By Tom Pattison.
When I was asked to write about my favourite Manchester United game a myriad of possibilities swirled around my head; away in Turin perhaps, or the miracle of Moscow, or maybe the spectacle of extra time at Villa Park. In terms of drama, never say die spirit, and heart stopping moments those contests can’t really be touched. However the game I have chosen has no famous comeback, the full time whistle did not signal the award of a trophy and wasn’t even a triumph over hated rivals. The game I have chosen is Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur, January 8th 1993.
I feel I need to explain myself so here is my history as a Red. Like many lads my ‘choice’ of club was never in any way a choice. Dad originated from Salford and although my early years featured a brief sojourn to Norfolk by the time I was six we were living within 90 minutes of the ground in Cumbria. My parents didn’t have the money to take me on a three hour round trip to Old Trafford every fortnight so going to a game was a real treat. This meant my experience of United (again like many) was played out primarily through the television set. I remember clearly celebrating with my family as Mark Hughes secured victory over Barcelona. Dad was convinced that times were changing and at an age where you believe anything your old man says I was in agreement. Proudly decked out in my garish blue adidas away kit (with the shiny tissue paper shorts) I was convinced that 1992 would end with my team as the champions. My personal favourites ‘Sharpey’ and ‘Incey’ were the best in the land and living superheroes to me. Nothing could go wrong.
The way we threw it away to Leeds was the first crushing disappointment of my young life. Dad had been wrong and it seemed our chance had gone as we started the next season fairly miserably.
Then Eric arrived.
It takes all of five seconds to answer the question ‘Who is your favourite Man United player?’ So many legends have excelled in the red shirt and many have achieved greater success than Eric the King but as a football obsessed nine year old I fell madly, deeply in love with our Number 7. The addition of Eric changed the club from nearly men to winners. He, along with Ferguson, was the architect of the winning mentality that even with a shadow of a team by comparison we sustain to this very day. As a result when choosing my favourite Manchester United game I gravitate towards the occasion when I was most mesmerised by Eric.
The first half of the game bore a pattern that has become familiar at Old Trafford. We laid siege to their goal but nothing was going to plan. Erik Thorstvedt had morphed into Dolph Lundgren and pulled off a succession of barely believable stops. Predictably it took a towering looping header from Eric to break the deadlock. People wax lyrical about Eric’s technique, and rightly so, but what struck me seeing him in the flesh was the sheer power of the man. He appeared chiselled from granite and more like a Roman warrior than a man plying his trade alongside Clayton Blackmore. His power was the key to the opener as he rose above Justin Edinburgh to place the ball out of reach of the despairing keeper.
That was it. They weren’t coming back. It was time for the show.
Hughes held the ball up on the left of the area, played it back to Irwin who passed to Cantona and WHAT THE BLOODY HELL WAS THAT?!!! It was like I had watched Michael Jordan dunk or Tiger Woods tee off for the first time. THAT pass, arcing tantalisingly, delicately, tenderly over the defence into the path of the Irishman was sport ascending into art. Thank Christ Denis did the decent thing and put it away or I suspect he would’ve had to make a public apology to the 35,000 attending that day.
That moment of Gallic genius seemed to inspire his teammates to surpass their own limitations. Choccy McClair; a nervous, goal shy striker before Cantona’s arrival, underlined his impressive adaptation to midfield by firing in a screamer from thirty yards plus. The coup de grace came when Paul ‘never scored, never looked like scoring’ Parker had the audacity to venture down the right flank, exchange passes with McClair and fire in number four. This was my Brazil 1970. All this had happened with six magnificent minutes and I would replay the highlights every Monday and Wednesday when I got home from school for the best part of a year and never tired of that performance. (Tuesday and Thursday my sister was allowed to watch Grease)
As I said in my intro, the game had little lasting significance beyond moving three points closer to the title, but as an expression of how football should be played, an exhibition of the Manchester United way, for me it was as special as any cup final.
Saturday 9 January 1993 Premiership Old Trafford (35,648)
Paul Ince (sub 67)
Ryan Giggs (sub 74)
Mike Phelan 67
Andrei Kanchelskis 74
(From 7min 19s)