A BROAD smile appears across Andy Morrison’s face when he’s reminded that it’s the 20-year anniversary of Manchester City’s remarkable play-off final victory over Gillingham.

It’s not as though Morrison has forgotten, however, the former City captain and his team-mates recently heading to the Etihad Stadium for a reunion to remember that famous occasion.

But, as the now 48-year-old central defender puts it: “I got to lift the trophy at Wembley, which was the highlight of my career, without a shadow of a doubt.

“For every footballer, especially in my era, the thought of walking up the steps at Wembley to lift a trophy in-front of 40,000 of your own fans, and family, was very, very special.”

Morrison can look back on the Second Division play-off final with a warm glow some two decades on, but quite what he was thinking as he watched Gillingham take a two-goal lead through Carl Asaba and Robert Taylor with three minutes of normal time remaining probably isn’t repeatable.

“It was tough, especially when both goals came right through the middle of the pitch where I would have been,” said Morrison, who had been substituted shortly before Gillingham took control with the clock ticking.

“I’d ran my course that season. I was waiting to have a knee operation.

“I had a painkilling injection in my knee before the game and had it drained at half-time.

“I needed my cartilage repairing, but I wasn’t going to miss the game and I would have carried on playing and limped through.

“The manager was very astute and saw that I needed to come off. Unfortunately we were 2-0 down very quickly afterwards.”

What was to happen next were the sort of events probably too unlikely even for a comic book.

Kevin Horlock drilled home what looked like nothing more than a 90th minute consolation for City, who were handed an almighty boost as five minutes of added on time were signalled.

Enter Paul Dickov, the diminutive striker firing past Vince Bartram in the final minute of stoppage time to spark wild scenes in the City end.

Joe Royle’s men pulled themselves together, and after neither side could force a winner in the addition 30 minutes, Nicky Weaver wrote his name into City folklore by starring in the 3-1 penalty shootout success.

“You think the opportunity to walk up the famous Wembley steps is gone, but it wasn’t,” said Morrison, that smile returning to his face.

“History has shown us what an absolutely incredible occasion it was and one that is etched in the memories of every City fan.

“Every City fan knows where they were that day, whether they were climbing a mountain or at the game, and it was an incredibly special day.”

Indeed, for City fans of a certain age, that Dickov goal is up there with the infamous Sergio Aguero strike that won a first Premier League title for the club in 2011/12, and that success is as important as any recent memory.

That win is seen as the catalyst for the current dominance of the blue half of Manchester, one which might never have arrived if Gillingham had prevailed: “I dread to think what might have happened,” said Dickov recently. “It’s probably just as well we didn’t realise how important it was as it would have put more pressure on us.”

Morrison continued: “We’ve had the victory against Brighton to win the Premier League and the FA Cup final, but it’s great to see the fondness for the team from 20 years ago.

“To share the moments from the time with the fans is special and they still remember. A lot of the children don’t, they have no idea because they think it’s always been like this.

“The older fans know it hasn’t always been like it is now, but for the adversity they went through and the hardships, they are getting their rewards now.

“It shows to me that if a club sticks together from top to bottom and rowing in the same direction then you can achieve great things and Manchester City certainly have.

“It was the start of a period of success. We won back-to-back promotions to the Premier League with the same group of players, that shows the talent in the group.”

And for Morrison one man deserves special credit for helping City back to their rightful place.

He said: “What we did have, which every successful team needs, was a good manager in Joe Royle, who I sometimes think doesn’t get the credit he deserves.

“To turn around a sinking ship and then take the club to back-to-back promotions is one of the greatest achievements any manager has done.

“It was a staggering achievement.”