Johnny Phillips speaks to former Man City midfielder Paul Lake ahead of the Sky Live Super Sunday Manchester derby this weekend - watch the full feature on Soccer Saturday.
This weekend Manchester United travel with their expensively assembled side across the city to take on their arch rivals with expectations high. A host of summer recruits are expected to add the missing link in the club’s quest to win the title. With City going through a tough time lately, hopes are high amongst United supporters that they can return to Old Trafford with three points.
That could have been written today. Or, just as easily, 25 years ago ahead of one of the greatest Manchester derbies of all time. New recruits Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Ander Herrera are expected to restore United to their place at the top of English football. But Louis Van Gaal’s problems are considerably less than the ones facing Alex Ferguson a quarter of a century back.
Neil Webb, Mike Phelan, Paul Ince and Gary Pallister were the big money buys of that summer. United hadn’t won the title since 1967 and Ferguson had struggled to win over fans since his arrival three years earlier. But the striking difference was the team they prepared to face. Today City are the financial powerhouse. In 1989 they were on the precipice of financial meltdown.
Paul Lake, a bright academy prospect, remembers the time as if it were yesterday. “We had six home-grown players who had come through the ranks in that team. I remember the first day I got the bus to Maine Road as a trainee and walking up to the stadium for an 8.30am start. It’s a day I’ll never forget, I was absolutely petrified. I was terrified of the expectations. What we lacked in experience we made up for in youth and that determination to try and succeed.”
The match exceeded the wildest expectations of every City fan. Two goals from David Oldfield and others from Trevor Morley, Ian Bishop and Andy Hinchcliffe ensured a 5-1 rout. This week, Lake met me back at City’s former Maine Road home – half building site, half housing development – to speak about that time and what the place still means to City supporters.
“All my life was developed here, not far from my home in Denton. There are lots of fans who have stayed around here. There was a corner shop called ‘The Rolling Pin’ run by Pete and Carol where we used to go in every lunch time for a bacon butty. It was a little hub away from the ground where we could chat to fans and talk about what was happening at the club, the chairman and the manager. There was no PR spin around in those days, we probably spoke too much, but at the same time there was an honesty to it and a credibility about it all in those days.
“I get a little bit of a lump in my throat when I come back here as it does bring it all back and when you see the surrounding street names you remember what it was like. This whole area is steeped in the history of City. Lots of my friends who are dyed-in-the-wool Blues find it really hard to drive around here. But at least the new stadium has its own history already, in that we’ve won some titles there.”
Despite the horror of such a mauling by their arch rivals, United regrouped relatively quickly. Their success since the derby defeat 25 years ago needs little recap. They won the FA Cup that season and the European Cup Winners Cup the season after that, before going on to an unprecedented period of success that has lasted right up to the present day. City, by contrast, were relegated in 1996 under Alan Ball and took a lot longer to reach the summit.
Lake’s own career took an unfortunate path. A talented and skilful midfielder, he was held in very high regard by supporters who saw him as one of their own. But he was dogged by injury problems and eventually retired in 1996 after 14 major operations. Now a coach with the Premier League, he still struggles with his knee, but looks back fondly on the time he and his local mates ruled the roost in Manchester.
“When I got injured there were plenty of sad times around here, but I have that realisation that I gave so many City fans, my friends, that one day. And that season we had such joy because we beat our arch rivals by such a score.”
You can see our feature with Paul Lake at Maine Road on Soccer Saturday. Tune in at 12pm, Saturday, Sky Sports 1.
Then watch Manchester City v Manchester United live on Sky Sports 1 HD at 12.30pm on Sunday. Click here to add Sky Sports to your Sky TV package!