Back in 1978-79 Manchester City had reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup by beating Milan (2-2 at the San Siro and 3-0 at Maine Road). It was the first time City had reached the quarter finals of a European trophy since 1971 and was to be their third appearance in a major European quarter final. Unfortunately, the January UEFA draw wasn’t kind as it paired City with top German side Borussia Mönchengladbach.
With West Bromwich Albion, Hertha, Duisberg, Dukla Prague, Honved and Red Star Belgrade all through the Blues had hoped for one of the less powerful sides. Nevertheless, the Blues were hopeful. Years later City player Kenny Clements told me: “We thrashed Milan at Maine Road in the second leg and I felt we’d made our mark as a European power. Everybody was talking about us, and we should have progressed further but we messed up.”
How they messed up became part of the ‘Typical City’ DNA of the club that always seemed to plague the Blues in the late 70s to 2010s (and occasionally has reared its head since then but thankfully not that often these days).
The first leg of the quarter final occurred on 7th March 1979, before a 39,005 crowd at Maine Road and the City team was: Corrigan; Donachie, Power, Reid, Watson, Booth, Channon, Viljoen, Kidd, Hartford & Barnes.
Believe it or not (this may surprise a modern audience but leading clubs often did what I’m about to say) Liverpool, in particular Bob Paisley, had spent considerable time helping the Blues prepare for this match by providing vital information on the West German side. Liverpool had faced Mönchengladbach on five occasions, the most famous was the 1977 European Cup final and the most recent being in the 1978 European Cup semi-final. Paisley told City that the game would be tough, and outlined the players to watch. He also suggested that Dave Watson and Tommy Booth might be the key men in City’s side as the Germans seemed to lack ability to attack the ball in the air.
In the 1977 European Cup final, Liverpool had defeated Mönchengladbach by playing to the strengths of players like Tommy Smith and Paisley felt City should do the same. The first leg saw Malcolm Allison, who had returned to the Blues in January as the self-styled ‘coaching overlord’, perform one of his many shock moves when Nicky Reid was thrust in to the spotlight at the age of 18 for his debut. Allison selected him to mark Allan Simonsen. It was an amazing selection at the time, but Reid did enough to justify Allison’s bold move.
Mike Channon, who was rumoured to be unhappy at the Club, managed to give the Blues a 1-0 lead. Unfortunately, the highly disciplined Mönchengladbach kept the pressure on and managed to snatch an equaliser and the often vital away goal.
The second leg of the tie took place 13 days later, on 20th March 1979 watched by around 30,000. The City team was: Corrigan; Donachie, Power, Viljoen, Watson, Booth, Channon, Reid (Deyna), Henry, Hartford & Barnes
Nicky Reid retained his place for the second leg (but still didn’t make his League debut until eleven days later when he scored against Ipswich). He was clearly a talented player but his arrival in the heat of European competition without even making an appearance in the League did raise many questions about the way Malcolm Allison was influencing things. Reid went on to captain the Blues to the FA Youth Cup final the following May, and was voted City’s young player of the year.
Malcolm Allison made yet another surprise selection as Tony Henry – another reserve who up to that point had only featured in two League game (once being substituted by Kenny Clements, once coming on for Asa Hartford) – was included while experienced European campaigners Deyna, Bell, and Kidd were left on the bench with Paul Futcher.
It was not a good night at all for City and having so much experience on the bench seemed baffling to fans, the media and also most of the players. City were very much the underdogs throughout and were losing 3-0 when, late on, Reid was substituted by Deyna. The experienced Pole provided City’s only goal of the match, but it was too late and City were out of Europe.
Kenny Clements later explained to me: “I broke my leg a few weeks after Milan so that made life a bit difficult for me, but the big problem was the return of Malcolm Allison. I know he was a great coach first time at City, but second time he really did ruin everything. All the older players told me it’d be great having him back, and then when he was back they all admitted they were wrong. I think he’d become too hung up on new ideas that he forgot about the basics. I remember he used to give us homework. He’d tell us to go home and write “I must win” or “I will win” a thousand times, then the next day he’d ask us if we’d done it.
“I always used to say ‘yeah’, but some of the younger, more impressionable lads would produce their lists and some would even write out twice as many lines! He insisted we drank coffee before a game to keep us alert, and brought in lots of motivational people. It didn’t motivate me I’m afraid!
“By the time of the next UEFA match (Mönchengladbach) I was fit but didn’t start, and then for the second leg both Brian Kidd and I had to sit it out while Nicky Reid made his debut marking one of the greatest players of all time. When we were two goals down Kiddo threw his shirt at Allison in anger.”
For many connected with City Mönchengladbach became the game that would be quoted when they discussed how things had changed following Allison’s return. Tony Book had developed a good team with a nice blend of young up-and-coming talent, like Peter Barnes (who was still only 21 but an exciting England winger), with the older experienced internationals like Dave Watson, Brian Kidd, Asa Hartford. Book’s team had been runners up to Liverpool in 1977 and had impressed with many great individual victories since then, especially that Milan victory of course, but the return of Malcolm Allison changed the dynamics at the club.
Ah well! Without that I guess City wouldn’t have what they have today, but for those of us who lived through the 70s to the present, it was the return of Allison that started the process of transforming City from regular challenging giant into a club that had lost its way. The 1978-79 Mönchengladbach games are a reminder of what we were, what we lost, but also of what we have now. Let’s ensure we enjoy the present because, as Allison once said to me: “Celebrate every success as if it’s your first, because it could be your last!”
In 1978-79 the Milan victory was City’s last in Europe until 2003-04. When City walked out to face Mönchengladbach in the quarter final none of us, especially Allison, expected it would be our last European tie for 25 years! To read about the significance and facts of City’s European heritage (there are a few points that may surprise fans of certain other clubs) then take a look at another post: https://gjfootballarchive.com/2021/01/11/manchester-citys-european-heritage-facts-not-fiction/
This post has been published prior to City’s 2020-21 meeting with Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Champions League. It should be noted that the two teams have met in the intervening years. The results are:
7/3/1979 City 1-1 Mönchengladbach (UEFA Cup)
20/3/1979 Mönchengladbach 3-1 City (UEFA Cup)
30/9/2015 Mönchengladbach 1-2 City (CL)
8/12/2015 City 4-2 Mönchengladbach (CL)
14/9/2016 City 4-0 Mönchengladbach (CL)
23/11/2016 Mönchengladbach 1-1 City (CL)