IT has been 22 years since York City inflicted one of the League Cup’s most famous upsets, when they defeated Manchester United in the second round of tournament.
The two clubs are yet to meet since, making York one of the few clubs to truly prevail over Sir Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering side. Yet, over two decades on, Giggs, Scholes and co may finally have the opportunity to exact revenge this weekend.
The 1995/96 season had started ominously for Manchester United, who had suffered an opening day defeat to Aston Villa, prompting the infamous, “you’ll never win anything with kids,” speech. Nevertheless, Ferguson’s young side recovered well, winning their next five league games, and therefore, when they were drawn against York City from third tier of English football, it was an assumed formality that United would easily quash the Yorkshire side.
Known then as the Coca Cola Cup (now as the more sophisticated ELF Cup), the tournament’s early rounds were played over two legs.
On September 20th 1995, York travelled to Old Trafford for the first of their double header, and were greeted by a youthful Manchester United side. Included in the first team that night, were a young Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham (who wore number eight rather his traditional number seven jersey).
Ferguson hoped that his fledgling, yet technically superior side, would coast to victory, gaining vital experience and confidence on the way. Yet, it was anything but.
Remarkably, the Minstermen emerged from the first leg with a 3-0 victory, thanks to a double from Paul Barnes and a Tony Barras header.
It was a night to forget for a number of United’s defence, including goalkeeper Kevin Pilkington, who gifted the away side two goals. Young centre-back Pat McGibbon also had a nightmare, giving away a penalty and receiving a red card on his debut for the club.
In the subsequent years, Ferguson has claimed he had no intention of winning the League Cup during the mid-1990’s, and used the tournament purely to blood youth players.
However, the Scot perhaps overlooked the inclusion of senior professionals such as Paul Parker, Gary Pallister and Denis Irwin in the defeat to York, as well as the fact that Beckham and Giggs were established first team players at the time.
In any case, the Manchester United manager underlined the importance given to the League Cup by selecting a full strength side for the return leg. The United team included the likes of Peter Schmichel, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and a certain Eric Cantona, playing in only his second game after an eight-month suspension for his infamous Kung-Fu kick incident.
The second leg took place two weeks after United’s drumming at Old Trafford and again, it was assumed that the Red Devils would overpower lowly York City, and in doing so, overturn the three goal deficit.
After 20 minutes at Bootham Crescent, the presumed was being reality, as United raced to a two goal lead. Yet, York once again showed a level of passion, skill and composure lacking in the majority of Premier League sides. By half-time the score had been reduced to 2-1, meaning United needed to score two after the break.
To their credit, York matched the Red Devils in the second half and even created the chances to finish the game off.
The tie appeared to be slipping away from United, when a late Paul Scholes strike (his second of the night) brought the score to 3-1, meaning a nervous last 10 minutes for the home supporters. But try as they might, United, so often the scorers of late goals, could not bypass a miserly York City defence, and the referee’s full-time whistle was greeted by jubilant scenes inside Bootham Crescent.
Ten years after the contest, Ferguson would jokingly remark how the result was ‘fantastic for the game’ now that the pain had somewhat eased, and claimed that York performed better in the second tie, despite losing the game. However, since that night 22-years ago, the Minstermen have enjoyed precious few glories.
The club finished the 1995/96 season in 20th place, narrowly avoiding relegation. Yet, York were consigned to that fate three years later, and again in 2004, ending their 75-year association with the Football League.
The club returned to League Two as the Sir Alex Ferguson-era was drawing to a close in Manchester, but sadly dropped out again in 2016. Even more remarkably, York were relegated again last year, this time to the sixth tier of English football, the lowest level the club have ever competed in.
On the other hand, Manchester United have had much to celebrate over the past two decades. Ferguson’s young side emerged largely unscathed from their failure against York, and went on to win the 1995/96 Premier League and FA Cup, meaning that York were the only side to deny the Red Devils from winning a domestic trophy that year.
The inexperienced youngsters of 1995, went onto dominate the landscape of English football, helping United to win 13 of the first 21 Premier League campaigns.
In later years, United youth products such as Giggs, Scholes, the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt, came to be known as the ‘Class of ‘92’ after winning the 1992 FA Youth Cup.
In 2014, the quintet – who between them, played over 3,000 games for Manchester United – decided to give back to the Greater Manchester area, and opted to buy local football club Salford City
The Ammies’ rise over the past three years has been well documented, not least due to a BBC programme covering the club. Salford have gained promotion twice since the former Premier League footballers arrived at Moor Lane, meaning the club now compete in the National League North, the same division as a certain York City.
In many ways it highlights just how far Salford have come in three years, as they are now competing against a side who in the mid-1970s, played in the division as Manchester United. As well as their renowned scalp of 1995, York also famously defeated Arsenal in the 1985 FA Cup third round, a competition they once reach the semi-finals of.
For Giggs, Scholes, the Neville’s and Butt, hosting clubs like York City must be exhilarating, and justification for investing large sums in a football club. It also is an indication of how ambitious both the club and the owners of Salford City are. With the players and managers becoming full-time professionals last summer, and Salford currently sitting second in the National League North, the fairytale may be only just beginning.
Whilst Saturday’s game is a huge clash for Salford – probably the biggest league tie in their history – for the club’s prestigious owners, there will be added motivation. The two teams did meet earlier in this season in the cup, where once again York bested a team so heavily reliant on the ‘Class of ‘92’.
Yet perhaps, this weekend will see the most successful generation of players English club football has ever produced, exact a 22-year wait for revenge.
Written by Michael Plant