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City DNA #108: The Three-Day Week

City DNA #108: The Three-Day Week
With the Premier League preparing to return behind closed doors later this month in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is set to be a very different backdrop to the resumption of competitive action.

For the latest instalment of our DNA strand we roll back the clock more than 45 years to another unusual period in City’s storied history – the brief introduction of midweek afternoon games during the 1974 Three-Day Week.

The Three-Day Week was one of a number of measures which were introduced by Ted Heath’s Conservative government in a bid to try and conserve electricity, which had been severely restricted owing to the effects of a worldwide oil crisis the previous year.

From New Year’s Day 1974, it meant commercial users of electricity were limited to three specified consecutive days' consumption each week and prohibited from working longer hours on those days.

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Television companies were required to cease broadcasting at 10.30 pm during the crisis to conserve electricity.

Families meanwhile were forced to depend on candlelight once the power went out, with schoolchildren also forced to do homework by a solitary flickering candle.

The impact was also felt by City along with every other club.


                        ACTION STATIONS: City 'keeper Keith MacRae looks to clear the danger during our 1974 League Cup semi-final first leg tie at Plymouth
ACTION STATIONS: City 'keeper Keith MacRae looks to clear the danger during our 1974 League Cup semi-final first leg tie at Plymouth

The football authorities asked the government for permission to play matches on a Sunday and on January 6, 1974, the first-ever Sunday FA Cup games were played.

Meanwhile, midweek games were switched from evenings to afternoons and the curbs saw City, like every other side, having to play a number of midweek fixtures that normally would have taken place under floodlights, during daylight hours as we did our bit to help conserve power.

And so it was during that period of enforced nationwide blackouts that City played one of our more memorable and unique matches of the decade – our League Cup semi-final first leg encounter away at Plymouth Argyle in January 1974.

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It seems remarkable now, but the authorities deemed that the midweek showpiece should kick-off in the early afternoon so as to help as part of the national effort to conserve energy.

So it was that having made the long 250-mile journey to Argyle’s Home Park ground deep on the south Devon coastline, City stepped out at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon in front of a 31,000 packed house.

It made for a slightly surreal if febrile atmosphere for a midweek fixture, but it proved the sternest of tests for Ron Saunders’ star-studded side with the likes of Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Rodney Marsh and Mike Summerbee all featuring for City.

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In contrast, the Pilgrims may have been a humble Third Division outfit at the time but, on what was one of the biggest occasions in their proud history, Plymouth went toe to toe with City in what was a tough, bruising encounter.

After Denis Law had seen a header disallowed, it was Plymouth who took the lead, Steve Davey capitalising on a slip by Willie Donachie on what was a treacherous surface to fire the hosts into a first half lead.

It needed a superb late header from rock-solid defender Tommy Booth to ensure City avoided a shock defeat and his goal meant City travelled back to Manchester with honours even at 1-1.

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The most treacherous part of the two-legged assignment safely navigated, City booked our ticket a week later – ironically under the Maine Road lights! – as goals from Francis Lee and Colin Bell secured a 2-0 second leg win and 3-1 triumph on aggregate.

Sadly, City went on to lose the final itself 2-1 to Wolves – and five days after our Wembley loss, the three-day week restrictions were lifted.

But few who lived through that strange period are likely to forget the memories.

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