The 1996/97 season was a difficult one for blues fans. City had been relegated, Alan Ball sacked, Steve Coppell hired, Steve Coppell resigned, Frank Clarke hired. And after all that, City sat in 15th place in the First Division when Kevin Horlock made his debut against Oxford United.
Horlock had been manager Clarke’s first City signing, bringing him in from Swindon Town for a fee of around £1.5m. Horlock had made over 200 appearances for Swindon, scoring 26 goals and was regarded by then Chairman Francis Lee as one of two good signings Clarke made in his two year tender.
Horlock made his City debut in the 4-1 win at Oxford in February 1997 and the following season was a regular member of the City side until injury sidelined him for four months. In that time, Clarke got the boot and Joe Royle came in to try and steady the rapidly sinking City ship. On the last day of the season, City needed to win at Stoke and did so in style, with scoring the fifth goal of a 5-2 win, however it wasn’t enough to avoid the trap door again.
The midfielder stayed with the club and a series of excellent performances helped guide the club up the table into the play-off positions, where they would face Gillingham in the final. 2-0 down with only a few minutes on the clock, it was Horlock’s coolly taken goal that dragged City back into the match and set up the grand finale of Paul Dickov’s equaliser and the agony of a penalty shoot-out.
Horlock was part of the City team that won automatic promotion to the Premier League in 2000, and suffered relegation with the side twelve months later however, under new manager Kevin Keegan, Horlock was deployed into a holding midfield role as the blues secured promotion back to the Premier League in style, scoring 108 goals in the process.
During the 1998/99 season, Horlock was sent off in a match against Bournemouth. Having already been booked, he was shown a second yellow card for the crime of ‘walking towards the referee in an aggressive manner while asking a question,’ which even today remains one of the most bizarre red cards ever seen.
The midfielder left the club in 2003 after six and a half years with the blues. In that time, he scored 44 goals in 232 appearances for City, however he is still popular amongst the City faithful and regularly interacts with blues fans on Twitter.