Manchester City fans recall journey from Gills to Champions League thrills

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For Manchester City fans of almost all ages, the Champions League final on Saturday is the culmination of a remarkable journey.

Younger supporters have enjoyed an exhilarating ride over the last 13 years, with the club’s takeover by Sheikh Mansour fuelling a dramatic ascent to the top of the game that has already brought five Premier League titles.

Those a bit older will recall the woes of the years immediately preceding all that, with the nadir being the relegation to the third tier that left them facing an uncertain financial future in 1998.

City supporters have seen plenty of ups and downs
City supporters have seen plenty of ups and downs (Nick Potts/PA)

For the senior members of the fanbase, the adventure has been even more of a roller coaster, beginning with the league and FA Cup successes of the late 1960s and taking in plenty of ups and downs since.

“When we won the League Cup in 1976 and were runners-up to Liverpool by one point in 1977, I thought football was only going to get better and better,” said Kevin Parker, 60, general secretary of City’s Official Supporters Club and a season-ticket holder since 1973.

“The reality was it didn’t. It just got worse! But I have been on that journey and it’s been great.

“I wouldn’t have changed that ride. I wouldn’t swap any of those 35 years when we didn’t win a trophy for anybody else’s success because it was great. It was a fantastic journey.

“I don’t still want to be on it – to be fair – but we’ve had the best of both worlds.”

City needed the play-offs to escape from the third tier in 1999
City needed the play-offs to escape from the third tier in 1999 (Tony Harris/PA)

Saturday’s glamour clash against Chelsea in Porto comes 22 years after City needed a dramatic penalty shootout victory over Gillingham in the play-off final to escape the division now known as League One.

Had that not happened then financial difficulties could have jeopardised the move from Maine Road to what is now the Etihad Stadium, and that in turn might have prevented the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008.

“Of course I’d say this but what makes City one of the most interesting clubs is that the worst period in their history was in living memory for the majority of fans,” said David Mooney, 33, host of the Blue Moon podcast.

“It’s only 23 years they were starting a season in the third tier. You can’t get away from the fact they have spent a lot of money, and they wouldn’t be where they are now without the investment from Sheikh Mansour, but the fans that endured that season in the third tier have done the hard yards.

“It’s for those people I am most happy.”

City fans have often booed the Champions League anthem - but this expresses frustration with UEFA rather than the competition itself
City fans have often booed the Champions League anthem – but this expresses frustration with UEFA rather than the competition itself (Nick Potts/PA)

While the ambition of City’s top brass to win the Champions League has been evident for some time, there has been a perception the fans are rather more apathetic to the competition.

Parker is keen to point out this is a misunderstanding of supporters’ grievances with European governing body UEFA.

He told the PA news agency: “People have this belief that City fans don’t like the Champions League but that’s not true. It’s UEFA we don’t like.

“The Champions League, as a competition, is one of those things we’ve always wanted to compete in, get to a final and win it.

“We are in the final now and it is very exciting. We are looking forward to going and we are in with a great chance. That seems like an unbelievable position to be in.”