That well-known lyric ‘football’s coming home’ should have been written about Manchester in June rather than England’s World Cup hopes.
For June has traditionally been the month when European Cups, FA Cups and league championship trophies have all been brought back to the city to a tumultuous welcome from thousands of cheering fans.
In one memorable year – 1999 – it was all three at once!
In fact, June 1999 was an extraordinary month for Manchester football as a whole.
As United paraded their historic treble, City returned after winning the Division Two play-offs.
It was a critical turning point. City were on their way back from the third tier of English football.
Their journey culminated in this season’s Premier League triumph. The title was won with a record 100 points and City played some of the most scintillating football ever witnessed in the domestic game.
But turn back the clock precisely 60 years to June 9th 1968 and there was a moment to match all the glory of 1999 and 2018 put together.
And more than 250,000 people lined the streets of the city to witness it.
A decade after the Munich air disaster, Matt Busby and his rebuilt United team brought the European Cup back to Manchester.
It was a colossal achievement. In beating Benfica 4-1 after extra time at Wembley, United had become the first English club to win the premier European trophy.
More than that, just 10 years earlier, eight United team-mates had lost their lives as a result of the Munich air crash. Busby himself was twice read the last rites.
No wonder the fans went wild as the players’ bus slowly wound its way round the streets of Manchester, inching ever closer to a civic reception at the Town Hall.
A huge crowd massed in Albert Square to glimpse the United heroes on the open-top bus. They all looked smart in their suits and blazers as a security guard kept a watchful eye on the precious cup at the front.
After the bus had parked, the crowd waited for the European Cup to be held aloft. It was a large trophy and Matt Busby’s face was fully reflected in its long silver curves.
Cheers thundered around the square. Memories of Munich combined with the sheer joy of reaching the pinnacle of European football. It was a priceless moment.
The crowds were just as dense in June 1999 when the home-coming United team bus had not one, but three trophies at the front.
The Red Devils had sensationally beaten Bayern Munich 2-1 in the Champions League Final at Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium with both their goals coming in injury time.
Teddy Sheringham struck in the 91st minute and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer netted in the 93rd. Solskjaer’s celebration slide to the TV cameras will never be forgotten!
United beat Newcastle 2-0 to win the FA Cup at Wembley with goals from Sheringham and Paul Scholes. But the route to the final had not been easy. The semi-final against Arsenal went to a replay as did the quarter-final against Chelsea.
The Premier League title was secured on the final day of the season as United came back from a goal down against Tottenham to win 2-1. United finished on 79 points – one ahead of Arsenal. Chelsea were third with 75 points.
The title was manager Alex Ferguson’s fifth domestic championship in seven seasons. He was awarded a knighthood in recognition of his achievements and granted the Freedom of the City of Glasgow in November 1999.
United midfielder David Beckham was runner-up to Rivaldo as European Footballer of the Year and FIFA World Player of the Year.
Drama abounded in City’s Division Two play-off against Gillingham at Wembley. There was no score until the 81st minute when Carl Asaba gave Gillingham the lead. Five minutes later Robert Taylor scored a second.
Some City fans thought the game was lost and headed for the exits, but then Kevin Horlock halved the deficit in the 90th minute.
Five nail-biting minutes later Paul Dickov levelled the scores. The game went to extra time but no goals were added. The match would be decided by penalties.
City won shoot-out 3-1 with Horlock, Terry Cooke and Richard Edghill converting their penalties. The one miss came from Dickov.
City ‘keeper Nicky Weaver saved two penalties – and celebrated wildly with his team-mates after stopping the final shot from Guy Butters. City were on the move!
Many commentators still regard the game as one of the most exciting in football history – and Dickov’s goal remains the latest ever scored before the final whistle in a match at the old Wembley stadium.