CITY 2 MANCHESTER UNITED 2
Paul Lake Testimonial
5th October 1997
City Kinkladze, Rosler
City Margetson, Brightwell, van Blerk, Wiekens, Vaughan, Summerbee, Brannan, Crooks, Horlock, Bradbury, Kinkladze – used subs Weaver, Hiley, D Morley, Dickov, Rosler, Scully, Brown – unused sub Conlon
On the first Sunday of October 1997, wearing a full City kit, my old faithful boots and a leg brace to stop my knee from falling apart, I jogged onto the Maine Road pitch for my last hurrah.
The day had already had it’s fair share of drama and emotion. At 6am I’d become a father for the first time, my son Zac having to decided to make his appearance a little later than expected.
… Once I’d spent a precious couple of hours with my newborn, I had to head back home. I had a qhick shower and shave, chucked my kit bag into the boot, and set off for my big event.
… I hope a few people turn up, I remember thinking to myself as I conjured up nightmarish visions of deserted tirnstiles and half empty stands. The testimonial treasurer had estimated that we needed only 10,000 bums on seats to make the day financially viable, but he was keen for me to manage my expectations.
“You’ve got to bear in mind that City and United are both playing the day before” he’d pointed out to me after the committee meeting “Some fans won’t have the time or the money to attend two matches in one weekend, so let’s not assume anything.
Just before 3 O-Clock I emerged nervously from the tunnel to be greeted by a crowd of nearly 25,000 fans. Looking up to see the stadium almost three quarters full, with row upon row of blue shirted fans cheering and chantingmy name, was truly humbling. Even the United supporters housed in the North Stand gave me a standing ovation. As I walked slowly onto the Maine Road turf, both sets of players formed a guard of honour for me, which I can categorically say was one of the most moving moments of my life.
In a break with the norm, Frank Clark and Alex Ferguson opted to field full strength sides initially, which meant that Georgi Kinkladze, Uwe Rosler, David Beckham and Peter Schmeichel were all present in the lineups. Testimonial games traditionally feature a large quota of reserve teamers, but on this occasion they both threw caution to the wind and went for the full compliment. It was a magnificent gesture.
… Once I’d made my entrance, the plan was for me to stand in the centre circle with a microphone and thank everyone. I chickened out, however, so highly strung was I that day, my head still spinning after my son’s birth, that I feared I’d become a gibbering wreck. So after the referee blew his whistle, I instead commenced proceedings with a wave, a smile and a side foot pass to Kinky. I turned around to face The Kippax Stand for one last time and raised my arm to acknowledge the applauding faithful. I hoped to god that this wondrous image would never, ever fade from my memory.
Trudging towards the tunnel, I was able to see the crowd at much closer quarters, and was shocked to see a few fans shedding tears.
… I’d been aware that my swansong would be a poignant occasion for many, but nothing had quite prepared me for this. I decided to hurry to the dressing rooms as fast as my knee brace could take me. While I was deeply touched, this was a day on which I needed to be strong, and I knew that if I hung around the pitch any longer my emotions would spill over.
… I was so busy circulating with staff and sponsors, and checking up on family and friends, that I didn’t get to see the whole match. Though it was not as fiercly contested as your average Manchester derby (other than a few reckless tackles from City’s Michael Brown, which got Alex Ferguson under the collar), by all accounts it was a pretty entertaining game that ended 2-2.
United’s England contingent managed the first 20 minutes, boss Glenn Hoddle had imposed a strict time limit apparently, and after they jogged off, Tudor and I made a point of going down to the dressing room to thank them for their efforts.
… Back on the pitch, Ryan Giggs paid me the ultimate compliment by insisting on seeing out the entire 90 minutes, something that he needn’t have done.
… After the game I presented both teams with some cufflinks as a small token of my appreciation. Then after toasting my hard working committee with a glass or two of bubbly, the time came for me to gather my belongings and head out of Maine Road.
… I drove back home with my boots on the passenger seat, my thoughts see-sawing between my final farewll and my newborn son.