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This week, we talk to former City captain Paul Lake.
Probably the first major moment was when I played in City’s nursery team, called Blue Star.
We used to play in the Isle of Wight tournament and we played in the final against a team called Senrab, which was an associate team of Chelsea. So, it was the first time I felt like I was playing for City.
Playing against another big club and wearing the sky blue kit, we beat them convincingly. I got man of the match and Player of the tournament.
What I remember most is the conversations people were having at that time to my father around the potential for what I could do as a City player. It was the first time I’d really heard anyone speak about me as a potential Man City first-team player, albeit way back when I was 11.
That was a defining moment for me to feel that responsibility of wearing the shirt and the badge.
I was stood in the reception at my school with the headmaster and the sports teacher when Tony Book pulled up in his Saab. Skip came in and met with the headteacher and the PE teacher and, obviously, they were thrilled to bits.
I was so nervous – Skip had been the first-team manager, Cup Winners’ Cup winner, he’d done everything. That’s how important I was, he’d come to sign me at my school!
In the afternoon, we did an assembly based around talent and opportunity. I was singled out in front of the school. It was a humbling moment.
But I can still picture Skip getting out his Saab, closing the door, and walking towards reception with a smile on his face. It just goes to show you how those defining moments – and I bet every footballer has those stories about their career – where you can look back and reflect.
That for me is a really powerful image.
My home debut was against Luton Town. Now, you don’t have any preparation in how to deal with the pressure or what the expectations are going to be. You’re pretty much thrown into the deep end and it’s sink or swim.
But having the tutelage from Tony Book and Glyn Pardoe held me in what I felt was good stead.
I didn’t have a great game but I scored. My home debut and I scored! It was a huge moment in my life.
I’d dreamt of playing at Maine Road, scoring and celebrating with the Kippax – and I did it on my debut.
As a Mancunian, it was a thrilling moment. A momentous occasion for me.
I know we’ve since won trophies and this may pale into insignificance, but when you’ve grown up in Manchester the derby is a huge deal. And where I was living at the time, in Denton, where it was City and United daft, and all the pressure and expectation, it made it even more significant.
I’ll never forget the journey to the game driving past Longsight market. I saw a dad and his son and the dad put his hands together in prayer and said: “please…please…”. It meant so much. And you have that responsibility and that accountability.
And the young players gave the older players such a lift because we were so motivated. Mel Machin was the manager - a great guy and a very talented coach – but it was Tony Book again who came and spoke to all the young lads. He was such a big part of our lives and we went on the pitch and won every tackle, every header, creating chance after chance. We didn’t let United settle.
One goal became two and then three. They got one back – a great goal – but that never deterred us, we had such belief. I set up the fourth and Hinchy scored the fifth.
The Kippax lifted off its hinges. These are memories that no one can take away from me.
The first game of the 1990/91 season was away at Tottenham. It was myself, Colin Hendry and Steve Redmond all vying for the centre-half spots. I’d play particularly well in the pre-season games and I thought I’d done enough to get in the team.
I was singled out by Howard Kendall and we went for a walk from the hotel. I thought he was pulling me to say I was going to be dropped, with Reddo, who was much more experienced than me, playing alongside Colin Hendy.
So, when Howard pulled me to one side to say he was going to make me captain, that was one of those moments where it brings a tear to your eye just thinking about it. When I got back to the hotel, all the players knew and came over to congratulate me.
The experienced players like Adrian Heath, Peter Reid, Colin Hendy…all those guys that had seen far more than I had, but Howard saw that leadership potential in me.
This interview was first published in City’s match day programme on Monday 21 August against Everton.
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