The present-day Manchester City side are enjoying something of a love/hate experience with European football. With August’s resumption of the Champions League, they have possibly their best shot at winning Europe’s premier club trophy. However, they’re also facing two years in the European wilderness as a financial fair play ban hangs over them.

Back in the 1970s, the blue half of Manchester had developed something of a European pedigree. They had won the 1969/70 European Cup Winners’ Cup; reaching the semi-final the following year.

The 1978/79 season was their third consecutive campaign in the UEFA Cup; qualifying by virtue of their 1976 League Cup win and second and fourth places finishes in the First Division.

They had however gone no further than the First Round both times, a hurdle they also fell at in the 1972/73 competition.

In September 1978 City met Holland’s Twente Enschede in the first round, beating them 4-3 on aggregate. In the second round, Standard Liege of Belgium stood in City’s way. A 4-0 win at Maine Road was the foundation to see them through as Liege couldn’t overturn it in the second leg, managing only a 2-0 win.

The draw for the third round on 3rd November threw up a number of interesting ties.

Valencia, with World Cup winner Mario Kempes, would play West Bromwich Albion, while Red Star Belgrade took on Arsenal.

But the plum tie was City’s as they came out of the hat paired with AC Milan.

All three English clubs had the expected advantage of playing their second legs at home.

‘If there was any doubt about the strength of the competition, this draw answers it,’ City’s manager Tony Book said. ‘Milan have a lot of experience, but the draw is the right way round for us, especially as the Italians prefer to play away first.’

Milan had built up quite a reputation in Europe throughout the 1960s; capturing the 1963 and 1969 European Cups, as well as the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1968.

They had also defeated Estudiantes of Argentina to win the 1969 Intercontinental Cup.

While they hadn’t played in the European Cup since 1969/70, Milan had continued success in Europe through the 1970s, including two successive European Cup Winners’ Cup finals, in 1973 and 1974, beating Leeds United in the former.

By 1978 they were managed by Nils Liedholm, the Swede who had played more than 300 league games for the club. Recently installed as Technical Adviser was Nereo Rocco, who was at the helm for those European Cup wins.

I Rossoneri didn’t have the easiest route to the Third Round.

They drew one-all with Lokomotiva Kosice of Czechoslovakia in the first round, winning 7-6 on penalties.

In the second round, they drew their first leg tie 1-1with Bulgaria’s Levski-Spartak. The second leg at the San Siro was much more convincing as they won 3-0 with goals from Aldo Maldera, Alberto Bigon and Stefano Chiodi.

City’s preparation for the match was hampered when UEFA handed down a five-match ban on Garry Owen who had been sent off against Standard Liege.

‘I can’t understand why they have been so tough,’ he told the Daily Express. ‘All I did was go to help out Asa Hartford, who was surrounded by Belgian players. I never hit anybody and I never kicked anybody.’

Owen had also been booked in the two legs against Twente Enschede.

Striker Mick Channon damaged his calf muscle in a 1-0 loss to Liverpool the Saturday before the first leg. He had the leg immobilised in plaster for 24 hours in a bid to be fit for the Wednesday night.

On the day of the match, 22nd November 1978, a heavy fog descended on Milan. City trained in the morning, but as the day progressed the fog refused to lift.

Channon was ruled out, and winger Peter Barnes joined him on the injury list, pulling a muscle in training.

Tony Book had advised his players not to be provoked during the match.

Centre back Dave Watson said, ‘We will all be on our guard this time. We all know what these Italians can get up to and we are ready for it.’ He added, ‘I honestly believe we can take Milan over the two legs and in fact, it would not surprise me if we got a draw here tonight.’

On the same day, both Watson and Barnes were named in the England squad for the friendly later that month with Czechoslovakia.

East German referee Heinz Einbeck inspected the pitch at kick-off time, then again a half-hour later, and a third time fifteen minutes after that. Although the fog lifted briefly it came down heavily again and the referee was left with no choice but to postpone the match.

It would be rescheduled for 1.30 pm the following day. The exact time a 55 strong party of City supporters were due to fly back out to Manchester.

Book saw the postponement as an advantage to City.

‘When we had been waiting for the referee’s decision on the awful conditions, there were firecrackers, smoke bombs, singing, all the things that generate atmosphere and excitement that can give an extra uplift to the home team. It’s a different world in the daytime. The passion seems to be diluted.’

A crowd of 40,000 turned up the following afternoon to see the teams line up as:

Milan: Albertosi, Collovati, Maldera, De Vecchi, Bet, Baresi, Buriani, Bigon, Novellino, Rivera, Chiodi

Manchester City: Corrigan, Clements, Donachie, Booth, Watson, Power, Viljoen, Bell, Kidd, Hartford, Palmer

The 35-year-old Gianni Rivera carved the City defence open within the first few minutes to put Ruben Burani in the clear, but his low cross was put past the post by Fulvio Collovati.

City began to edge forward themselves and had a good chance when Colin Bell shot wide from a free-kick.

In the middle of the pitch, Asa Hartford, ‘a stocky bundle of non-stop effort’ according to the Express, was winning the battle with Rivera, which caused the Italian to petulantly trip his Scottish opponent, earning him an earful from the referee.

It was Rivera who gave City the chance to take the lead in the 38th minute. His wayward pass was intercepted by Hartford, who ran forward and sent a perfect cross into the box for Brian Kidd to head into the far corner of the net.

The lead was extended twelve minutes into the second half. Paul Power picked up the ball just outside his own penalty box.

He made a run down the Milan right, finding no one challenging him he drove on.

As he got into the Milan box he cut inside 18-year-old Franco Baresi and hit a left-foot shot which bounced over the diving Enrico Albertosi.

Milan hadn’t been beaten in Europe on their own ground since Barcelona came there and won 2-0 in November 1960. No English side at that time had ever claimed a victory there. Now Manchester City were two-nothing up.

The Italian league leaders pulled a goal back a minute later. Walter Novellino centred the ball for Alberto Bigon to send a close-range header past Joe Corrigan.

Tommy Booth and Dave Watson in the centre of City’s defence were, ‘both in commanding form’ according to Patrick Barclay in The Guardian, while Bill Elliot of the Daily Star found them both ‘outstanding’.

As Milan pressed for an equaliser they had the ball in the back of the net three times, twice through Chiodi and once through Bigon, but each time the linesman had flagged for offside.

On the third occasion, the Milan supporters reacted by hurling a barrage of cans in the direction of the linesman and City’s keeper, Joe Corrigan, who was hit on the head by one and on the body by smaller missiles.

‘Ignited by the gesticulating Rivera, they poured down from the steep concrete terraces to intimidate, abuse and attack the East German officials,’ Bob Harris wrote in the Press and Journal.

With seven minutes remaining the equaliser for Milan came. Bigon got behind the City defence and latched onto a through ball on the edge of the box. As Corrigan ran out to meet him he put a left-foot shot past the ‘keeper into the corner.

‘He was at least two yards offside when he received the ball,’ Book said afterwards. ‘But I am not complaining because the referee gave us tremendous protection.’

With four minutes to go, Milan almost found a winner. Chiodi was in the clear five yards out but his shot was brilliantly smothered by Corrigan.

At the final whistle, armed riot police escorted Mr Einbeck and his linesmen off the field, as the Milan fans had to be dispersed with tear gas and rubber bullets.

‘Manchester City have come of age as a major European force to be feared,’ Peter Gardner wrote in the Manchester Evening News. The draw, he felt, was, ‘one of the greatest efforts by a British team on the continent in years.’

‘I ducked out of the way of a full beer can,’ Corrigan told Bob Harris. ‘If that had hit me God knows what would have happened. I wanted to show it to the referee, but one of the Milan players ran up and kicked it away. Just as bad was the glass. They were throwing little miniature bottles that had contained brandy and these were shattering around the six-yard area. I made a save just before the end where I had to come out at a Milan player’s feet and had it been a yard farther I would have cut my legs to pieces as there was a huge patch of glass.’

‘We all felt Bigon’s second goal was two yards offside,’ Watson said. ‘In a way, I suppose it was a good thing that it was given. We might not have got out of the stadium if a fourth goal had been ruled out.’

In an interview with Manchester City’s programme in 2009, Watson said,’I was immensely proud of that team, and we were so pumped up for it. Paul Power went on a long run and scored. A bit later in the game, he did something similar but just missed scoring. He should have scored but to do that twice at Milan shows how much in charge we were. We could have been 3-0 up at half-time. The Milan crowd were going mad. lt was unknown for any team to go there and put them under so much pressure.’

On the eve of the second-leg, a rumour emerged that Juventus were about to bid £1.5 million for Peter Barnes. City were livid about the suggestion and of the timing. ‘It sounds to me like a typical Italian propaganda job and a deliberate attempt to unsettle my players,’ Tony Book said.

City chairman Peter Swales added, ‘If the Italians think this kind of nonsense will unsettle us or Peter Barnes they can forget it. What makes it all absurd is that there is a ban in Italy on the signing of foreign players. It’s just claptrap and I’m fuming.’

Alberto Bigon, the 31-year-old midfielder tore a hamstring in Milan’s 1-1 draw with Perugia in Serie A, and wasn’t fit to travel to Manchester.

The second leg was played at Maine Road on Wednesday 6th December.

Manchester City: Corrigan, Keegan, Donachie, Booth, Watson, Power, Channon, Viljoen, Kidd, Hartford, Barnes

Milan: Albertosi, Collovati, Maldera, De Vecchi, Bet, Baresi, Buriani, Antonelli, Novellino, Rivera, Sartori

The City side was packed with European experience.

Only Colin Viljoen had made his European debut that season. Corrigan and Booth had both played their first European matches for City in 1969, while Watson, Channon, Hartford and Kidd had also played in Europe for other clubs; Sunderland, Southampton, West Bromwich Albion and Manchester United respectively.

It took City only 14 minutes to break down the Milan defence. Hartford flighted in a free-kick and Tommy Booth rose to head home.

In the 31st minute, it was Hartford who scored when he sent a dipping shot past the 39-year old Albertosi from twenty yards.

The tie was over three minutes before half-time. It was another free-kick from Hartford that caused problems for the Italians. Brian Kidd got up above the defence to head in for 3-0.

Rivera didn’t reappear for the second half, being replaced by Simone Boldini.

Kidd had a great chance to extend the lead in the second half, but his opportunistic chip hit the bar.

City defended coolly as Milan tried to claw something back with Corrigan, playing in his 25th European tie, solid in goal. The final whistle blew on a 3-0 win, and one of City’s greatest ever nights in Europe.

As comfortable as the win was City’s players still found things rough going.

West German Referee Heinz Aldinger booked Collovati, Maldera and Sartori.

‘Ged Keegan has scratch marks down his face where one of the Italian forwards clawed him,’ Watson said, ‘and the others were up to their normal spitting and fouling off the ball. But you get used to it from these Italian sides. We were ready and it did not bother us at all.’

Asa Hartford claimed that Milan were the cleanest Italian side he had played against.

He told Bob Harris, ‘A lot of what they got up to last night looked worse than it actually was. But it was bad enough. I got kicked so many times that I lost count, and I also took an elbow to the face. I have discovered that the best way is to beat them with football rather than fight them and last night I felt I produced my best performance in a European club game.’

In the Quarter-Final City would meet Borrusia Monchengladbach. A one-all draw at Maine Road left them fighting an uphill battle in the second-leg, eventually going down 3-1.

It would be over twenty-four years before Manchester CIty played in Europe again. Despite a ninth-place finish in the 2002/03 Premier League, their Fair Play ranking allowed them a passage to the 2003/04 UEFA Cup qualifying round. There they met Total Network Solutions of Wales, beating them 5-0 in their first leg match.