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For a side that had never previously progressed past the second round of the FA Cup, the excitement at making it all the way to the 1904 final was close to fever pitch among City fans.
Record crowds packed into Hyde Road along the way and though Wembley Stadium wouldn't even exist for another 19 years, the thought of an exotic trip to London’s Crystal Palace for the final ensured the cup run was the highlight of what proved to be the Club’s best season to date.
Though two Division Two titles had been secured in 1899 and 1903, the FA Cup had become the trophy everyone wanted to win.
Back in the top flight, City had been chasing a League and FA Cup double with the title still a strong possibility going into the final weeks of the season. Ironically, the cup run probably scuppered the bid for the Division One title with a fixture congestion meaning six games in 15 days prior to the final itself (sounds very familiar!)
City, managed by Tom Maley, had the legendary Billy Meredith among their number – a skilful winger with superb dribbling ability and hero to thousands of football fans around the country and the first true superstar of English football.
Forwards Sandy Turnbull and Billy Gillespie were also integral members of the City team who had won the Division Two title the previous season and were continuing to improve as a team.
The FA Cup campaign began with a home tie against Sunderland and an above average crowd of 23,000 turned out at Hyde Road to see Turnbull score twice and Gillespie add another in a 3-2 win over the Black Cats.
The draw for the second round pitted City with Woolwich Arsenal of the Second Division but the Londoners were no match for the Blues who won 2-0 with goals from Turnbull and Booth.
In an era when escapologist Houdini was the star of the day, the rights to ‘The Landlord Game’ had been granted for production – better known as Monopoly today – and the New York subway opened for the first time, 1904 was an exciting, innovative time to be alive.
Meanwhile, City were now in the uncharted waters of the third round and just two wins away from the final, but the record 30,022 crowd that packed in Hyde Road for the match against Middlesbrough were right to be apprehensive.
Boro had already inflicted a damaging 6-0 win over City earlier in the campaign and also earned a 1-1 draw in the return fixture at Hyde Road just a month before.
The crowd’s hesitancy was well-placed as Boro ground out a hard-earned 0-0 draw to City back to Teesside where the home fans had FA Cup fever, too.
Around 35,000 turned out for the third round replay, expecting another triumph over their Mancunian opponents - but City banished the nightmare of the previous visit by turning in a superb display to win 3-1 courtesy of goals from Livingstone, Gillespie and Turnbull. The Blues were now just one game away from the final.
The semi-final was held at Everton’s Goodison Park and attracted the biggest crowd City had ever played in front of up to that points, with 53,000 paying to watch the Blues take on First Division leaders Sheffield Wednesday.
With the Owls closing in on their own league and cup double, City’s trio of Meredith, Turnbull and Gillespie again delivered with a goal each when it mattered most as the Blues marched into the final with a convincing 3-1 victory.
Surely there was no stopping Meredith and company?
Second Division Bolton had ensured it was an all Lancashire final – a first for the competition - after beating Derby County 1-0 in the other semi. In the region of 30,000 fans travelled to London from the north-west on 23 April 1904 with many sleeping on train platforms at Euston and St Pancreas having arrived the day before.
There was a typically convivial atmosphere between rival fans, as was the norm for the era, and the media attention was firmly focused on Billy Meredith, who, of course, was more than happy to be in the spotlight.
The Blues had added incentive to win the cup having lost 1-0 to Sheffield Wednesday in the league after the semi-final triumph and also lost 3-1 to Newcastle meaning the title hopes were all but over.
City were in relaxed mood ahead of the big game and both sets of fans were determined to enjoy their day out. With a crowd of 61,374 and tickets costing the equivalent of 25 pence (almost £30 in today's money)– the teams ran out to contest the eagerly awaited 1904 FA Cup final.
Dignitaries included Prime Minister Arthur Balfour and legendary cricketer W.G Grace and if the majority of people had come to catch a glimpse of Meredith, they only had to wait 23 minutes for a piece of magic from the Welsh Wizard who skipped past one challenge before driving into the box and planting the ball past Bolton keeper Dai Davies.
There was a slight suspicion offside, but no protestations were made by the Bolton players and there was even a one-man pitch invasion by a City fan who was quickly led away by police who, impressed by his passion, allowed him back on the terraces to continue watching the game!
Bolton enjoyed much of the ball thereafter but couldn’t find a way past a resolute City defence with Blues’ full-back Herbert Burgess in particular outstanding throughout.
The team had one more league game to play at Everton before they travelled home with the FA Cup and thousands lined the streets of central Manchester to greet them. The love affair with the competition was well and truly underway…
FA Cup final, 23 April 1904
Venue: The Crystal Palace
Manchester City 1 Bolton Wanderers 0
City: Hillman, McMahon, Burgess, Frost, Hynds, Ashworth, Meredith, Livingstone, Gillespie, Turnbull, Booth
Bolton: Davies, Brown, Struthers, Clifford, Greenhalgh, Freebairn, Stokes, Marsh, Yenson, White, Taylor
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