It was like the family trip to Blackpool when the shout out of “first to see Blackpool Tower…” inevitably went up on the journey towards the seaside.
Of course, the floodlights at Maine Road were nowhere near the famous 520-foot Blackpool landmark – but to any small child, they seemed exactly that.
And there is quite a story behind City’s towering floodlights.
The four iron constructions were erected in 1953 and caused City fans who ever stood close to them )particularly in the open corners of the Kippax) to think the same thought as they gazed up at the never-ending ladder that sometimes seemed to disappear into the low-lying cloud base: ‘Thank God I don’t have to change the light bulbs!’
The floodlights were first turned on for a friendly against Scottish Premier League side Hearts on 14 October 1953.
For the occasion, City wore special ‘shiny shirts’ for the evening and won an entertaining game 6–3 in front of a healthy 23,979 crowd.
It was a novelty at the time, but some 60 years before, Ardwick FC – who of course later became Manchester City FC – had played several friendlies under a cruder version of floodlights at Belle Vue Stadium.
There was a resistance and suspicion about playing a match under lighting other than daylight for many years, but innovative City were keen to experiment with the lighting and so four 90-foot pylons were placed in the four corners of Maine Road.
As Manchester’s first football floodlit venue, the innovative lighting brought Manchester United back to Maine Road (having ground-shared for a time after the War) to play various friendlies and cup games until Old Trafford had their own installed in 1957.
Not, however, before Maine Road became the first English ground to play host to a European Cup match in 1956 – and the Blues weren’t even involved! United beat RSC Anderlecht 10–0 in a close-fought game.
Bury narrowly won the race to be the first north-west team to play floodlit football by just eight days, but City proudly claimed to have not just the best floodlights in the north-west, but the entire country.
In later years, Club historian Gary James discovered the cost of two hours of floodlit football cost in the region of £3 – cheap as chips, even when you convert it to today’s is still only £85!
A week after the goal-fest with Hearts, City thrashed Fenerbahce 5-1 and a week after that, a friendly with Celtic ended 1-1.
The original four pylons were eventually replaced by the taller, steel structures that loomed over Maine Road proudly for around 30 years, before they too were decommissioned and replaced by a lighting system on top of the Main Stand and new Kippax Stand roof.
Though they perhaps offered a more complete lighting experience, they lacked the character of the floodlights which had become the beacons of Maine Road and a Moss Side landmark.
For anyone who had trouble finding the ground back then, the floodlights rendered satnavs unnecessary and the new lights could never replicate the four-shadow effect on a player you occasionally got with the four steel monsters…