Steve MacKenzie and That FA Cup Final goal in 1981

Steve MacKenzie FA Cup goal 1981

This FA Cup Final piece is published in partnership with Steven Pye of That 1980s Sports Blog – you probably know of the site already, but if not, check it out!

There are moments in sporting history that are often forgotten. For all Kevin Pietersen’s heroics, the contribution of Andrew Strauss on the first day of the final Ashes Test in 2005 should not be underestimated. Ian Poulter may have stolen the headlines late on Saturday during the 2012 Ryder Cup, but please remember the role played by Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald in the previous match. And then there is Gordon Smith.

Smith deserves a lot more than being the man remembered for spurning a golden opportunity to win the 1983 FA Cup for Brighton. Scoring a goal in an FA Cup final – the opener at Wembley against Manchester United – should have been the standout moment in Smith’s career. Yet subsequent events will always overshadow this.

Steve MacKenzie may have some sympathy with Smith. On the plus side at least MacKenzie is not etched into FA Cup legend in the same way as Smith, but both men have scored FA Cup final goals that are often forgotten. As with Smith, a lot of events before and during 210 minutes of football led to MacKenzie’s glorious strike being ushered away from centre stage.

Ossie’s going to Wembley; the 100th FA Cup final; Ricky Villa trudging his way round the Wembley track; Tommy Hutchison writing his way into FA Cup folklore and many a pub quiz for years to come; the first replay at Wembley; and still Ricky Villa.

It is that last moment that really condemned MacKenzie’s wonder strike, immediately reducing its status as Tottenham’s Villa weaved his way through Manchester City’s bemused defence. Villa scored a goal that many rank as the best in FA Cup final history – accompanied by Garth Crooks’ phantom shot at the bottom of the screen – and the fact that it was the winning moment too adds to the drama.

Embed from Getty Images

Context, as always, is so important in sport. Villa’s mazy dribble and finish won the FA Cup for Tottenham, completing his redemption from the Saturday that saw him cut a sad figure after being substituted. Yet context also needs to be applied to MacKenzie and Manchester City in discussing their 1981 FA Cup run.

Starting the season with Malcolm Allison in charge, the possibility of Manchester City walking out at Wembley in May looked slim. Languishing towards the bottom of Division One, the strain on Allison was clear for all to see on the brilliant City documentary. It would take the appointment of Norwich manager John Bond to reverse City’s fortunes.

Bond’s first win would be a 3-1 victory over Tottenham, with McKenzie scoring one of the goals, and with just two defeats in the next league 14 matches – including a 2-1 loss at White Hart Lane – relegation worries eased as the club ventured on a twin assault of Wembley.

Coming up just short in the League Cup semi-final against Liverpool, a reinvigorated side dismissed Allison’s Crystal Palace in the FA Cup third round, before thrashing Bond’s previous club Norwich. Edging past Peterborough in a potentially tricky fifth-round tie, a hard-earned replay win over Everton set up a semi-final with treble-chasing Ipswich.

Paul Power’s free kick in extra-time proved the difference, as the City revival was rewarded with an FA Cup final against Tottenham. Keith Burkinshaw’s team had finished just two places above City in Division One, and with Tottenham 4/5 and Manchester City at evens, the final looked too close to call.

Indeed the teams could not be separated on Saturday May 9. Hutchison had scored a fine header after 30 minutes to give City the lead, but with just 11 minutes remaining he deflected Glenn Hoddle’s free kick past Joe Corrigan to send the match into extra-time. With no further goals, a first Wembley replay would take place on the following Thursday.

Embed from Getty Images

For 19-year-old midfielder MacKenzie, there was almost a Roy of the Rovers-style story written in the first final. Hitting the post in the 58th minute, MacKenzie and City were left wondering what might have been, especially when Hutchison experienced his moment of misfortune.

Eyebrows had been raised when Allison bought MacKenzie in 1979 for £250,000 from Crystal Palace. The most expensive teenager in football had not played a first-team match, but Allison had reportedly beaten off the advances of Anderlecht to bring the talented MacKenzie to Maine Road.

“We consider MacKenzie an investment,” general manager Tony Book announced after the signing. “Malcolm has been watching him since he was a boy.” An energetic midfielder, MacKenzie was soon thrown in at the deep end, making his debut as a 17-year-old. MacKenzie scored in his fifth game against Tottenham, but in a struggling team it proved difficult for the youngster to make an impact.

MacKenzie was fortunate to miss the FA Cup exit at Halifax, as Allison’s expensively assembled squad failed to yield results. But the 1980/81 campaign would be much more fruitful for both player and club, with MacKenzie scoring seven goals in 52 appearances prior to the FA Cup final replay.

Villa put Tottenham ahead after just eight minutes but just three minutes later MacKenzie levelled matters in the most emphatic fashion. Ray Ranson’s free kick was cleared, via a combination of Paul Miller and Chris Hughton, to Hutchison just outside Tottenham’s penalty area. Hutchison intelligently headed the ball to his left finding MacKenzie, yet there seemed little danger.

In the blink of an eye, MacKenzie drew back his right foot before thumping an unstoppable volley past a helpless Milija Aleksic. Striking the ball at waist height, MacKenzie’s volley thundered into the top corner of one of those famous Wembley goals, the delighted goal scorer instantly jumping into the arms of Tommy Caton before being engulfed by his ecstatic teammates.

“And now Hutchison to MacKenzie,” commentator John Motson said just before the young midfielder pulled the trigger. “Oh a tremendous goal. Steve MacKenzie. Fabulous shot. An absolutely outstanding volley by Steve MacKenzie, only 19,” the understandably excited Motson added. “And just watch this one fly in,” he implored as viewers saw a replay of the remarkable volley.

The Daily Mirror’s Frank McGhee described MacKenzie’s strike as one “that ranks in impact and importance with any I have seen on this great ground.” Adding that the ball was “struck with such sudden power by MacKenzie that no goalkeeper in the world would have stopped it,” McGhee, along with the 92,000 in attendance, were lucky to witness such a great moment.

Embed from Getty Images

Tottenham gained the upper hand after MacKenzie’s goal, Hoddle hitting the post from a free kick and Corrigan forced into action before half-time. But it would be City who took the lead, Kevin Reeves scoring a 50th-minute penalty after Miller had been adjudged to have impeded Dave Bennett. Crooks would equalise with 20 minutes remaining before Villa scored his memorable goal to finally separate the teams.

It was MacKenzie that was dispossessed prior to Villa’s winner, not that any blame could be attached to him or any City defenders. Villa’s goal was one worthy of winning such an entertaining replay, even if it did break the hearts of City’s players and supporters. It also took a lot of the attention away from MacKenzie’s stunning equaliser.

Villa’s moment is rightly a permanent fixture in any list of great FA Cup final moments. But some may say that MacKenzie’s was actually the better goal in that match. Demonstrating fantastic technique, the volley from 20 yards was struck with such precision timing, the kind that us mere mortals occasionally experience with a golf club or cricket bat in our hands. Yet to the victor the spoils.

MacKenzie would never score again for City. In fact, just five days later he would pull on a City shirt for the final time in a 1-0 defeat Anfield, before being sold to West Brom for £500,000 in the summer of 1981. But he made his mark in his time at Maine Road and on FA Cup history, even if his goal in that Ricky Villa match may have been forgotten by many.