital eventually told on City.

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“Definitely. To do it twice in five days, Saturday and Thursday, it was just a little bit too much and not enough recovery time,” Paul asserts.

“Mentally to lift yourself again was hard for both teams but Spurs didn’t have the travel involved that we did,” Corrigan pointed out.

“It’s only three hours travelling but it’s three hours on the motorway then staying in a strange hotel, and then the kick-off was at 7.30pm in the evening so you had all day on Thursday to think about it. It just drained you.

“Certainly, it didn’t work for us.

“A few of the lads had aches and pains and poor Gerry Gow had really bad ankles and he had them wrapped in ice right up until kick-off just to try and get him right.”

They may have been nursing aches and pains but a gutsy City side once more stood toe to toe with Burkinshaw’s men.

Though Ricky Villa opened the scoring with somewhat fortuitous eighth-minute strike, City quickly summoned up a perfect riposte sparked by one of the great Wembley goals… albeit an effort which was to be overshadowed later that night by Villa’s winner.

Steve MacKenzie demonstrated all his youthful verve and vivacity by smashing home a stunning 25-yard volley from an astute Hutchison assist before Kevin Reeves put us ahead from the penalty spot early in the second half after Dave Bennett had been brought down.

“Everyone goes on about the Ricky Villa winner, but Steve MacKenzie’s effort was the best of the lot,” is Joe Corrigan’s assessment.

“It was such a great strike, and no-one ever looks at the fact that it was Tommy Hutch again who was stood outside the box and glanced to his left, dinked a header to Steve who finished brilliantly.

“It was a phenomenal goal. You don’t get better strikes than that.”

“No one talks about Macca’s goal, but what volley that was. Amazing,” adds Dave Bennett.

“I was then brought down for the penalty by Graham Roberts and Chris Hughton – he was trying to terrify me all game.

“He was their strong man, I got sandwiched between the two so we got the penalty and Kevin Reeves scored and it was 2-1 and we thought 'This could be it.'”

With time ebbing away, Corrigan also got the scent of FA Cup glory.

But City’s dreams to be cruelly denied as first Garth Crooks brought Tottenham level on 70 minutes before Villa – the Spurs fall guy on Saturday – stepped up to stamp his mark on FA Cup history with an impudent skilful mazy run and dramatic finish that still makes Bond’s men wince to this day and which was voted Wembley goal of the century in 2001.

“At 2-1 up with 20 minutes left you think it could be on,” Corrigan admitted. “Their first two goals were very scrappy. The first I blocked, and the ball went straight to Villa; the second I’ve got a block in and it went to Crooks.

“Even for the winner, though it was great skill by Villa but Tony Galvin should not have been allowed to get down the field in the build-up.”

For Paul Power, the fatigue factor was the defining reason behind Villa’s dramatic late winner.

“Tired minds. The decision making was poor rather than the physical act,” the skipper reflects.

“If he is honest, Ray Ranson should have seen Villa outside the box instead of committing and allowing to come into the box.

“Once he got in there, he couldn’t challenge him, and it was then that he had his little bit of magic. I felt if we had dealt with him outside the box, he might have lost possession.”

Ranson concurs with the skipper’s appraisal.

“It’s my biggest regret that I didn’t tackle Villa,” he admitted speaking earlier this year. “He ran across me and I just put my leg out.

“The reason I didn’t tackle him was he was going away from goal. My challenge was half-hearted as I was frightened of conceding a penalty.

“I should have taken my chance and cleaned him out.

“I would say I’ve thought about that once a week for the rest of my life.”

Dave Bennett has his own take on the Argentine’s strike.

“If you look carefully, with Villa for his second goal, he kicked it twice - it doubled kicked and that’s what did Joe.”

“I do get sick of seeing Vila’s winner being constantly replayed,” Joe admits today.

“Give him credit. He had the upset of walking off the pitch after playing poorly in the first game and then to come back and score two goals in the replay, he played well.

“I thought it was 3-2 on the night but you would think it was 150-2, the way some people go on.”

It was a heart-breaking blow to lose out in such a fashion – but for Power time and a sense of perspective have helped him to look back and gain some positive reflections on the experience.

“I remember after the game all the players attended a reception and with us was Dragoslav Stepanovic who didn’t play.

“We went up to the reception like a broken team and Steppy suddenly shouted from the top of the stairs: ‘You are my heroes!’ He later went on to go into management and I’m not surprised.

“He was such a great guy, and so unselfish. He must have been gutted not to play but he still had feelings for his City teammates. A lot of others might have thought: ‘Serves you right for leaving me out.’

“The chairman Peter Swales then spoke at the reception and I’ll never forget his words.

“He said: ‘It’s better to have been there and lost than have not been there at all.’

“At the time I didn’t agree with him what with the disappointment. But, looking back, I’d rather have lost there than the semi-final.”

Forty years on form those two titanic tussles, pride is the overwhelming emotion for Dave Bennett too.

“It was an amazing experience, with all the highs and lows of football,” says Dave who is nowadays a respected pundit and co-commentator with BBC Radio Coventry.

After leaving City, Bennett would go on to taste FA Cup glory – ironically against Spurs – with Coventry City in 1987 where he opened the scoring in the Sky Blues’ 3-2 triumph

“To be a part of the final six years later and I get my revenge again against Spurs, it’s an incredible stat with another player (Gary Mabbutt) like Hutch scoring for both sides,” Dave adds.

“What are the odds on that?

“I always say I played in three finals which were some of the greatest to be played at Wembley.

“The proudest moment for me was not only being selected for Man City being a local lad but for my parents to be proud of me that I had a go and that I made it.”

Across more than 600 games in a storied City career, Joe Corrigan enjoyed many memorable moments.

And though bittersweet, he says he is still honoured at how he and his team-mates played a huge part in one of the most famous of post-war finals.

However, there is sadness too with two of the fondly remembered boys of ‘81 – Tommy Caton and Gerry Gow – no longer with us.

“It was an honour to be there and to play for the Club on such an occasion though I was just doing my job,” Joe adds.

“I was very honoured to get two man of match awards and to play in an FA Cup final.

“At the end of the day, I thought we did ourselves proud over the two games and were a little unfortunate to draw on the Saturday and gave a good account on the Thursday.

“Even though we lost, it was a pleasure to be there, especially after the start to the season we had.

“They were a great bunch of lads and it’s such a shame that Gerry and Tommy are no longer here with us.”