On Sunday night Wayne got in touch to ask if I wanted to write about my favourite title winning side at United.
I snapped at that opportunity like a woman does at the toilet seat being left up.
Took me a minute or 3 to decide which squad it’d be, it was gonna be the one that won the first title, they’d shown immense character in bouncing back from the previous seasons disastrous run in collapse to and concede the last division 1 title to Leeds, they’d ended that incredible wait to win another title and they’d done it while Sir Matt was still with us to celebrate that truly joyous occasion.
But when I truly thought about it, it could only be the 95/96 side, allow me to explain why….
The young lads of the previous season were now the men our side was built round, Butt, Scholes, Beckham & Neville’s Phil & Gary, scrawny younglings with the world at their feet and the weight of it on their shoulders, they may not have gotten off to a glorious start, but this only added value to the victories that followed, the infamous “you win nothing with kids” statement will go down in MOTD history.
Over at Newcastle, the Keegan machine tore off ahead of the pack, but they looked unstoppable, nothing could be done to derail this crusade they were on to win the league at a canter, or so it looked…
The return of Le King
In what’s become typical Sky fanfare, his return was billed up as being bigger than the one we buy Easter eggs to celebrate, and in Eric fashion he delivered a performance that justified that billing, he played a significant role in creating the opener, and after Robbie Fowler threatened to ruin his big day, he stepped up from the spot and made sure that defeat wasn’t going to be the lasting memory of the return to his royal stage.
It might only have been one game, it was only a draw, but what it did was highlight that Eric was more than just a man, he was the vinegar to our chips, the Reni to our Roses, the man’s who’s presence on the pitch put confidence in his colleagues to play with flair opponents couldn’t handle, this was vital in the run in that’ll be mentioned later.
St James’s Park
I believe to this day when Les Ferdinand closes his eyes on a night he pictures Schmeichel that Monday night and wonders how he’s not celebrating the greatest Hat Trick in Geordie history, on chances created they should have given us a beating like (insert name of an American police force) has to anyone who stands up to it, but that night the Great Dane delivered a performance like nothing I’ve seen before or since, simply phenomenal!
There was a huge amount of back and forth as winter turned to spring and the run in started to take shape, but victory here that Monday night was a HUGE marker laid down as we moved towards regaining a title we’d lost to Blackburn in truly heart breaking circumstances the season before.
The run in
There’s a section of John Ludden’s excellent book, When the Seagulls flew (if you haven’t already done so, then get it read), where he describes the determination Eric had to repay the faith shown in him by Fergie during the FA hearings into his handing out of justice to that bellend at Palace, never was this determination better displayed than in this stage of the season, if you use the search engine of your choice to look up the results of this season, look at the number of games where a Cantona goal was the decisive factor in a game at this stage of the season and you’ll see he was a man on a mission!
Everyone I sat with as a kid in the North Stand lower during the 3 or 4 painful 0-0 draws of the previous run in that he’d been banned from had all said the same thing, if Eric was here this’d be a walkover, the great man used the final games of 95/96 to prove we were spot on, in the games we couldn’t convert last year, he was stepping up and guiding us to glory time and time again.
The Keegan melt down
I’ve too much respect for any of you capable of reading this to go any further into describing the rant, it’s one of the most iconic in the premier leagues 23 year history, being 17 at the time, the whole point of mind games was lost on me, but looking back on this it was clearly a huge sign that Fergie wasn’t going to focus on just winning games on the pitch, he was making sure the games were won in the press, who could then apply huge pressure on to the shoulders of the man he wanted to whittle down, and this’s exactly what was done to beautiful effect in destabilising Keegan and his clubs league challenge, seeing his team concede that late winner at Anfield, the reaction of the man and his travelling fans, it was very difficult not to feel that this was a MASSIVE step taken towards getting the premiership trophy back where it belonged!
I loved it as a finale, Newcastle had put the ball in our court by wobbling to a 1-1 draw at Forest the previous Thursday, as the 3 big sales of the previous summer sat at home having achieved nothing at their new clubs, the young pretenders stood on the edge of something awesome, the game was won comfortably in the end, but I loved the scorer of the 3 goals on the day, May who’d been written off as hopeless got things underway, Cole, who’d endured spells where he looked like he couldn’t score in a brothel if you sent him in with an AMEX Black (other high achiever credit cards are available) got a beautiful instinctive finish second, then Giggs, the elder statesman of the youthful flock did as he’d do on many occasions in his United career, he ghosted by people like money on pay day, picked his spot, and wrapped up a beautiful 3-0 win.
That they followed this up with a victory over Liverpool at Wembley days later reinforced the feeling that this was an unbelievable time to be a red, the naffly dressed and ever worst named Spice Boys had arrived as a side desperate to prevent United moving ahead of them as a team to have completed 2 doubles to their 1, the game couldn’t have been any tighter, penalties loomed on the horizon as David James came out and got a fluffy punch on a ball played into the Liverpool box, and from then on it was pure Hollywood, the players in the area parted, the ball bounced towards Le King, as it arrived on the laces of his right boot his body shape was almost like that of Daniel Larusso in the final of the all-state karate championship, the delivery of the kick was equally effective and montage worthy!
Not only had we bounced back from last seasons upset, at losing the title, the FA Cup & a number of big name players, we’d done it in truly historic fashion, that’s why for me, this’ll be the one that I’ll struggle to see being topped by United or anyone while I’m alive.
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