By Matthew Bird.
For me, being asked to write about your favourite game is a quandary. How do you pick? I mean really, out of all we’ve seen and won how do you pick? I decided on a few parameters. For it to be in the criteria, I have to have been there. As I’ve have lived in America for the past 12 years, it cancels a lot out. And as I spent my foremost years watching at Old Trafford in the 80’s when we were crap also cancels a lot of games out. We can all pick the 99 final in Barcelona, or a recent win over Liverpool. I wanted something a little different, a little more personal to me.
I gave it some serious consideration. I had to narrow it down somehow and my initial choice was a New Year’s Day 3-1 win over Liverpool. We all know Manchester United and New Year’s Day. We don’t mix well. I remember once on New Year’s Day when I was a kid the team running out of the tunnel and Gordon McQueen falling over right out of the tunnel, I was there for Dennis Bailey and the QPR fiasco. The Liverpool game in 89 however for me was the turning point in the fortunes of the teams, they would go on and win only one more title, we’d go on and make history.
I also thought about the 1992 Rumbelows [league]Cup semi final at Old Trafford second leg against Middlesborough. It went to extra time, and the 10,000 plus smoggies that came down for the game made for a cracking atmosphere, added to the fact we won and went off to Wembley, Leeds were also getting smacked at QPR giving us an edge in the title race. However a night that was, we never did go on to win the title and the game itself was rubbish, it was just the fans that made it so special.
So I give you this, and it’s not often that a favourite game will start the Monday morning after a 5-1 thrashing at Maine Road, but there you go.
At Sale Boys Grammar School that particular morning, you could see it in the eyes who were United fans, all downbeat, quiet and trying not to mention what had happened that weekend. I dreaded geography as my teacher, Mr. Davies was a big City fan and I knew he’d rip into us. He was a great teacher, a real quality bloke, whom after 20 years after I remember fondly. When it came to football however, the teacher / pupil relationship went out the window. And did he ever stick it to us reds that day. One lad said “wait ‘til we get you back to Old Trafford” to which he replied, “and what?”
Well Mr. Davies, this one was for you. Yes, we’ll wait ‘til we get you back to Old Trafford. We gave it a few years while we assembled the best team ever constructed by Ferguson, and on that night, in front of the Sky cameras, you had what was coming to you.
Giggs and Scholes were prodigious young talents. Cantona was well…… Cantona. Bruce, Pallister and Irwin were as solid a foundation as any George Graham back four with Keane filling in at right back. However my favourite player of that era was the winger Andrei Kanchelskis. Who doesn’t look back at him now and not smile.
This was his game and I was lucky enough to be sat in the main stand as he and Cantona tore Manchester City apart. It all started in the 23rd minute, it could have been earlier, we were all over them and it was just a matter of time that eventually came when a Hollywood ball over the midfield was pinpoint to Eric who lost Brightwell, pulled it down deftly and slotted past Simon Tracey (who??)
Cantona turned provider for Andrei’s first two goals either side of halftime, the first being a simple square ball to his right leaving Kanchelskis to hammer in off a City heel, and his second a Schmeichel long kick out to Cantona to flick on and Andrei was away. His speed was killer, his dribble sublime. Tracey got something on the first shot but was on the deck and had no chance on the rebound. 47 Minutes gone, 3 up and cruising. The crowd was in raptures and the bitters had to just sit there and take it.
Hughes added a fourth with twenty minutes to go. The move was quintessential United of that era. Old and new combined as Keane forayed from the back curling in a low cross to Hughes. If there was one thing he could do it was win a ball and then know what to do with it. He tangled with City defender, got off his backside and cool as you like poked it home.
We were sensing blood and revenge at this point. The crowd wanted 5. Selfishly for bragging rights, to wipe away the horror show that was the 5-1 massacre of 1989. And then it happened.
Cantona received the ball from Kanchelskis after Schmeichel threw him the ball from a City corner. Andrei using his famous speed pegged it three quarters the length of the field. His hattrick goal again had an element of luck like his first two goals as Tracey again got something on the shot. We weren’t to be denied however. Not tonight. The rebound went in and we went to heaven.
City will point to further derby wins like the 4-1 when Keegan was in charge. I’ll point to them getting hammered at Edgeley Park against Stockport too. They never mention that, or their hiatus in the Auto Windscreens Cup or Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. We just went on and won trophies. Lots of them.
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