It’s safe to say that Manchester United were fairly unpopular in England in 1999. We had won the league, the European Cup and the FA Cup all in one season, something no other team in the history of English football has ever achieved.
Our likeability went from bad to worse when we snubbed the FA Cup for the following season. Who did we think we were to pull out of such a prestigious competition? How arrogant we must have been to ditch that competition to play in some club World Cup.
We got slaughtered from all angles and the short term memory of it all amazed me. Manchester United have won the FA Cup more than any other team, so did people really believe our club took it lightly? How easy was it for everybody to assume we fancied ourselves too much to turn down an opportunity for world domination?
Let’s look at the facts. England were putting in a bid to host the 2006 World Cup and therefore wanted to get in to FIFA’s good books. The World Club Championships was their baby and if United didn’t take part in the competition, England could kiss their World Cup bid goodbye, if an English club was to disrespect their competition.
“It is my estimation that a failure by Manchester United to go to the new competition in Brazil – particularly if they were replaced by Bayern Munich – would do irreparable damage to our 2006 campaign,” said Sports Minister Tony Banks.
Our Chairman at the time, Martin Edwards, talked of the dilemma our club were in.
“It will help the 2006 World Cup bid if we go, and the Government and the FA are obviously very keen that we go,” he said. “But if we pull out of the FA Cup that will disappoint our own supporters. We’re going to get criticised, whatever we do.”
After relentless pressure from the Government and the FA to snub in the FA Cup in favour of FIFA’s competition, United finally gave in. The players weren’t happy, the manager wasn’t happy and the fans weren’t happy.
Then a new Sports Minister, Kate Hoey, who was also an Arsenal fan, replaced Banks.
“I am just amazed that they have actually treated their supporters in what I would say was quite a shabby way,” she said.
Hold on a minute. The Sports Minister is amazed that we succumbed to the pressure applied on us by the previous Sports Minister? Aside from totally ignorant, it was appalling for to go to the media with such fierce criticism of our club for doing what the Government and FA had begged us to do.
Unsurprisingly, Edwards was not impressed.
“For a new Sports Minister to suddenly enter the arena at this late stage and tell us we are treating our supporters shabbily and should go back in the FA Cup is a disgrace,” Edwards said. “I suggest she does her homework and I suggest the government gets its act together, because we did this in support of the last Sports Minister.”
It didn’t matter. We got absolutely ripped to shreds for pulling out of the FA Cup and still have it held against us today.
In 2008, FA executive director David Davies looked back on this event and expressed his sympathy for United, but it was all too little too late, after the Government and FA hung United out to dry over the matter.
“Supporting the Club World Championship was vital to keep FIFA sweet,” said Davies. “That message was reinforced by FIFA, who made it clear that if United didn’t represent Europe in FIFA’s major club competition it would be impossible for the FA even to dream of hosting 2006. United were completely torn, agonising over the decision. Right from the start Fergie was shocked about even the thought of forsaking the Cup for a season. His respect for the Cup ran deep.”
England are now planning to host the 2018 World Cup and are clear favourites, with FIFA president Sepp Blatter claiming this country would be the easiest choice.
A six-man FIFA team are currently in England to assess the country’s suitability to host the showpiece and where do the FA want them to go? Manchester United, of course. They’ve asked Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton to show them around Old Trafford, the biggest ground in the country after the national stadium, Wembley.
Our manager has obliged and has thrown his support behind England’s bid, despite the fact we got completely fucked over back in 1999.
Looks like the ol’ man isn’t as hard faced and stubborn as some might make out!