With Manchester United still competing for three trophies in mid-April 1999, we took on Arsenal in an FA Cup semi-final replay. The first game, three days earlier, finished 0-0.
After quarter of an hour, David Beckham put United ahead, but this game was not going to run smoothly for us. Ryan Giggs, who had been left on the bench, replaced Jesper Blomqvist with an hour played, only for Dennis Bergkamp to equalise shortly afterwards.
A few minutes later, Roy Keane got sent off and we were down to 10 men for the final 15 minutes, and extra-time, if it came to that again.
It looked as though we weren’t going to get that far though when Phil Neville brought down Ray Parlour in the box in injury-time. Bergkamp stepped up and Peter Schmeichel saved.
The game went to extra-time and we all know what happened next. Giggs has spoken to the Daily Mail about the days leading up to that match, with Sir Alex Ferguson calling the Welshman to his office for a chat.
He told me I wasn’t playing how he wanted. The boss said he wanted me to remember what I was good at, that I had drifted away from that. He was saying, “I need THIS Ryan Giggs, not THAT Ryan Giggs”. I got the hump about it of course. I always did. But I listened. He just wanted me to run at players, be instinctive.
I kept giving the ball away. So I went back to instinct. I ran. At the time I thought the goal was OK. Only later did I realise how far out I was when I got the ball.
Roy Keane was sitting in the dressing room when I got in. He said, “Here he is, the fucking saviour”. The other lads were celebrating but because it was the winner, not because it was a worldie.
In London a cabbie will say, “You ruined my life that night at Villa Park”. United fans tell me my goal that night was the best they ever saw. Arsenal fans say they haven’t forgiven me.
The rivalry with Arsenal was so intense at the time, with both the players and fans hating each other. Giggs has reflected on that.
I didn’t like Arsenal. I didn’t like Vieira ’cos he was dirty and got away with murder. I didn’t like Petit because he had long hair. I didn’t like Bergkamp. I didn’t like Pires even though when you meet him now he’s actually dead nice. I wouldn’t even look at them, didn’t know them and didn’t want to. I wouldn’t allow myself to rate any of them.
Berkgamp? Nah, I told myself he wasn’t as good as Eric Cantona. I wasn’t really that kind of person. It wasn’t really me. But you had to get that in your head, that intense dislike. It was pure motivation. But deep down we knew. They were top drawer and that rivalry was everything to us. Deeper even than Liverpool at that time.
After our FA Cup semi-final win, Lee Dixon and Tony Adams came to United’s dressing room to congratulate the team on their win. Would Giggs have done the same?
“I don’t know if I could have done that,” he said. “I really don’t…”