x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Win is Man City's own Escape to Victory

Saturday's FA Cup win was City's own escape to victory. A chance to slip away from decades of failure and distance ourselves from the cynics.

With Manchester City a goal to the good in the dying minutes of Saturday's FA Cup final, the television feed cut away from the action on the pitch and focused on Wembley Stadium's Royal Box. There, Francis Lee, Tony Book and Mike Summerbee sat side-by-side, three greats from City's past, each wearing the broadest of smiles.

The image was a powerful one. For a generation, City fans, former players and staff have been conditioned to get our excuses in early, to hope for the best, but to fear the worst. Not anymore, not after Yaya Toure's late goal had ensured the pain of years of underachievement had finally and decisively been swept away.

Lee, once a formidable leader of the line in City's league and cup-winning side of the late 1960s, returned to the club as chairman in 1994 and talked of challenging Manchester United's dominance. He resigned four years later after a period of terrible failure, but his heart never left the Blues.

Book was City's captain when the team last won the FA Cup, in 1969, and the manager seven years later when a Dennis Tueart wonder goal was enough to secure the club's last meaningful trophy. Back then it looked like Book was on the verge of fashioning his own glory years, before the club's chairman, Peter Swales, cruelly pushed him aside.

Summerbee, another central figure in that trophy-winning side of the 1960s, remains a lively presence behind the scenes on match days at City, and, fittingly, once played a bit part in Escape to Victory, the John Huston-directed football film that starred Pele and Sylvester Stallone.

Saturday's win was City's own escape to victory. A chance to slip away from decades of failure, to step out of Manchester United's long shadows and distance ourselves from the cynics who maintained Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed's remarkable and sustained investment in the club would never bear fruit.

Even so, the presence of the club's near neighbours stalked Saturday's proceedings, after United wrapped up that record-breaking 19th league title minutes before the Blues took to the Wembley turf.

It was, of course, the same in 1968, when two weeks after City had claimed their last league crown, United crushed Benfica 4-1 at Wembley to become the first English side to win the European Cup. History repeated itself in 1999 when, four days before City's previous appearance in a Wembley final, a desperate League One play-off win over Gillingham, United claimed their second European crown.

Ferguson's men go for a European championship again in 12 days time.

Nevertheless, surely only the churlish would deny City a moment in the sun. If the hope used to kill us, then Abu Dhabi has revived us. City are back and, fittingly, back at Wembley again in three months, against United in the season-opening FA Community Shield. What a prospect that is.

Nick March is The National's Review editor and a lifelong City fan