It was on a famous Thursday…
The single most defining moment in United’s dominance of football in the early nineties as far as I am concerned came at Old Trafford on Thursday November 10th 1994 when, courtesy of an Andrei Kanchelskis hat-trick – the first by a United player in a derby since 1960 – and goals from Cantona and Hughes, Manchester City were destroyed five-nil at Old Trafford.
My view probably doesn’t hold up against those who say that Bruce’s headers against Wednesday or Hughes’s last minute equaliser at Wembley versus Oldham were perhaps more pivotal. However, for a schoolkid growing up in the early 90s who was reminded daily of the 5-1, this was the game which changed things forever. Or so it seemed.
The previous few derbies had been well-contested and although United, now starting to win rather than compete for trophies, were beginning to look like a force and City were commencing their slide towards Division Three, memories of epic failures of the recent past were still fresh in the minds of most United fans, such as losing out to Liverpool in ’88, that game at Maine Road in ’89 and losing at Anfield to hand Leeds the title in 1992.
Hating City was just normal, especially after the 5-1, and at times it felt like we hated Liverpool more than we loved United. With the full extent of Liverpool and Manchester City’s demise not yet fully apparent, and which can only really be appreciated with the benefit of twenty years’ hindsight, there was always that feeling around Old Trafford, even after ’93, that a relapse back into the cycle of disappointment was never far away.
If you’re young enough not to remember the eighties and early nineties this sense of United’s imminent collapse will not mean a thing to you but trust me, it was there.
It cost me £3 to see this history-changing game, stood in the Scoreboard Paddock. City fans were above us to our left waving Barcelona scarves celebrating our 4-0, three-foreigner-induced defeat at the Nou Camp the previous week.
They must have thought they’d played United at the right time, with us low on confidence after Barcelona. T hey had the first chance of the game, Steve Lomas playing the ball over the top to Niall Quinn, scorer of two in that previous Maine Road derby, whose deflected shot hit the roof of Schmeichel’s net. It was a nervy start for United but Hughes straightened things out a bit.
From the resulting corner the ball broke into midfield where Edghill, Lomas and Flitcroft surrounded Hughes who took a few kicks before swinging a boot at Flitcroft and aiming a dig at Lomas. He’d have been given a straight red for that now but the game continued with a United free kick.
Watching those first five minutes or so, it’s hard to believe that United ended up winning by such a score. City had the next real chance with Beagrie again causing us problems in midfield before belting one at Schmeichel who did well to keep hold of it with Quinn waiting to knock in the rebound.
United’s first came after the ball was won back on halfway by Bruce who rolled it out wide to Kanchelskis. Glancing up to see Cantona pulling away from his marker, Kanchelskis fired the ball over the top of the City defence.
Cantona brought the ball down in front of him with the outside of his right boot before smashing it past the advancing Simon Tracey with his left. Cantona returned the favour for the second, fooling City’s defence by looking to his left and passing to Kanchelskis who was unmarked to his right. The Russian hit the ball hard and low past Tracey and City evaporated.
After half time United added the third with Schmeichel launching the ball into City’s half. Cantona controlled, threaded another inch-perfect pass to Kanchelskis, who was shadowed by two City defenders including Terry Phelan who wasn’t short of pace himself. His first shot on goal was blocked by the ‘keeper but straight back into his path.
He danced past and rolled the ball in to make it three. Their last hope died when Paul Walsh missed a tap-in, and with that forty thousand United fans sensed that ’89 was going to be avenged, the City fans in L Stand fell silent and their team let United take the piss.
Keane won the ball brilliantly at right back and strode forward down the wing where he put in a cross behind City’s defence. Two of theirs ended up on their arse, Tracey came out flapping and Hughes lifted the ball delicately over him to make it four. With the game well over, Hughes turned with his arms in the air in mild celebration.
Those in the Scoreboard Paddock behind him, myself included, leapt around deliriously and began to beg “we want five, we want five”.
The wait between the fourth and fifth was agony. The game was over, there was no question about that, but we needed to see a fifth. We needed to take from them their last remaining tool of torment.
Four-nil would simply not be enough and the noise became louder and louder – “we want FIVE, we want FIVE”. United kept the ball in midfield and City ran round without a clue. Those around me were begging for United to push forward and get the fifth with the same desperation as they might plead for a last minute equaliser in a Cup Final.
Surprisingly it was Denis Irwin who created the next chance in front of the Scoreboard. The Irishman broke down the left wing and with City’s defence all over the place Hughes was left unmarked with the simple task of tapping the ball in for the fifth.
I remember starting to jump up and down as the ball was squared by Irwin, already celebrating a certain goal. The ball was scuffed past the left hand post.
Those around me let out an enormous groan as if the Cup was slipping from United’s grasp. We were four-nil up against City.
Eventually it came in the 89th minute. Schmeichel over-armed the ball out to Kanchelskis on the right. Kanchelskis played the ball up to Cantona in City’s half before sprinting up-field to join him.
The nearest City player was a good twenty feet away from him when Cantona’s pass landed at his feet with just the ‘keeper to beat. Tracey again beat Kanchelskis’s first shot away but again straight to the feet of the Russian who took his chance, made it five and jumped into Cantona’s grasp.
In the Scoreboard, like everywhere else in Old Trafford apart from that lonely blue corner, we rolled around, hugged and yelled out in excruciating joy. When the screams had died down long enough a new noise took its place – “One-two-one-two-three-one-two-three-four-five-NIL”. ’89 was well and truly forgotten.
Well, until 17 years later, with their team attacking the same end of the ground at which Kanchelskis completed his hat-trick, City fans would repeat what United fans had sung in injury time of that 1994 game, “we want six, we want six”. Unfortunately, they’d get theirs.
Such are the reasons why our football club – and by extension A Fine Lung – exists, it could be argued that United’s 6-1 humiliation at Old Trafford shouldn’t really have mattered to many of us.
They’re two teams owned by people with arguably no interest in the history of the football clubs but instead a devotion to their own ego and making money at any price (delete as appropriate).
The game is dictated by TV companies who don’t give a fuck about fans. It is ruled by bodies who serve their own interests, not ours. The Manager we once adored is a man many now resent and the players are as bigger bunch of pricks as they’ve ever been. We’re best out of it aren’t we?
Still, I remember those last few minutes of that game in 1994, the longing for the fifth, the marvel of every Cantona pass and the unbridled explosion of joy which met Kanchelskis’s third and you know what, the very thought of those blue twats enjoying anything like that, or the kind of success which we had back then, knocks me sick. It’s coming and we know it.
There’s no way they can have that much money and fuck it up, not even those lot. So when it does, I’m going back to the Scoreboard Paddock on that Thursday night in 1994 and I’m staying there forever.
- This article featured in issue seven of A Fine Lung. Visit the tab at the top of the screen to find out how to get hold of a copy.