Sheffield United visit Old Trafford in the FA Cup third round tomorrow, hoping to beat their namesakes from Manchester for the first time since 1993.
Jamie Hoyland and Glyn Hodges, United’s goalscorers when Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were knocked out of the competition following a 2-1 defeat at Bramall Lane 23 years ago, share their memories of that match with The Star’s James Shield.
James Shield: What are your recollections of that game?
Jamie Hoyland: I’ll always remember, when the draw came out, our striker Alan Cork saying ‘Great, I can shave this bloody beard off now’ because he’d promised to grow it all the way through the cup run. To be fair, we all thought he’d be getting rid of it after the match too. But, fortunately, he didn’t. Ryan Giggs put them ahead early on and I thought it was going to be a really long afternoon. But I got one back, when I met a free-kick from Glyn, and then he scored a sublime one himself. He lobbed Peter Schmeichel. You’re not supposed to do that are you? They got a penalty towards the end and Steve Bruce, I think it was, missed.
Glyn Hodges: There weren’t as many matches live on television back then so we knew millions of people would be watching. Even though Giggs put them ahead, we didn’t panic because there was still a lot of time left. When they got the penalty, I was thinking ‘Just miss, I don’t want to go back to Old Trafford’ and he did. The other thing that really sticks in my mind was the atmosphere that day. Just amazing.
JS: Can you still picture yourselves scoring those goals? Talk me through them.
GH: I put Jamie’s on a sixpence for him. With that free-kick, he couldn’t really miss. Joking aside, he did really well to get there. With mine, it all happened in an instant. I just had this feeling, when I saw Brian Gayle going up for the ball, that it was going to fall for me. My first instinct was just to smash it. But then, in a split second, I thought how many times do you see Peter racing out, shaping himself like a starfish, and the ball bouncing back off his face or something. So I changed my mind and lobbed him. He knew he was beaten I think, because he didn’t make an attempt to save it.
JH: The goals were a little bit different weren’t they. I saw Peter coming out at me and thought ‘Bloody ‘hell, he’s big.’ I got there though, despite those fears for my safety, the ball bounced up and went in off my arm. At the time, I said it wasn’t a handball. But I’ll admit now it was and guess what? I couldn’t care less. My lad is a Manchester United fan and he still ribs me about it even now. I just tell him I scored against Manchester United. End of.
GH: Funnily enough, I might not have scored mine if I hadn’t been given a slightly different role for that game. Usually, I was out wide but Harry (Dave Bassett) asked me to play off Deano (Brian Deane) and then take care of Paul Ince when he got the ball because so much of what they did went through him. It was easier said that done because defending wasn’t exactly a forte of mine. I had to try and jockey him back when they were in possession and make it tough for him to start off moves. But it did mean I found myself in more central positions. That’s where I was when I got that goal. My only regret was that it wasn’t in front of The Kop. It would have been brilliant, even better perhaps, if it had have been. That would have been perfect.
JS: Sheffield United were renowned for their team spirit at the time. How important a factor was that in beating Manchester United?
JH: Huge. Not just during that game but all the way through our time there. Sir Alex Ferguson once said he hated playing against us because he knew we would give everything, to win and for each other. Okay, we knew we weren’t better players that the Manchester United lads. But we wouldn’t roll over for anybody. We weren’t scared of anybody either because we had so much faith in the group.
GH: There was a real team spirit, a structure and a pattern of play. But you could play within that structure, if you know what I mean, too. Staying in the Premier League helped build our self-belief as well. Listen, we were a top-flight team and you don’t play at that level if you don’t have ability. I don’t think we got as much credit for our ability as we should have done.
JH: We had local lads and the players from away all bought into that. We were all mates and we’d dig each other out of a hole. Different characters but great friends. We were also close to the fans too and that was important. Back then, the players’ bar was like a nightclub. Everybody came in and that created a real bond. My dad had a pub down the road and, after playing in Premier League games, I’d be behind the bar pulling pints. People would come in and say ‘You were good today, s**t or whatever.’ Fans don’t get near players as much now, if at all, and that’s a shame. You can’t just blame players for it because that would be unfair. The world has changed. But all of the things that made us a great group, all of those characteristics, you could still create today.
JS: The odds, obviously, are stacked against Sheffield United. But can they win at Old Trafford?
JH: Of course they can. Listen, if Manchester United pick their first team then it’s going to be tough. And, if they do, then you’ve got to expect they’ll be the ones who go through. But if they don’t, then we’ve got a chance. I’ll always remember what it was like when, before our FA Cup tie, we found out Eric Cantona wasn’t playing. That gave us a real psychological boost. I wasn’t a small lad myself but he was huge. You’d try and get physical and just bounce off Eric. Then he’d give you that stare of his. What a player though. I’ve got a scar on my ankle from a tackle we had at Old Trafford and he caught me. It didn’t get stitched and it’s a real mess now. I think it’s great though. It’s my ‘King Eric’ scar.
GH: Belief. That’s going to be the key. Believing that you can go there, no matter what league you are in, and win. It’s still a wonderful stadium but recent results have shown that perhaps Old Trafford isn’t the fortress it once was.
JH: Keeping a good shape will be so, so important. Manchester United keep the ball and keep it well. So staying focused and together as a unit is vital.
JS: Finally, does it annoy you that folk don’t seem to place as much importance on the FA Cup as they used too?
GH: Yes because it matters. How many chances do you get to win the FA Cup. You might be fortunate enough to play hundreds of games but you might only get 10 or 15 shots at the cup. I’m proud to have played in it, without a doubt.
JH: This is a great competition. It’s still a huge regret of mine that we never got to an FA Cup final at Wembley. We played there in the semis that year and didn’t go through. I’d have rather played that game at Elland Road, or wherever, got to the final and then had that day out. Every time we went out, Harry would say ‘that’s another year gone’ and I only really appreciated what he meant towards the end of my career.