Let’s now jump forward from Crystal Palace and the Kung-fu nightmare at Selhurst Park in January 1995 to Crystal Palace at Villa Park on Sunday 9th April. Old antagonisms from the league encounter had hardly had time to subside when United were to face Palace again, this time on neutral turf in the FA Cup Semi Final which United had reached by beating Sheffield United, Wrexham, Leeds (yes!) and QPR, while still keeping pace with Blackburn all the way at the top of the Premiership. There was still the very real possibility of winning a third Premiership title on the trot and a League & Cup Double for the second year running. Even without the suspended Eric Cantona it was all to play for.
Villa Park has long been a happy hunting ground for United, a place steeped in tradition, venue of many an epic cup-tie, and it’s a terrific stadium, fronted by a dignified red-brick entrance like a resplendent Victorian, er, villa, with club museum and lounges within. The corridors leading up to the press box were lined with fading old team-photos and action shots, including annoying reminders that for all their reputation as under-achievers, Villa had actually won the European Cup far more recently than United. I had a seat just in front of the radio commentary position, but mercifully, there was no sign of Alan Green, whose relentless hostility to United does nothing to dispel the belief in an anti-United bias at the BBC. Much more pleasing was seeing Frank Stapleton, a highly intelligent centre-forward at Old Trafford in the ’80s, hero of the ’85 FA Cup triumph against Everton when he dropped back to centre-half after Kevin Moran got sent off. He can seem a bit grumpy, but I like his seriousness about football. And United.
The semi was a typically fraught affair, with United below their best, but superior nonetheless, and the tension never let up. A young kid called David Beckham was playing out wide on the right. Not my first glimpse of him, but I watched him closely, always keen to see youngsters prosper. He looked too slow and one-paced for a winger and I was disappointed, but I thought he might do better more centrally. Only goes to show…
To read this story in full, purchase Red Matters from Amazon.