The Greatest Goal I Ever Saw: Manchester Utd's Yorke & Cole v Barcelona

15 years ago, the greatest goalscoring partnership in British football history reached its zenith. Here's why Andy Cole's second half strike against Barcelona is The Greatest Goal I Ever Saw
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15 years ago, the greatest goalscoring partnership in British football history reached its zenith. Here's why Andy Cole's second half strike against Barcelona is The Greatest Goal I Ever Saw

I'd flirted with Chelsea and Newcastle in previous seasons - being seven at the time, I think I'm exempt from the inevitable criticism - but it was the Treble winning United side that ignited a fire inside me that has not since gone out. I was unsure about the game before them. It never really interested me. France '98 the previous summer, just seemed like an excuse for my dad not to take me to the park. I remember watching England vs Argentina, and not being that bothered by David Batty's missed penalty. So why Alex Ferguson's men struck such a chord with me, I do not know. Perhaps it was the unhinged intimidation of Peter Schmeichel. Perhaps it was the bombastic runs of Denis Irwin and Gary Neville. Perhaps even it was the immaculate flowing locks of David Beckham. All of these are possible, but it is more likely the partnership between Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole that cemented my infatuation with the beautiful game and Manchester United.

I'd love to say, as a child, Ronaldo or Batistuta were my heroes; that the mystique of football on the continent entranced me into playing. But that would be a lie. What made me want to play the game was the telepathic connection between two men; one from Nottingham, the other, Trinidad and Tobago. Two men who had never previously met, and yet managed to strike up the greatest goalscoring partnership British football had ever seen. This goal, it transpired, would prove to be its crowning glory.

Much had changed for United in the four years since their last visit to the Nou Camp. That 4-0 defeat was the point at which another great partnership reached its zenith. Four years on though, Cole-Yorke had replaced Stoichkov-Romario as the Deadly Duo that the opposition feared.

Ferguson's men were now considered one of the favourites to win the competition, and after a wonderfully thrilling 3-3 draw at Old Trafford in September, hopes where high for an equalling enthralling encounter in the Catalan capital.

United's cause looked to have been helped by a Barca injury crisis prior to kick-off: Louis van Gaal, the then Barca manager, only able to name 14 fit players in the squad. It didn't though, appear to make any difference to the Spanish champions. After 49 seconds, a tame Denis Irwin header landed at the feet of Sonny Anderson, who fired past Peter Schmeichel to make it 1-0.

Barca were battering United, and it was only through the genius of Schmeichel that the scoreline was kept at 1-0. As was customary with that Treble winning side, it wasn't long before they were level. Jesper Blomqvist – the unsung hero of that team - found Yorke with a superb pass from the left, and the Tobagan drilled the ball home to give the Mancs fresh impetus going into the break.

Yorke again went close after half-time, but on 53 minutes Andy Cole scored The Greatest Goal I Ever Saw.

Jaap Stam played a firm pass towards Yorke, who, with exquisite vision and foresight, let the ball run through his legs to Cole. With a first time pass, he found Yorke, whose movement had left makeshift centre-back Luis Figo grasping a shadows. With his first touch, he returned the favour, and put Cole through on goal. One touch with the outside of his right foot, the other with his instep, and Andy Cole had put United 2-1 up at Barcelona's cathedral of football.

A deflected Rivaldo free-kick made it 2-2, before Yorke headered his second of the night with 20 minutes remaining. Rivaldo scored late on with a stunning overhead kick to tie the game, but it was not enough for Barcelona, and they ended the night knocked out of Europe's premier club competition.

I could have picked better goals: Zidane's volley against Leverkusen. Bergkamp against Argentina. Batistuta at Wembley. But I didn't. I chose this goal because, ultimately, it's the one that made me love football.