Nathan Ake can hold his own sitting at a piano and has been known to produce the odd performance back at base on European trips with Manchester City.
Ake fancied mastering a new skill during the first lockdown when football stopped and has an impressive ear. What the Dutchman probably doesn’t know is that there is some history of musical showmanship when it comes to City abroad.
The scenes inside a Vienna hotel around this time 53 years ago were not quite so stylish. Francis Lee clambered on top of a piano, played by the head scout Harry Godwin, and sang to a jubilant travelling party wearing just his briefs.
City had lifted the Cup-Winners’ Cup earlier that night, beating Gornik Zabrze of Poland in treacherous conditions — commentator Barry Davies relaying that they were ‘splashing through puddles’ as Praterstadion resembled a bog. ‘Spectators are very wet, there is no cover at all in this stadium,’ Davies said as Gornik struggled to move the ball in search of a late equaliser.
Maybe that is why Lee’s clothes had vanished. Or maybe not. The 2-1 victory, secured by Neil Young and then Lee’s penalty, was supposed to represent the start of the club’s charge on the continent, yet it never materialised. ‘Lee, with a good fast bowler’s run-up… it’s a bit lucky, the power took it through the legs,’ Davies said.
Nathan Ake is known at Man City for having skills off the pitch as well as on it, as he can play the piano to a high standard
Ake’s piano-playing offers a reminder of City’s last triumph in Europe when they won the Cup-Winners Cup under Joe Mercer (pictured) in 1970 in the musical city of Vienna
The majority of City’s 4,000 travelling supporters — a record for an English club at the time — ended up on the pitch, with their heroes accidentally handed the losers’ medals at first.
The rest of the 1970s saw a gradual decline, with manager Joe Mercer leaving amid a feud with his assistant, the gregarious Malcolm Allison. Allison, a genius coach of his generation lasted just two years as Mercer’s successor. There were fleeting dalliances with winning another league title but a decade later, City started bouncing between the top two divisions.
Any idea of conquering Europe had long gone. Allison had, when lifting the Division One crown in 1968, declared they would ‘destroy’ opponents abroad but that never materialised in a series of mishaps that some would argue have also manifested themselves under Pep Guardiola on occasion.
The Cup-Winners’ Cup was one to savour though. UEFA’s third competition at the time but silverware all the same. Lee, Colin Bell and Mike Summerbee’s legacy at Maine Road, in winning all three domestic trophies as well as their triumph in Europe, is the reason why the trio will have a statue unveiled outside the Etihad Stadium later this year.
This season’s kit, a tribute to Bell after his death in 2021, will have its last run-out in Istanbul on Saturday with the King of the Kippax’s family proudly watching on.
Mike Summerbee (pictured), Francis Lee and Colin Bell will all get statues outside the Etihad Stadium later this year
Pep Guardiola’s side could take inspiration from the heroes of the 70’s as they aim to complete a historic Treble on Saturday by winning the Champions League for the first time
Summerbee sadly missed the Vienna final through injury, City giving the winger every opportunity to prove his fitness. George Heslop, a defender, was brought in to do a job on the mercurial Wlodzimierz Lubanski.
Bell had instigated a comeback over Schalke in the semi-final, twice combining with Alan Oakes to set-up Young during a second leg that began with City mischievously cranking up the heating in Schalke’s dressing room, as told by author Simon Curtis in City in Europe.
Having lost 1-0 over in Germany, with a dog invading the pitch, City hammered them 5-1 at a raucous Maine Road. The late Mike Doyle, paternal grandfather of current City midfielder Tommy, scored the opener. Doyle’s maternal grandfather Glyn Pardoe also started.
And then it was one night in Vienna. City went on to become the first English side to win a domestic and European trophy in the same season — lifting the League Cup at Wembley — another pointer to why their version of the Holy Trinity will be immortalised in the coming months. Presumably Lee has clothes on.
JON BELL, SON OF COLIN BELL, LOOKS AHEAD TO SATURDAY’S FINAL
As my adult life became increasingly busy juggling working shifts at hospital with my wife and looking after our children, football provided valuable time in my dad’s company away from everyday distractions.
It did not matter that the stand that we sat in carried his name. We had the same bond as any other father and son, and we shared in the triumphs and failures of our beloved team. Fortunately, there were many more triumphs in his last decade.
Dad left a huge void when he died in January 2021. I was reluctant to return to the Etihad without him and was prepared to take a break to come to terms with the loss. There was no such hiatus as Manchester City rallied around and ensured that we were included. There have been many public and private gestures from the club that were built on genuine empathy and respect for his endearing legacy.
There is now a new person sitting in my dad’s seat, between me and Tony Book – my mum. At 74, she enjoys the social contact and being a valued member of the City family. She often talks of the warmth of our chairman, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, when he greets her and takes great comfort from the many tributes, which will culminate in the unveiling of a statue of dad, Francis Lee, and Mike Summerbee, later this year.
Khaldoon spoke to us with great excitement about this season’s retro shirt, which is dedicated to dad. My seven-year-old son returned home recently with immense pride having shown a United supporter the image of ‘The King’ on the inside of his shirt and received a kind remark about his Pops. Our biggest fear at the start of the season was the risk of underachieving against Pep’s exacting standards.
I will be sitting with my mum in Istanbul as guests of City as we watch the team emerge wearing ‘The King’ shirt for the last time, hoping to see the current No 8, Ilkay Gundogan, lift the Champions League trophy. It will be an emotional experience. Dad would be proud that our club is progressing, new heroes are being born and that my mum will be by my side.