Wow – is it really 25 years since that epic day in 1999?

Over time, the Division Two play-off final against Gillingham has become the stuff of legend and who could ever have believed that the Kent minnows (with the greatest of respect to GFC), could have weaved ed their way into Manchester City’s DNA in such a huge way?

Mention Gillingham to any City supporter of a certain vintage and chances are they’ll go all misty-eyed and drift away to a game that tested each and every Blue to their very limit.

Our talented team of journalists have done a remarkable job on the official Man City website, finding new stories and people involved that day that have rarely if ever been heard.

That left the City Mag with something of a dilemma.

Were there any more stories to tell?

Were there any new angles left?

Well, it turns out there were, and they are in the pages that follow in this 1999 Play-off Special.

We speak with Nicky Weaver about the science of penalty taking and the data (or lack of) he had to work with ahead of the Gillingham clash.

Skipper Andy Morrison gives us a unique angle of the build-up to the final and also shares his utter despair as we went two goals down and was left contemplating “the worst summer ever”.

Richard Edghill – that most unlikely of penalty takers in the shootout - reveals how he got the gig and the rumoured ramifications for the Club should promotion be missed.

We also look at other stuff, such as what happened to the 23 other clubs who shared Division Two that season and where they are now in the league pyramid.

Plus, what was happening in the world on Sunday May 30, 1999, and former chairman David Bernstein reveals the answer to ‘what if?’ in regards to the Club’s destiny had a second season in the third tier been a reality.

We are delighted to also have a view from the opposition in the shape of the brilliant Joe Wilknson, whose hilarious cameos on Eight Out of 10 Cats and After Life have made him a huge star in the UK.

Joe recalls that day – and the pain of losing in such dramatic fashion with vivid clarity - as does legendary journalist, broadcaster and wine expert Oz Clarke - also a Gills diehard.

As always, there’s plenty more besides with some pictures of the day that have never seen the light of day before, thanks to former Club photographer Roland Cooke.

We’re pretty happy with it – and hopefully, you will be too…

Nicky Weaver, the 1999 play-off final penalty-saving hero, recalls the psychology of the shootout at Wembley – plus the thought process behind each kick and (lack of) data compared with today…

CITY MAG: Nick - during the 1998/99 season, how did we train for penalty kicks?

NICK WEAVER: During the season, it wasn’t something you could really practice. Sometimes, the lads might have wanted to take a few penalties at the end of training against me, Tommy Wright or one of the younger goalkeepers, but we never really did anything specific. There was no analysis of penalty takers back then – if you faced one during the season, you just picked a side, dived that way and that was it!

CITY MAG: How were the days leading up to the play-off final?

NW: If memory serves, there was a long wait to the game against Gillingham – maybe 10 or 11 days – and we practiced penalties every day after training until we played them. We’d moved to Maine Road for the training sessions because obviously the season had ended in terms of home games. We’d have 10 or 15 minutes, and the lads were pretty good – and I wasn’t to be honest! Maybe because there were no fans there and no pressure, they were more relaxed, I’m not sure. Paul Dickov – he never missed in training on the run up to the final and even though I knew where he was going to put it, I couldn’t get near it. He was like an automatic tennis ball machine – the ball went in the same place every time! He never missed for about 10 days running.

CITY MAG: Who was our keeper coach and what was he saying/advising? Did he give you any specific tips?

NW: It was Alex Stepney, and his advice was to choose a side to dive, stick to it and make yourself as big as you can, and I took that into the shoot-out. These days, the lads have it printed out on an iPad after the analysts have studied opposition penalty takers and then they’ll come to a collective decision about which way you should dive after discussing the day before, so you’d already have a plan going into the game whereas back then, you went with your gut.

CITY MAG: There were no stuttered run-ups or players attempting a Panenka back then, either

NW: Yeah, it was in the 2000/01 season when I first got dinked! Paolo Di Canio did it, but prior to that, it was a case of a player picking a corner and striking the ball. Nobody ever went down the middle, so it’s actually changed a lot since then. And keepers never really just stood up and stayed pretty central. It was rare, if ever.

CITY MAG: Did you ever think the play-off final might go to penalties?

NW: Not really. I think we’d beaten Gillingham 2-0 fairly recently so I didn’t even think it would go to extra time. We had a good mix of players and were in great form, so I just thought we’d win in 90 minutes. What actually happened was quite incredible!

CITY MAG: You were just 20 years old – did that help as you seemed so confident and nerveless?

NW: Maybe – at that age, you’ve not been scarred and it’s only as you get older and, as a keeper, you’ve made every mistake in the book and know how it could go that you start to get more anxious in pressure situations, but I felt no pressure whatsoever. I thought I’d just bounce about a bit, maybe save one and see where that took us. I was an upward curve in my career and wasn’t carrying some of the baggage that the other lads were.

CITY MAG: So, we’ve snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat, and after extra time, we go to penalties. Let’s go through each one… Where are you when Kevin Horlock steps up to take the first one?

NW: I was stood next to the linesman, and I quite fancied Kev to score to be fair. He always jokes whenever I see him that he scored in normal time and the penalty shoot-out but Dicky – who scored and then missed – gets all the credit! I was confident he’d score - and he did.

CITY MAG: Next up, Gillingham’s first spot-kick. Paul Smith is coming towards you – what’s going through your mind?

NW: I figured that because he was a right-footer, he’d go to my right. I always thought it made perfect sense for somebody who wasn’t confident to hit it more naturally to the side their shooting foot favoured. He did and I managed to save it with my left foot. I don’t think he meant to hit it where he did, but I think it was key that we were at the City end and those goals must have looked that much smaller and me that much bigger!

CITY MAG: Then Dicky steps up and strikes one post, then the other, so the score stays 1-0. Did you think from your angle it was in?

NW: Because he’d not missed all week and scored that equaliser, I thought his confidence would be up and there was no way he’d miss – I was just waiting for the net to bulge, but it never did.

CITY MAG: Next up, Adrian Pennock…

NW: I’m not sure why, I just decided to make myself as big as possible, but I went the wrong way and he struck it so well that I was waiting for it to hit the back of the net, but it just kept going towards the City fans! You can see I have a split-second delayed reaction before celebrating.

CITY MAG: Terry Cooke steps up for us next…

NW: Yeah and he’d not had his best game that day. He’d had a great season since joining us and was a good, technical player so I was confident he’d score– and he tucked away into the bottom right corner.

CITY MAG: So, it’s 2-0 as John Hodge steps up…

NW: For this one, I chose the wrong way and he hammered into the top right corner. I just guessed wrong this time. It was a really good penalty that I don’t think I’d have saved it if I had chosen the right side.

CITY MAG: It’s now 2-1 and Richard Edghill steps up…

NW: I know – and I was thinking, ‘what’s Edgy doing?’ Surely Michael Brown, Gareth Taylor, or Ian Bishop? But anyway, Edgy steps up and whether he meant to hit it as high as he did or not, but it kissed the underside of the crossbar and three keepers on the line wouldn’t have saved that.

CITY MAG: It’s 3-1 now and the pressure on Guy Butters is immense… what was your thinking?

NW: It was a pressure kick. I was sort of in the moment and wasn’t sure of the score, so I asked the linesman, ‘If I save this, is that it?’ and he said it was. I asked if he was sure, and he said yes. Guy was a left-footer so I thought I’d go left and sure enough, he struck it quite well, but I managed to two big hands on it and keep it out.

CITY MAG: The City fans go wild, we have won and are promoted. Do you remember the immediate aftermath?

NW: I do. I pulled a face I’d never done before or since, waved the lads over and as they started coming across, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t really want this to end’. It was a feeling I can’t really explain but I just set off towards where my family were sat and then ran around the gravel track, as it was then. I then jumped back onto the pitch, I’d started to flag and big Andy got hold of me, wrestled me to the ground and the last thing I really wanted was a 20-man pile on! I don’t know why I did it – it just happened and I’m glad I did because 25 years later, we’re still talking about it.

CITY MAG: Is it true you were struggling for breath beneath that pile of bodies?

NW: Yeah, because I was out of breath already and then you’re under this mass of bodies, so when they got off, it took me a few minutes to get my breath back because I was puffing away.

CITY MAG: Did you speak to their keeper Vince Bartram afterwards?

NW: No, I didn’t, and I regret that a little because it was the first thing I should have done but I was 20 and just went wild and had a mad run instead. I was just caught up in the moment. I played over 200 games for City but it’s as though I only played one! But I suppose it was where the fairy-tale started. It was huge for the Club and it’s amazing to think that we are still talking about it today.

Portrait shots: Kev Cummins/Interview: David Clayton

One of the UK’s best-loved comic actors and writers is also a lifelong Gillingham supporter. Who better than the brilliant Joe Wilkinson – best known for his wonderful cameos on 8 out of 10 Cats and his roles in Ricky Gervais’ After Life, The Cockfields and Sex Education – to recount that fateful day in May 1999…

CITY MAG: Joe, thanks for giving the City Magazine your time…

JOE WILKINSON: Not all – it might open up some small wounds but thank you for having me.

CM: So, how did you become a Gillingham fan?

JOE: My dad was a North Londoner and a Spurs fan, but I grew up in Kent and my big brother Rob was a Gillingham fan. I might have had a bit more glory as a Spurs fan and I think I sort of hold it against my brother a bit! Technically, the nearest to my house would have been Charlton, which wouldn’t have been much better, but I just followed my brother, which is the same for many little brothers around the world, and that’s cool.

CM: Do you recall your first game?

JOE: I’m not 100% sure because it was a gradual, slow build. I’d go occasionally when somebody dropped out and my brother would give me a spare ticket and I wasn’t fully invested to begin with and if I’m honest, the first few games were under duress! Then, during my teens, I was pretty much there all the time. It was like, ‘oh, how did that happen?’ I’m a season-ticket holder now as well but can’t attend all the game due to work, but there was a time in my teenage years when I couldn’t imagine life without being at the game each weekend.

CM: So, what was a 20-something Joe doing back in the 1998/99 season?

JOE: I think I was working in Millbank Tower delivering mail in a big tower block – and it doesn’t get any more glamourous than that! I was pushing a little cart around, being ignored by people in suits. It was quite nice actually and was genuinely one of my favourite jobs because it was 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the afternoon and then I could do whatever I wanted in-between. That sort of sums up government jobs. I’d go to the local bookies and put what they now call an acca on – a really stupid bet which never came in – for a £1. I don’t really bet but if I do, it’s a £1 here or there and I like to pay in cash in a bookies so there’s no cash-out option and I get real money back if I do win. If I ever put a £5 bet on, I’d need to sit down straight after…

CM: So, where you going regularly during the ‘98/99 campaign?

JOE: I was. I think Walsall and Fulham were doing really well as well as you guys. It’s funny because my first interaction with Man City was in the lower leagues, so to see where you are today it’s like ‘Christ Almighty!’ I saw you just as I did Walsall and Fulham – on a level playing field with us, really.

CM: In the final few weeks of the season as the play-off places were being decided, were you keen to avoid City?

JOE: For me it was all about getting to go to Wembley. I don’t think we’d ever been in the play-offs before or to Wembley ever and I genuinely couldn’t get my head around it. It was like, ‘are we really going to watch Gillingham? At Wembley?’ It was more about that, until the actual day and then I was desperate for us to win. But now we get down to the nitty gritty about being robbed…(laughs). Getting to Wembley, it’s kind of rare isn’t it? And looking back, it was quite cool it was against Man City.

CM: Did you have an issue getting tickets? There were 30-35,000 Gills fans there, that day…

JOE:  It just shows that when push comes to shove, there are a load of us. I’ll be honest, my whole life as a Gills fan is through my brother. He sorts the tickets out, reminds me who we are playing and when and between him and his best mate Graham Saunders, they’ve always sorted me out – and still do – which is embarrassing, but I’m not going to change at 49, am I?

CM: So, on to the painful bit… you go 2-0 up, the game is over and then Kevin Horlock pulls one back on 90 and you see the board go up with five additional minutes – did you fear the worst?

JOE: It was more like eight minutes! Five minutes, though? Really? You just didn’t get five minutes back then and if I was in a Gills pub now, I’d be saying that it felt like things were conspiring against us. It felt really cruel and then Dickov makes it 2-2. I just looked down and didn’t want to see the chaos at the other end… there was just stillness at our end I just knew we would lose from there on. The momentum was all with City.

CM: Then extra time comes – not much happens and it’s a penalty shootout. Did you feel having that at the City end was key to what came next?

JOE: I do, absolutely – it just gives you that edge.100% it felt like a massive advantage. And our penalties… God Almighty. We just capitulated in the penalty shootout.

CM: But what character from the Gills, though, as you would go up via the play-offs – scoring two late goals against Wigan – the following season…

JOE: Yeah it was. I’ve got a lovely picture of me with my dad and brother from that day. I’ve nothing from the year before, funnily enough! It’s funny because Gills fans still say ‘we could have been where Man City are had we won the 1999 play-off final’  and I always say, hang on, we did go up the season after!’

CM: Do Gillingham fans feel a connection with Manchester City fans?  Gillingham will be forever part of the fabric of our DNA, but is it reciprocated in any way?

JOE: I don’t think it’s a connection we particularly enjoy because that memory is so painful. I’ve seen banners at City games saying, ‘From Gillingham to world domination’ and I find it quite funny. I’ll be honest – I’m laissez-faire  about other teams and I can’t hate another club because it’s not in my nature. I don’t look at it like that. We are part of your history which is quite cool, really, and not something I should probably publicly say. It stings but it is in both clubs’ history. I watch Man City now more than any Premier League team because they’re just insane to watch. I’m paying the licence fee to watch Foden, De Bruyne and… Christ Almighty! I’m just glad some of your lads are English with the Euros coming up – Foden, Grealish, Stones, Walker.. yes please! So thanks for that.

CM: Do you think it shows a lot about City and our fans that, despite winning the Champions League and winning the Treble, we still celebrate the day we beat your club rather than pretending we were never down in the third tier?

JOE: I do, but I’d like you to send us some of your younger players on loan! Imagine that… oh my God! I think the City fans from back then can enjoy the success more because you suffered back then. 99% of us never have any glory in a season, so when you do, it’s special. But In think you’ve had your fair share now so.. let’s have some, please!

CM: Do you have any reminders at all about the 1999 play-off final?

JOE: Just one! I had the pleasure of working - and becoming good friends with - Craig Cash, writer, and star of The Royle Family - some years back. He’s obviously a bgi Blue and for my birthday a few years back, he sent me a pin badge with Dickov – ah, I can’t even say the name – in that sliding knee celebration and if it had been anyone other than my hero Craig Cash, I think it would have gone straight in the dustbin, but because it was him, it’s sort of got pride of place in my office.

CM: Joe, it’s been an absolute pleasure and you’re always welcome at the Etihad where there is an open invitation for you and your good lady…

JOE: You know, I might take you up on that as I’ve never been to the Etihad before. I might keep my head down if I’m in the home end… but I guess if any away fan is going to be welcome among City fans is somebody from our lot… and it’s been lovely reminiscing about being robbed!

Pictures: Petra Exton /Interview: David Clayton

Our former skipper highlights the 1998/99 campaign’s pivotal moments…

For many City fans, the bargain signing of Andy Morrison was the 1998/99 season’s most pivotal moment.

Criminally underrated as a footballer, Andy’s no-nonsense approach to defending, plus his passing range and physical presence was exactly what Joe Royle needed to lead his side, and though the captaincy wouldn’t come until later that season, his impact was immediate and what had been a short-term loan move quickly became an £80,000 permanent deal.

Arguably, it was one of the best value for money deals the Club has ever done.

As uncompromising as ‘Mozzer’ was on the pitch, it was matched by his eloquence and intelligence off it. Here was a leader looking for a spiritual home, and he became an instant cult hero with the City fans.

Later, Joe Royle would claim his captain had dragged City “kicking and screaming out of Division Two”.

And he was right.

Just 13 years later, commentator Alistair Mann would utter the memorable line, “Cometh the hour, cometh the captain” as Vincent Kompany headed the goal that beat Manchester United on the way to a first Premier League title for 44 years.

Those words could have been said about Morrison numerous times during what would become an historic, almost seismic campaign in Manchester City’s long proud history.

“The first impression of Manchester City and Maine Road I got was when I walked onto the pitch and it was like, ‘wow’,” said 'Mozzer'.

“I’d been to Maine Road before as a player, but nothing had fazed me or stuck in my mind, but when I arrived as a Manchester City player, it really hit home.

“There was about 25,000 there the day I made my debut against Colchester – I think City had won five of 15 league games and taken 21 points from a possible 45 – and yet the ground was almost full.

“I knew straight away that, with all respect to my last club Huddersfield Town, I was at a huge club and things couldn’t have gone any better because I scored what would be the winning goal in a 2-1 win and for me, it was the perfect start.

“I was aware of the nerves and anxiety surrounding the club, to have started so well on a personal level was as much as I could have asked for.”

That was Halloween 1998 – and for once that season, it was a treat rather than a trick.

Such was Morrison’s impact, that the City fans had been singing “Sign him up, sign him up, sign him up!” within minutes of his home debut and the Blues took that momentum into the next game away to Oldham Athletic.

It was going to get ever better for our new defensive colossus in that game, as he scored the best goal of his career against the Latics to cement his immediate bond with his legion of new admirers.

“I remember Boundary Park was packed to the rafters and about two thirds of them were City fans,” he recalled.

“We were 2-0 up when I headed a pass to the Goat, he headed it back to me and I volleyed the ball into the top corner from about 20 yards – I didn’t get too many goals like that but that was two in two and we won the game 3-0.

“I remember the lads coming up – Kev, Edgy were like, ‘Where did that come from? We thought this guy looks like he’s head of security and then you score a goal like that!’”

Jamie Pollock wore the captain’s armband at that time, but Morrison was born to lead Manchester City.

That immediate fillip in form was followed by a disappointing 1-0 loss at Wycombe and a 0-0 draw with Gillingham at Maine Road.

Mozzer would power home a header in a 1-1 draw with Luton Town to make it three goals in his first five games, but the team was still desperately lacking in confidence, and a 0-0 draw at home to Bristol Rovers was followed by that infamous 2-1 defeat to York City.

Something had to give - and that was making Mozzer captain for the remainder of the season.

“The loss at York didn’t result in any watershed moment where we cleared the air, got physical or anything like that,” he recalled.

“It wasn’t my place at that time. I just needed to make sure I was doing my job and ticking all the boxes of the things I needed to do, but I was still new, and I needed to earn the respect of my team-mates and the staff, first.

“Not long after, Joe (Royle) called me into his office, told me Jamie wasn’t playing at that point, I’d made a great impression, and I had the lads’ respect, so he’d like me to take the captain’s armband.

“I was honoured, and I called Jamie because I wanted everything to be right and he said he completely understood and was fine with it.

“I can’t recall any pivotal moments in the run to the play-offs, and yet everything was pivotal and mattered if that makes sense?

“Fans might have their own opinions as to where the key moments of that season were but for me, it was a gradual build up of momentum in that second half of the campaign and if things hadn’t been right, Joe or Willie (Donachie) would have pulled us all to once side and said as much, so I feel they felt things were going in the right direction.

“For me, there was more of an edge in training, a better focus and determination that was all leading towards that game with Gillingham.”

After Wigan gave the Blues an almighty scare in the play-off semi-final, City booked a place in the final at Wembley with Gillingham.

Mozzer, however, was a huge doubt due to the deterioration of his cartilage and the constant discomfort he was in.

But for a player who once took the field with a broken foot (and a gallon of painkillers) with one of his former clubs, he was never going to allow his damaged knee to stop him leading Manchester City out at Wembley for the first time in 13 years.

“I had an injection in my knee joint which was somewhere between cortisone and a ;pain killer before the game," he said.

“It was just about trying to get through the 90 minutes because I knew I was having an op the week after, so I was just being patched up. That would never happen today, of course, but it did back then.

“Joe and Willie asked me if I was OK to go back out at half-time and I said I was OK.

“The physio – Roy Bailey – said I looked fine and was doing well and neither Carl Asaba or Bob Taylor had caused us any problems, so it felt like we were in control

“I made it to 61 minutes, but Joe noticed I was limping and not moving right, so I came off and went to sit behind our bench and it was a relief in some ways because I didn’t want to make a mistake that lead to us losing. It was about the team, not just me.”

In the skipper’s absence, both Taylor and Asaba scored on 81 and 87 minutes respectively to put the Gills in a seemingly unassailable position.

As some City fans headed for the exits, too upset to see the dying moments, Mozzer knew that was the last thing he could do.

“I knew as captain, I couldn’t walk away from the game even if I’d have wanted to because I needed to go and congratulate the Gillingham players – that was my job – and I knew a few from my Plymouth days as well.

“But as we went 2-0 down, I was completely selfishly thinking about the fact that I wouldn’t get to walk up the steps to collect the trophy as Manchester City captain and that this might be the only chance I’d ever get.

“I was thinking how rubbish  the summer would be, how rubbish life would be after that game – just awful, and the worst summer ever,

“The vision we’d created was winning the game, lifting the trophy, and having a wonderful six weeks or so before we did it all again, but it felt like we were carrying a heavy load and we’d come up short.

“United had just won the treble and we would need to batten down the hatches because the reality was we’d be laughed at and ridiculed – that’s just how it was.

“The burden of having Manchester United as our neighbours was huge, even though were two divisions apart.

“But that feeling didn’t last long, did it?”

Eight minutes, to be exact.

From Gillingham’s second goal to Paul Dickov’s 95th-minute equaliser, eight minutes of agony was endured by City players and 40,000 supporters inside Wembley and thousands more outside and around the world.

A fairly uneventful extra time was followed, and City would go on to win 3-1 on penalties.

As much as Nicky Weaver’s iconic celebration run is remembered by all who saw it, so was the captain wrestling the youngster to the ground that ended it!

“I was limping quite badly, but it was pure adrenaline,” he recalls.

“It was one of the most magical moments of my life when Nicky saved that fourth Gillingham penalty and it’s hard to put into words as a footballer and a human being what it felt like.

“Life just gives you these unforgettable moments and it was almost biblical, going from such a low to such a high in the space of what? 45 minutes? It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Interview: David Clayton

Richard Edghill’s role in the 1999 play-off final was far greater than he is perhaps given credit for…

Richard Edghill was a quality defender playing during an incredibly tough period for Manchester City.

The Oldham-born right-back joined the Blues in 1988 as a 12-yearold and would stay at Maine Road for a further 12 years, experiencing some incredible highs and devastating lows.

He broke into the first team as a 19-year-old during Brian Horton’s reign and would average a new manager every year through his seven seasons as a first team regular.

In that time, City were relegated three times and promoted three times – to say it was a tumultuous period in the Club’s history is something of an understatement.

‘Edgy’ missed the entire 1996-97 season with a serious knee injury and returned into a side headed for the third tier for the first time.

He was one of the first names on Joe Royle’s team-sheet throughout the 1998-99 campaign, clocking up 47 appearances – the last of which was the 1999 play-off final against Gillingham…

“There was a lot of uncertainty going into the game and I think that was playing on a lot of the lads’ minds,” began Edghill.

“I don’t think we were over-confident about winning the game at all – we believed we could win, but there was anxiety about how the day might pan out.

“None of us could have imagined it would go the way it did.

“The game itself was tiring and of course we went 2-0 down and we thought that was it.

“We were all thinking that we’d have to play in this division for another season, something we were all frightened of because we’d heard rumours about what might happen and the possible implications for us all.

“We’d even heard the Club might have had to pretty much field a youth team the next season if we hadn’t gone up – so there was a lot of mental baggage for everyone going into the match.

“It was a difficult situation and a difficult day that seemed to be heading towards the worst case scenario.”

Earlier in the campaign, City’s promotion hopes were listing badly and a 2-1 defeat to York – now a game that many pinpoint as the Club’s lowest ever moment left Joe Royle’s men in midtable wilderness.

Seven wins, nine draws and six losses gave the Blues  30 points from a possible 66 at just about the hallway stage.

The slumbering giant was in a state of catatonia.

Yet the average crowd at Maine Road was more than 28,000 with a capacity of around 33,000 regularly reached.

That loss at York lead to much soul-searching and an unbeaten run of 12 games and an overall run of one loss in 21 immediately followed as, somehow, City finally found their feet.

“We won 1-0 win at Wrexham on Boxing Day 1998, and we had nearly 4,000 fans at the Racecourse Ground which was incredible,” recalled Edghill.

“Our away following was always massive wherever we went, and Maine Road was always full – it was incredible – but after the win at Wrexham, for me, it felt like something changed.

“It was raining, windy and I was out of position playing at left-back but had to switch to centre-half because both our centre-backs got injured and I had a torrid affair from start to finish.

“Somehow, we won the game and after Kevin Horlock came over to me and said, ‘We won 1-0 but I’ve got be honest - that was one of the worst performances by a footballer I’ve ever seen!’

“That was typical Kev, and we had a laugh about it but it had been an awful game for me – I’d been nutmegged, the ball slipped out of my hands as I took a throw and just about everything that could have gone wrong did.

“We sat in the dressing room afterwards and I don’t know why, but I think there was a collective feeling that we could do this, and we then went on a long run where we seemed to swat teams aside.”

City would eventually finish third in the table and after beating Wigan 2-1 on aggregate in the play-off semi-final, it was off to Wembley to face Gillingham.

Of course, the 40,000 City fans in attendance that day could barely believe what was happening as Robert Taylor and Carl Asaba scored in the last 10 minutes to give Gillingham a surely unassailable advantage.

“I think they took Asaba off after the second goal and brought on a defender and I think they thought they’d already won,” said Edghill.

“But we had a great fighting spirit in our team, and we never gave up – we worked hard for each other and if we didn’t, we’d tell each other – and that’s what was so great about that group of players.

“Of course, Kev then scores in the 90th minute and we were thinking, ‘OK, can we go and get another?’ – so for it to fall to Dicky and go in like it did was unbelievable.

“I think I was in the middle of the pitch so was behind it when it went in and to see the City fans going mental is something I’ll never forget. The noise was unreal.”

So, to the penalty shoot-out…

“The extra time was the most boring ever – nothing happened!” he said.

“My legs had gone but we’d been practicing penalties for several days and I think I scored nine out of 10.

“Joe had got us all together on the pitch at Maine Road and asked if it went to a shoot-out, who would feel confident?

“Obviously Dicky, Terry Cooke, Kev and Goat were all keen and I put my hand up and said I’d be confident to take one.

“I’d never scored a goal in my senior career, but I just felt brave enough to take one.

“So Joe put my name down – with me never thinking a week later I’d be at Wembley actually taking one!

“When practicing, I’d tried high and low shots and was more comfortable going high – but when I hit it against Gillingham, I wasn’t expecting it to go as high as it did!

“It just sort of seemed to fly off the inside of my foot - clipped the underside of the crossbar and flew in.

“Goat was meant to take our fourth penalty, but we weren’t that confident he’d score having watched some of his attempts in practice, so I went ahead of him.

“It was my first ever goal for City because I was a defender and I remember Tony Book saying I was a defender first and that was my job, so I wasn’t that bothered that I hadn’t scored before.

“It was a massive moment for me because of the injury I’d had and being told it was 50/50 whether I’d be anywhere near where I’d been before.

“Prior to that I’d been in Terry Venables’ training squad for England, I’d played for England B and Under-21s and things had been going really well.

“It was such a relief. I loved the Club and still do and I managed to achieve my dream playing for Manchester City and that’s something millions of people would love to have done so I can go happy to my grave knowing I did what I wanted to do.

“The City fans still come up to me and shake my hand and it means so much to me and one thing I never shout about is that it was my goal that actually won the shootout because Nicky saved their next spot-kick and we won 3-1.

“All these years Dicky has stolen my limelight! It’s a day I’ll never forget, that’s for sure.”

Interview: David Clayton

Random Match Generator:
1998/99 season special

Nationwide League Division 2
12 September 1998
Macclesfield Town 0-1 City
Attendance 6,381

Macclesfield Town
(4-4-2): Price, Tinson, Payne, Sodje, Ingram (Howarth, 55), Wood, Sorvel (Sedgemore, 68), McDonald, Durkan (Whittaker, 72), Askey, Barclay

Manchester City
(5-2-3) Weaver, Edghill, Tiatto, Vaughan, Wiekens, Fenton, Mason (Whitley, 31), Horlock, Goater, Dickov (Allsop, 67), Bradbury.

Unused sub: Crooks.

 

As Rodrigo was sweeping home the winning goal in the Champions League final last season, for some of the more seasoned City fans, it brought back memories of another 1-0 win against a team in (mainly) blue 25 years earlier.

Whereas City fans had once eagerly awaited the fixture list for the dates of the Manchester derby, Liverpool and Arsenal back in 1998/99, Macclesfield Town jumped out on the list of matches in what was to be our first and only campaign in the third tier.

Indeed, with typical gallows humour on the final day of the previous campaign at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium, City fans had chanted ‘Are you watching Macclesfield?’ with the typical deadpan humour that had, at the time, made the Blues a club that most other football supporters quite liked – as hard to believe as that is today!

If anyone still needed grounding about the Club’s situation – and with the greatest respect to our Cheshire neighbours – a trip to Moss Rose on a wet and windy Saturday afternoon proved a sobering experience.

Nestled just beneath the rolling hills of Macclesfield Forest, Moss Rose had a capacity of approximately 6,350 and, for the first ever league meeting of City and Macc, the game quickly sold out.

The Blues were allocated 1,500 tickets on what is today the John Askey Terrace, with another 500 or so in the seats in the adjacent Henshaw’s Stand.

Of course, like any club further down the league ladder, many Macc fans had City as their second club, and there were hundreds of Blues sprinkled throughout the crowd in what was mostly a friendly, convivial atmosphere.

The attitude of many City supporters was that they were going to enjoy the 1998/99 season come what may and trips to places and grounds they’d never been to just added to the adventure.

Moss Rose was 20 miles from Maine Road and therefore qualified under the banner of ‘local derby’ – though Oldham Athletic at 10 miles was the nearer of the two derbies.

And so to the game…

It was our seventh match of the campaign, and Joe Royle’s side had taken 11 from a possible 18 points – a little less than many had hoped, but enough for a spot in the upper reaches of the division.

The Silkmen were managed by former Manchester United legend Sammy McIlroy – who had briefly played for City, too – and Moss Rose was a compact, difficult venue to play at.

The Blues were finding it difficult to penetrate a defence that included captain Steve Payne and his fellow central defender Efetobar Sodje, and by half-time, the hosts had been fairly comfortable as the they went into the break with the score still 0-0.

That was no surprise as Macc had failed to score in their first five league games of the season, finally ending their duck in a 2-1 defeat at Wrexham and then beating Oldham 2-1 at Boundary Park four days before this clash.

They’d also seen off Stoke – who had also been relegated with City – 3-2 on aggregate in the League Cup, so they had the capabilities to go on and cause what would have felt a seismic upset to City fans.

After the restart, chances came and went for Shaun Goater Lee Bradbury and Paul Dickov and, as the incessant Cheshire rain fell, the game seemed to be heading for an inevitable 0-0 draw.

Then, with four minutes to go, sub Jim Whitley collected the ball, lifted it through to Goater who was a few yards to his left inside the box, and the Bermudian – yet to make the unbreakable bond with his new club’s supporters – slid home a low shot past keeper Darren Tinson to the delight of the travelling fans behind the goal.

It was enough to give City a hard-earned 1-0 win  and  afterwards, boss Royle confidently claimed, "There won't be many teams who come here and win."

It remains our one and only competitive trip to Moss Rose and while City went on to promotion, Macclesfield Town were relegated and, eventually went out of business altogether, before reforming as Macclesfield FC.

Club legend Shaun Goater recalls that fateful day in May…

If anyone was in doubt how much getting out of Division Two meant to the City fans after we saw off Wigan in the play-off semi-final, they weren’t any longer.

As we sat in the changing room after the 1-0 second leg win at Maine Road, each of us knew there was no way we could lose the final if this was the reaction to winning the semi-final.

Joe Royle said: ‘that’s what it means to them and that’s the expectation you have to live up to.’ He added we hadn’t won a thing yet and to go and rest up for a few days, let our bodies relax and then we’d prepare for the play-off final at Wembley - and my second appearance at the famous old stadium.

Gillingham had seen off Preston and were now all that stood between us and a successful climax to a dramatic season, but nobody had any idea of just how breathtaking the final itself would be.

We prepared for the game by keeping to our usual routine and we stayed in a fairly average London hotel – nothing too expensive, that’s for sure! Then the big day arrived, and all our families were coming to the game. My wife Anita was there and my agent Mark and his son. We left our hotel and I got into my own zone, thinking about my role and the game ahead.

Then we started to see the City fans along the route, and they just seemed to be everywhere – next thing we were pulling up at Wembley, just a few hours from kick off. We checked out the dressing rooms had a walk out on to the pitch. It was a grey, drizzly day but I looked around and the City supporters were all gathered around the tunnel as we walked out, and it seemed like three quarters of the ground were Blues!

It was a fantastic feeling to see that kind of backing.

My mind flashed back to my days back home kicking a ball around the park in Bermuda, dreaming of playing an FA Cup final at Wembley and here I was again for a second time in three years having been there in Football League Trophy with Rotherham United. The only thing I’d learned about playing at Wembley from my previous experience was how sapping the pitch could be and how pre-match nerves and adrenaline could drain your energy away.

I decided I would approach this game differently to conserve energy for the later stages - and I would later be glad I had. I didn’t want to lose a game at Wembley and though I’d won a trophy there with Rotherham, this was a bigger stage and a much bigger crowd, too.

The game itself reminded me of an evenly contested boxing match with both sides slugging away at each other and neither ahead on points. Andy Morrison had to go off injured early on in the second half and Ian Bishop came on and Wembley is perfect for a player of Bish’s quality.

He got us playing in the way he always did. It still 0-0 and seemed to be headed for extra time as we entered the last ten minutes - and then, disaster.

First Robert Taylor put Gillingham 1-0 up and then around five minutes later Carl Asaba made it 2-0. Our promotion dream was in bits, and I was just thinking ‘bloody hell, ref, blow the whistle and get it over with.’ I’d had enough and we figured this just wasn’t happening for us and wanted an end to the pain.

You get days like that in football where you try everything, but it just doesn’t come off, but Gillingham were playing above themselves and we couldn’t really complain about being behind.

As I’m thinking this, the ball falls to Kevin Horlock who drilled a low shot home to make it 1-2 and two or three of us then ran into the net to retrieve the ball. As we jogged back to the centre circle, we heard our fans begin to roar and really get behind us again. I glanced over to the bench to see what the cheers were for and could see the fourth official holding up a board displaying five minutes of injury time. At that point, five minutes felt like half an hour, and I thought, ‘we can pull this back’. Our fans were going crazy shouting encouragement, and we could sense the Gillingham players’ sudden edginess and see it on their faces.

We threw everything at them and were determined to make them pay for all the high fives they were giving each other during the substitutions and congratulatory pats on the back that suggested – understandably – that they had the game won. We pressed constantly, but the five minutes was just about up when the ball fell to me and I took a swing at it, but the defender made a fantastic block tackle and the ball deflected right into Dicky’s path and he gave it all he had – taking the slightest of deflections, I think – and it was like slow motion as we saw it rocket past Vince Bartram in goal and into the back of the net.

That’s when the roar hit us and shook the stadium to its foundations. I thought, ‘that’s my little gem!’ After the game I’d tell Dicky that I’d meant that pass and said ‘Paul, you know I saw you, don’t you?’ After he’d scored, I had nothing left in my legs, but I still chased him! 

The celebrations were ecstatic and the comeback nothing short of a miracle. The whistle blew and the Gillingham players looked as though they were in shock. If I could have put a bet on there and then, I would have put my house on us finishing the job in extra time because as far as I was concerned, there was no way the game was going to penalties.

But we pressed forward to no avail, and they hung on and took it to spot kicks. Even then, I thought this was a done deal. Our comeback had been too dramatic for our name to not be etched on the play-off final trophy.

Kev stepped up to take our first penalty - he’d later tell me that as he walked up to the ball, the goal looked huge, but when he actually got to the spot he couldn’t even see the goal anymore! He put the ball down, tried to remain calm and thought ‘I know where I’m going to put it – to the keeper’s right.’ Then as he looks up he thinks ‘No, I’m going to put it to his left,’ but as he steps back, he thought ‘to hell with it, I’m going to blast it!’ but as he ran up he was still unsure and so just hammered the ball as hard as he could and as he saw it hit the back of the net, he thought ‘thank god for that!’ – or words to that effect! We all did.

We were all on the halfway line with our arms around each other and I was thinking that we’d needed to that – that feeling over togetherness.

Then Weaves saves one and it’s Dicky’s turn. He ran up and we watched in horror as it one post, rolled along the line, hit the other post and then out again! The thing was, he could have missed three penalties in a row after scoring that goal and it would have been a case of ‘it’s all right Paul! Don’t worry about it.’

Adrian Pennock then blasted one wide and Terry Cooke scored to make it 2-0, but Gillingham pulled one back with their next attempt.

Richard Edghill’s penalty was unstoppable, hitting the bar and stanchion on its way into the roof of the net– it was a perfect penalty and made it 3-1. He grabbed the badge and kissed it, and I was really pleased for him because he’d had a bit of stick over the last few years, and he always did his best and never complained.

Gillingham took their fourth penalty at 3-1 down and I was just thinking, ‘Please save this, Weaves’. And he did just that, He’d later say he’d realised I was the fifth penalty taker and so had to save it or we’d had no chance!

It would have been great to step up and score the winning goal, but the truth is, I could live without it and that honour went to Edgy.

We'd done it and were promoted back to Division One We chased Nick and piled on top of him and just went nuts and celebrated with the fans waving flags, joining in songs, and wearing silly wigs.

From the low point of losing at York City and struggling in the first half of the season as every side we came up against treated us as a cup final, to this. What a great way to finish the season and it was so important we did it at the first attempt because it would have been so mentally hard to have to come back the next season and do it all again.

Afterwards, I recall going back to the dressing rooms and popping into the Gillingham side and just saying ‘unlucky, lads’ – not with any malice, just to commiserate with them but even as I opened their door, I could feel a depressed vibe envelope me. It was sapping and I’ll never forget that feeling of what it must have been like to lose a game like that because I felt it momentarily as though it was me who was on the losing side. In theory, it perhaps should have been us because we had no right to have come back from 2-0 down with a minute or normal time to go. We’d swapped shirts with many of the Gills lads, and we later found out some of them sold them on, no doubt back to City fans. It didn’t bother me, and I’ve still got my Gillingham shirt as a memento.

We were staying at a nearby hotel, and it was full of City fans and the atmosphere was electric. It was an amazing experience, but not one I’d like to experience again any time soon!

Shaun Goater

You can imagine how this one pans out…

A game at the very end of the month is a nightmare scenario for any magazine editor and this was the case for my predecessor, Mike Barnett.

There was the all-too real possibility that City could lose against Gillingham and the pages dedicated to the play-off final would be as useful as yesterday’s chip wrappers.

So there was that.

Then there was the deadline...

Getting a new magazine out as quickly as possible means a lot of stars need to align and with digital technology nowhere near the standard of today, there was also the issue of receiving, editing and collating the photography and putting together a celebratory issue.

Basically, you’re left with two flat plans – one if we won, one if we didn’t.

You can imagine how the editor was feeling with 90 minutes almost up and City trailing 2-0 to Gillingham.

Of course, what followed was nothing short of incredible and from what was almost an ultimate low, went to an unprecedented high.

We always tried to mark any big occasion (they were very few and very far between back then) with a City Mag special, and this occasion most certainly was just that.

The end result was a nice keepsake that there probably is a few hundred still left in lofts or cellars up and down the land some 25 years later.

Ultimately, it all turned out well – thank God!

DC

Liam Gallagher celebrates
watching on at Wembley