Another FA Cup semifinal further evidence of how far Man City have come
As 1980 drifted slowly towards 1981, Manchester City fans could have been forgiven for thinking the good times had finally arrived. It had been ten years since the club's golden age had disappeared over the horizon with the speed of bathwater exiting down the plug hole and the years in between had produced what could quite reasonably have been called meagre pickings.
Admittedly, City had reached two League Cup finals in the 70s, but little else of note had transpired. Then, suddenly, in the blink of an eye, things began to shift. One-time messiah Malcolm Allison was sacked to make way for John Bond of Norwich City, once a wide-eyed pupil of Allison's famous tactical teach-ins for the playing staff at West Ham.
City, from dawdling in the lower reaches of the first division, their reputation scorched by a growing penchant for disaster, suddenly began to fly again.
A confidence-inspiring run in the League Cup ended in a two-legged semifinal defeat to eventual champions Liverpool but the appetite for cup runs had been whetted. By April an FA Cup run of similar panache carried City through to a semifinal with Ipswich Town, then chasing the unimaginable treble of Cup, League and UEFA Cup.
A hard-fought 1-0 victory took City through to the Centenary Cup Final with Tottenham, a fixture which can be replicated this May if both clubs win this weekend's semifinals at Wembley.
City would go on to lose that enthralling final 3-2 after a replay and that was very much that.
Afterwards, Manchester City and cup semifinals ceased to be an item. They ceased to be a topic of even the most distracted conversations. They went off the radar completely. FA Cup semifinals were for teams like Wycombe Wanderers and Watford, Plymouth Argyle and Wimbledon. They were for Coventry and Leeds, Sheffield United and Wednesday and even, bless them, good old Newcastle. League Cup semifinals became the territory of Tranmere Rovers and Oxford, Oldham Athletic and QPR.
City meanwhile went into well-deserved hibernation.
In those barren intervening years City would even find themselves playing the likes of Halifax and Darlington in the Cup's preliminary rounds, as a member of the third tier of English professional football. Legendary defeats to Shrewsbury, Oldham, Halifax, Nottingham Forest, Brentford, Blackpool, Chesterfield, Brighton and even to a loose balloon at Sheffield United seemed to signal that the romance of the cups had become the sole property of others.
Between the 1981 semifinal win over Ipswich and City's appearance in the 2009-10 League Cup semifinal with arch rivals Manchester United, nearly 30 years had passed. Now, never let it be said that Manchester City fans of a certain vintage are impatient, but some may have been pretty sure that they were unlikely to ever again need the cardboard FA Cup covered in tinfoil. The mouldy old 1969 rosette could be safely binned too.
In those two cataclysmic matches with their arch rivals Manchester United in 2010, City lost out narrowly on the chance to get to Wembley. Five games into Roberto Mancini's reign as boss, City fielded a side from which only Pablo Zabaleta and Vincent Kompany survive today, neither of whom are regular starters these days.
City were growing fast in 2009-10, with investment in players and infrastructure beginning to elevate them onto another plane. Since that semifinal disappointment, the growth spurt has become more of an avalanche, prompting a serious taste for these occasions. And how they have flowed in recent years, with United again the opponents in the 2011 FA Cup semifinal, plus meetings in the League Cup with Liverpool (2012), West Ham (2014) and Everton (2016) and in the FA Cup against Chelsea (2013). Of these more recent clashes, only Liverpool in the League Cup have got the better of City.
Now Arsenal will provide the opposition to see who progresses to the FA Cup final in May. It will be City's 13th FA Cup semifinal, of which only two have been lost. For Arsenal it will be semifinal number 29, but nine of those went against them. City may still be relative novices at this stage of a knockout competition, but the experience is beginning to repeat itself with some regularity.
The lack of appearances are not to be attributed to what many rival fans would love to call a lack of history either, as City had already won an FA Cup final (in 1904) before either Manchester United or Arsenal first managed the feat (in 1909 and 1930 respectively) and over half a century before Liverpool (1965) or Chelsea (1970) finally got there.
City's absence from these grand occasions is solely due to the club's penchant for long periods of disaster, barren spells that have tested the patience of all who follow the club. Perhaps those who remember the false dawn of 1981 might allow themselves the thought that the good times really have arrived this time.
Simon is one of ESPN FC's Manchester City bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.