Name: Matthew David Jones
Age started supporting Manchester United: 7
First kit: White 1991 Cup Winners Cup final shirt
Favourite kit: The blue and black away strip circa 1993/94 which had the United crest in the background. The Bleacher Report has it down as one of the worst strips of all time but I loved it.
Favourite player: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Favourite non-United player: Dennis Bergkamp
First United game live: 0-0 draw at home to Wimbledon, March 21, 1992. Went to the game with my dad and a family friend or uncle, can’t remember who, and it was him who got the tickets. I think my brother or a cousin came too. I remember most of the game vividly, although there was not much to recall. Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes both had goals disallowed and I sat in what is now the second tier of the Sir Alex Ferguson stand. The Stretford End was under construction and I sat quite close to the edge of the right hand side of the stadium and as opposed to now, where the seating wraps around all corners of the ground, then the right corner separating the South and West stands was a building site.
For the next few categories, I’m not sure if I can pick just a single one so I’ll reel off a few choices.
Favourite United matches: Classics like the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal in 1999 with Giggs’ goal, Keane’s red card and Schmeichel’s penalty save from Bergkamp; the 99 European Cup final (for sheer last gasp drama, not quality obviously, it was a terrible game!) and the 4-3 v City and Owen’s winner in 2009 stick in the mind but lesser known games that I really remember are the 2-2 with Liverpool at Old Trafford in October 92, where Hughes scored two (one an absolute beauty) to bring us back level from 2-0 down and in front of an empty Stretford End. That was one of the first Utd games I remember watching on TV. I also loved the 3-3 draw with Middlesbrough in the poring rain in May 1997, a game in which Gary Neville scored a rare goal and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer grabbed the equaliser.
In terms of live games, as a season ticket holder I’ve watched a few awesome games in recent years, the 3-2 win v Liverpool with Berba’s hat-trick and the 2-1 over City with Rooney’s goal.
I think my favourite United game, if pushed, would have to be when we beat Leeds away 4-0 in September 96. It was my first away game and my uncle, a Leeds fan, took me to watch it and I had to sit with the Leeds fans. I was young and naive, not really aware of the hatred between both sets of fans and I thought it would be OK to wear a Utd top. We got out of the car in the car park and I took my jumper off to reveal my colours and my uncle immediately pounced on me, cursing me all over the shop and looking around in case anyone saw me. He had to go and buy a new shirt from the club shop and give me the one he was wearing to put on. Inside the ground, people were begging Leeds players to murder nice guys like Giggsy and yelling ‘break his f*****g legs’ and that was the first time I’d ever been intimidated at a football game. After the game I also remember walking among a sea of white as we made our way back to the car and there was one fan wearing a United shirt (I presume he must have lived locally as there were no buses nearby taking Utd fans home) and everyone was looking at him with a death stare. A few yards behind a massive pitbull looking Leeds fan, with bald head and tats, was marching to catch up with him and then a few more yards behind again were a few police officers tailing him!!
We’d absolutely smashed Leeds, I don’t really remember the own goal or Nicky Butt’s strike but I recall Poborsky’s goal and how I was quite excited after signing him following Euro 96!! But the most amazing moment of the day was Cantona returning to his old club and scoring then climbing the pole behind the goal to taunt the Leeds fans, the place went nuts! I also remember that Howard Wilkinson resigned or was sacked shortly afterwards and the section of fans in which I was sitting came up with the chant ‘Wilko, it’s time to go’. I recall trying to act disappointed when United scored, despite just wanting to scream with joy and point at the Leeds fans and mock!
Memorable moments: Tough again. Obviously the highs, some of which I mentioned before, but other, lesser moments stick with me.
- I remember Alan Smith’s debut (I still maintain, probably the only Utd fan to do so, that he was a good midfielder for us) and after his spectacular goal v Norwich, more than that, I loved it when he chased a dead end and launched into a tackle and ended up blocking the ball, I love that trait in players.
- Utd fans chanting David Beckham’s name when he was a sub for AC Milan in a Champions League group game in March 2010. We were begging for him to be brought on and then when he did come on, we booed his first touch, which was hilarious.
- John Terry’s tears after missing the penalty that would have won Chelsea the 2008 Champions League final. I remember being almost as ecstatic about that as I was about us winning the thing.
- Phil Neville having Patrick Vieira in his pocket in the 6-1 win over Arsenal in February 2001.
- Keane exacting his revenge on Alfe Inge Haaland while playing for City at Old Trafford. A horrible tackle but one that at the time just looked late or wreckless but every Utd fan knew he meant it. Maybe it’s not great to celebrate someone being hurt but to remember when Haaland and Wetherall mocked him when he was injured at Elland Road and bottle all that up for so long then unleash it in one moment, that’s what Keano was all about, and I loved it.
- Gary Neville being interviewed by, I think, Andy Burton before an FA Cup replay v Burton Albion in 2005. The reporter said: ‘So Gary, would you say this is a must win game for Man Utd today?’. Neville’s response was instant: ‘Well, to be honest, I’ve never played in a game for Utd that hasn’t been must win’ – legend!
- Solskjaer’s goal v Charlton in August 2006, his first goal after long term injury. He’s my hero so that was a special moment for me.
Favourite goals: Again too many to admire, but some of my favourites:
- Giggsy’s against Arsenal in the FA Cup replay at Villa Park in 99.
- Cristiano Ronaldo’s free kick against Portsmouth
- Rooney’s volley against Newcastle (having just finished arguing with the ref!)
- Rooney’s overhead v City
- Lee Sharpe’s backeel v Barcelona in the Champions League 94/95
- Van Nistelrooy’s mazy run and finish v Fulham
- Scholes header v Man City at Wastelands
- Scholes goal in CL semi-final v Barca
Again, if pushed, I think my favourite ever goal was Solksjaer’s winner in the CL final in 99 v Bayern – what a night!
Interesting fact: I really should be a Man City fan!!! (don’t reach for the pitchforks just yet!) My father was an Arsenal fan and my brother is a fervent Gunner, but unlike I plan to be with my kids if I have any, dad never pushed football on us. He was an avid fan, he was an accomplished player himself, having received youth trials for Wales, and he was also a referee when I was growing up as well as a coach of several youth teams in out home town, but he never really pushed supporting Arsenal on me or my brother. My younger sibling is naturally much more like dad and I’m more like my mother so I suppose my brother’s transition into an Arsenal fan was expected, but when I was young a cousin of mine spent a few summers in his teenage years working for my dad, and he and his family have always been City supporters. I idolised my cousin and can remember wanting to be a City fan just like him when I was around 6 or 7 and wasn’t really aware of tribalism and supporting a football team. My cousin told me this recently – he had planned to buy me a City strip, but when he went to the shop they didn’t sell any City shirts. I’m not sure how big replica kits in sports shops back in the early 90s were but he said that the only top he could find was a Utd one (I guess because they’d recently won the Cup Winners Cup against Barcelona) so inexplicably he parted with money for it despite supporting their arch rivals. I suppose we hadn’t won a title in almost 25 years so what harm could it do!! Since then I’ve never looked back and rather than maturing with age, if anything I’m becoming more of a fanatic each year I get older. It doesn’t help having a season ticket and being addicted to match days, the atmosphere around the stadium when there’s a big derby or game with a rival or on a European match night, and being part of a crowd chanting and singing songs about our heroes or taunting opposition fans/players, and of course the magic feeling when Utd score.
Best ever United XI: Schmeichel, G Neville, Stam, Bruce, Irwin, Ronaldo, Keane, Scholes, Giggs, Cantona, van Nistelrooy. Subs: Van Der Sar, Vidic, Beckham, Sharpe, Solskjaer, Hughes, Rooney