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City DNA #6: "Packed in like sardines..."

MAINE ATTRACTION: Though not the game against Stoke, an illustration of City's incredible pulling power at the time
The day when City set a record that still stands 85 years on...

When: It was March 1934 and FA Cup fever had gripped City fans. A sixth-round tie at Maine Road offered the opportunity of a semi-final berth and a chance to fulfil captain Sam Cowan’s pledge to take the Blues back to Wembley having lost the season before – but this time to win the coveted trophy for what would be only the second time…

READ: City DNA #5 | Don Revie: The man with the plan

READ: City DNA #1 'Helen the Bell'

Background: While City’s hopes of winning Division One were all but over, the FA Cup offered an opportunity to bring some silverware back to Maine Road. Since the Club’s birth as Manchester City in 1894, only the FA Cup success in 1904 had been the Blues’ one significant triumph.

Yes, there had been four Division Two titles, but it was the Division One crown and FA Cup that remained the holy grail for the legions of City fans, who were hungry for more trophies.

The road to Wembley began in the third round, where the Blues were given a difficult home tie against Blackburn Rovers.

City had already seen off Rovers 3-1 in the league earlier in the campaign and that season they had been poor travellers – Ewood Park was a different matter entirely – but this was on home turf and 54,336 fans turned out to see Wilf Wild’s side repeat the league win with Ernie Toseland (2) and Eric Brook on target in a 3-1 win.

The fourth round draw paired City with second tier Hull City at Boothferry Park and the Tigers gave as good as they got in a thrilling 2-2 draw with Alec Herd and Brook on target for the visitors.

The midweek replay – played before the hours of darkness due to the lack of floodlights – drew close to 50,000 at Maine Road and this time the Blues saw off the job, winning 4-1 with goals from Fred Tilson (2), Toseland and Frank Marshall.

The last 16 draw was arguably the toughest yet, with City drawn away to Sheffield Wednesday. The Blues had already lost at home to the Owls on the opening day of the season and drawn 1-1 in the return at Hillsborough, and cup fever had clearly gripped the fans on the other side of the Pennines as a record crowd of 72,841 turned out for the tie, including thousands of City fans who’d made the short journey over the tops.

The demand to see the game was, tragically too great for the ground and at least one fan was killed in the crush with many more injured – a portent of a much bigger human tragedy that would occur at the same ground some 55 years later when 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives at the same venue.

Alec Herd scored twice as City earned a 2-2 draw and another midweek replay. Again, the afternoon kick-off didn’t deter Blues’ fans with 68,614 turning out to see Wild’s team end the Owls’ hopes with Marshall and Tilson’s goals enough to earn a home quarter-final tie with Stoke.

                        UP FOR THE CUP : Two 'City maidens' get in the spirit
UP FOR THE CUP : Two 'City maidens' get in the spirit

The demand to see the game was incredible and demonstrated City’s enormous pulling power with crowds few could match. But this game would be special, even by the Blues’ standards as a national record (outside London) of 84,569 squeezed into Maine Road. Some believe the gate could have been close to 100,000 had the police not closed the turnstiles 20 minutes before kick-off, but the safety risks another 15,000 or so fans would have presented don’t bear thinking about.

As it was, no reports of serious injuries were recorded and a spectacular winner by Eric Brook settled the game 1-0 in City’s favour. As the vast crowds dispersed, so the headlines of the record gate were written with one journalist claiming the fans had been “packed in like sardines”.

The attendance remains a provincial record to this day and is evidence of just what a domestic powerhouse City were at the time.

Trivia: Brook later claimed his goal had been something of a fluke with many witnessing it change direction in mid-flight – but it mattered little as City then thrashed Aston Villa 6-1 in the semi-final before beating Portsmouth 2–1 at Wembley to lift the trophy and complete an unforgettable FA Cup adventure.

*Thanks to Gary James' 'The Manchester City Years' for additional info.

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