30 years ago | The Plough Inn, Galgate, Lancashire | 3rd May 1993
It was hard to be a Manchester United fan in the 1980s. It was a decade of inconsistency, frustration and under-achievement. Worse than that, the dominant team of the age was Liverpool, whose relentless accumulation of trophies further highlighted the gulf between hope and expectation. With each season, the number of years since United’s last league title (in 1967) was quoted ad nauseam by newspapers and rival fans alike. Today, you may feel the need to refer to the word’s smallest violin but that’s largely because in 1993, the counter finally stopped at 26 years…
The inaugural season of the FA Premier League had been another rollercoaster of a season. Unsurprisingly, we’d lost our first-ever game in the new competition, 2-1 at Sheffield United, with Brian Deane scoring its first goal, after five minutes.
Six weeks later, I’d started University. Having chosen Lancaster over my second choice (Salford), I knew the opportunities to get to Old Trafford would be fewer than I’d enjoyed over the previous few seasons. While I was enjoying life as a Fresher, we continued to stagger into the season, drawing five games in a row and then losing to Wimbledon and Aston Villa.
And then, before the first term was finished, we signed a misfit striker from Leeds called Eric Cantona. Even before Christmas, he’d begun to make an impact on the team. It was beginning to feel like we’d turned a corner.
Not that feelings were to be trusted. We’d finished the previous season in second place after imploding spectacularly with weeks to go. And then there was the heady 85-86 season which began with ten straight wins and ended with 16 points dropped in the last ten games. Bitter experience had shown that winning titles required more than mere excitement.
Cantona continued to galvanise the team, inspiring a crucial win at Norwich. Steve Bruce famously did the same, deep into added time, at home to Sheffield Wednesday. A midweek win at Crystal Palace meant that Aston Villa had to beat Oldham to stay in the race on the Sunday. When Oldham got an unlikely win, the wait was finally over – the title was coming back to Manchester.
On Sky’s Monday Night Football, the match at home to Blackburn became the coronation of the first-ever Premier League champions. Kevin Gallagher threatened to dampen the party by scoring for the visitors before goals from Giggs, Ince and – improbably – a Gary Pallister free kick made it 3-1 to United.
I was watching with friends at the Plough Inn in Galgate, a short walk from Lancaster University. At the final whistle, it was a scene of celebrating United fans finally exorcising the ghosts of Charlton, Law and Best. For many, like me, the wilderness years had extended well beyond their lifetime.
As Bruce and Robson lifted the trophy, we witnessed the genial smile of an octogenarian Matt Busby and knew that, truly, the flame of greatness had been passed. For as long as I could remember before that point, I had supported a team, that weren’t the best in England. Now, finally, the pecking order had changed…
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