It’s May 2005. City v Middlesbrough at the City of Manchester Stadium. There are 88 minutes on the clock. The score is locked at 1-1.
One goal separates City from the promised land of European football… but time is running out. Boro themselves only need a point to snatch that seventh spot. It’s on a knife-edge and you can cut the tension with said knife.
You’re City boss Stuart Pearce and we desperately need that goal. You have £5million striker – and lifelong City fan – Jon Macken ready and waiting on the bench, eager to make the all-important impact.
Instead, you throw caution to the wind, bringing on… substitute goalkeeper Nicky Weaver?!
Fifteen years ago to the day, this bold but baffling turn of events unfolded before disbelieving eyes, as the board was held aloft, signalling that fans’ favourite Weaver was to be introduced in place of midfielder Claudio Reyna.
Our Wembley ’99 hero heads to take his place between the sticks but what of David James? Onwards and upwards!
The former England shot-stopper dons an outfield shirt (the newly-launched 2005/06 away shirt at that!) and heads upfield to try his hand (or feet) upfront!
A bizarre gamble… but it almost pays off.
The 6’ 4” James makes a nuisance of himself amongst the stunned Boro defenders and in the dying embers of the game, is almost picked out to bag the winner, as Sun Jihai whistles a delivery across goal.
Although unable to reach the cross, in his efforts, James spots Franck Queudrue’s handball, imploring referee Rob Styles to award a penalty… and he does!
One successful spot-kick now stands in the way of Manchester City and the UEFA Cup. Legendary striker Robbie Fowler is the man chosen to step up to the plate.
A prolific goalscorer with only Mark Schwarzer to beat from 18 years to book our flights to Europe…
Left-footed, he strikes the ball to the right of the goal but in Typical City fashion, the effort is one of the poorest of his career and easily thwarted by the ‘keeper, who pounces on the rebound.
The chance is lost and the visitors hang on for the precious point they need (but not before James completely mis-kicks the ball with an air shot; then takes out two Boro men in his second reckless challenge in a matter of minutes).
So close and yet so far. City’s European trip is cancelled at the last minute – and what a strange journey those last few minutes bore.
Watching it unfold at the other end, Weaver was as perplexed as the rest of us.
Will we ever see anything like it ever again? He hopes not…
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“I don’t think we’ll ever see a goalkeeper get put upfront for the last 10 minutes of a game,” he said.
“It was an unbelievable thing, that! That was the first thing I did at the stadium so that was my debut there!
“I didn’t know what was going on. The only three that knew were Stuart Pearce, David James and Les Chapman – the kit man.
“The first thing I knew, it was about eight or nine minutes to go and the Goalkeeping Coach told me to get ready. Then Stuart Pearce says: ‘Get ready, you’re going on’ and I didn’t know what was going on!
“And then the next minute, the kit man pulls David James’ shirt out as an outfield shirt.
“Jon Macken is sat next to me – we paid £5million for him! God knows what he must have thought but it nearly worked!
“James caused a little bit of carnage and Robbie Fowler missed the penalty which would have put us into Europe.
“I very much doubt we’ll see it again. It was a bit of a corny thing at the time. Everyone had a laugh about it but it nearly worked.
“If it had have worked and we’d have won, Stuart Pearce would have called it a masterstroke but we haven’t seen it since and I doubt we’ll see it again.”
But would Nicky have fared better had he been thrown into the mix?
“Probably not!” he laughed. “I’d have probably have been as bad as James!
“When I look back, it was my girlfriend’s first game and she said afterwards: ‘Does that happen all the time?’ and I said: ‘You’ll never see that for the rest of your life!’
“It was an unbelievable day. Looking back now, I can’t stop laughing about it really!”