Manchester United Memories From Mark Metcalf - Part 3

Roker Park - Ready and waiting for what was to be a famous victory.

Every great mini-series must come to an end, and alas we have reached that point. But before that happens, you get the pleasure of an final lasvish helping of top reading. You know what it is all about now, and if you don't then pop along HERE and HERE to see what the fuss is about. Your eyes will love you forever.

Back over to you, Mark...

Another was at the start of the 1990-91 season, when recently promoted Sunderland played a fine game that was capped by one of Gary Bennett’s finest moments for the club, a lovely flick over the Geordie puddin Steve Bruce before curling the ball round Les Sealey in the 90th minute to win the match. Sweet revenge for the amount of late goals they’d grabbed on so many previous occasions.
 
In 1995-96 when the draw for the FA Cup 3rd round was made in Peter Reid’s first full season there were some Sunderland fans who thought that the match at Old Trafford might prove a distraction when the side were just starting to mount a promotion challenge. Mind you it didn’t stop them travelling there, because at a time when our average gate wasn’t even touching 20,000 just under half that number made the journey.
 
There are times when you travel to watch Sunderland that you have to marvel at the sheer passion of many supporters, and this was one of those days. Given the 2 upper tiers at the Scoreboard End we literally scared the living daylights out of their support and just as importantly some of their players. At the start I can remember Eric Cantona taking the time to stare up at the Sunderland fans many of whom like me were standing on their seats. Perhaps themselves frightened by the sheer enthusiasm of those supporting them the XI on the pitch managed to mess it up by promptly gifting the home side the lead and at half-time it was 1-0 to Fergie’s side.
 
No doubt buoyed by a talking to from Peter Reid the lads soon showed their mettle in the second half, as Steve Agnew smashed home the equaliser before local boy Craig Russell beat the hapless Kevin Pilkington to make it 2-1 and send Sunderland fans mental. I’d like to say we made even more noise, but it wasn’t possible and neither did Sunderland manage to hold on as the said Cantona headed home a free kick that never should have been awarded in the home sides favour.
 
After the match I moaned all the way to the station, Jim Minton and Steve Trow, who weeks later ended up when pissed composing the original words to the all time Sunderland classic ‘Cheer up Peter Reid’ and sung loudly at Portsmouth for the first time in February 1996, both giving me some stick for being so miserable. They may have been right, but we did lose the replay when the returning Peter Schmeichel showed why he’s been voted the best Premiership goalkeeper ever by producing a magnificent performance as Man Utd came from a goal down to win 2-1.
 
If there was any doubt who was the better side in 1995-96 there was none when Sunderland returned the following year. We were totally destroyed, it was five and it could have been ten. Now housed in the corner of the Scoreboard End we could only sit, watch and admire especially at the class of one Eric Cantona who capped a marvellous performance by a simply superb goal turning away from his marker and chipping Lionel Perez from twenty yards out. Brilliant and he was!
 
Having seen his side win so easily Alex Ferguson then committed a major error in the return. Sunderland again rushing headlong back into the 2nd flight stopped temporarily to beat a distinctly 2nd string United side just back from Europe by two goals to one with a Mullin goal setting the crowd alight with his winner in front of the Fulwell End crowd of which I was one.
 
After another 2 seasons out of the top flight Sunderland under Peter Reid returned in fine form to the top flight and settled down to have decent season. At Xmas despite a 5-0 thrashing at Everton on Boxing Day they lined up against Man Utd for the first time at the Stadium of Light two days later in the giddy heights of 2nd place in the top flight. United, of course, were top.
 
The match was a marvellous advertisement for top flight football; Sunderland even without the injured and our best player Kevin Phillips was out of the blocks like a whippet and inspired by the simply magnificent Niall Quinn up front raced into a two goal lead. The noise was absolutely deafening.
 
I was convinced that, AT LAST, we had arrived but that Roy ‘f**king’ Keane had to go and ruin it by inspiring a comeback. However with the lads still 2-1 up with ten minutes to go came one of those ridiculous decisions, which only the top teams get, when Solskaer managed to fall over. There was no-one near him said my mate Jim Fox next to me. Reid after the game said the cheating bastard must have fallen over the sprinklers which were 5’ under the ground. Anyway they equalised from the resulting free kick, I can’t remember who scored and I don’t care, it was complete injustice and still is.
 
Having a laugh at the match is one of life’s joys, and two incidents in particular remain fresh in my memory from games against Man Utd. The first took place at Old Trafford on April 15th 2000 where before the match I’d once again enjoyed the company of some of my best friends, Stuart, George, Dick, Eric, Rob, John and Catherine, Malcolm and Alan by drinking in the Hare and Hounds in central Manchester. Good beer and cheap too. Cracking place for a drink Manchester at any time.
 
Ignore the result, a 4-0 hammering but during the match close to the corner flag in the corner where the Sunderland fans were situated the home side were awarded a free-kick. The always helpful Alex Rae picked up the ball and chucked it towards the Utd players, one of whom was Roy Keane and it bounced off the back of his head and back towards Alex. Keane turned round and screamed at Rae who was say 8 yards away before turning back to his team-mate. Anyway you know what’s coming Alex picks up the ball and throws it and it floats through the air to land smack on the back of the sad Keane’s head again. Queue mayhem, Keane’s over to see Rae whose all smiles of course, referee in to speak to the widely grinning Rae, Sunderland fans in stitches.
 
Now surprise, surprise the other laugh has to be Keane getting sent off at the Stadium of Light on August 31st 2002 in a 1-1 draw. It would take a book, hopefully one a lot better written than Niall Quinn’s autobiography where Sunderland hardly get a mention [now I love Niall Quinn, but what a bloody terrible book and I got 4 for Xmas one year!] to explain the background to the whole affair.
 
Let’s just say it had something to do with Ireland’s World Cup trip in the summer of 2002 to South Korea and Japan and leave it at that. Keane, as they say, didn’t want to ‘leave it at that’ and managed to get himself sent off after Jason McAteer, in his finest of very few decent moments in a Sunderland shirt, taunted him about his new book on what had and hadn’t happened. Then when Niall ran over to try and shake Keane’s hands in a pre-arranged gesture of friendship, and Alex Ferguson got involved, better than any pantomime I’ve seen!
 
Just as in 1999-2000 Manchester United arrived at the Stadium of Light the following season in top spot, they were well ahead of the rest and almost certain to win the League. Sunderland in 3rd was 12 points behind. I believe that the match at the time was the most watched football game due to SKY TV having just broken into the extremely lucrative far-east market.
 
Sunderland played ever so well, the atmosphere was top notch, United again sold their full allocation and made a lot of noise although nothing like the amount made by the home fans especially at the referee – the hapless Mr Graham Poll who ruined a great game by sending off three players, two from Sunderland, missing a clear pull in the box on Quinn by Jaap Stam when it was 0-0 and followed that up by missing an obvious hand-ball by Andy Cole in the run-up to the winner.  Poll’s performance that night was the worst I have ever seen from a referee and I’ve seen a few bad ones over the years.
 
The 1-0 defeat didn’t seen too crucial at the time but it seemed to knock the stuffing out of Peter Reid’s team over the next few weeks. I realise we wouldn’t have caught United at the top but I think if we’d won that night then we might have qualified for the European Champions League or at worst the UEFA Cup.
 
That match was the second we played at home to Ferguson’s side that season as in late November 2000 a full strength Sunderland side only just overcame a very young Man Utd side that was magnificently backed by its travelling army of fans, who totally embarrassed the home fans in a near-capacity crowd. Which brings me on nicely to one of the other reasons the games with Man Utd have always excited me and that’s the United fans.
 
In 1974 after the Old Trafford match we lost 3-2 Argus wrote that ‘there is no more partisan crowd in Britain than the Old Trafford fans’. Sadly today its no longer the case, a combination of the local council and United ‘high-minding officials’, not to mention the massive hike in prices have reduced the home supporters to a whimper – but away from home they remain absolutely superb, just like in the main their team.
 
No side in my time watching Sunderland, except obviously Newcastle, has brought more fans to Roker Park or the Stadium of Light and generally Manchester United fans have got behind their side when they’ve got here. The ground is always packed when we play Manchester United and when they last came and their allocation was cut because ‘they’d stood up at away games’ it cut the atmosphere in half.
 
In 1965 the great United manager Matt Busby, later knighted after winning the European Cup in 1968, said after a thrilling match at Roker Park that his side won by 3 goals to two that he couldn’t remember a bad game “between two great sides”. Now who am I to disagree which such a well respected footballing authority!

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And there we have it. We'd like to express our thanks once again to Mr Mark Metcalf for giving us this top class contribution. Here's hoping we can persuade him to come back some day and enlighten us all a little more on the fine history of the our club.

But if you absolutely can't wait for that to happen, and I couldn't really blame you if that was the case, then feel free to check out Mark's own website for details on his range of Sunderland AFC related books, as well as general football interest ones, HERE.

In addition, if you missed Mark's guest piece for us last week on the historic rivalry between Sunderland and Aston Villa, then you also missed the chance to take advantage of a special offer from Mark. You wouldn't want to miss out on that, now, would you?

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