Remembering Manchester United’s Treble Victory 20 Years On
<span “>“Can United score? They always score.” Say those six words to any Manchester United fan and it’s likely they’ll get goosebumps, they may even reply by telling you ‘the big goalies coming up.’ 20 years ago today United completed an incredible 10 day Treble, winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, with a win against Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp. We look back on the famous night and exclusively spoke to the commentator Clive Tyldesley about it.
In the spring of 1999 Manchester United found themselves on the cusp of a historic and unprecedented Treble. After some of the most incredible nights Sir Alex Ferguson’s side faced Bayern Munich, themselves vying for a Treble, in the final of the Champions League at the Nou Camp.
After a hard fought title battle with Arsenal, Sir Alex Ferguson’s side had won the Premier League title back from their rivals, thanks to a last day victory over Spurs. They then travelled to Wembley where they beat Newcastle United 2-0 in a relatively comfortable FA Cup final.
United had required storybook finishes in both FA Cup and Champions League semi finals and they gave themselves a lot to do early on in Barcelona as Mario Basler put Bayern ahead after just six minutes.
Despite the explosive start to the match the next 80ish minutes weren’t a classic, as Tyldesley says, “The final was not a good game. United looked unbalanced with Ryan Giggs on the right and David Beckham in the centre. It was the obvious for solution for Sir Alex to bring Jesper Blomqvist in on the left in the absence of Paul Scholes and Roy Keane but it didn’t really work. They were behind in six minutes and, whilst Bayern never dominated the match, they looked reasonably comfortable going into the last 10 minutes.”
With the line up not working Ferguson brought on Teddy Sheringham for Blomqvist around the hour mark and Andy Cole was replaced by Solskjaer with just nine minutes of normal time left. As Tyldesley explains though it wasn’t the English side who came closest, “Just to make everything even more extraordinary in the final 10 minutes Mehmet Scholl chipped the ball against the woodwork, Carsten Jancker had an overhead kick that hit the crossbar and with five minutes to play United were 1-0 down going on two or three down.
“Lothar Matthäus had gone off the field, almost to wash his hands to get ready for the trophy presentation, Basler, who looked as if he was the match winner, had gone off cheerleading the fans, and there was a triumphant feeling about Bayern and their supporters at that time. That was the overture to the big finish.”
Of course there was nothing triumphant for the German’s with what was about to happen. There were just three minutes between David Beckham putting the ball down in the quadrant for a corner at the beginning of injury time and the final whistle but they changed the match and history.
First Peter Schmeichel’s arrival in the box caused mayhem from Beckham’s corner. Scrappy play from both sides led to a scuffed shot from Giggs from outside the area and Sheringham was there to turn it in.
‘Name on the trophy,’ exclaimed Tyldesley in commentary and the former ITV commentator revealed that ever since Schmeichel’s penalty save from Dennis Bergkamp in the FA Cup semi final replay it felt like the Red Devils were almost destined for the Treble, “I’m not sure why I said ‘name on the trophy’ except that that’s how it had seen from the moment Schmeichel had saved Bergkamp’s penalty and there had been so many ‘name on the trophy’ moments in the meantime that there was a certain element of some kind of prophecy coming true. Maybe the promised land thing [another commentary line from the semi final win over Juventus] just came from that.
“At some point the rest of us began to feel that this had been written and that this was now the fulfilment of some sort of biblical or Game of Thrones type prophecy that was starting to take shape. It doesn’t guarantee you, it’s not what actually takes you to the finishing line, but momentum is a great thing in football and if you start to think that things are falling into place for you in any situation then it does give you an extra impetus and extra belief.”
Just a minute later United had another corner, this time no Schmeichel, but Beckham’s delivery was perfect, so was Sheringham’s header and then Solskjaer flicked the ball into the roof of the German’s net.
‘And Solskjaer has won it,’ there were just 30 seconds left and Tyldesley admitted that if Bayern had managed to score they’d have gone on to win the title and he would likely have been sacked having broken the first rule of commentary, announcing a winner early.
But the Bundesliga side were broken, Samuel Kuffour hit the ground in anger and frustration and Matthaus looked on in almost daze, “In many ways for me the most haunting images on the German side that night were just the look on the fans faces. It wasn’t even disappointment it was disbelief. It was shock that these mighty, confident German champions had allowed this to slip through their fingers in the way it had.”
Tyldesley was there to watch the drama unfold from a privileged position, many of us watched from our homes or in pubs but the man with the best view of it all was Sir Alex Ferguson and the legendary manager deserves the footynews on the game.
Writing in his first autobiography, ‘Managing My Life,’ the Scotsman said, “The celebrations begun by that goal will never really stop. Just thinking about it can put me in a party mood. At the time all of us associated with the team were blissfully demented. Gary Newbon tried to interview me for television and, I am sure, got a flood of gibberish for his pains. I didn’t mind sounding like an idiot. There was no happier idiot on the planet.
“We were like dervishes and so were our supporters. The European Cup was coming to Old Trafford doe the second time, after a gap of 31 years, and on what would have been Sir Matt Busby’s 90th birthday. For me, the result meant arriving at a peak of aspiration that had sometimes seemed unreachable.”
20 years later and just a few lines of commentary can be quoted word for word by most United fans and still cause goosebumps and a lump in the throat. Football, bloody hell!