Strange tale of how Man City conquered Europe, 53 years ago

Published on: 10 June 2023

Manchester City captain Tony Book takes shelter as he receives the European Cup Winners’ Cup trophy at the Prater Stadium in Austria. The TV and radio commentary positions - the only covered area in the stadium - can be seen in the background

A version of this article first appeared on the BBC Sport website in April 2020.

It turns out Erling Haaland is not Manchester City's first star striker to be famous for marking important wins by strutting around in his underpants afterwards.external-link

If City beat Inter Milan on Saturday to win the Champions League for the first time, the aftermath could witness echoes of their first and - so far - only European triumph, 53 years ago.

Haaland might need to up his game, too. According to popular legend, City's celebrations after lifting the European Cup Winners' Cup in April 1970 involved the matchwinner, England forward Francis Lee, dancing on a piano wearing only his briefs.

After talking to Lee, it turns out that particular tale is only partially true but there were plenty of unusual elements to City's success that were completely factual.

They include why the game was watched by a record number of travelling fans from England, but by absolutely no-one back home - although it still gave commentary legend Barry Davies his big break at the BBC.

A torrential downpour ruined the night in Vienna for City's WAGS but did not prevent the players from partying and, three decades before City were banned then readmitted to Europe, the victorious Blues threatened to stage their own boycott afterwards.

What is also undisputed is that a club so often derided by rival fans for having "no history", let alone any track record in Europe, were ahead of some now established Champions League giants when it came to pioneering success on foreign fields.

City's 2-1 triumph in Austria against crack Polish side Gornik Zabrze meant they brought home a continental trophy to go with their domestic silverware before the likes of Liverpool (1973 Uefa Cup) and Juventus (1977 Uefa Cup).

Even the mighty Barcelona (1979 Cup Winners' Cup) had to wait another nine years for a Uefa-sanctioned title to go with their wins in the Inter City Fairs Cup, which would evolve into the Uefa Cup but was an independent invitational competition, initially only open to cities hosting international trade fairs, for many of the years when Barca dominated it in the 1950s and 60s.

Franny's Grand SlamCity skipper Tony Book won the League Championship trophy (left) in 1968, collected the Charity Shield and FA Cup the following season while it was still in their trophy cabinet, then made it five major trophies in three seasons when he lifted the League Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup in 1970, becoming the first English side to win a continental and domestic cup in the same campaign

Pep Guardiola's current City side are well known for collecting trophies, with two already this season following 11 others in the previous five campaigns - but in Lee's day they also had a ferocious appetite for silverware.

Under the genial Joe Mercer and his innovative assistant Malcolm Allison, an all-English City side with an exciting attack-minded style had won every domestic competition going in the previous 24 months, and they were far from finished.

"In that 1969-70 campaign, I used to talk to the other players about 'Franny's Grand Slam'," Lee explained in 2020, on the 50th anniversary of their victory in Vienna. "I had the attitude that we should try to win everything we took part in.

"We were going down to London on the train for a league game near the start of the season and in the middle of playing cards when Glyn Pardoe said 'look, there's Wembley!'

"I said 'get used to the view, because that is where we are going to do the Grand Slam this year'."

Lee was half right. He had wanted the quadruple but had to settle for a unique double instead.

While City lost against neighbours Manchester United in the fourth round of the FA Cup and slid down the league table after Christmas, they made it to Wembley in March and beat West Brom in the League Cup final.

Not many people would get to see them add the Cup Winners' Cup to their haul a few weeks later, however.

The forgotten final, missed by millionsThere are varying reports of the size of the crowd who watched City beat Gornik at the Prater Stadium, which is now known as the Ernst-Happel Stadium and was made an all-seater, completely covered by a roof, in the 1980s. Figures range from fewer than 8,000 to around 15,000.

On the same evening City played Gornik, the infamous FA Cup final replay between Chelsea and Leeds was screened live by both BBC One and ITV, with 28.5m people watching - still the sixth-biggest audience for any event in British television history.

Most-watched broadcasts in UK TV historyProgrammeDateAudience (millions)1966 World Cup final30 July 196632.3Funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales6 September 199732.1Royal Family documentary21 and 28 June 196930.72020 European Championship final11 July 202129.9Apollo 13 Splashdown17 April 197028.61970 FA Cup final replay29 April 197028.5

There were only three TV channels in the country at that point - BBC Two being the other - so City had to settle for a highlights show late that evening, instead of being the main event.

Barry Davies was sent to Austria to provide the commentary, but it remains the only European final featuring an English team not to be shown live in England.

"I was trying to work out why the hell I was doing that match," Davies told BBC Sport. "That answers the question.

"I had only joined the BBC the previous September so in normal circumstances I would not have got a European final.

"The Cup Winners' Cup was a big deal at the time. Not as much as the European Cup of course, but even so it was considered a very important trophy. I am surprised the final was played the same night as the FA Cup final replay."

As well as Davies, at least 4,000 City fans had made the 1,000-mile journey to Austria too.

At the time, it was the biggest away support an English club had taken abroad - but the total crowd in the vast 90,000-capacity Prater Stadium was a disappointing one.

With Poland behind the Iron Curtain, only a handful of Gornik fans were given visas allowing them to attend, and some horrific weather deterred all but the most hardy neutrals.

"The thing that everyone who was there will remember from it was the horrendous conditions that the match was played in," added Davies.

"The rain was torrential and it was non-stop, but there was no roof on the stadium, in fact there was no cover anywhere at all with the exception of the commentary box that I was in.

"So I do remember there was a very small crowd, and all of them got absolutely drenched very quickly once the rain started. At least half of them were City fans, and despite the weather they were a good bunch.

"City had a really fine side at that point too of course. I knew a lot of them because of my time working for Granada (regional ITV in the north-west) in 1968, when they won the title.

"Mike Summerbee, who missed the final because he was injured, was a lovely player. Colin Bell was a class act and I was big fan of Franny's as well."

'The score did not reflect City's dominance'Lee scored six goals for City in Europe that season, part of a total of 22 in 54 games in all competitions. He led England’s attack at the World Cup in Mexico that summer

It was Lee who was the star of the show on this particular night, ably assisted by Neil Young on the left flank.

Young swept home the rebound to put City ahead in the 12th minute, after Lee's shot had been spilled by the Polish side's keeper Hubert Kostka.

Then Lee doubled City's lead from the spot just before half-time, after Young had been taken out by Kostka as he ran in on goal.

"Neil played very well that night. That foul on him was so bad the keeper would have been sent off twice these days," added Lee, who despatched his penalty with typical conviction.

City's route to 1970 Cup Winners' Cup finalRoundOpponent1st leg2nd legAggregateFirst roundAthletic Bilbao (Spain)3-3 (away)3-0 (home)6-3Second roundLierse (Belgium)3-0 (away)5-0 (home)8-0Quarter-finalAcademica (Portugal)0-0 (away)1-0 after extra time (home)1-0Semi-finalSchalke (West Germany)0-1 (away)5-1 (home)5-2

Gornik replied midway through the second half but City comfortably held on for the win.

"We were very confident, we were a good side and we always thought we would win," recalled Lee. "It was raining very hard and there were puddles on the pitch but we knocked it about well and we created several chances.

"The guy who was marking me was called Jerzy Gorgon, and he was as big as Desperate Dan, but I still did pretty well against him.

"We were 2-0 up by half-time but it could have been three or four by then. They scored a good goal to pull one back in the second half but the final score was not a true reflection of what the game was about."

Celebrations that carried on and onCity manager Joe Mercer shows off the Cup Winners’ Cup trophy at the the team’s official reception the next day at Manchester town hall

This was a night to remember for City's players, but possibly not for their partners.

"The thing that stands out in my mind is that there was a Uefa banquet afterwards for the team and the officials, and the players' wives were all there too," Davies added.

"The weather during the day was quite nice so they had got themselves ready before the match but, like everyone else, they had no shelter from the rain at the stadium.

"By the end of the game they were a bedraggled bunch and I felt so sorry for them when I saw them."

That did not seem to affect City's celebrations for long, however.

"It was very late when we got back to the hotel because Uefa put on one thing and another, and then all our wives were there which slowed things down a bit," added Lee, who had turned 25 on the day of the final.

"But their hair was still bedraggled after dinner and they did not want to come out, so us lads all went out on our own.

"It was my birthday the same night, so I had a lot to celebrate, then we eventually got back to Manchester about 4pm the following day and we went out and had another celebration dinner there. That took care of Thursday night too - it went on and on.

"It was some time on Friday before I got home, and I had not been to sleep since before the game."

As for the story about Lee dancing on a piano in Vienna that Allison used to tell?

"Yes, I was on top of the piano while our chief scout, Harry Godwin, was playing away," explained Lee.

"But I was sat on it not stood up, and I was giving them a song or two - not dancing. I would definitely have been fully clothed as well, because I was not one for walking around without my trousers on."

'Our name is on it and history can never erase it'City paraded the European Cup Winners’ Cup and League Cup at their photo call before the 1970-71 season

City's then vice-chairman Frank Johnson evidently did not enjoy Vienna as much as Lee and his team-mates did.

Johnson threatened to pull the club out of Europe the following season because of Uefa's choice of venue for the final, and complained they had lost money on the tie because of the small crowd.

"That is typical of the old directors' view of looking at it," said Lee, who had a place in the boardroom himself when he was City's chairman between 1994 and 1998.

"I don't think it mattered if you lost money or made money - we won the trophy, which was an important trophy in Europe, and it made a big difference to the reputation of the club."

The Cup Winners' Cup no longer exists but was held for 39 seasons before being absorbed into the Uefa Cup - now itself known as the Europa League - in 1999.

City got as far as the semi-finals when they defended their title in 1970-71 before losing to eventual winners Chelsea.

City's hopes of being the first team to retain the trophy were ended by eventual winners Chelsea, who beat them 1-0 home and away in the 1970-71 semi-finals, and are seen celebrating here in the bath at Maine Road after the second leg with goalscorer Keith Weller holding his drink aloft. No side ever managed to win the competition in successive seasons

Before this season, they had only got past the last four in any European competition on one occasion since - when they lost in the final of the Champions League in 2021, again to Chelsea.

In contrast to 1970, the world will be watching when they try to end their long wait for more European glory in Istanbul in front of an estimated global TV audience of 450m.

"Of course European success is important for what City are trying to achieve now," added Lee. "But it was the same for us.

"I am proud of what we did, and the way we did it. Our name is on the trophy and history can never erase it."


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