Saturday, 23 May 2009

Four minutes to go

30th may 1999. A beautiful day like today. Wembley. The Division Two play-off, City managed by (Kevin Keegan - wrong! It was Joe Royle!) trying to get out of the old Third at the first time of asking. We'd seen teams play at Maine Road who treated the visit as a cup game, teams who might otherwise not have been to Moss Side to the ground where Joe Mercer had worked his magic to bring together the Bell, Lee, Summerbee team thirty years earlier.

After 86 minutes of, frankly, turgid football City were losing by 2 goals to Gillingham who had finished fourth in the league, a place below City. Blues were streaming out of the stadium dreading the temporary stand at Macclesfield again, more visits to Wrexham and Colchester. The next 60 or so minutes is given to be the most exciting in play-off history. Horlock got City a consolation goal after picking up the loose ball from a Gills tackle on Goater. At 90 minutes the fourth official showed the sign with five minutes extra time. In the fifth of them Dickov got the equaliser! City fans on the concourse outside Wembley heard the noise and heading back in - others were already on the tube and missed the end of the game.

Extra time was when the Gills fans watching in the pub where Jemma and I had been ribbed all the way through went quiet and started filtering away. Penalties and Weaver saved two, the second from Guy Butters. City were up and Gillingham were devastated. For years afterwards I'd have abuse scrawled in the dirt on my car if I parked anywhere in the Medway towns (and sometimes further afield!)

Why am I trawling over this old history? Well ten years on Gillingham are back at Wembley for another play-off final, this time against Shrewsbury. I wish them well and hope they get up - and it also gave me a chance to practice my "newspaper" writing style and reflect on the stuff that's happened over the last ten years - gulp!

C'mon you Gills!

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