Maine Road, the iconic stadium of Manchester City, would have been 100 years old this year and we’re looking back at some of the good and bad times and bizarre moments that thrilled, frustrated and often confused the faithful.
Here, we examine three matches that saw the end of a potential career, one of the fastest bookings in history and how a 6’ 4” striker compounded Derby County’s dismal season.
Paul Lake’s Career-Ending Injury
Paul Lake was one of the most gifted players of his generation. Making his debut in January 1987, Lakey became a first-team regular in Mel Machin’s second division side for the 87/88 season.
A midfielder, Lakey could play anywhere; right back, centre defence or striker. it didn’t matter - Lakey played where the manager wanted him to and could always be depended on. In the 88/89 season, he swallowed his tongue in a home match against Leicester City and missed the following trip to Sunderland, but he recovered and helped the team win promotion back to the First Division.
In the 89/90 season, Lakey was the key instigator as City destroyed United at Maine Road and was apparently the subject of a £3m bid by Liverpool to take him to Anfield. The chairman Peter Swales, who had gained a reputation for selling fan favourites, realised the extend of what would happen if he sold Lake and, for once, turned down the offer.
After City avoided relegation, Lakey was made captain for the 90/91 season, but, just three games in, the dream of leading his beloved blues, whom he’d supported as a kid, turned into a nightmare that would ultimately end his career.
In the 65th minute, Lakey had been involved in an innocuous challenge for the ball and caught his studs in the turf. The midfielder went off and scans revealed there were no broken bones and the injury wouldn’t take long to heal. In fact, on the train to Bramhall Lane three days later, rumours were rife that Lakey would in fact be available.
Those rumours turned out to be wrong and the City star discovered he’d ruptured his ACL. After ten months, he was deemed fit to play, but broke down again in July 1991 and underwent further surgery and spent another season on the sidelines.
By the time he returned, the Premier League had been created. City’s home match with QPR was the first to be featured on a Monday night and Lakey made his long-awaited return. The buzz around the ground as the star received a pass and charged at the Rangers defence what manager Peter Reid had said before the match - “It’s like being handed a new £3m player.”
“Lakey is back, Lakey is back” we roared from the Kippax as we welcomed our hero back to Maine Road. Sadly for Lakey, it didn’t last. After feeling pressure on his knee, Lakey was withdrawn on 60 minutes to rapturous applause from around the ground, but just two days later, the ligament snapped again at Middlesbrough. Unfortunately, there was no way back this time, despite another lengthy surgery.
Lakey battled against the injury but hung up his boots aged just 28. It was a sad end for the man who had been labelled by Bobby Robson as a future England captain.
In October 1997, Lakey was granted a testimonial by the club and United were the opposition. Alex Ferguson fielded a strong side despite the match being played during the season, such was the feeling of love from Manchester for City’s fallen hero.
Vinnie Jones - The Fastest Yellow In Town
We all know who this guy is and many of today’s generation may only know of him through his acting career. Of course, he is usually playing some kind of henchman, an enforcer that represents his playing style on the pitch.
Jones had a reputation for not holding back with challenges. He’d dive in and not really care what the outcome was, which is how he got one of the fastest bookings, if not the fastest, in footballing history.
In January 1991, City welcomed Jones’ Sheffield United to Maine Road. City kicked off and so did Jones. The game was less than five seconds old when the Welsh midfielder decided he didn’t really like Peter Reid.
He lunged in on the City player/manager and the referee reached for the yellow card. Jones would have to be careful for the next 89 minutes and 55 seconds.
That was never going to happen.
Nine minutes into the second half, Jones’ two-footed lunge at Reid was enough for the referee to produce a red card and Jones’ afternoon came to an end. The blues won 2-0 thanks to a brace by Mark Ward.
Niall Quinn - The Man Who Compounded Derby County’s Season
Niall Quinn had gained something of a reputation at Maine Road. He’d signed for City just before the March transfer deadline in 1990 for around £800k to bolster City’s attack and made his mark by scoring at home to Chelsea on his debut.
The 6’ 4” striker was an instant hit. His height gave City a different option up front, allowing them to finally have a target man for wingers Mark Brennan and David White, whose crosses into the box would often end in nothing.
The striker wasn’t known particularly well for skill, but developed this over the years to make some fantastic touches, defence-splitting passes and often, some amazing goals. Just ask Leeds United a season later on that one.
But it was a match against Derby County in 1991 that the ROI striker really gained cult status. For me, well, it was a lesson not to drink too much before a match. A little context here would be helpful. At the time of this match, I’d meet with some friends in the Lord Nelson pub on Newton Street. We’d have a couple of pints and go to the match and get a lift to the match.
This particular day, Phil, who always drove, had taken his car in for repairs and wouldn’t get it back until Monday. Couple with my birthday celebrations, we decided to meet a bit earlier and have considerably more than two pints (this is all relevant).
So, we made our way to Maine Road and the ground erupted as Quinny put us 1-0 up. Then the one thing I didn’t want to happen, happened. After who knows how many pints, I needed the toilet and had to make my way to the Kippax...well...what they loosely called a toilet.
Not much had happened in the game to this point, it wasn’t far from half-time and I thought it would be safe enough to go. If I missed a goal, that’s fine, I can live with that. On my way back, hunger took over me and I decided to get a pie and a packet of crisps. While I was waiting a howl of derision went up from the Kippax ‘oh dear’ I thought. ‘Who’s been booked?’
Next thing I know, the Kippax erupted. ‘2-0,’ I thought. ‘I wonder who scored?’ As I raced back up the tunnel to see the action, I saw keeper Tony Coton catching the ball from a corner and another huge cheer went up.
Finding my mates, I asked who scored. ‘You chose the wrong time to go,’ said one of the lads and explained what had happened.
Dean Saunders, star striker for Derby, had beat the offside trap and was brought down by Coton, resulting in a penalty. The ref then sent Coton off - that was the howl of derision I heard. I later saw on replays that Coton had thrown his gloves at the ref. Imagine that today? It’d be a 70-match ban, unless you played for United or Liverpool!
Niall Quinn had gone in goal and saved Saunders’ spot-kick - the raucous cheering. Then, he’d towered above any Derby players to catch the resulting corner. It was Quinn I’d seen, not Coton. And, to compound it all, I dropped my pie! (I’m never drinking at the football again, I vowed, which lasted three days when we went to Aston Villa and won 5-1. I looked up at the scoreboard, thought I was hallucinating and vowed I would never again drink at the football, which lasted another two weeks).
City later scored again through David White after some really poor play by Derby and, although Mick Harford beat Quinn late on, City won 2-1.
Derby were down and City finished fifth, four points clear of United.