Strip Club–RIL Edition

It has been said that you don’t find a football club, a football club finds you, and Manchester United found me via my best friend Erik. When we were in high school and college, he would share stories of this great club called the Red Devils from England, and he had all this swag—jerseys, scarves, articles, magazines, trinkets. He would talk about the amazing achievements of Hughes and Kanchelskis and Sharpe and Schmeichel and Ince, and he won me over, taking me to this hole in the wall bar in Detroit to watch live games.

By the time USA ’94 rolled around I was excited but not caught up in World Cup fever. I watched several matches on TV, but this was only a prelude to my viewing dedication for the following tournaments. Soccer on TV in the US was rare in the early 90’s, and in 1995 life changed forever for me. We watched the 1995 UEFA Cup Winners Cup between Arsenal and Real Zaragoza, and I still remember Seaman backpedaling and falling into his own net, unable to stop a ridiculous shot from Nayim.  From there it was on to the 1995 Champions League Final, which Patrick Kluivert won for Ajax against AC Milan.

All of this set up the 1995-96 season, which, thanks to a slow internet connection at college and ESPN’s coverage of the Champions League, I was able to follow. What a year that was. Juventus won the Champions League Final, and Euro 96 was epic, with Poborsky’s chip, Gazza’s goal against Scotland, and Bierhoff scoring the first Golden Goal. But all of this paled in comparison to the Domestic Double won by Manchester United.

Here is a synopsis of the season from aboutmanutd.com:

1995-1996 brought a second Premiership and FA Cup double in just three seasons. Newcastle United squandered a ten-point lead in the Premiership and Liverpool were beaten in the final of the FA Cup.

There was controversy before the season began. Three established players left over the summer. Mark Hughes signed for Chelsea, Andrei Kanchelskis for Everton and Paul Ince for Inter Milan. The first two wanted to leave, but it appeared to be the manager’s decision to sell Ince. With Cantona suspended until the beginning of October, it was assumed that experienced replacements would arrive, but they didn’t. Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes all began the opening game of the season and David Beckham came on as a substitute. The game at Aston Villa was lost 3-1, leading TV pundit Alan Hansen to famously declare that you win nothing with kids. Ferguson continued with the ‘kids’, they won their next five consecutive league games and remained undefeated until November. They were strengthened by Cantona’s return. His first game after suspension was against Liverpool. The game ended 2-2, with Cantona making Manchester United’s first goal and scoring the second (a penalty). He was on his best behavior for the rest of the season, ending it as the club’s top scorer and the Football Writers’ Player of the Year.

Newcastle United should really have won the league. In December they led Manchester United by ten points. Gradually the gap was closed. Great saves by Schmeichel and a goal from Cantona won a crucial game in Newcastle in March. Alex Ferguson employed all his psychological ploys to successfully get under the skin of Newcastle manager, Kevin Keegan. Newcastle imploded and Manchester United won the Premiership by four points. Another Cantona goal won the FA Cup Final. After a fairly dull game, Cantona scored the only goal with just a few minutes remaining.

During 1995-1996 there was embarrassment as well as success. Rotor Volgograd knocked Manchester United out of the UEFA cup. York City knocked them out of the League Cup, winning the first leg at Old Trafford 3-0. Then, towards the end of the season, the club lost at Southampton after being 3-0 down at half-time. Ferguson blamed the grey shirts they were wearing, had them changed at half-time and then determined that they would never be worn again!

A marvelous blend of youth and experience brought success in 1995-1996 and Alan Hansen – a former Liverpool player – had to eat his words.

I still remember watching the replay of 1996 FA Cup Final on Fox Sports South, and after Cantona’s winning goal (about 2:40 in), running around my parents’ house, screaming in celebration.

This was the third jersey from the 1994-1996:

 

MUFC 94 3rdA big fad in the 90’s was sublimation, whether it be the club crest or an iconic image or the home ground. For that year, barely visible all over the jersey, United used the names of the legends of the club, plus a sublimated reminder of the 1968 victory in the European Cup at Wembley. Not only recent players were included, but legends like Charlton, Best, McIlroy, Robson, Law, and Whiteside. I knew about some of them and as I’ve learned more and more about the club, I’ve found out why some of the names are on there. Recently I got a DVD of 1001 Manchester United Greatest Goals and it’s cool to see the names on the shirt actually playing.

This United kit is not my favorite, but when I finally I found it on eBay in my size, I snapped it up. As for the shirt itself, it’s not the greatest, as it doesn’t breathe all that well and doesn’t fit all that great, but for the years and history it represents, it’s a true collector’s item.

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