We continue our look at the rise of the blues from the depths of English football’s third tier to Premier League glory. Next up is the amazing 1999/00 season.
As City fans, we know life is never, ever dull with the blues. After the drama of the play-off final against Gillingham, City needed to consolidate themselves in the First Division before going for a promotion push. But City being City, they were never going to settle for humdrum of consolidation. It was either promotion or relegation; anything else just wasn’t City.
The blues prepared for their first Division One campaign in two years and pre-season finished with a 2-1 win at home to Liverpool, and the first match of the season was at home to Wolves. The fans were in an optimistic mood; there was no way City would drop down a division again and they would prove it by beating one of the promotion favourites.
Okay, so it didn’t quite go to plan as the blues lost 1-0, then travelled to Craven Cottage for their first away game for the second successive season. Again the blues failed to score, but also kept a clean sheet on this occasion too as the match ended 0-0. Sandwiched in between that game was a home match against Burnley in the League Cup, which the blues won 5-0. The also won the return 1-0 at Turf Moor.
Sheffield United were next at Maine Road and the blues turned in a dazzling display to hammer the Blades 6-0. That match was then followed by another four successive victories. Mark Kennedy scored the only goal of the game at The Reebok Stadium as the blues beat Bolton, while Nottingham Forest (1-0) and Crystal Palace (2-1) were dispatched at Maine Road. City then travelled to Walsall and came away with another 1-0 win. Five wins, one draw and one defeat landed the blues at the top of the table, one point clear of Birmingham.
The fans dared to dream, but two teams from East Anglia tried to shatter them. Back to back defeats at Ipswich (2-1) and Norwich (1-0), both in the space of three days meant the blues finished September in fourth. October kicked off another unbeaten run that would last until the end of November. A 2-1 win at home to Port Vale was followed by a 1-1 draw at Tranmere. The blues travelled to St Andrews and a match against the team directly above them. City had a decent record against Birmingham, and that was upheld as the blues walked away with a 1-0 and three points.
Blackburn were sent back to Ewood Park empty handed as the blues won 2-0, followed by the return game against Ipswich. The Tractor Boys would prove to be City’s big threat towards the end of the season, so City’s 1-0 win at Maine Road would turn out to be one of the most crucial results of the season. A 2-1 win at Port Vale was quickly followed with a 4-2 win at home to Portsmouth. A 1-1 draw at Loftus Road against QPR left the blues top of the league once more.
But City faced a big test in the form of second placed Charlton Athletic. The blues had a one point advantage going into the game, but Charlton had a game in hand, so when City came away from The Valley with three points, courtesy of a 1-0 win, it put a little breathing space between us and the chasing pack. City beat Barnsley 3-1 at Maine Road to send the club four points clear of Charlton and five clear of their next opponents at Maine Road, Huddersfield.
Last time these two teams met, Huddersfield ran out 1-0 winners and the blues were determined to get some revenge. But the ten match unbeaten run City had put together came crashing down as Huddersfield repeated the scoreline from two years earlier, and the Terriers were now just two points behind.
The first match in December saw City travel to Wolves. The home side had started the season well, but had now dropped to twelfth in the league, sixteen points behind City, who they beat on the opening day. As well as putting together some great results, City had ridden their luck on many occasions. There were rumblings among the City faithful that the blues would be caught out one day, and would get a true beating. Their predictions came scarily true. A 4-1 hammering from Wolves condemned City to their fifth defeat of the season, but they somehow clung to the top spot.
But, ever determined to mess it up, the blues gave second placed Huddersfield another chance at disposing them as leaders as they lost 2-1 to Stockport at Maine Road. This time, Huddersfield didn’t waste the opportunity and took over at the top. City were in FA Cup Third Round action in mid-December, winning 4-1 at Chester. The date had been moved to apparently ease fixture congestion later in the season. It was soon realised that was a bad idea and it didn’t really help anyone. The fourth round saw City at home to Leeds in January, where the blues lost 5-2. Back to league action and City would enter the new millennium on the back of three straight wins. Swindon (3-0) and Grimsby (2-1) were beaten at Maine Road, with a 2-0 win at West Brom sandwiched in between them on Boxing Day. By the end of the year, City had reclaimed top spot and a four point lead. The fans early seasons dreams were becoming a reality. After four years and two relegations, could the blues return to the Premier League?
Despite the hysteria surrounding the supposed Y2K bug, where all computers would die and planes would fall from the skies, nothing actually happened, but there were no bugs in the City team, well except one that finished the first game of 2000 at Crewe with a 1-1 draw. Fulham came to Maine Road and were dispatched 4-0 before City travelled across the Pennines to face Sheffield United, It was payback for the Blades’ heavy early season battering as City lost 1-0. By now, Charlton had replaced City at the top and opened up a four point lead. The blues racked up two successive 3-1 victories at Nottingham Forest and home to Norwich, before finally hitting a slump.
Successive 1-1 draws at Huddersfield, home to Walsall and away to Crystal Palace, were followed by two defeats; 3-1 at home to QPR and 2-1 at Barnsley. This winless run saw the blues drop to fourth, thirteen points behind runaway leaders Charlton, but one point behind second placed Ipswich, but with the added bonus of Barnsley blocking their way. And it was the leaders who City faced next at Maine Road and walked away with a point following a 1-1 draw. The blues faced a local derby at Stockport which ended 2-2, which also put a dent in City’s automatic promotion hopes.
The winless run ended as West Brom were beaten 2-1 at Maine Road. This was followed by a 2-0 win at Swindon, a 2-0 win at home to Bolton and a 4-0 hammering of Crewe at Maine Road. This run of wins pushed City forward and they now once again sat in second place, eleven points behind Charlton but crucially, three points ahead of third placed Ipswich. But a 1-1 draw at Grimsby, coupled with an Ipswich win sent the nerves jangling amongst the fans. They now had to match or better everything Ipswich did to win promotion. Their fate was in their own hands.
City beat Tranmere 2-0 at Maine Road and an Ipswich defeat saw the blues within touching distance of the Premier League. City travelled to Fratton Park, knowing that a win against Portsmouth, and victory over Birmingham at Maine Road four days later would seal promotion in front of their own fans. So in typical City style, the blues drew 2-2 at Pompey. Ipswich were now just two points behind, and any slip up from City would throw away the advantage, A nervy 1-0 home win over Birmingham set up what promised to be a dramatic final day of the season at Blackburn.
7th May 2000. All City had to do was match or better the Ipswich result. Simple. That’s all it would take to win promotion. The faithful packed out the away end, many parts of the home ends and a hill overlooking Ewood Park. The only issue was that City had won twice at Blackburn in the league since 1938, and all of those games the blues lost, while Ipswich were at home to Walsall, who were in a relegation scrap with local rivals West Brom. But let’s not worry about them; all we have to do is beat Blackburn to secure promotion. Nothing to it. Yep!
It wouldn’t be City without last day drama, and Joe Royle’s team talk must have been how best to put the fans through agony before tasting ecstasy, but whatever he said worked. Blackburn went in at half time 1-0 up but it really should have been more. And before City got their act together, the home side had hit the woodwork four times. But the footballing gods were wearing sky blue that day. And when Kevin Horlock’s wicked cross eluded Dickov, Shaun Goater stole in at the far post to guide the ball home and turn despair to delirium. The fans in the ground went wild. The fans on the hill went wild. Feed the Goat, the fans chanted. And they did and City were almost there.
City had their tails up and were suddenly hungry to seal it. Buoyed on by the incredible support, the blues ploughed forward. Blue Moon rang out, but in the 67th minute, the blues most famous chant was replaced by wild celebrations as Christian Dailly did a Jamie Pollock and put the ball past his own keeper to give City the lead. The City bench celebrated, despite Joe Royle calling for calm, while Nicky Weaver, play-off hero from last season waved and celebrated to the hordes of fans behind his goal. “We’re going up, we’re going up, we’re going, City’s going up,” sang the fans as a conga started in the Blackburn end. But the blues were not done.
Seven minutes later, Mark Kennedy made it 3-1. A cross from the right was flicked away from Paul Dickov, but fell to the unmarked Kennedy, who rifled the ball home, then ran to celebrate with Royle on the City touchline, before being mobbed by the rest of the team. Nicky weaver performed cartwheels in his box as the fans went wild.
It only took City five more minutes to finish the game in style. Paul Dickov, the man whose last minute goal at Wembley twelve months earlier, raced clear of the Blackburn defence to calmly slot home City’s fourth with a cool finish. What had happened in the first half had been forgotten. What happened at Portman Road didn’t matter, and as the final whistle blew, City fans invaded the pitch to celebrate with the players, the manager and anyone else they could get hold of.
Four years since City went down at home to Liverpool, two years since they hit a new low by dropping to the third division. Back to back promotions finally gave the long suffering fans something to celebrate. The Blue Moon was rising once again.
City were back in the big time.