“Someone said to me after the game I’d be dining on that for 20 years, and I thought, ‘Yeah right’. But here we are 20 years later still talking about it.”
Nicky Weaver couldn’t know as a 20-year-old that his penalty saves to help Manchester City defeat Gillingham in the Division Two play-off final would be one of the biggest moments of his career, just as it wasn’t immediately obvious what a seismic two hours it would prove for the club and for English football.
At the time, the blue half of Manchester was overwhelmingly relieved to have escaped from the third division at the first time of asking after a season that had been more difficult than any had envisaged.
With every subsequent trophy hoovered up by an increasingly successful squad, that game has become even more legendary in City’s history.
“It’s gathered some momentum over the years,” said Weaver. “Even from 10 years ago, more people ask me now than ever before. If City has just been a mediocre Premier League club now, no-one would talk about it as much as they do, but the fact of where they are and where they have come from, it just makes the story so much bigger and so much better.
“I’m sure the 25-year anniversary will be equally as big.”
Paul Dickov scored the dramatic last-minute equaliser that saw the Blues rescue a seemingly hopeless situation against Gillingham at Wembley, and the image of him celebrating that goal is iconic.
He has noticed a change over the last decade in how that day is remembered.
“It’s weird but maybe 8-10 years ago that game and that goal maybe didn’t seem as important,” he said. “Fans would still come up and talk about it but I think the success that the club are having now magnifies what happened back then, it makes it more important and more nostalgic.
“The club are dominating football at the minute and with the football that they are playing, it makes it more iconic and nicer for the fans to think that 20 years ago we were there, 20 years later we’re winning Premier Leagues and breaking all sort of records.”
As happy as City’s 1999 group are to still be remembered warmly at a club where the team has changed beyond all recognition in the last 20 years, they are also grateful for the support they got at the time.
‘Where were you when you were ****?’ is a song as predictable as it is tedious when it is aimed at Blues in pretty much every game at home or around the country.
The answer, for those old enough to remember or willing to look back, is wherever Division Two took them. Their average attendance at Maine Road topped 28,000, while often there would be temporary stands at away grounds to accommodate the travelling support.
“The biggest memory for me was the support that we got from the fans,” said Dickov.
“To be at that level at the lowest point in the club’s history and still get 30,000 fans every week and take over every away ground. It seemed the worse we got as a team, perversely the better the fans were.
“They must have got some weird kick out of doing it but they backed us through thick and thin so I’m delighted for them to be able to see all the titles City are winning now.”
And while the fanbase has grown as the club has grown to become one of the leading clubs in Europe and the world, there remains a connection to the players that slogged it out in the third tier to start the upward curve for one of the oldest clubs in the country.
As Pep Guardiola and his side clinched an unprecedented domestic treble to follow up their unprecedented 100-point haul in the Premier League, replica shirts from the 1999 Wembley final could be seen as the same fans that have seen City at their lowest watch them set new heights.
“The nice thing for me is 20 years later, I was looking at the game and seeing those shirts in the crowd at Brighton,” said Gareth Taylor. “It’s amazing when you see that. It’s quite an iconic shirt that as well.
You go to the stadium now, you go to the Etihad, or Brighton as an example, of seeing those shirts, and other shirts through the years, and you’re seeing the yellow bananas and all of those things. There’s a real strong link to the history of this club. I think that’s brilliant.
“The club is great in remembering the past and celebrating the past. Obviously, at the moment, we’ve got a lot to celebrate and be thankful for in terms of the first team and performing and the amazing job that Pep’s doing.”
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