Unlike the vast majority of the population, I actually love social media, whether it’s cats that look like Hitler, memes of pub fights to Benny Hill music or an ex Brookside actor having a very public meltdown – social media is awesome. Hashtag fact. I recently stumbled across a gem on Twitter following United’s recent win at Vicarage Road which somehow blamed Anthony Martial for Nemanja Matic’s red card late in the game. Now I’m hardly a card carrying member of Martial FC, but it did seem a tad bonkers to blame the Frenchman for what was a completely unnecessary red card by his Serbian team mate. While Matic’s second booking may not have exactly saved United all three points, there have been some dismissals over the years which have helped the Reds see silver or at the very least given us something to cheer about. Here’s my top five.
5. Paul Scholes v Liverpool 2007.
There’s something wonderfully unique about the Ginger One, here’s a player who had issues around asthma, yet went on to play almost two decades of top flight football, even dusting off his boots for a non-league game last month. He was one of the most visionary passers of the ball in this history of the game, yet for some reason insisted on trying to tackle despite having the timing of a less intelligent Phil Jones. Scholes racked up 97 Premier League bookings, only ten less than the amount of goals he scored, yet it was his red card at Anfield that sees him make this list, a sending off so obvious it added to the aura of Scholes being a completely idiosyncratic player we’ll never see the likes of again. Towards the end of a relatively uneventful 0-0 at Anfield, Oldham’s finest decided to spice things up by throwing his fist at Xabi Alonso’s head, the only issue being he was about as accurate as a Danny Welbeck chip and received an inarguable red card for what amounted to a glorified fist pump. On the plus side John O’Shea was brought on to help shore things up and ended up scoring a late, late, winner. In front of the Kop. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
4. Roy Keane v Manchester City 2001.
If you’re going to get sent off, you may as well get sent off for a reason and Keano certainly did that in the Manchester Derby in back when City were a yo-yo team and embroiled in more relegation battles than title challenges, ah the good old days. Keano took out midfielder Alf Inge Haaland in a move that would look more at home in the Octagon rather than a football pitch. There was a history between the two players with Keane snapping his ligaments at Elland Road, only for the then Leeds United midfielder to stand over him and accuse the prostrate United man of feigning injury – an injury that kept him out for the rest of the season and almost certainly cost the Reds the title.
Haaland retired two years after Keane’s tackle and would later claim it was in no small part due to the Irishman’s vengeful attack, he even considered suing but the fact it was his left knee that caused his retirement and not the right knee Keane stamped on, may have encouraged him to drop his case. Keane showed little remorse, pointing out in an interview that Haaland was in action for Norway four days after the derby so could hardly have been injured too badly. Regardless of the long term effects of Keane’s ‘tackle’ there’s little doubt that it was a timely reminder that United’s former skipper may just be the sort to hold a grudge.
3. Eric Cantona v Crystal Palace 1995.
Normally a midweek game against a struggling Palace side in January would hardly warrant a mention a week later let alone over two decades down the line but the Reds 1-1 draw with the South Londoners will forever be etched into the history of Manchester United football club for one reason – Eric Cantona. It wasn’t that Cantona received a straight red for finally reacting to an hour of fouling by the Palace defenders by kicking out at Richard Shaw, it was what came next that made not just the back pages, but also the front ones of every single newspaper in the country and a fair few further afield. Cantona’s decision to address the issue of racism whilst leaving the field following his dismissal, by kicking seven shades of sh*t out of the hapless Matthew Simmons may have cost United the title that season, but in many ways it proved the catalyst for something else, something more long-term, something more….Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson decided not only to do everything in his power to keep Eric the King at Old Trafford following his inevitable ban, he also decided to rid himself of a few of the old guard and bring in a bunch kids to help build a team around Cantona. It worked, United won the double in 1996 in a Frenchman-inspired crusade and while we could look back on 1995 as an opportunity missed thanks to that fateful night at Selhurst Park, I’d rather remember it for the time Eric went from a truly gifted footballer into something almost immortal and struck a much needed blow – or three – in the face of the bigotry many of us had got sick of hearing and even enduring on the terraces.
2. David Beckham vs Argentina 1998.
Okay, so how can a player getting sent off for England, infuriating the entire nation, not to mention the national press, make it on to a list of United’s top five anything? Well, David Beckham’s ridiculously harsh red card for barely touching the leg of Diego Simeone, didn’t just ostracise the young midfielder, it actually galvanised all of Manchester United who not only rallied round their young charge, but found a certain ‘us against the world’ mentality that proved the catalyst for the greatest season ever. Stuff your effigies – literally – your boos, your ‘one stupid boy’ headlines, your death threats, your anti – Posh Spice garbage and get back to supporting West Ham or Millwall you sad cases as we watch Beckham win the lot and later become the nation’s darling. England fans eh?
1. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer vs Newcastle 1998.
They should show Ole’s foul on Rob Lee late on in the Reds’ 1-1 draw with Newcastle at football academies across the world on how to really ‘take one for the team.’ With barely a minute left on the clock the visitors broke against United with Lee sprinting towards Raimond Van Der Gouw’s goal looking almost certain to score, but Ole had different ideas. Running the full length of the pitch the Baby Faced Assassin lived up to his moniker with a cynical foul that sent Lee sprawling but stopped what looked like an inevitable winner. Solskjaer earned a standing ovation from the Old Trafford crowd, a ruffle of the hair from David Beckham – who would learn all about red cards later that summer – and a severe rollicking from Sir Alex Ferguson who told him ‘at Manchester United, we never win that way, we win by fair play.’ Well forgive me for arguing with Fergie, but that’s boll*cks, Ole’s a legend not just for his goals and THAT winner in the Nou Camp, but for doing what every single fan in that ground wanted him to do that day.