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When Manchester City Were A European Champion

A Look Back At City’s Only Triumph In Europe

Soccer - European Cup Winners Cup - Final - Manchester City v Gornik Zabrze Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

As Manchester City take to the pitch on Saturday evening, they will be aiming to emulate the great team of a bygone era and take a European crown for only the second time in their history.

That first win was achieved by a magnificent side, brilliantly put together by the legendary Joe Mercer and his assistant Malcolm Allison. In 1968, City won the league, which led Allison to famously claim that City would ‘terrify Europe.’ Sadly, he was wrong at the time, although some could argue that he didn’t set a date when this would happen!

In 1969, City beat Leicester City 1-0 in the FA Cup Final at Wembley, Neil Young’s goal in the 24th minute was enough to bring the trophy back to Manchester and secure City’s place in the 1969/70 European Cup Winners Cup campaign.

Route to the Final

City entered the competition at the first round stage. In those days, the draw was simple - every team went into the same hat and were drawn against each other. No team was seeded and there was only one team from each country, so no need for complex systems keeping teams away from each other. Such a simple format that worked!

For the first round of matches, City faced Spanish side Atletico Bilbao and City found themselves two goals down after just 12 minutes. FA Cup hero Young pulled a goal back three minutes before half-time, but a goal by Fidel Uriarte put Bilbao 3-1 up. Tommy Booth pulled a goal back on 68 minutes and an own goal by Igartua four minutes from time secured a 3-3 draw.

Back at Maine Road, the blues made light work of the Spanish Side. Alan Oakes fired in a long-range effort, then had a hand in the second. His ball forward found Mike Summerbee, but the keeper raced off his line to stop the winger getting a shot away. The rebound fell to Young, whose shot deflected up and Colin Bell had the simple task of heading into an empty net.

Francis Lee was the architect of the third. He turned the Bilbao defence and released Young, whose shot was saved and Ian Bowyer rifled home to secure City’s 6-3 aggregate win.

The blues had no such trouble in the second round as they faced Belgian side Lierse and the tie was effectively over after just 45 minutes. Francis Lee scored his first of the game after five minutes, then doubled the lead 30 minutes later. Bell then scored City’s goal on the stroke of half-time as the blues took a 3-0 lead back to Manchester.

In the return leg, the blues routed the Belgians with an incredible attacking display in the second half. Summerbee had put City 1-0 up in the first half, but a brace by Lee within ten minutes of the second half put the blues 3-0 up on the night and 6-0 on aggregate. Bell then scored two goals in 11 minutes to send City through to the quarter-final with an 8-0 aggregate victory.

A tough last-eight match against Portuguese side Academica awaited City, and the blues squeezed through thanks to a 1-0 win at Maine Road. After the first leg finished goalless, substitute Tony Towers scored the only goal of the tie and City edged into the last four and a date with German side Schalke 04.

The blues lost the first leg 1-0 thanks to a late Reinhard Libuda goal, but City turned it around in the return leg. Mike Doyle levelled the tie after 8 minutes and a brace by Young put the blues ahead in the tie for the first time.

Further goals by Lee (50) and Bell (81) sent the blues 5-1 up on aggregate and, despite a late consolation from Libuda, City were on the way to Vienna.

The Final Stage

City were through to their first European final and would face Polish side Gornik Zabrze in Vienna on 29th April 1970. City had already claimed the League Cup with an extra-time win over West Brom, and now looked to add the Cup Winners Cup to the trophy cabinet.

Summerbee wasn’t fit enough to be named in the starting 11 and was replaced by George Heslop, although Buzzer was able to be named on the subs bench.

Gornik had an interesting route to the final, beating Olympiacos 7-2 on aggregate in the first round before beating Rangers 3-1 both home and away. In the quarter-final, Gornik overcame Levski-Spartak thanks to the away goals rule. A 3-2 away defeat was countered by a 2-1 home victory that sent the Polish side through.

In the last four, neither Gornik nor their opponents Roma could get a decisive winner. A 1-1 draw in Poland and a 2-2 draw in Rome saw the tie go to play-off situation in Strasbourg. After that match ended 1-1, a ‘coin toss,’ using a disk with red and green sides, was used to decide the match. Gornik chose green and the disk landed in their favour and they were through to face the blues.

On a glorious night in Vienna, Francis Lee ran the show. On 12 minutes, his shot from distance was parried by the keeper, but Young was on hand to fire the ball home and give City the lead.

On 43 minutes, a mistake in the Gornik defence gifted the ball to Young, who raced forward and was brought down by the keeper. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Lee stepped up to hammer the ball home and send City in 2-0 up at the break.

With the rain hammering down, it seemed like the trophy was on its way to Manchester, but in the 68th minute, Bell gave away a needless free-kick which gave the Polish side hope. The set-piece went into the City area and the blues failed to clear, which allowed Stanislaw Oslizlo the chance to fire home and reduce the deficit.

City were still the better side and had chances to increase the lead but didn’t take them, but in the end, it didn’t matter. As the referee blew for full-time, City won their first European trophy, taking the Cup Winners Cup back to Manchester.