In 1994, at the age of nine I was but a fledgling Manchester United fan and all-round football sponge, soaking up anything that remotely resembled football. I was a caricature of that kid who falls asleep clasping a football, spending any free second of the day kicking the most spherical object within a ten metre radius, or thin air if there was nothing to be found. I would spend hours at a time with friends destroying the crocus flowers that littered the makeshift football pitch in the park and play Subbuteo in my bedroom (and slightly oddly, would pretend to play Subbuteo at my desk in school during class).
I started following United in 1992, as a result of a family from Manchester moving in across the road, including a son my age. They were ardent United fans (the dad having also trialled for Oldham as a youngster coincidentally) and, with my own dad only following the game with luke-warm interest, I absorbed all the United I could. By the time of reaching the FA Cup semi-final against Oldham in April, they had pretty much wrapped up the league after Dalglish’s Shearer- I mean Blackburn- had given up the chase. I remember being told that if United won the FA Cup, it would be the first time in the club’s history they had won a ‘double’. ‘What’s a double?’ I probably asked, to which I like to imagine the response came: ‘It’s when United fail to win the treble’.
United had just played Oldham away, coming away with an exciting 3-2 win involving a rare appearance and goal from Dion Dublin (who I seem to recall, as nine-year-old, thinking was dead). The game was played on a sunny Sunday at Wembley- the first game I recall watching at the stadium… from the living room that is. I then remember being pretty bored for 90 minutes, in a game that offered little in the way of excitement even to the yawning adults in the room.
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Extra-time started with a rude awakening, Neil Pointon stabbing in an opener after Schmeichel made a rare hash of a Rick Holden corner. The next half an hour saw my first experience of the now-well established United last-minute comeback, and perhaps that’s why it sticks in my memory the most. United actually remained pretty lacklustre in extra-time, creating only a small number of half-chances. Then, after 29 minutes, United did finally crank up the pressure, with the whole team bar Schmeical camped in Oldham’s half.
With a young(er) Fergie frantically pointing at the Oldham goal (in case they had been confused) United gained a throw-in on the right side six yards from the byline. It played back to a teenage Nicky Butt, who looped an unsuccessful ball as far as an Oldham head at the edge of the area. Lee Sharpe then prodded it back into the mixer (the cliché term has never been better suited), again reaching only the first defender in its flight. Miligan (courtesy of commentary on the youtube clip) headed out a powerful clearance, which Butt then nodded back in the vague direction of goal. The next headed clearance was weak though, dropping to the ever-steady Brian McClair, who flicked the ball over his head and beyond the defensive line. I vividly remember the excitement of seeing Mark Hughes- who at the time I genuinely thought was some sort of superhero- burst through the defence towards the flight of the looping ball. It was a textbook example of desperate pinball football, when all else had failed and there was no time for actual targeted passing.
His finish was absolutely sublime. Leaning back almost horizontally, he somehow managed to angle his foot inwards in order to keep it from flying way over the bar. It nestled into the top corner over the statuesque keeper, and the whole earth seemed to erupt in unison as the entire United team flooded over to the corner flag to celebrate with Sparky. Watching it now pumps me full with adrenalin; it was the first time I had witnessed a last-minute equaliser that really meant something to me. The replay, played only three days later, saw United win easily 4-1, and the final involving two penalties was good, but actually something of an anti-climax after the excitement of the greatest example of Ferguson’s Schmeichel-Bruce-Ince-Hughes era team doing what they did best: lobbing the ball to Hughes to smash in a volley.
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