As Linfield FC prepares to return to the European stage with tomorrow’s Europa League second round tie against Floriana of Malta, Linfieldfc.com recalls one of this club’s finest hours in Europe which took place on this exact September 16 date, 50 years ago in 1970.
Linfield had defeated Ballymena 2-1 in the Irish Cup final at Solitude to qualify for the European Cup Winners Cup. At the start of the 1970/71 season, Linfield were managed by Billy Bingham and the club was drawn against Manchester City in the first round.
City qualified for the tournament by virtue of having won the competition in the previous season, after defeating Polish team Gornik in the final in Austria.
Then, as now, they were giants of the English game with their famous attacking trio of Bell, Summerbee and Lee, as well as other star names in Corrigan, Oakes and Pardoe.
Little Linfield were no hopers against the aristocrats of the English game, managed by Joe Mercer and the flamboyant Malcolm Allison.
Over 1000 Linfield fans flocked to the game. In those days before easyJet and other such low cost airlines, the trips meant overnight ferries between Belfast and Liverpool or Heysham in Lancashire and an early morning train to Manchester Piccadilly.
In those pre Etihad stadium days, the famous home of Manchester City was Maine Rd close to Moss side and the university area in the south side of the city, not far from the city centre.
The famous Kippax terracing and Platt Lane stand are all now consigned to the history books and the old ground is now a housing complex appropriately named Blue Moon Way, as a throwback to an era when City fans sang that famous song to welcome their heroes into the old Maine Rd stadium, before their move to the Etihad in the east of the city.
A relative newcomer in that famous Linfield team was 17 year old Alan Fraser who is now of course a Linfield Life Member along with 3 of his team mates (Eric Bowyer, Isaac Andrews and Billy Millen) from that line up.
Recalling the game in a Belfast Telegraph article with Alex Mills, Fraser added
“I remember reading the local newspaper in Manchester the night before the game. Striker Neil Young (winning 1969 FA Cup final goalscorer) stated that if he didn't score a hat-trick against the Irish League part-timers, he would class himself as a failure.
"We held them until about 10 minutes from the end. Isaac Andrews had been marking Colin Bell, but he had to go off injured - he was split open. We lost a little bit of shape, while temporarily down to 10 men and Bell scored the winner."
Fraser recalled how manager Billy Bingham had Linfield training 5 times a week in preparation for the European tussle against the full time giants of the English game and that Bingham belief and meticulous attention to detail, together with undeniably a degree of complacency from our illustrious opponents, resulted in the huge favourites only managing to defeat Linfield by a slender 1-0 margin.
The second leg was a fortnight later in Belfast and surely, City wouldn’t make the same mistake of underestimating Linfield a second time.
The rest, as they say, is history and in the build up to the anniversary of the Windsor Park second leg 50 years ago, we will take a further look back at one of the greatest (but ultimately unluckiest) nights in this club’s proud history.
Today, Linfield FC salutes the heroes of September 16, 1970 who lost valiantly to a late Colin Bell goal, against a star studded Manchester City team in their Maine Rd fortress.
The chances of being drawn against a team of City’s stature in Europe nowadays are remote, let alone getting the opportunity to emulate the feats of the famous team of 1970.
Linfield had hoped to lay on a grand reunion function in the Crowne plaza hotel this Saturday to celebrate the achievement of the team that performed so heroically against Manchester City but unfortunately and understandably, the restrictions and uncertainty arising from the corona virus pandemic put paid to those well intended plans.
A souvenir insert in tomorrow nights issue of ‘Look at Linfield‘ is a replica reprint of the Linfield v Manchester City programme from September 30, 1970 - a night when Linfield players became immortals in the history of this club.
4 days prior to the heroics of Maine Rd, Linfield had lost an Ulster Cup tie 5-0 at home to Ballymena.
The royal blue heroes who lost 1-0 to Manchester City on this exact date 50 years ago today were as follows.
Isaac Andrews - replaced by Ronnie McAteer
Billy Millen - replaced by Phil Scott
Footnote - Derek Humphreys died 2 years later as a result of a tragic car accident en route to Linfield’s home European game against Standard Liege of Belgium.
Footnote (2) - Manchester City reached the 1970/71 European Cup Winners Cup semi final, losing to eventual winners Chelsea.
Below - the programme cover from that memorable night in Manchester exactly 50 years ago today.
Above - Legendary Colin Bell scores past Linfield keeper Derek Humphreys,