I owned that grey shirt and I loved it. Looking back now, I’m not entirely sure why, because it’s pretty ugly, but I thought I looked the business in it. I can’t imagine my parents were too pleased when I refused to wear it a few months after buying it. I wasn’t a brat, I swear, but when the team stopped wearing it, I thought I should too.
United went to The Dell with four games left to play in 1995-1996 season to face a Southampton side that were in the thick of a relegation battle. Having overcome the 12 point lead Newcastle had amassed by December, surely a game against Southampton would be a walk in the park. Earlier in the season, we had gone 3-0 up against them with less than ten minutes played at Old Trafford and beaten them 2-0 in the FA just the month before. It was April 13th and we hadn’t seen our team lose since January 1st. We were ready to reclaim our title from Blackburn Rovers.
However, donning that grey kit, we went in 3-0 down at half time. We were facing our fourth defeat in the fifth outing of us wearing that shirt. “Get that kit off, you’re getting changed,” were the first words uttered by our manager to our shame faced team in the dressing room. They wore blue shirts in the second half, didn’t concede again and Ryan Giggs made the scoreline slightly more respectable.
“The players don’t like the grey strip,” Ferguson said after the game. “They find it difficult to pick each other out. We had to change the strip.” The Evening News later published a study which supported this claim, that grey was a difficult colour to see on the pitch, but that didn’t stop us being a laughing stock for a little while or make us feel any better about the defeat. We were three points clear still but Newcastle had a game in hand. Two days later the kit was officially retired and never wore again. United went on to win all their remaining games and beat Newcastle to the title by four points. (Incidentally, Southampton avoided relegation on goal difference alone that season, so probably rate that kit more than anyone else.)
Today we play Southampton again and despite their poor start to the season, there is definitely the potential for things to click for the newly promoted side. They’ve just signed Gastón Ramírez, who was wanted by Tottenham and Liverpool, and they have aspirations higher than just staying in the division.
Whilst we are without Rooney, which is a “blessing” according to the manager, because now our highest paid player has the opportunity to get himself fit, we should be welcoming Jonny Evans back in to the starting XI. Whilst this should hopefully improve our defensive shape, it will also free up Michael Carrick to play in midfield again. Paul Scholes, who was left out of the Fulham game, would be a great addition to the starting XI too, with Tom Cleverley ready to give him a rest towards the end of the game. Shinji Kagawa and Robin van Persie, who both scored on their home débuts last weekend, should start up front. Maybe Chicharito, who scored against Southampton in the Cup a couple of years ago in our 2-1 win down there, will get his first appearance of the season from the bench too, although hopefully just to give him minutes on the pitch, rather than out of desperation for him to be a Super Sub.
Ashley Young is missing though, as revealed by the FA (much to Ferguson’s annoyance, for whatever reason. I can’t imagine Southampton have changed their tactics since learning that Young won’t be playing) which means Nani should be brought back in to the team. After Ferguson’s programme notes for Fulham talking about selling people who had fallen out of love with the club, followed by Nani’s omission from the squad, rumours started that the Portuguese winger would be heading for the exit. Fortunately, regardless of how frustrating he can be, Nani has stayed at the club. He is hugely talented, and whilst he doesn’t regularly shine on the left wing and repeatedly hits his crosses/corners straight at the first defender, he is one of our most creative players, so I hope he does a job for us today.
We just want a good performance from the lads today and the three points to keep ourselves there or there abouts. This is Ferguson’s 1,000th league match as our manager, having won 598, drawn 233 and lost 168. It’s a long season but we don’t want this to be one of those games we have to look back on with regret. Let’s get the job done.