Nostalgia looks back 50 years when City and United finished first and second in the league – and Real Madrid were tamed in the European Cup.

Football’s First Division had a familiar ring to it half a century ago in May 1968.

Top of the league – and already celebrating – were Manchester City.

Malcolm Allison celebrates winning the First Division title with players and press

Malcolm Allison celebrates winning the First Division title with players and press

In second place were none other than their fierce local rivals – Manchester United.

The positions are the same in the Premier League today. But the gap was a lot closer in 1968.

In fact, the title went right down to the wire! City only claimed the crown in an emotional final game of the season against Newcastle at St. James’ Park.

Tense times for manager Joe Mercer as City face Newcastle at St James’ Park

Tense times for manager Joe Mercer as City face Newcastle at St James’ Park

United may have missed out on the league, but they more than made up for it 18 days later when they won the European Cup against Benfica at Wembley.

But before then, on the night of Wednesday May 15th, they faced a demanding semi-final second leg against Real Madrid in the awe-inspiring Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

Nervous United players wave to their fans at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium

Nervous United players wave to their fans at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium

Nostalgia remembers a climactic time, 50 years ago this week, for both Manchester clubs.

At 3.00pm on Saturday May 11th, both City and United were locked on 56 points in the race for the First Division title. City had the better goal average.

Breathing down their necks with 53 points and a game in hand were Liverpool.

If both Manchester clubs lost and Liverpool won their final two games, the title would have gone to Merseyside. The stakes couldn’t be higher!

City were away at Newcastle, United at home to Sunderland and Liverpool were hosting Nottingham Forest at Anfield.

At St. James’ Park, Mike Summerbee got a touch to a ball from Mike Doyle to put City ahead in the 13th minute. Newcastle were soon level with a goal from Bryan Robson.

Mike Summerbee and Colin Bell salute City’s travelling fans

Mike Summerbee and Colin Bell salute City’s travelling fans

Young made it 2-1 and then had a goal disallowed for off-side. Newcastle equalised again through Jackie Sinclair.

After the half-time break, Young got his second to make the score 3-2. Then Francis Lee scored City’s fourth in the 63rd minute to send the away fans into raptures.

Neil Young leaps in the air after scoring for City against Newcastle

Neil Young leaps in the air after scoring for City against Newcastle

Newcastle pulled one back, but City held on for a 4-3 win.

Fans mob their City heroes after the final whistle at St. James’ Park

Fans mob their City heroes after the final whistle at St. James’ Park

Meanwhile, Sunderland pulled off a shock 2-1 victory at Old Trafford which ensured the title went to City. Perhaps Matt Busby’s men had Madrid on their minds.

As for Liverpool, they beat Forest 6-1, but then lost to Stoke 1-2. City finished first with 58 points, United second with 56 and Liverpool third with 55.

Back at Newcastle, City players were mobbed as they tried to leave the pitch. Summerbee, Lee and Colin Bell had already launched themselves at the away end when the final goal went in.

Assistant manager Malcolm Allison lit a huge cigar in the dressing room and celebrated with players and the press. City were champions!

Four days later, nervous United players saluted their fans at the start of the European Cup semi-final second leg in Madrid. They were taking a slender 1-0 lead to the Bernabeu courtesy of George Best.

Little did they know that the match, in front of a colossal crowd of 125,000, would turn out to be such a roller-coaster.

Madrid opened the scoring in the 32nd minute through midfielder Pirri and then doubled their lead in the 41st minute with a goal from winger Francisco Gento.

United pulled one back just before half time when Madrid defender Ignacio Zoco sliced the ball into his own net, but Madrid scored again in the 45th minute through outside right Amancio.

It was looking bad for United until a five minute goal burst late in the second half.

Joy for Brian Kidd after Bill Foulkes scores for United against Real Madrid

Joy for Brian Kidd after Bill Foulkes scores for United against Real Madrid

First John Sadler fired in from close-range in the 73rd minute and then Bill Foulkes finished off a cross from Best in the 78th.

John Sadler and George Best cool down after drawing 3-3 with Real Madrid

John Sadler and George Best cool down after drawing 3-3 with Real Madrid

Madrid ‘keeper Antonio Betancort and his team-mates were left in despair as United levelled the match 3-3 and went on to win 4-3 on aggregate.

There were scenes of jubilation in the dressing room. Sadler and Best, their kits still on, drenched themselves in the showers while team-mates hugged each other in sheer relief.

The team, led by manager Matt Busby, returned to a heroes’ welcome at Manchester Airport the next day.

United manager Matt Busby gets a heroes’ reception at Manchester Airport

United manager Matt Busby gets a heroes’ reception at Manchester Airport

Just 10 years after the Munich air disaster, they were poised to make history as the first ever English club to win the European Cup.

Many more memorable pictures of the past can be found in Clive Hardy’s brilliant book Around Manchester in the 1970s – now on sale at a reduced price for M.E.N. readers.

Clive’s two companion books, Around Manchester in the 1950s and 1960s, are on offer at a reduced price too!