Shaun Goater and his former Manchester City team-mates recently gathered to mark the 20th anniversary of the club’s dramatic and memorable 1999 Division Two Play-off final triumph over Gillingham at Wembley Stadium.
Trailing 2-0, with three minutes of regulation time remaining, City rallied to draw level and ultimately prevail 3-1 on penalties after 30 minutes of extra time failed to separate the two sides.
To many, the events which unfolded on May 30, 1999 at Wembley twenty years ago shaped the future of the club who have since gone onto much bigger things, including English football’s first domestic treble of the Premier League, Carabao Cup and FA Cup last season.
Goater was heavily involved in both of City’s goals and was unfortunate not to become the first Bermudian to score on the hallowed Wembley turf after striking the post with a left-footed shot.
“Hitting the post was frustrating, I couldn’t proper lash at it,” Goater told CityTV. “I really couldn’t hit it hard. The keeper only realised I was here from that.”
Carl Asaba gave Gillingham the lead in the 81st minute with a terrific strike from inside the area.
Robert Taylor then added a second five minutes later to leave City seemingly dead and buried.
“I’m thinking ‘oh no’,” Goater said. “It’s a real like punch in the gut and then one or two asking the ref and you just know there is very little time.”
City fans figured the game had been lost and began making their way to the exits.
However, Goater and his team-mates had other thoughts in mind and went on to complete an amazing turnaround in the final minutes of a game regarded as one of the most exciting in English football history.
Kevin Horlock clawed one back for City in the 90th minute and it was game on from there.
Goater had the ball cleared off his boot as he shaped to shoot inside the box.
“A ball has come back to me and I’ve gone to shoot and it was a brilliant challenge,” the former striker said.
The loose ball rolled into the path of Horlock who drilled a low left-footed shot from just outside of the box into the far bottom right corner.
“The bit of luck we had that day is that it fell on my left foot and not my right because it could’ve been totally different,” Horlock said.
The goal galvanised City and their supporters.
“I got up limping and the lads were like, ‘come on’, and I could hear the roar of the crowd,” Goater said.
City pressed on and grabbed an equaliser in the fifth and final minute of added time through a goal from Paul Dickov who smashed the ball into the roof of the net after being fed a short pass from Goater to send the game into extra time and ultimately a penalty shoot-out.
“City fans sort of deserved it because they stuck with us,” Goater said.
“They continued to stick with us all those sort of dark days. They deserved this little bit of light.”
Goater was City’s top scorer that season with 21 goals, including the controversial winner in the two-legged Playoff semi-final against Wigan Athletic.
Wigan claimed handball but the goal stood.
“Because the delivery of the cross wasn’t too low, I could just stoop my chest,” Goater explained. “I was only a few yards away and I knew that once I chested it, it would go across the line because the cross itself had beaten the goalkeeper. So, for all you Wigan fans, it was off the chest!”
Goater described the ensuing pitch invasion by his team’s jubilant supporters after the final whistle as one of the “scariest moments” of his career.
“Funnily enough, although I vividly remember the moment of scoring the goal, the scariest moment was at the end because you’re so tired, but the fans run on with all of that joy,” he said.
“They’re hugging you, grabbing you, wanting photos with you, trying to take off your jersey and your boots; their hands are all over you. I’ve never been so scared because I couldn’t breathe!
“It was a special moment in terms of achievement but also a very scary moment.”
Goater, who incidentally began his career at Manchester United without ever playing a game, will always be held in the highest regard by City fans after an impressive record of 103 goals in 212 appearances between 1998 and 2003.