Normally here at TOP FIVE Towers we take our responsibilities very seriously. We pick a theme and stick to it, occasionally tweaking it to serve our purposes, but generally being committed to the core principle of the listicle.
Not this month. This month it’s different. United are rubbish and are drowning in a sea of negativity and overly positionally disciplined football—except against Wolfsburg when that discipline might have come in handy. The philosophy has us playing within the lines and everyone hates the manager now and he took Juan Mata off for Nick Powell and it’s nearly Christmas and I don’t know about you but I want to have some fun.
So here are five brilliant things from United’s past designed to conjure up some sweet nostalgia for those of a certain age and serve as a recent-history lesson for young reds coming through now. It wasn’t always like this, kids, and it won’t always be. You’ll be getting called a glory hunter soon enough, don’t you worry.
Even the name of this feature is a misnomer because it’s not actually THE top five—that would be too easy, really, just the Giggsy goal against Arsenal and “and Solskjaer has won it” repeated on a loop—this is more just A five. For the next five minutes of your life, the rules are, there are no rules.
We’re cheating right from the off. NO RULES.
He only left five minutes ago, but really, he checked out the day Moyesey checked in so it’s been a couple of years. Even that seems a bit recent but so much has changed since that heady, intoxicating season that it might has well have been filmed in sepia.
He was just so dreamy. All his amazing interviews, his wide-eyed schoolboy bit when he talked about “Giggsy and Scholesey,” his remarkable transition from pure Arsenal to pure United, as he fell in love with Fergie and fell in love with winning.
It was a short-lived love affair, of course, and as Rio said, Van Persie was the one hit hardest by Sir Alex’s retirement. After all those years of wanting to win he was finally able to and then it was all taken away from him.
But that season, my goodness me. What a player. “We knew he was good, but we didn’t know he was THIS good” was the refrain on every United fans’ lips. He just kept scoring, rescuing United over and over again. After the goal he scored off the bench against West Ham kept United in the FA Cup, Musa Okwonga, writing for ESPN equated Van Persie to “The Wolf,” Harvey Keitel’s Mr Fixit in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. It was the most perfect description. There were no worries anymore, because Robin would make everything alright.
He didn’t, of course, but he did ensure that Sir Alex’s last hurrah was as glorious as the great dictator deserved. Old Trafford put on a show that would have made Kim Jung Il proud and it was all thanks to Robin.
4. Eric Cantona’s 1996 FA Cup Final Goal
I wasn’t lucky enough to be there, but I bet some of you reading this were and my goodness it must have been unbelievable.
It was good enough watching it on telly. The 1995/96 season had been one of the most exciting in the club’s history. An effusive and fun to watch Newcastle United had threatened to unseat Fergie’s boys from their new found position as the kings of English football. But they had been swatted aside by Peter Schmeichel’s giant palms and Eric Cantona’s absolutely unbelievably knack of scoring crucial goals. March, always an important month in a title campaign saw United play five league goals, scoring one goal in each, not losing any of them. Eric scored every last one of them.
Now Liverpool waited for us in the cup final, but of COURSE when the it rolled around Eric scored as United won 1-0.
As everyone knows, it was a terrible game. But it had an absolutely unbelievable moment in it. No one under the age of 30 has much in the way of reverence for the FA Cup, but in the mid-90s it was still huge and this was Liverpool! Liverpool who could still at any moment come good, given it had not been all that long since they’d fallen off their perch.
But Eric scored. We won. It was brillliant.
3. David Beckham’s Set Piece Delivery
I don’t know about you but I think about this about a few times a week. Sometimes more, but mainly it’s about that often.
David Beckham was really unbelievably good at set pieces. Like, you know, absolutely brilliant. He’s a player who fairly often gets called overrated but that is one of the worst football opinions it is possible to possess. He was such a huge asset to United, scored so many vital goals and set up chance after chance, goal after goal. His ability to whip in a cross from open play was sublime, but his set pieces…
They were just lovely. Corners which found their man inside or outside the box. Free kicks which swung past helpless goalkeepers, whipped in with a pace and precision that most players could only dream of. A natural talent combined with an uncommon work ethic and the thrill of playing for your boyhood team with all your best mates.
But yeah, pretty much every time we get a corner and that bit of the ground applauds the corner taker I think of Beckham in late 1998 when the entire country had turned him into a pariah—walking over to take corners and being met by the crowd, applauding with the rapture that the beauty of his corners deserved.
2. The stuff Fergie said about stuff.
Okay. There were a few unfortunate moments of European xenophobia—“if an Italian tells me it’s pasta I’ll check under the sauce” and “typical Germans” and all that, but my goodness me, the boss had a heck of a way with words.
It was Fergie who said of Ryan Giggs: “I remember the first time I saw him. He was 13 and just floated over the ground like a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind.” Pure poetry. It was Fergie who said of Filippo Inzaghi “That lad must have been born offside.” What better symbolic language exists?
And forget Drake and Meek Mill (down with the kids, me), Fergie’s dis tracks were off the hook. Wenger got it in the neck with “They say he’s an intelligent man, right? Speaks five languages. I’ve got a 15-year-old boy from the Ivory Coast who speaks five languages!”
Then there’s the all-time greatest post match interview of all time, after Giggs’ winner against Arsenal in 1999. Gary Newbon said to Fergie, “this isn’t what you needed really, you needed a result but you didn’t need extra-time, 10 men, a real battle like that”
Fergie’s reply gave such an insight into who he was and what he thought about football in 1999. It is a thing of true beauty.
(skip to 6 minutes and seven seconds.)
“Look, who’s to know what’s gonna happen in football, Gary. It could all blow up in our face at the end of the day. But can you forget moments like this? Our supporters will be talking about that for years.
The players will be talking about that for years, that’s what football’s about. Trying to reach peaks and climaxes to a season, which we are doing at the moment. We’re in a final, we’ve got something in the bank for ourselves, now we go and try and win this league now.”
Brb, I’ve got something in my eye.
1. The Status Quo song
No, only kidding, although that was good.
The real number one of this totally arbitrary list, written as a much needed dose of saccharine as a pick-me-up after the past couple of weeks is picked at random from a selection of 100s if not 1000s of similarly intoxicating moments.
Roy Keane, with a captain’s goal.
Roy. Keane. With. A. Captain’s. Goal.
Roy Keane. With a captain’s goal.
(skip to a minute and 3 seconds).
Words to transport United fans to a bygone era, a time not long passed, but fading into the distance now. Competing with the best in the world and beating them on their own turf thanks to skill, bravery, and the unbelievable magic of collective spirit.
Roy Keane with a captain’s goal, a perfect moment of commentary from a man who came up with a few that season. Roy Keane with a captain’s goal, a moment in time, a moment of pure distilled nostalgia which captures not the moment in which United reached the promised land but the moment when the promised land suddenly, hove into view, in sharp focus. Anything was possible now..
Roy Keane with a captain’s goal, a moment to savour for the rest of the lives of all the millions of people for whom it was so meaningful, the hopes and dreams of so many people sent soaring.
They say nostalgia ain’t what it used to be, and they’re right. There’s no future in the past and none of us wants to spend the rest of our football watching lives exclusively reminiscing about past glories. But just for today they seem comforting. We’ve all had it pretty good, and from time to time it’s fun to remember just how good it’s been.
With a captain’s goal.