(picture courtesy of Metro)
Ahead of the 2003/04 season I was lucky enough to attend some of Manchester United’s preseason tour in the United States. Seeing some of my favorite players (Solskjaer, Giggs, Keane, and van Nistelrooy) and future greats (Fletcher and Rio) was fantastic. However, no Becks, which equaled #sadface.
The 03/04 and 04/05 seasons were part of the transition from Fergie’s second United team marked by the Treble to the third version which culminated with three straight Premier League titles from 2007 to 2009 and a European Cup in 2008.
Entering the 03/04 season, the defending Premier League champions said goodbye to Beckham, Veron and Barthez and the following season moved on Butt, Chadwick and Forlan. In their place came a new crop of players: Bellion, Djemba-Djemba, Howard, Kléberson, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dong Fangzhuo, Alan Smith, Saha, Heinze, Pique, Rossi and Rooney. While Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney would become club icons and Gabriel Heinze would be a good servant, most of this group would be plagued by injuries, poor form and a lack of quality.
Thinking back on the season 03/04 all I could remember was that Arsenal were invincible and Tim Howard made a critical error in the Champions League. Upon further review, United led the league for the first half of the campaign before a wobble handed the momentum to the Gunners, who ran out league winners in similar fashion to the finish of the 1998 season.
(picture courtesy of Soccer Bible)
The following season saw a slow start from the Reds but the squad picked up points and momentum during the middle third of the season, getting all the way to second in the table. Back to back losses in April ended their challenge and United finished third.
The Reds won the 2004 FA Cup Final, stopping Arsenal from winning the Double with a win in the Semi-Finals. The victory over Millwall was their 11th title, the most in the country at the time. Turns out it was their last as they lost the 2005 Final to Arsenal on penalties and have only had a couple of Semi-Final appearances since then.
In Europe, Fergie’s men lost out to eventual champions Porto in 2004 after a disallowed goal and a mistake from American goalkeeper Tim Howard. The following season AC Milan knocked out the Reds in the Round of 16.
(image courtesy of Historical Kits)
United returned to the black strip last used in 98/99. The strip was marked by a couple of design elements: a geometric pattern and a distinctive collar. As the Pride of Manchester Website notes, A ‘watermarked’ flower pattern adds a nice touch to the jersey, but to me it only looked like a bunch of interlocking throwing stars. The pattern was not really visible during the match so no biggie. The collar saw a rounded elastic band around the neck which was squared off at the throat area. In theory I liked this design but it never quite fit right on my neck, with one side flopping around.
I received this shirt as a gift from the Haslett High School Girls Varsity team. Knowing of my love of United, the ladies presented it to me at a post season banquet as a mark of appreciation. While I think this is the best designed of the United black kits, the shirt I received had several issues. For one it was too big. I’m a large at best and the shirt was an XL which meant it hung on me like a muumuu. And two, Beckham was on the back but unfortunately he wasn’t on the team anymore, he didn’t wear this particular shirt, the name and numbers were stitched on instead of being heat pressed, and the number used was 23, his new number at Real Madrid. As a result I don’t wear it that much and am keeping my eye out for a better fitting version.
Following sources were used in this post:
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