In 1894, the first season after Ardwick had changed their name to Manchester City, a young Welshman by the name of Billy Meredith took the field for the blues. His first game was a 5-4 defeat away to Newcastle although he wouldn't score his first goals until the next game, his first home game against Newton Heath (later becoming United). Although he would score a brace it was not enough as City lost 5-2. In fact that season was such a crazy season for results that in 18 games, Meredith scored 12. Wins of 6-1, 7-1 and an 11-3 were countered by defeats of 8-0 and a couple of 5-2's, meant City finished mid table scoring four more goals than the winners and only conceded three less than the second from bottom team.
Ironically Meredith almost never turned professional to play for City saying that he didn't want paying for playing the game he loved! In the end he was signed as an amateur and a 5 pound transfer fee paid. However, three months later he turned professional, and would spent a quality eleven years at City scoring the only goal in City's first FA Cup victory against Bolton, on this day in 1904.
This would be the first major Cup Final to feature a side from Manchester and, from that point of view, was a big deal not just for City, but for Manchester as a whole. In fact, at the time of this game, the people of Manchester would go to a City game one week and then a United game the next. This was before the bad blood after the FA investigation a few years later, which led to an exodus of players to United and the almost death of Manchester City Football Club.
The game itself featured City, a side who had not been making much impact in the previous FA Cup's, only passing round one on two occasions since the competition had been set up. For Bolton, their season had been spent in the second tier of English football, and would not return to the top tier until the 1905-06 season.
It was clear in the build up that City were taking this very seriously and were not taking their opponents lightly. Most of the week was spent in Blackpool before the side traveled to London on the Thursday.
It was difficult going in the early stages and it was clear Bolton had come to hustle their top flight opponents. In fact it was Bolton who tested the City keeper a few times in those opening exchanges and looked most likely to score. The City Secretary-manager had said before the game that although City were expected to win, football was not an exact science and pointed to the crazy goals being scored in the League that season as evidence.
Twenty minutes in though and City got their goal. George Livingstone passed to Meredith who ran at the Bolton defense from the right wing. Shooting past the keeper, the ball finished up in the net and a huge sigh of relief must have gone up from the City faithful.
There would be no more goals in the game and, despite Bolton piling on the pressure in the dying minutes, Billy Meredith would be the first Manchester player to collect the FA Cup. A parade was delayed in Manchester after the win as City still had a League game with Everton to contest two days later. They would lose this game 1-0 and Sheffield Wednesday would finish Champions by three points.
A few seasons later Meredith would be one of those players who were forced to move from City to United and did well for his new club as he had for City up until the out break of World War One. At that point, although United still had his registration, he turned out in City colors in the Lancashire League Section!
When the legend returned to City in 1921, aged 47 he was still playing with his toothpick in his mouth. His age meant that he wasn't the spark for City that he used to be and his solitary goal came against Brighton, also in the FA Cup. It would be away to Newcastle that he would end his career at City and although it was an FA Cup Semi Final and so on neutral ground this, as you may remember, the fixture he kicked of his professional career with City.
Billy Meredith attend the 1956 he traveled to Wembley to watch his beloved City win the FA Cup he himself lifted for the club fifty two years earlier. City captain on that day was also a Welshman, Roy Paul. It would be two years later that Meredith would leave us all for the final time and less than two years after that Cup Final, Meredith passed away.
It has now been almost fifty eight years since Meredith died, and that is part of the reason I have mentioned him so much in this look back at the 1904 Cup Final. I wonder what the man, who was one of the first to organize a Players Union, which sought the relaxation and restrictions on transfers and wages, would make of today's money in the game and also what would he make of where City now find themselves, in a Champions League Semi Final!