OTBM’s newest feature takes a look at some of the greatest players ever to grace the blue and white of City. This week we look at the short career of Paul Lake, one of the best midfielders who never had the opportunity to fulfil his potential.
Paul Lake, known as Lakey amongst the supporters was City through and through. Born in Denton on 26 October 1968, he was spotted by legendary City scout Ken Barnes playing against boys much older than himself and Barnes could tell, even though Lakey was only ten years old, that the youngster was destined to achieve great things.
Lake joined Blue Star, a youth club with links to the blues, during his teenage years and caught the interest of Manchester United but was more interested in playing for his boyhood heroes at Maine Road. In July 1985, Lake enrolled on a Youth Training Scheme at Maine Road and his path to hero status amongst the fans began.
Just a year later, Lake was part of the dynamic youth team which won the FA Youth Cup in fine style and the following season, the young Lake was baptised in the first team by playing against Wimbledon. That season, Lake was part of the team that dropped out of the old First Division along with Leicester and Aston Villa but he was to form an integral part of new manager Mel Machin’s youthful looking squad, of which Lake was becoming the star.
The 1987/88 season fully announced Lake’s arrival. A series of sublime displays, most notably in the League Cup against First Division opposition catapulted Lake’s status. Members of the team were being coveted by Liverpool, Spurs, United and Glasgow Rangers but, much to the relief of blues supporters, they came instead for Paul Stewart, who left the club fro Spurs in a £1.7m deal, the highest figure City had ever received for any player.
The next season like was outstanding, although a clash of heads during the game with Leicester City, during which he swallowed his tongue and was revived on the pitch by Roy Bailey, knocked his form and in a crucial championship decider against Chelsea a week later, was dispossessed on the half way line which allowed Tony Dorigo to run and score Chelsea’s third which secured a 3-2 win.
But City still won promotion and in the 1989/90 season, Lake destroyed neighbours United at Maine Road, setting up goals for Trevor Morley and David Oldfield as City ran out 5-1 winners. His performances throughout the season were rewarded when he was called up to Bobby Robson’s provisional England squad for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. However, he missed out on making the final squad.
During the summer, Lake was the subject of a reported £3m bid from Liverpool but chairman Peter Swales had little choice but to reject it. Swales had been the target of many a supporters ire over the years and should he have sold their prize asset, there would have been nothing short of a rebellion amongst the Maine Road faithful.
City had recorded a 3-1 defeat at Spurs and a 1-0 home victory over Everton at the start of the new season by the time Aston Villa arrived at Maine Road. Little did any of the supporters know at the time that it would be one of the last times they would see Lake in action. An innocuous challenge with Tony Cascarino, for which the Villa man could not be blamed, left Lake with a ruptured cruciate ligament and it would leave him out of action for two years.
Eventually, the moment all City fans had been waiting for arrived but it soon turned to tragedy. Lake had made his comeback as a substitute in a previous game but had only played eight minutes of an away game at Middlesbrough when the ligament snapped again. It would prove to be the last time Lake would wear the City shirt in a competitive match again.
After four years and fourteen operations, Lake finally admitted defeat and hung up his boots. Lake made 110 appearances for City and although it seemed like more, only scored seven goals for his beloved blues.
Since retiring from the game, Lake trained as a physiotherapist at Salford University and was the club physio at Macclesfield for five years before moving to Bolton Wanderers. However, he left Bolton during the 2008/09 season and has now started up his own physiotherapy practice in Manchester.
Paul Lake – City hero, blue legend. A fully deserving Past Master.
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