Manchester players celebrate with trophy after winning the 1997-1998 UEFA Champions League against Bayern Munich. | Location: Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Christian Liewig/TempSport/Corbis via Getty Images)
Living Through the Glory Years
When I was little, I remember watching football on a small TV with my dad, sitting in the front room. I asked him who he wanted to win. He replied, the ones in RED! From then I was a Manchester United fan. I used to ask for replica shirts for my birthdays with the number 11 and my name on the back. I still have some of the shirts, the yellow and green away kit, the blue and white away kit, the infamous grey away kit and my favourite, the red home kit with a view of Old Trafford printed on.
I was truly fortunate growing up as my dad was a BT engineer and then set up his own successful Data Cabling business. During the mid to late nineties, due to the success of his company, my dad was able to fulfil one of his dreams and become a season ticket holder at Man Utd. Not only did he manage to get himself a ticket, but he managed to secure four more for my Mum, my two sisters and myself! We used to all go to the home matches, including European games in mid-week, and my dad would also try his best to go watch them away. Some of my best memories are from these days, the atmosphere, being able to shout in front of 70,000 people and not even think about it. I get anxious about speaking in a group meeting! The tension at the end of a game when we were chasing a win was immense. The team never gave up, they kept going and fighting harder and harder, usually, we would get the winner, and the feeling of reaching that target was amazing. The never-give-up attitude that Utd had those days was one of the reasons they were so successful. I want this same attitude! You can have enormous success, as Utd did in the famous Treble-winning season of 98/99 if you set your mind to achieving the end goal.
In August 98, a new Premiership season kicked off. Utd started with a home game against Leicester City on August 15th. Utd were 2 – 0 down after 73 minutes! Not the start that everyone hoped for. The system was not working. In the 77th minute, 4 minutes after going 2 – 0 down, the Manager, Sir Alex Fergurson, made a tactical change. He replaced a defender, Gary Neville with an attacker, Teddy Sheringham. He decided to go for it, if we changed nothing we would lose, so why not go all-out attack. 2 minutes later, Utd pushed for an opening, and Beckham took a shot from far out, it hit Sheringham and went in! The stadium erupted, with 10 minutes left, Game On! Utd were fighting hard for an equaliser, but Leicester defended well, the anticipation was growing. In the 90th minute, we were awarded a free kick for a foul on the edge of Leicester City’s 18-yard box. Up stepped David Beckham, wearing the famous number 7 shirt, and buried it into the bottom left corner, 2-2! Everyone in the stadium went crazy, the stands were rocking, and the whole team raced to celebrate with each other. The game finished a minute later, the final score two -2 but we all came away feeling like we had just taken on the world and won. This game was not against a so-called rival or even a direct competition, but it was one of the best feelings I have ever felt. New Season faced an uphill task, and we never gave up. They used all the resources they could and rose to the challenge. This also set the tone for the rest of the season campaign.
The business end of the season, squeaky bum time, May. The League is ending, with 5 league games to go, and it is between Utd and Arsenal for the title. Utd are in the FA Cup Final, after beating Arsenal in the last ever FA Cup reply (This game is my favourite of all time and deserves its own story, one day maybe) and, after their heroics in Turin last month, the Champions League final.
It all accumulated to the last 11 days of the 98/99 football season. 16th May, the last game of the premiership season, at home game against Spurs away. One point ahead of Arsenal in the league. Utd knew that if they win this game, United will be crowned League Champions. In typical Utd style, we do it the hard way, we go 0 -1 down after 24 minutes. As it stands, we might not win anything this season! Again, after a tactical change, Utd did not give up and fought back to win the game 2 -1 and lift the 98/99 Premiership trophy. 6 Days later we had to face Newcastle in the FA Cup Final at the old Wembley, a fantastic experience, walking down Wembley way with thousands of football fans, all excited for the upcoming match. Utd prevailed yet again with a 2 – 0 victory. The domestic double was secure. We had already hit legendary status, but one more to go with the Champions League. With just three days’ rest, Utd was in action again, this time against the very well-organised and extremely talented German champions, Bayern Munich. At the time I felt this game, the timing of it, was unfair, both these teams were coming off the back of a gruelling 38 games season and going far in their respective domestic competitions to then, with just a few days’ rest, must play in the biggest game in European domestic football. Now I see that this is what makes them the best of the best. Champions of Champions. The ability to progress, build, grow and never give up, no matter what obstacles are in front of them. We had some stars in this team, but the togetherness and their aligned targets and attitudes are what made this team Winners.
Again, the pattern of the season continued, we were 1 – 0 down incredibly early, and we rode our luck in this game, Bayen hit the post, and they hit the crossbar, yet heading into the final stages of the game, we all stayed United and still believed in the impossible dream. Some substitutions were made, but again the manager had identified that something had to change, 90th minute, we got a corner, and I remember turning to my dad and saying, “We never score from corners”. Everyone was in Bayern's box, even Utd's goalkeeper, a bit of ping pong in the box and the ball found its way into the goal, 1 – 1! Amazing, I get goosebumps when I think of it. Most teams would be thinking, great we can now go to extra time and see what happens, not Utd, with 2/3 minutes left of stoppage time Utd kept pushing. One minute remaining, another corner, AND SOLSKAER HAS WON IT! Half of the 100,000-seater stadium went berserk, I have honestly never heard or felt anything like that before, nobody could believe it. They had done the impossible.
In sports you cannot win every time you play, it is not possible. But what we can achieve is to have the ‘Never Give Up’ attitude, never say never, always try your best. Although I would have loved to have been a professional footballer, that ship has well and truly sailed, I can take this attitude and bring it into our business. We will not win everything, but we will never give up, always try our best and believe in the impossible dream!