Alan Shearer and David Hirst were names suggested; Dion Dublin was the unlikely punt, but Eric Cantona was eventually the catalyst for Manchester United’s first league title in 26 years. Having simply run out of steam in the final year of the old football league, United needed to add to their squad having missed that extra spark.
Steve Bruce, Paul Ince, Bryan Robson and Mark Hughes provided the formidable strength, while the youthful exuberance and wizardry of Ryan Giggs, Lee Sharpe and Andrei Kanchelskis was complemented by the dependable consistency of the likes of Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister, Paul Parker and Brian McClair. Yet even with a squad assembled with such talent, Alex Ferguson still felt his team lacked a certain something.
Such was United’s luck that Dublin suffered a badly broken leg in early September against Crystal Palace, just two games after scoring the winner against Southampton to secure United’s first win in the Premier League. United had started badly; a 2-1 loss in their opening game at Bramall Lane where Brian Deane scored the first ever Premier League goal was followed by a crushing 3-0 home defeat to Everton.
Ipswich visited Old Trafford and the Reds were only able to get a point courtesy of Denis Irwin; though Dublin may not have gone on to play a major part in the run, his winner sparked a run of five consecutive league wins that followed after the Saints game against Forest, Palace, Leeds United and Everton in an early return game. A familiar problem reared its head in the autumn; United just couldn’t find the net.
They scored just 6 goals in the next twelve games, failing to score in seven of them, including four in a row in the worst time. Exits from the UEFA Cup and League Cup were the consequences of United’s inability to score; but a phone call from the league champions seeking to further destabilise Ferguson’s team had the exact opposite effect and changed the face of English football.
Taking a phonecall from Leeds Chariman Bill Fotherby, Martin Edwards learned that Leeds wanted to sign Denis Irwin; Ferguson was with the chairman and dismissed the enquiry out of hand. United had defeated Oldham scoring three goals through McClair and Hughes yet that was not enough to convince Ferguson their problems were over; he made what is now referred to as a cheeky enquiry for Eric Cantona and was stunned when Leeds were co-operative.
Ferguson certainly couldn’t be accused of lacking foresight when signing Cantona; at the time of the Frenchman’s arrival, the Scot said “I see Eric as a Manchester United player, the kind we want at this club. He has style, he has class and the club will suit him. His goal scoring was instrumental in the success of Leeds last year. I am happy to bring another striker to the club, one who has a good reputation and one who won’t in any way by overawed at playing at Old Trafford.”
So it proved.
Cantona couldn’t play in the next game against Arsenal but played in the Manchester derby on December 6th as a substitute, a 1-0 win. He started as United won against Norwich and then scored his first goal in the draw at Stamford Bridge; another goal in an away draw followed at Hillsborough on Boxing Day and United supporters were not only beginning to see the formation of a great team but the makings of a genius; a 5-0 win over Coventry City showcased a full array of the team’s ability but it was Denis Irwin’s goal – or rather the creation of it, coming courtesy of an irresistible pass from Cantona – against Tottenham Hotspur in a 4-1 win that was enough to get Reds everywhere purring in anticipation.
United had moved to sign goalkeeping back up; Frazer Digby had joined on a month’s loan in October from Swindon but after he returned home, the Reds moved to re-sign fan favourite Les Sealey. On a more straightforward level Cantona’s arrival had solved one of the big issues; United failed to score in just three games after he signed, and fell to defeat in the league just twice. Those defeats at Ipswich and Oldham were thankfully not to prove disastrous – but disappointment in the FA Cup with another defeat at Bramall Lane could have had a negative effect on the team’s new found confidence.
Indeed, Bryan Robson was philosophical, referencing the previous season as a possible inspirational indicator, “Last season we did Leeds a big favour when we knocked them out of both cups. This year there won’t be any fixture pile up for us as there was last time. We have one thing to concentrate on and I’m sure the lads can do it.” Behind Robson’s encouragement must have lied some anguish; injury had hampered the captain all season and he had played just six league games, meaning that he was in danger of not qualifying for a winners medal should United go on to win the league. Ferguson moved quickly to dispel those suggestions.
“Bryan has been a great servant to this club and if we are successful he will get his medal no matter what happens,” said the manager, referring to the two discretionary awards. Such talk was to be put on ice as the defeat at Boundary Park on March 9th threatened to derail United’s title charge.
Oldham manager Joe Royle had reportedly been offered a bottle of champagne from Aston Villa boss Ron Atkinson should the Latics get a win; they did, and Royle demanded a full case jokingly – prompting headlines such as “Has Fergie got the bottle?”, referring to the previous years collapse at the final hurdle. Draws against Villa, City and Arsenal might not have seemed like the worst results but United dropped to third and what had begun as murmurs were beginning to seem like real questions.
Then followed two games that defined United’s season; on April 5th they travelled to Carrow Road against fellow title competitors Norwich City, and blew them away within the first quarter of the match with a succession of devastating counter attacks which were to become the teams trademark; speedsters Ryan Giggs and Kanchelskis scored before the orchestrator Cantona secured the result as early as the twentieth minute. United were breathtaking; former Canary Steve Bruce had said on the eve of playing his old team, “There are seven matches left, if we win all of them, nobody can stop us!”. ￼ Phase one of that was complete but Bruce could have had no idea whatsoever just how crucial his role would be in that run. Sheffield Wednesday travelled to Old Trafford buoyed by two fantastic Cup runs.
After such a stunning display of football at Norwich, United struggled to recreate that tempo and after John Sheridan converted a penalty in the 65th minute to put the Owls ahead, the Red Devils were now faced with huge posers about their character. Bruce’s header just under 5 minutes from full time seemed to have secured a draw but even that wouldn’t be enough; United continued to attack deep into injury time that had been added on due to an injury to the linesman – in all, eight minutes were added, and it was in the sixth of those that Bruce thundered in the winner in front of the Stretford End, prompting Ferguson and his assistant Brian Kidd to jump and kiss the turf.
Wins against Coventry and Chelsea led United and Villa into a crucial night of football; United travelled to Selhurst Park to play against Crystal Palace and Villa went to Blackburn. Rovers were 2-0 up by the time United had even kicked off; Hughes and Ince smashed United to a two goal win at Palace, with the Reds learning at full time that Villa had eventually lost 3-0. Ferguson knew that a win against Blackburn in their last home game would mathematically seal the title and said after the Palace game, “It would be lovely to win the Championship at Old Trafford so that we can pay back a support that has waited so long.”
Such talk was based on the probability that Villa would beat Oldham at Villa Park, but surprisingly – and perhaps a little ironically, given the situation earlier in the year – Oldham caused an upset, stealing the three points and thus crowning United champions without having to kick a ball. The Blackburn game became party time; there may have been a few sore heads among the players, not to mention the crowd, and the hangover showed as Kevin Gallacher gave Rovers an early lead. United recovered to play some more fantastic football, with Ryan Giggs hitting a memorable free kick before Paul Ince decided the game; Gary Pallister, who hadn’t scored all season, struck a last minute free kick to really seal things. The celebrations continued in earnest yet there was still the matter of a final league game; another trip to Selhurst to play Wimbledon. United were victorious again – sealing that seventh league win as Bruce had offered in prophesy – with Ince scoring yet again and, fittingly, Robson scoring his first goal of the season to seal the result.
The legendary midfielder had gone on to make fourteen league appearances, comfortably earning that winners medal, and said of finally winning the league, “People have talked about it being 26 years for Manchester United but I remember 17 years ago being top when I was at West Brom before we were overtaken by Liverpool. We finished fourth. I have wanted a Championship medal since that moment… at times I thought it would never happen. Now, I’m just delighted.” Paul Ince was just as pleased for his team-mate.
“The gaffer has been tremendous, he has done a great job,” said Ince. “But while I have the utmost regard for the boss, my thoughts are with Robbo. He’s been trying to win this thing for 12 years and it would have been a tragedy if one of the game’s greatest names never won the game’s biggest domestic honour. I owe him a huge debt.”
Adding to the tributes and accolades was perhaps the clubs’ greatest ever player. George Best didn’t hold back and perhaps showed foresight to overshadow that of Bruce’s when he said “The future of the club looks tremendous. The current squad they’ve got is maybe even a little bit stronger than we were. There’s no reason why they can’t do what we did and go on to win the European Cup. We won the Youth Cup last year… there’s a tremendous amount of young kids coming through.”
Best’s mentor, Sir Matt Busby, joined in with the positivity. “I’m over the moon – and I mean that,” enthused Busby. “The English League is the hardest in the world to win and the United team have done so playing exciting, flowing football of the highest quality. I’m delighted for the manager, the staff and the great Red Army.”
There was no doubt that United had earned their title; the contribution of all of the players could not be understated though it is widely accepted that Cantona’s arrival, the majesty and artistry he added to the side took a team of contenders to the top of the tree. Goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel – himself one of the key factors in United’s title winning campaign – acknowledged the Gallic injection as a defining moment. “There have been two main differences this year following the disappointment of last season. The first is we knew what to expect and the second was the arrival of Eric Cantona,” said Schmeichel.
Perhaps the final word, then, should be left to the Frenchman. “I am overjoyed and feeling wonderful. I have got what I wanted after leaving Leeds, and that makes it all even more special for me following last season.”
Match worn shirts
Pre-season and friendlies
|Date||Opponents||H / A||ResultF – A||Scorers||Attendance|
|28 July 1992||Start||A||3 – 0||Blackmore, Hughes, Wallace||4,118|
|29 July 1992||Celtic||A||1 – 1||Ince||34,368|
|31 July 1992||Lillestrøm||A||1 – 1||McClair||5,569|
|2 August 1992||Rosenborg||A||3 – 2||Ince, McClair, Irwin||9,379|
|4 August 1992||Elfsborg||A||0 – 0||4,491|
|9 August 1992||Republic of Ireland XI||A||2 – 0||McClair, Hughes||30,069|
|11 August 1992||Swansea City||A||1 – 1||Hughes||9,744|
|11 November 1992||Brøndby||H||3 – 2||McClair, Wallace, Phelan||5,102|
|1 December 1992||Benfica||A||0 – 1||40,000|
|12 May 1993||Aston Villa||N||1 – 1||Phelan||22,000|
|14 May 1993||Bristol City||A||3 – 3||Hughes (2), Blackmore||21,716|
|17 May 1993||Arsenal||A||4 – 4||Dublin (2), Sharpe (2)||22,117|
FA Premier League
|Date||Opponents||H / A||ResultF – A||Scorers||Attendance||Leagueposition|
|15 August 1992||Sheffield United||A||1 – 2||Hughes 61′||28,070||19th|
|19 August 1992||Everton||H||0 – 3||31,901||22nd|
|22 August 1992||Ipswich Town||H||1 – 1||Irwin 57′||31,704||20th|
|24 August 1992||Southampton||A||1 – 0||Dublin 88′||15,623||11th|
|29 August 1992||Nottingham Forest||A||2 – 0||Hughes 16′, Giggs 49′||19,694||8th|
|2 September 1992||Crystal Palace||H||1 – 0||Hughes 88′||29,736||6th|
|6 September 1992||Leeds United||H||2 – 0||Kanchelskis 28′, Bruce 44′||31,296||4th|
|12 September 1992||Everton||A||2 – 0||McClair 29′, Bruce 76′ (pen.)||30,002||3rd|
|19 September 1992||Tottenham Hotspur||A||1 – 1||Giggs 44′||33,296||4th|
|26 September 1992||Queens Park Rangers||H||0 – 0||33,287||4th|
|3 October 1992||Middlesbrough||A||1 – 1||Bruce 44′ (pen.)||24,172||6th|
|18 October 1992||Liverpool||H||2 – 2||Hughes (2) 79′, 89′||33,243||5th|
|24 October 1992||Blackburn Rovers||A||0 – 0||20,305||7th|
|31 October 1992||Wimbledon||H||0 – 1||32,622||7th|
|7 November 1992||Aston Villa||A||0 – 1||39,063||10th|
|21 November 1992||Oldham Athletic||H||3 – 0||McClair (2) 10′, 28′, Hughes 11′||33,497||8th|
|28 November 1992||Arsenal||A||1 – 0||Hughes 27′||29,739||5th|
|6 December 1992||Manchester City||H||2 – 1||Ince 20′, Hughes 74′||35,408||5th|
|12 December 1992||Norwich City||H||1 – 0||Hughes 59′||34,500||4th|
|19 December 1992||Chelsea||A||1 – 1||Cantona 71′||34,464||3rd|
|26 December 1992||Sheffield Wednesday||A||3 – 3||McClair (2) 67′, 80′, Cantona 84′||37,708||2nd|
|28 December 1992||Coventry City||H||5 – 0||Giggs 6′, Hughes 40′, Cantona 64′ (pen.), Sharpe 78′, Irwin 83′||36,025||1st|
|9 January 1993||Tottenham Hotspur||H||4 – 1||Cantona 40′, Irwin 52′, McClair 53′, Parker 57′||35,648||1st|
|18 January 1993||Queens Park Rangers||A||3 – 1||Ince 26′, Giggs 30′, Kanchelskis 48′||21,117||1st|
|27 January 1993||Nottingham Forest||H||2 – 0||Ince 47′, Hughes 68′||36,085||2nd|
|30 January 1993||Ipswich Town||A||1 – 2||McClair 84′||22,068||2nd|
|6 February 1993||Sheffield United||H||2 – 1||McClair 65′, Cantona 80′||36,156||1st|
|8 February 1993||Leeds United||A||0 – 0||34,166||1st|
|20 February 1993||Southampton||H||2 – 1||Giggs (2) 82′ 83′||36,257||2nd|
|27 February 1993||Middlesbrough||H||3 – 0||Giggs 21′, Irwin 79′, Cantona 86′||36,251||2nd|
|6 March 1993||Liverpool||A||2 – 1||Hughes 42′, McClair 56′||44,374||1st|
|9 March 1993||Oldham Athletic||A||0 – 1||17,106||1st|
|14 March 1993||Aston Villa||H||1 – 1||Hughes 57′||36,163||1st|
|20 March 1993||Manchester City||A||1 – 1||Cantona 71′||37,136||2nd|
|24 March 1993||Arsenal||H||0 – 0||37,301||3rd|
|5 April 1993||Norwich City||A||3 – 1||Giggs 13′, Kanchelskis 20′, Cantona 21′||20,582||2nd|
|10 April 1993||Sheffield Wednesday||H||2 – 1||Bruce (2) 86′, 90′||40,102||1st|
|12 April 1993||Coventry City||A||1 – 0||Irwin 40′||24,249||1st|
|17 April 1993||Chelsea||H||3 – 0||Hughes 24′, Clarke 44′ (o.g.), Cantona 48′||40,139||1st|
|21 April 1993||Crystal Palace||A||2 – 0||Hughes 64′, Ince 89′||30,115||1st|
|3 May 1993||Blackburn Rovers||H||3 – 1||Giggs 21′, Ince 60′, Pallister 90′||40,447||1st|
|9 May 1993||Wimbledon||A||2 – 1||Ince 63′, Robson 70′||30,115||1st|
Pld = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; GF = Goals for; GA = Goals against; GD = Goal difference; Pts = Points
|Date||Round||Opponents||H / A||ResultF – A||Scorers||Attendance|
|5 January 1993||Round 3||Bury||H||2 – 0||Phelan 7′, Gillespie 79′||30,668|
|23 January 1993||Round 4||Brighton & Hove Albion||H||1 – 0||Giggs 75′||33,600|
|14 February 1993||Round 5||Sheffield United||A||1 – 2||Giggs 30′||27,150|
|Date||Round||Opponents||H / A||ResultF – A||Scorers||Attendance|
|23 September 1992||Round 2First leg||Brighton & Hove Albion||A||1 – 1||Wallace 36′||16,649|
|7 October 1992||Round 2Second leg||Brighton & Hove Albion||H||1 – 0||Hughes 14′||25,405|
|28 October 1992||Round 3||Aston Villa||A||0 – 1||35,964|
|Date||Round||Opponents||H / A||ResultF – A||Scorers||Attendance|
|16 September 1992||First roundFirst leg||Torpedo Moscow||H||0 – 0||19,998|
|29 September 1992||First roundSecond leg||Torpedo Moscow||A||0 – 0(3 – 4p)||11,357|
|Pos.||Name||League||FA Cup||Rumbelows Cup||Europe||Total|