The recent derby was a textbook example of how completely and utterly miserable football can make us feel on occasion. A vintage case of go home, go to bed early, media blackout for 5 days and everything can just fuck the fucking fuck off. So due to having nothing positive to say about anything at present, this month’s column has been abandoned and we’ll instead acknowledge our current woes by wallowing in the 10 most depressing results of the last 30 years. I’ve thought long and hard about this selection – I considered putting in games from yesteryear but decided to keep it personal by only selecting games/results experienced myself. So tough shit, Bobby Stokes – you missed the cut.
Note: Some may baulk at the non-inclusion of, say, for instance, the Champions League final defeats to Barca. I’ve tried to keep it real and opted for games that triggered genuine doom. Of course I was gutted losing to Barca but it was no great surprise and there was no great mental hangover afterwards… these are the results that proved difficult to shake for weeks and months, not just a couple of days as was the case post Rome/Wembley.
Liverpool (Wembley) League Cup Final – (1-2) March 1983
I wasn’t at this game, instead I listened to it on Radio 2 live radio commentary in my Gran’s front room – it was played at 3pm on a Saturday so wasn’t even on telly. All started very well with Norman’s opener before the Scousers equalised near the end and then won it via Ronnie Whelan’s curler in extra-time. I call still recall the sense of rage and injustice at the description of Grobbelaar’s outrageous assault on McQueen… unsurprisingly not punished due to the referee being George Courtney – not the last time we’d suffer at his hands. I cried after this. Tears. Proper tears.
Nottingham Forest (H) FA Cup QF – (0-1) March 1989
This one gets the nod just ahead of McClair’s penalty miss at Arsenal that saw us dumped out of the FA Cup in the 5th round a year previously – heartbreaking at the time because it happened in the one season when McClair never missed. Again I wasn’t present and instead listened to this on the BBC world service as I was stuck in Northern Germany somewhere on a school exchange. It was horrendous. The family I stayed with had a massive Alsatian that crapped in my room and for tea we had cabbage and sausages every night. Another refereeing injustice here as well. Brian Hill he was called. Shithead.
Manchester City (A) – (1-5) September 1989
Early-season giddiness stemming from the acquisitions of Webb, Pallister and Ince, the proposed Knighton takeover and the opening day thrashing of Arsenal had been well and truly obliterated following 3 successive defeats which left United down in 16th place by mid-September. Nevertheless, we’d spanked Millwall 5-1 the week before so there was some grounds for optimism as we headed to Maine Road – City were below us having only won one game all season. What followed was as baffling as it was depressing. United missed numerous chances and despite being on the defensive for much of the game, the 5 chances City had all went in. Mercifully, it was the last thing they had to celebrate for the next 2 decades.
Liverpool (A) – (0-2) April 1992
I recall queuing for 7 hours one Sunday morning to get a ticket for this. What had all season long promised to be a title winning party instead turned out to be a truly harrowing afternoon. In reality, all Liverpool did was confirm the inevitable with Leeds having stumbled past Sheffield United earlier in the day. A sequence of 3 miserable results in just 5 days had already killed off United’s hopes – a draw at Luton, the bank holiday Monday defeat at home to Forest and then Kenny Brown’s goal at West Ham. It was official, we really would never win the league.
West Ham United (A) – (1-1) May 1995
This was another killer. It began as a case of ‘more hope than expectation’ but as the afternoon developed there was the gradual realisation that Blackburn were indeed in the process of bottling it and a winner at Upton Park would give a United a 3rd successive title. Following McClair’s timely equaliser and despite over half an hour of bombardment of the West Ham penalty area, it just wouldn’t fucking go in. A timid showing in the FA Cup final a week later merely heightened the gloom
Fenerbahce (H) Champs League Group Stage – (0-1) October 1996
This one hurt. Really hurt. The end of a the 50 year unbeaten home record in Europe and we lost it to Fenerbahce… who were absolutely shite and could barely believe their luck. United were on a shocking run at the time (we’d just lost 5-0 at Newcastle and 6-3 at Southampton) but there’s no way we should have lost this game – it just seemed so careless. A 50 year unbeaten home record surrendered to Fenerbahce of all people. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juve, Milan, Ajax… that would be understandable – not like losing to this rabble. Big sulk after this one.
Borussia Dortmund (H) Champs League SF – (0-1) April 1997
Having scraped through the group stages following Eric and Schmeichels’ masterclass in Vienna and then battered Porto… arguably the best team left in the tournament other than Juventus – only Dortmund stood between United and a place in the final. It really looked like it was on too, especially after coming away from the 1st leg in Germany unlucky to have suffered a single goal defeat. The overriding (admittedly naive) feeling was they were very beatable and would crumble under pressure at OT. Sadly, as we were to experience numerous times in subsequent years, it’s rarely that simple. Despite battering Dortmund and creating countless chances, they scored early and somehow kept United at bay. What’s worse, the then imperious Juventus suffered a rare off-day in the final and the unfancied Germans beat them easily.
Manchester City (H) – (1-2) February 2008
The 50th anniversary of Munich game, an occasion everyone connected with the club had been looking forward to for months. An opportunity to provide a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in the crash, given even more of an emotional charge due to the fact City would be providing the opposition. It was sure to be a day to remember and as anticipated, there was one team that seemed overcome with the sense of occasion that day. Unfortunately it was United.
Manchester City (H) – (1-6) October 2011
I saw what was happening here and fled the scene with 10 minutes to go, just after Fletcher had made it 3-1. Unfortunately it soon got worse. Much worse. After getting out of a cab on Deansgate, a mate and I took refuge in the Cornerhouse bar as it seemed the safest bet not to contain anything or anybody football-related. We then drank in abject silence whilst I mentally debated the best way of getting home without seeing any blues – a tricky prospect when you live in Stockport. An absolutely sickening day, but still doesn’t compare with what we’d experience at the end of the season.
Sunderland (A) – (1-0) May 2012
Or more to the point, Manchester City vs Queens Park Rangers (3-2) May 2012. The most recent and still the most painful. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever get over the gut-wrenching feeling of that last 5 minutes. Ever. Not being dramatic, either – I genuinely mean it. As much as anything it’s the knowledge we were *that* close to inflicting on them something that would have eclipsed all the previous cock-ups that have littered their history – them losing the league from that position would have topped the lot. They had scarves printed already, out on sale in the open on Market Street the week previously. How wonderful would it have been to have got hold of one of them? The fuckers would have never lived it down. There’s all that, plus the certain knowledge that no matter how long we carry on ‘doing’ football, we’ll never be able to inflict the same amount of pain on them. Sorry, but it’s true.
Copyright Red News – October 2013