Well, the first all-Manchester FA Cup final has been and gone but what a day? Before any major fixture you hope that it will live up to the hype and, as a historian, I always hope that something different than normal will occur, or a record will be broken.
I’m always keen on pointing out that history is made every day and that historians have to constantly re-evaluate what stories they are telling if they want to represent and record society as it changes. I am totally against those that think history is something that doesn’t move with the times and I always try to think about those who may be experiencing something for the first time. City’s 2023 FA Cup success could easily be the earliest footballing memory for some and what a memory it will be!
As I entered the stadium the entry gate and stairway I used had the usual years and landmark moments decorating its walls and I did notice the comment about the fastest goal in a FA Cup final (it claimed Di Matteo’s goal after 43 seconds was still the record, so that needed updating even before the game!). I didn’t expect any goal to occur in the first few minutes of the game, never mind the first few seconds. More on that in a moment.
The journey to Wembley was more difficult than normal, due to the rail strike and the fact so many were going down the same routes. The route I took, mostly M1, seemed busier than normal (normal – it’s ‘normal’ going to Wembley now!) but it was mostly City fans I saw. I’m sure others experienced something else but for me there were the occasional United vehicles. Most of the cars and coaches that I saw with colours showing (scarves out the window is an absolute must on days like these for many of us!) were blue not red. That reminded me a lot of the 2011 FA Cup semi final when every City car we saw was full of happy, laughing, smiling City fans pre-match but United fans seemed more serious or concerned with what the day would bring. The similarities between the two days were striking.
Traffic jams meant the journey was longer than anticipated but once we parked up in our usual spot (‘usual’, ‘normal’ – I hope that never changes) we were ready. A quick wander around was followed by buying the programme. I had two articles in this year’s FA Cup final programme – one on City & United’s first FA Cup successes in 1904 and 1909 and another was a peaks and troughs sort of timeline. Both pieces were neutral and I was delighted to be asked to contribute to the programme once more.
Inside the stadium the tickets we had bought were up at the back of level 5 block 546. Coincidentally just before kick off the people on the row behind us arrived and one was Ian Brightwell, one of the players when City defeated United in the only previous All-Manchester FA final (that was the 1986 FA Youth Cup).
As for the game. Well, what an opener! We’d not had chance to settle really when Gundogan netted that wonderful strike. I remember looking straight up to the video screen and seeing the clock change from 12 to 13 seconds. Incredible.
As Brightwell was behind me I couldn’t resist turning to him and saying ‘I see Gundogan “just wellied it!” like you did in 1990.’ For those that don’t remember or are too young Brightwell did a similar goal from several yards out in an Old Trafford derby in 1990. Afterwards while being interviewed he was asked about the goal but the interview kept being interrupted and so he had to answer the question multiple times. On the last occasion he simply answered: ‘I just wellied it!’ and the phrase entered City folklore.
There was the penalty given to United of course – I won’t go into the rights and wrongs of that but i do want to mention VAR. I find it absolutely ridiculous that those of us who have spent considerable time and effort in getting to Wembley and attending the final are the ones who knew least about what was going on. We had nothing on the screen to tell us a check was in progress; we had no opportunity to see the video clips and we only knew it was being reviewed when the ref stopped the game (after some time too! What if a player had been injured or another goal had been scored in the meantime?) and went over to the monitor.
The moment he headed towards the monitor we knew something was going to be given because I can’t think of a time when a ref has stuck to his guns in England (I’m sure it’s happened but I don’t remember).
The penalty changed the mood for a while, but City fans were in good voice when the second half started and it seemed inevitable then that the Blues would score again. I don’t think any of us expected Gundogan to be the man again but over these last few months he’s clearly led by example. He deserved the man of the final award and hopefully he’ll get further honours this season.
So the game ended 2-1 and City have achieved a coveted double again (last time was the only time an English club had won a domestic treble!). Brilliant work City and the season isn’t over yet!
It was wonderful to see the players celebrate. Those celebrations on the pitch demonstrated how much this all meant to them. People often try to suggest a domestic cup isn’t anything special but it absolutely is. How many of us have ever won a FA Cup? These players were outstanding and deserve tremendous praise, as does the manager of course.
People talk about money but City are not the biggest spenders either in actual outflow terms or in net spend terms. Like Alex Ferguson and United in the late 1980s/early 1990s, City have spent money on players to find success. Also, like United at that time trophy success brings additional income, gate receipts, prize money, sponsorship etc. which in turn can be used to invest in youth development and finding ways to sustain success. There’s no point going on about this but I do wish that people looked at the history of football and focused on fact rather than the fiction that often gets spouted.
On the way home there was a lot of talk on the radio about possible trebles and it was interesting that almost every phone-in I could find was trying to compare United’s 1999 treble with the possibility of City winning one this season. Who knows how Saturday will go and I won’t get drawn into that but I do want to say that United winning the treble was an incredible achievement. If City manage to do the same this year then that will also be an incredible achievement. So much has changed in 24 years that comparisons are ridiculous.
Actually, I did hear on the radio one presenter go on about how City have spent because ‘in 1999 when United were winning their treble they were getting promoted’ (paraphrased but basically that comment). Had I been able to call in I might have done because 24 years ago that is true but it is also true that 24 years before 1999 United were also getting promoted. It’s a similarity people have overlooked, but if somehow it is wrong for City to go from struggling team to potential treble winners in 24 years then surely it would also be wrong for United to do the same? Ah well! Facts not fiction.
When City got back to Manchester they were greeted by Elton John who, it has been said, waited to meet and congratulate them. The videos and photos are wonderful to watch. Noel Gallagher may have to watch out – usually he’s the one singing along with Pep and the players after a major trophy success.
While you are here why not have a look at the 100 day countdown I’m doing to mark the centenary of Maine Road’s first game? You can do a search on Maine Road or start by looking at this one: