Ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final between City and Chelsea, we rewind the clock 40 years and chart the story of how Paul Power’s dramatic extra time winner fired us to Wembley against Ipswich Town in 1981…
It sounds like a flight of fancy that only the most imaginative of Hollywood script writers could conjure up.
Boyhood fan and club captain strikes a spectacular extra time FA Cup semi-final winner to secure victory against the leading side in England in front of thousands of jubilant City fans.
For Paul Power, however, fiction became fact 40 years ago this week when his exquisite shot from an indirect free-kick stunned Ipswich Town at a packed Villa Park, fired City to Wembley and provided our fans with a slice of true Blue heaven.
Over the course of a distinguished career that saw him chalk up more than 400 appearances for the Club between 1975 and 1986, it’s fair to say that Power saw it all.
From the lows of relegation and managerial merry-go-rounds to the highs of that semi-final and proudly leading City out for the 1981 Centenary FA Cup final.
In many ways City’s 1980/81 campaign served as the perfect microcosm of Power’s City career.
A wretched start saw us plunge to the foot of the table and led to the October dismissal of manager Malcolm Allison with John Bond - an equally flamboyant, outspoken character – lured from Norwich to replace Big Mal.
Bond’s arrival - allied to some smart manoeuvres in the transfer market - helped inspire a dramatic transformation in fortunes.
From the trauma of a potential relegation fight, City began a steady climb up the Division One rankings towards mid table respectability and also embarked on two thrilling Cup runs.
Our League Cup adventure finally ended in a heroic two-legged loss to Liverpool – but only after Bond’s men had given an Anfield side that would go on to lift the European Cup later that season the mother of all scares - Bob Paisley’s men edging through 2-1 on aggregate.
An emboldened City subsequently channelled that positive momentum into our FA Cup campaign.
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.
“It was unbelievable to play them and we were just starting to fire,” Paul recalls reflecting back.
“Kevin Bond who later joined us, played for Norwich that day, John Bond came down from the director’s seat to give his son a hug, and we battered them so I think he was going to console him!
“Of course, Kevin then signed for us and had a good career at City and was involved in management himself in China and other places. There were lots of good people around (the club).”
After the Eagles and Canaries had been grounded with ease, City 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 and two encounters that still stir the Blue blood to this day for those lucky enough to witness them.
A rip roaring Goodison Park encounter tilted one way then the other before with City trailing 2-1, Power struck a dramatic 84th minute equaliser to secure a 2-2 draw and bring the Blues of Manchester and Merseyside back to Maine Road.
A midweek crowd of more than 52,000 then shoe-horned into our famous former home amidst a maelstrom of noise to witness a replay that saw Power add to Bobby McDonald’s brilliant brace and secure a famous 3-1 victory.
That set the scene for that semi-final encounter against an Ipswich Town side that had blossomed into one of Europe’s most accomplished outfits under the inspired leadership of Bobby Robson.
The magnitude of City’s task that day could be measured by a quick glance at the side pitted against us.
Under Robson’s astute guidance, Ipswich had become a by-word for footballing excellence by the dawn of the 1980s.
FA Cup winners in 1978, the Suffolk side were arguably at their apex in the 1980/81 season which saw them chasing the treble of the league title, another FA Cup success as well as embarking on a tilt at UEFA Cup glory.
Reflecting back 40 years ago, Power – now happily enjoying retirement in rural France - says City knew full well the scale of the task awaiting them.
But though there was enormous respect given the quality of the opposition, Power revealed that the confidence and belief galvanised by a squad that had become re-energised under the stewardship of Bond meant that City stepped out at Villa Park confident of upsetting the form book.
“Ipswich were a side packed full of internationals,” Paul remembers.
“Their captain was England skipper Mick Mills, they had the likes of George Burley, John Wark, Kevin Beattie and Paul Mariner as well as the two Dutch lads, Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen, who added extra quality.
“So, we were definitely the underdogs.
“Even my brother-in-law, who was a big United fan, said to me ‘If you beat Ipswich and get to the final I’ll wear all blue because it will be the 100th FA Cup final.’
“He wouldn’t have promised that if he thought Ipswich would beat us so that was a good thing to come out of it!
“We would look around our teammates and we had some quality players not getting in the team.
“Tommy Booth was left out for both the semi and final, so we had a young back four, with not a lot of experience.
“But we were up for it and confident.
“We had beaten Everton 3-1 in the quarter-final replay and were absolutely buzzing.
“We had gone from being second bottom in the table to being totally transformed by the arrival of Tommy Hutchison, Gerry Gow and Bobby McDonald, who were all brought in by John Bond.
“Those three gave us a solidarity and a little bit of flair. I remember Bobby Mac scored two against Everton, and though a full-back he was always a threat from set-pieces.
“Also, what a season Tommy Hutch had for us and Gerry Gow was just an absolute demon in midfield. He never stopped running.
“Everyone thought he just had defensive abilities, but Gerry was really good with the ball at his feet. It introduced a bit of devilment into the dressing room.
“So, there was a bit more togetherness and a positive mind-set going into any game.
“We didn’t consider ourselves second best against anyone, but I was certainly nervous when we were drawn against Ipswich for the semi-final as they were the team of the time, going for three trophies.
“However, they probably found the season tiring and faded away a little bit.”
Despite that positive mindset however, early on, it appeared as though Ipswich’s galaxy of stars would prove too much for Power and Co.
The Tractor Boys threatened to trundle over City with Alan Brazil (twice) and Eric Gates spurning glorious chances while Hutchison cleared a goal bound Beattie header off the line with the England defender – on what was to prove his last Ipswich appearance due to a career-ending knee injury - then seeing another effort arrow inches wide.
Gradually though City began to draw the sting out of the Ipswich tail with both Power and Gow going close for City before referee Pat Partridge signalled the end of 90 minutes – and the onset of extra time.
While many of the Ipswich players looked drained - both physically and mentally -as their push for a treble began to tell on weary limbs and exhausted minds, City only grew in stature and confidence.
And Power reveals how one brief exchange as the sides prepared to lock horns again for another 30 minutes of action fuelled him with added belief that it would be our day.
“After 90 minutes Ipswich's Eric Gates walked off with his boots under his arm and I said to him: ‘There is extra time now, Eric,’ and he said: ‘Well if there is you can have it’, so I thought ‘I hope the rest of your teammates think the same!’
“We were all buzzing to get to extra time.”
With a second wind in our collective tails City attacked Villa Park’s famous Holte End which was spilt half and half with thousands of City and Ipswich fans for the first period.
As 100 minutes ticked by on the clock, City were awarded an indirect free-kick on the edge of the Ipswich box after Terry Butcher was ruled to have fouled Dave Bennett.
What happened next would subsequently become the stuff of City folklore.
And the memory of that moment in time still burns brightly in Power’s mind 40 years on, the skipper drilling a quite stunning 25-yard left foot effort past Cooper’s despairing dive into the top corner to spark a rapturous Villa Park rhapsody in Blue.
Yet but for a quirk of fate, Power wouldn’t have taken that wonderful shot at glory.
“We might have been fortunate with the goal. I don’t think many refs would give the free-kick but thankfully he looked kindly on us that day,” Paul chuckles today.
“Funnily enough, I never used to take free-kicks.
“When the free-kick came, the way we planned it was that I would knock the ball to Steve MacKenzie, who would stop and then when an Ipswich player came off the end of the wall, I would pass it to Tommy Caton who would hit it in on goal.
“But I played the ball to Steve and no-one came off the wall.
“I remember that when I played with Brian Kidd at City, he always said ‘If you don’t buy a raffle ticket you won’t win a prize’, so I thought ‘Here we go, I’m going to buy a raffle ticket!’
“The Ipswich ‘keeper Paul Cooper was quite small really and it was just in a nice position to bend it round the wall, so it was one of the better decisions I made in my career!
“It was such a wonderful moment.
“I still remember it so well. After I struck it, I ran over towards our supporters in the Holte End at Villa Park and I can remember everyone going up in the air and the whole stand was just alive.
“It was a fantastic feeling, then all the players surrounded you and we knew. We were a fit team, we knew they would struggle to come back and that’s how it proved.
“The prize was a trip to Wembley in the 100th FA Cup final. I can tell you we were all on a high on the bus on the way back from Villa Park.”
Though Cup final glory would ultimately elude us against Spurs after a heart-breaking 3-2 loss in a replay, Paul admits the thrill of scoring such a spectacular and dramatic winner in an FA Cup semi-final is still writ large in his own personal memory bank.
“Without a doubt Villa Park ’81 was a very special day in my career,” Paul reflects today.
“I always remember my dad talking about the late, great Roy Clark.
“He scored a headed goal in a Cup semi-final for the Club before my era at City, and Roy later became the steward of the social club attached to Maine Road and we would always have lunch there.
“If he hadn’t had scored that goal a lot of people wouldn’t have realised that he was a big part of Manchester City’s history.
“I feel the same. That Paul Power will be remembered because of that goal at Villa Park and then leading the team out at Wembley for the 1981 FA Cup final.
“I would have loved to have been lifted on the shoulders of the players like Tony Book did in 1969 but it wasn’t to be, but it was good to be remembered for doing something specific for the good of Manchester City.”
The tale of our two titanic and ultimately unsuccessful final clashes against Spurs is of course a story worthy of its own which will be revisited later this season.
But nothing can ever take away Power’s pride and pleasure at his semi-final heroics that special April day.
Let’s hope one of Pep Guardiola’s heroes of 2021 has that same spine-tingling feeling come Saturday night!