IN 109 years of existence City had never landed a major honour. The Club had friends all around the world, but the trophy cabinet was bare. All that changed on 4th March 1972.
Finally, the first significant piece of silverware was captured with a thrilling 2-1 win over favourites Chelsea in the League Cup final at Wembley before a crowd of 97,852. The next day, the streets of Stoke-on-Trent buzzed as a quarter of a million people welcomed their heroes home. In his 12th year as manager, Tony Waddington had moulded his team into one capable of winning trophies. With a little more luck, the haul could have been much greater. While League form in the early 1970's continued to be inconsistent but entertaining City were cup fighters in the very best of traditions.
The League Cup was secured after an 11-game march to the final which included four thrilling clashes with West Ham in the twice-replayed, two-legged semi-final. Gordon Banks' penalty save from Geoff Hurst in the second leg at Upton Park was, for many fans, sweeter than his save from Pele for England against Brazil in the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico. But fate was not so kind in the FA Cup. In 1970/71 and 71/72 City twice reached the semi-finals, only to go out to Arsenal after a replay on each occasion. The first meeting in March 1971 was most heartbreaking, the Gunners equalising with an injury-time penalty.
The team at that time boasted a fine defence of home-grown talent - Eric Skeels, John Marsh, Alan Bloor, Denis Smith and Mike Pejic. In midfield the guile of veterans George Eastham and Peter Dobing, allied to the tenacious Mike Bernard and workaholic John Mahoney was a perfect blend. In attack, John Ritchie and Jimmy Greenhoff complemented each other and while opponents were watching those two they ignored Terry Conroy at their peril. It was a fine team, though one which took on a different hue prior to the championship challenge of 1974/75. Banks was sadly forced to quit while still in his prime after losing an eye in a road accident in October 1972.
Within 18 months of the Wembley triumph Eastham and Dobing retired and Waddington knew he had to find new artisans to run his midfield. He delivered another stunning coup by enticing the brilliantly talented Alan Hudson away from Chelsea for £240,000 in January 1974, precipitating a run of just two defeats in 18 games to finish fifth.
In August of the same year the elegant left-footed Geoff Salmons moved in from Sheffield United. It was a perfect midfield coupling. Hudson and Salmons had an almost telepathic understanding and at times were sublime as City played some of the best football in their history, and without question were one of the most entertaining teams in the country.
Not satisfied with that, the manager splashed out a world record £325,000 fee for a goalkeeper to sign Peter Shilton from Leicester. City hit the top of the table in November and, with three games to go, knew the title was there for the taking.
Sadly, defeat at Sheffield United and draws against Newcastle and Burnley meant fifth place for the second successive season at the end of a crowded championship chase won by Derby. The decade also saw the Club's first two ventures in Europe. Two games against the Germans Kaiserslautern in the 1972 UEFA Cup ended in a 5-3 aggregate defeat while two years later Ajax delivered the knockout on away goals after 1-1 and 0-0 draws. An anticipated title challenge in 1975/76 never materialised and the remainder of the Seventies were not kind.
A storm blew part of the roof off the Butler Street stand in January 1976, costing £250,000 and precipitating financial troubles which saw Hudson, Mike Pejic and Jimmy Greenhoff sold off before the end of the following season for combined fees of £440,000. The team couldn't stand such losses and were relegated at the end of 1976/77. Waddington was another casualty, leaving after a 1-0 home defeat in March with his side 14th. Assistant George Eastham, who had returned after a spell in South Africa, was put in charge but one win in the last 13 games meant Second Division football for the first time in 14 years. The 1977/78 season was indifferent. Eastham left in January and an FA Cup exit to non-league Blythe Spartans followed.
Results picked up after Alan Durban - the former Welsh international midfielder - was recruited as the new manager from Shrewsbury Town. Durban, young, bright and track-suited, brought a new attitude in terms of discipline and, with former Everton midfielder Howard Kendall as his right-hand man and lieutenant on the field, promotion back to Division One was clinched on the final day of the 78/79 season thanks to a late goal from Paul Richardson at Notts County.