That self-deprecating chant, those years of heartache, that despised banner across the city…
Three-and-a-half decades of hurt: broken dreams, continual disappointments and a life in the shadow of our neighbours…
It all came to a joyful end with one solitary kick of a football in May 2011: the day City lifted silverware once again.
It was the day – according to some – that the footballing tide shifted to coincide with the rise of the Blue Moon, and it’s hard to disagree.
Since then, City have secured ten major trophies: four Premier League titles, five League Cups and another FA Cup, plus three Community Shields – and that’s just on the men’s side… Our women’s team (launched as a professional outfit in 2014) have enjoyed similar success, clinching the FA Women’s Cup twice, the Continental Cup three times and the Super League title in 2016.
Having had just one opportunity to visit Wembley in the previous 30 years – the Division Two Play-Off Final, which will go down in history as one of our most important games for its own wonderful reasons – City fans have enjoyed more trips to North London in the last ten years than we had ever previously thought possible.
On its ninth anniversary, we pay homage to the one that started it all with a look back at that glorious day when Yaya Toure single-footedly tore down that ticking banner and ignited a new era: a Blue era.
Rewind to the 2010/11 campaign.
With a fifth-place league finish the previous year, manager Roberto Mancini firmly at the helm and a host of new faces - including David Silva, Mario Balotelli, Aleksandar Kolarov and Yaya Toure - the new season kicked off with a wave of hope and optimism.
Early results proved to be somewhat mixed, but it would be City’s FA Cup adventure that would live long in the memory: an adventure which began against Leicester City – our opponents in the 1969 Final, and fittingly so.
The matchwinner on that day was a true City hero: Neil Young – a lifelong City fan and one of the greatest players to don the shirt; in this case, our iconic red and black strip. His magic moment at Wembley is fondly remembered and he would play a special part in our 2011 success.
Battling illness, Young would be hailed throughout our Cup journey that year. Ever faithful, the City fans paid tribute, wearing red and black scarves in the third round fixture against the Foxes and singing his name.
Desperate to end our trophy drought, everyone at the Club were agreed: we had to win it for Neil.
In typical City fashion, the game would not run smoothly. We had to come from behind, conceding within the first minute, before taking the lead and surrendering it, ensuring a replay was required.
Mancini’s men fared better at the Etihad Stadium, running out 4-2 victors in another topsy-turvy contest with serial winner and World Cup Champion Patrick Vieira on the scoresheet.
As reward for the victory, City were handed a tricky tie at League One outfit Notts County – “a potential banana skin” with the danger of a ‘cupset’… You know the clichés!
‘Anything could happen’ with ‘the magic of the cup’ and it very nearly did, as the Magpies opened the scoring at Meadow Lane through Neal Bishop, leaving City chasing the game and our rapidly vanishing FA Cup hopes.
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However, January recruit Edin Dzeko (what a signing he turned out to be!) picked the perfect time to open his City account, netting his first goal for the Club from close range to rescue a draw and earn another replay with ten minutes left!
In contrast, the home tie proved a much more enjoyable affair, as City sailed to a 5-0 win with Vieira once again on the scoresheet, bagging a brace.
The ensuing fifth round draw brandished home advantage for City with the visit of Aston Villa and this time, there would be no replay required.
Goals from Yaya Toure, Balotelli and Silva conquered the Villains, setting up a quarter-final clash with Reading – once again, on home soil – for the chance to play at Wembley.
Unusually, City headed into the game with prior knowledge of who would await in the semi-finals with the draw already made… and what a prospect it was: a Manchester Derby FA Cup clash at the national stadium.
Perhaps affected by nerves, the visit of the Royals proved a cagey contest but history would be created by another boyhood blue, as Academy graduate and fans’ favourite Micah Richards struck with just over 15 minutes remaining to send City to Wembley for the first time since 1999 to face bitter rivals United. Neil Young would certainly approve!
Fast forward to April and needless to say, the atmosphere was absolutely electric in North London – the air crackling with excitement and anticipation: City savouring the occasion which had evaded us for so long, desperate for a place in the Final; United eager to dash our hopes once more, having done just that in dramatic fashion in the League Cup semi-finals the previous year. (The less said about that, the better!)
As had been the case for many a year, City headed into the Derby as underdogs but inspired by hope, our fantastic Cup run, our star-studded squad, ‘the Poznan’ (if you know, you know!) and the spirit of Neil Young, the fans knew something felt different this time around – and it was.
After a tense first half with chances for both sides, the game restarted and with some supporters still taking their seats, City broke the deadlock. It was Yaya Toure who was in the right place at the right time, collecting Michael Carrick’s loose pass before driving forward and sliding the ball through Edwin van der Sar’s legs to send the Blue half of Wembley into absolute delirium.
Even to this day, it is still regarded as one of the most enjoyed and celebrated goals in City’s recent history – and the catalyst for our remarkable success. A magical moment, which decided the game, with United later reduced to ten following Paul Scholes’ horror tackle on Blue hero Pablo Zabaleta.
And so: the Final – City’s first since 1981.
Mancini’s men would face Stoke, managed by Tony Pulis – the man who sat in the dugout as Gillingham boss in the aforementioned 1999 Division Two Play-Off Final; the ending of which he did not take too well…
So Stoke it was: the Potters marked the final hurdle to overcome, as City sought to break our tedious trophy curse.
Once again, the atmosphere crackled; once again, it proved a tightly-fought match-up… and once again, Yaya Toure proved to be the hero.
This time, City left it much later to break the deadlock, as the tension thickened with every missed chance.
With 74 minutes on the clock, the stadium held its breath as the ball broke loose in the box, falling perfectly into the path of the Ivorian powerhouse.
With the goal at his mercy, the marauding midfielder pounced to rocket the ball past Thomas Sorensen – again, sending the City faithful into raptures – and placing one City hand on the long-awaited trophy!
Sixteen agonising minutes of normal time (and then additional time) would follow but City hung on to lift our first piece of major silverware since 1976, ending our torrid 35-year wait and sparking a sensational decade of success for this fantastic Football Club.
Sadly, Neil Young would not see Vincent Kompany lift the trophy, tragically passing away in February 2011 following his battle with cancer – but his memory lived on with the red and black scarves in attendance, and the boyhood City fan would have been incredibly proud to see his team victorious once more…