Manchester United. The most famous club in the world, one of the most successful and widely marketed brands. Boasting of the largest fan base in the world, a great historic five star rated stadium of a capacity of 75,000 and a history matched by none. Great players have strutted their stuff across the famous Old Trafford pitch, producing eye catching football and an aptitude to entertain. From the days of Duncan Edwards and the Busby Babes to the Best-Law-Charlton era of the ’60s to Sammy Mcllroy and Lou Macari’s team of the 70s, Robsons’ famous side in the 80s and the Ferguson Era of unprecedented success.
There’s no surprise that it has garnered fans from different parts of the globe.
But to fans like myself, there’s something that caught my attention. Something extraordinary. Its the romantic factor that always associated itself with Man United and its players. Events of the past and present coincide wonderfully to give us an occasion to remember dates by. Romanticism and Man United go hand in hand with a hint of irony off course.
1968 European Cup Triumph
Ten years on from the Munich Air Crash which wiped out the core of Matt Busby’s great team, Manchester United won the European Cup in 1968 at Wembley. Playing to the script was Bobby Charlton, a survivor of the crash who scored the opening goal and final goal of the game. Ironically, the greatest match in the Best-Law-Charlton era had Denis Law missing, as he was nursing an injury.
After winning the European Cup and reaching the semi finals the next year, Sir Matt Busby retired from the game. Ironically, the man who believed in planning ahead with strong youth signings failed to plan ahead before his retirement and this led to United’s decline. An ageing team relied too much on George Best who was also hitting a self-destruct streak. Denis Law was disgracefully released on a free transfer. Bobby Charlton left in 1973 and George Best quit United for retirement at the age of only 26.
This had to be the most ironic moment of all time. Denis Law, United’s second highest goal scorer and former Ballon d’Or winner faced his old club playing for City, with United needing a result. Law’s cheeky back heel goal sealed United’s relegation. Law showed no jubilation after the goal was asked to be substituted immediately. Even today, he refuses to speak about it in interviews.
Busby’s Milan connect
Matt Busby’s last European game with his beloved Busby Babes was the 1958 semi final which they lost to Milan, understandably, since the core of the team had been wiped out while United returned from their quarter final victory over Red Star Belgrade. It was Milan again that controversially knocked the defending European Champions out in what was to be his last European game in charge: the 1969 semi final.
Benfica vs United
Benfica vs United in 1966 was also popularly called “The George Best game” as a 19 year old Best single handedly tore apart a Benfica side that had reached consecutive finals and were crowned European Champions twice. Best demolished Benfica again in the 1968 European Cup final, putting United ahead in extra time. Ironically George Best’s first great European game and last great European game were both against Benfica.
United vs Milan 1969
Defending European champions Manchester United faced Milan in the semi finals. After losing 2-0 at the San Siro, United attacked heavily at Old Trafford, gaining a 1-0 lead in the match. Denis Law, who desperately wanted to play in a European Cup final scored what he believed to be the equaliser, only to be denied by the referee’s assistant who claimed the ball did not cross the line. Replays suggested otherwise. United were knocked out, Busby retired and Man United did not get back into the premier European competition until 1993. How one refereeing decision plunged the club into an abyss.
United vs Real Madrid 1968
Manchester United had a daunting task before them in the semi finals of the 1968 European Cup. The great Real Madrid stood in their way to gain European glory. Carrying a slender 1-0 lead to the Bernabeu, United were trailing by 2 goals in no time. At 3-2, advantage Madrid, Bill Foulkes scored the equalizer to make it 3-3 and take United to the final on the away goals rule.
Foulkes, another survivor of the Munich Air Crash, who rarely ventured forward being a centre-back, somehow found himself in a scoring position and slotted it home. Meant to be? I definitely think so.
1992-1993 Premier League victory
Under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson, Man United were crowned Champions of England after 26 long years. What’s interesting about this victory is that out the 42 games played, they won 24, drew 12 and lost 6. The United team of 1967 that had last won the title also won 24, drew 12 and lost 6 out of the 42 games played.
1996 FA Cup final
After propelling United to the title almost single handedly, Eric Cantona had one more occasion to prove himself on the biggest stage. It was only a year ago that he was handed a 9 month suspension for assaulting a Crystal Palace fan. He was ridiculed all over Britain during that period, but his comeback proved all his doubters wrong. Scoring vital goals in a series of 1-0 victories, Cantona rescued United’s season and made them winners once again. His crowning moment came in the 1996 FA Cup final where he scored a dramatic late winner in a 1-0 victory and became the first foreign player to lift the famous trophy. It had to be him.
Even a Hollywood script writer could not have done a better job.
1999 Champions League Victory
First of all, the game was played on what would have been Sir Matt Busby’s 90th birthday. At stake was the Champions League crown. One to complete a historic table and the one trophy that had eluded United since 1968.
“Man United always do things the hard way” they say. Paul Scholes and Roy Keane were suspended for the final. Bayern tooka 1-0 lead and held on for 90 minutes. Things didn’t look good. But as if it were written in the stars, United clawed their way back scoring two goals from the two substitutes brought on by Alex Ferguson to round up an astonishing victory.
The win was also 30 years since United were last in Europe’s elite competition.
The Old and the New
George Best and “The new George Best” Ryan Giggs , two of United’s greatest youth products were not English but Irish and Welsh respectively. Both of them, never got to play in the World Cup Finals.
Sir Alex and Sir Matt
Other than being Scottish, both these great managers had a lot of similarities. Their ruthlessness when it came to the players was one of them. We all know of Fergie’s victims when it came to who crossed his path. Did you know Sir Matt immediately put Denis Law on the transfer list when he demanded a raise in wages?
Sir Alex won United’s first title in the Premiership era. Busby won United’s first title post World War II. United last won a title before Busby 42 years ago. The title won before Sir Alex’s first was Busby’s last which was 26 years before Sir Alex’s first. Both have managed United for 25 years or more. Both have been knighted after their respective European victories. The 1968 team boasted of Best-Law-Charlton while the 2008 team boasted of Ronaldo-Rooney-Tevez. Busby’s second team was predominantly home grown as was Sir Alex’s second team.
2008 Champions League victory
50 years on from the Munich Disaster, it was written in the stars that United would win the Champions League again. And they did it the United way. 50th Death Anniversary of the Busby Babes and a Champions League victory. To add to this, Ryan Giggs surpassed Sir Bobby’s record of appearances for the club that very night, eventually scoring the deciding penalty in the shootout. Sticking to the script to perfection.
Ryan Giggs Premiership Winner
Not only did Giggs decide the penalty shootout in the 2008 Champions League final, it was his winner against Wigan in a 2-0 victory, on the final day of the season that sealed his 10th and United’s 17th premier league title win.
Scholes Winner vs Barcelona
There are many reasons as to why this goal sits in the heart of United fans. For one, the image of Paul Scholes popping in with his trademark late run and smashing the ball in is reminiscent of his entire career.
The other important fact is, that with this goal, he sealed himself a spot in the final easing the heartbreak of missing the 99 final through suspension. It had to be him to score that goal, and it had to be a typical Scholes screamer.
Cristiano Ronaldo 2008, George Best 1968
Enjoying probably his most prolific season for the club, Cristiano Ronaldo spearheaded the United challenge for the premiership and the European Cup. He scored an incredible 42 goals, his best tally for the club. He also scored in the Champions League final in Moscow. He was awarded the Ballon d’Or.
Exactly 40 years ago, George Best also enjoyed his best goal tally for the club netting an impressive 28 goals. He too scored in the European Cup final. Although United lost the league title on the last day of the season, George’s performances propelled them to European Cup victory. And he too was awarded the Ballon d’Or. After him, Ronaldo was the next United player to receive the coveted award 40 years later.
As you can see, irony and the “meant to be” factor always associates itself with Man United. Its unimaginable how all these dates coincide to bring us ever lasting memories. More than the history or its success, it was this romantic factor that attracted me to the club, else I would be cheering for the Gunners right about now. Man United fan or not, you can’t deny that the romanticism part of the United experience gives the club a special place in the heart of football fans alike.