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Last Updated: Sunday, 11 May, 2003, 14:18 GMT 15:18 UK
Maine Road through the ages
By Chris Bevan

Robbie Fowler celebrates in front of the Manchester City faithful
No longer will the Maine Road crowd salute City goals

There was not a dry eye in the house on Sunday when Manchester City signed off after 80 years at Maine Road.

City's game against Southampton was their last in the postal district of M14 before they move to their new home, the 48,000-capacity City of Manchester Stadium.

That arena, in the east of the city, was built for last year's Commonwealth Games but has been adapted for its new tenants over the past few months.

The running track was torn up, and the pitch sunk to allow an extra tier of seating to be added, close to the action.

What was an athletics venue is now a football ground.

But the razzmatazz that will welcome City in August for their first game of what will be a new era for the club can wait.

Right now, everyone is remembering past glories, and other memorable days gone by in the famous old stadium.

Foundations for success

No-one could ever accuse City of lacking ambition. When they submitted plans for a new ground in 1922, a 120,000-capacity super stadium was the ultimate ambition.

That never materialised, but the ground that did spring up in Moss Road a year later was still a sight to behold.

Known as 'The Wembley of the North', an 80,000 capacity meant it was the second biggest ground in the country, behind only Wembley.

A popular City t-shirt of the mid 1990s claimed German striker Uwe Rosler's grandad was behind the bombing of Old Trafford during WWII.

Whether Herr Rosler was responsible or not, the damage forced United to use Maine Road until 1949 - recording the highest Football League crowd of 83,260 (against Arsenal on 17 January 1948).

Rugby League

Bath's Jon Sleightholme tries to escape Jason Robinson, then playing league with Wigan
The stadium hosted the first rugby cross-code challenge

Maine Road always had a special relationship with the oval ball, hosting 11 rugby league championship finals between 1938-1956.

And it also had a place in rugby history, hosting the first ever official cross-code game between Wigan and Bath in 1996.

As well as sport, music has left its mark at the famous ground. From the mid 1980s, rockstars performing there would be given a City shirt by the club as a souvenir of their big day.

Axel Rose, Jon Bon Jovi and Jim Kerr all wore the famous sky blue but presumably famous fans Noel and Liam Gallagher already possessed one before Oasis played a homecoming gig there in 1996.

City's supporters are known for their dedication - crowds of over 30,000 in Division Two are testimony to that.

And the 84,569 crowd for the FA Cup sixth round tie with Stoke on 3 March 1934 is an English club record for any game apart from a Cup final.

Perhaps linked to their loyalty is their eccentricity.

Helen the Bell parades the League Cup with Asa Hartford after City's 1976 triumph
Helen the Bell (right) is a Maine Road legend

'Helen the Bell' has been a fixture at Maine Road - ringing her bell - for as long as anyone can remember.

And the inflatable craze that briefly gripped the nation's football grounds began at Maine Road in 1988.

In tribute to City striker Imre 'Banana' Varadi, an innovative Blue took along an inflatable fruit. The rest is history.

The future

But sadly, one casualty of the move may be the famous chant: "We are City, super City, Super City from Maine Road" (To the tune of "We are Sailing").

With Manchester City council failing to find a suitable tenant, the future of Maine Road looks bleak.

Stockport County and Sale Sharks Rugby Club were both linked with a move to the ground, but nothing transpired - and both are now sharing County's Edgeley Park home.

After just outliving Wembley, to which it was first compared, City's home of 80 years looks set to emulate Wembley again - this time as a pile of rubble.

Whether the site becomes a supermarket or a housing estate it will be a sad end for what is an inspirational setting.

Of course, City being City, they signed off on Sunday with a 1-0 defeat against Southampton.





MANCHESTER CITY

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