The treble of 1999 brings back so many memories that extend beyond Manchester United. This article explores this so please keep reading if Manchester United are not your favourite team.
The only treble I knew in 1999 was asking the bar person to sneak an extra shot of Southern Comfort into my glass. A football equivalent wasn’t really talked about because winning a double was hard enough.
Winning the double was a formidable task in domestic football throughout the Twentieth Century. Football immortality beckoned if a team managed to win the First Division (or Premier League) and the FA Cup in the same season. Winning both trophies was extremely rare and there was an abundance of near misses that added to this ambitious challenge.
During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s it was common footballing knowledge that only five teams had accomplished the coveted double.
The double was footballing perfection when the FA Cup is added to the league title. The team photo in Shoot or Match magazine looked even more impressive with the two best trophies in town. It was the ultimate top flight prize. A double top to celebrate at the top of a double decker bus. The chance for the manager and the captain to show off a cup each to the besotted fans celebrating down below. There must have been a few sick days pulled to enhance the celebrations.
Preston North End immediately spring to mind as the team that kicked off proceedings in 1889. Football perfection was achieved as they remained unbeaten all season. They were the original Invincibles.
Aston Villa repeated this feat eight years later. My knowledge of football at this time is hazy, I used to read about it so much in my youth but it’s been a while. I am putting it out there I will research and write about the early days.
Just digressing slightly, I feel this is extremely important because football is consumed with statistics and facts but they only exist in the Premier League Era. The one hundred plus years of football that existed before Rupert Murdoch and Sky is massively disrespected at times. Football did exist before the Premier League.
Back to doubles. The Spurs 1961 were the first team of the Twentieth Century to win the double. They pipped their North London neighbours, Arsenal by ten years. These great team is still talked about ever so fondly on the journey to White Hart Lane by proud Lilywhites.
The Arsenal team were the first in colour television to win the double which added something more to the coverage. The sweat could be seen dripping off players in the Wembley sun. This must have exhausted the armchair spectators as well as the players. Witnessing Charlie George laying on the Wembley turf celebrating in a shattered state is iconic. As is his yellow shirt radiating in the glorious May sunshine.
It took another fifteen years for another double to happen with Liverpool adding this accolade to the copious amounts of European silver wear they accumulated in the 70’s and 80’s. Liverpool actually won the First Division and European Cup Double in 1977.
They had their chance to go for the treble but Manchester United thwarted them with a 2-1 victory. Jimmy Case scored a beautiful goal for Liverpool from some twenty yards from goal. If only I had known this when I used to watch him regularly at AFC Bournemouth during the 1991/92 season as he was a great character chatting to the fans.
United scored a deflected goal and won the cup in the year of my premature birth. Here I weighed just over four pounds and I was told I would be a small and sickly child. Be kind with your comments please.
Supporting United means that Liverpool’s achievements are purposely neglected in the archives of my brain. Only joking, I know and respect what Liverpool have achieved in football. In fact, I do not think they get the recognition of the team and achievements they had in the 1976/77 season. I have seen much more of the 1977 FA Cup Final footage as opposed to the European Cup. Is it to do with limited television coverage at the time? Most probably it is to do with the high importance The FA Cup had back in those days.
Nonetheless Liverpool did not complete a domestic double and thankfully for the red half of Manchester and the red, white and black half of the south coast they also avoided the treble. I will toast this with a retrospective treble as I type this.
Growing up, a double was seen as more than enough and the ultimate domestic accomplishment. A treble would have been seen as greedy. There were plenty of near misses that proved how mammoth the task was.
Everton missed out on their own version of the treble and a domestic double when they could not add the FA Cup to their First Division Title and European Cup Winners Cup in 1985. Ten men Manchester United decided to spoil the party this time for the blue half of Merseyside.
Liverpool were unable to repeat their 1986 success in failing against the Crazy gang from Wimbledon in 1988. It would be amiss if John Motson was not mentioned in his legendary piece of commentary, “and the Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club.” Poetic sporting words in the form of footballing commentary and a sheepskin coat. Well the sheepskin was probably in the dry cleaners as it was another glorious sunny May day. Who reading this recalls the FA Cup Final always being on the sunniest day of the year? I will talk about the rain of 1994 in a bit.
Liverpool missed out on another double as Arsenal pipped them to the First Division title them on the last day of 1989. This brought the ITV commentator Brian Moore yell, ‘It’s up for grabs now.” Watching football reruns lately has identified how assured, knowledgeable and professional Brain Moore was. He received some unnecessary flack toward the end of his career. A true commentating great.
Looking at these near misses meant there were plenty of nerves at the prospect of Manchester United going for the 1994 League and Cup double, especially as Chelsea had defeated them twice during the season.
Who would have thought that the ex AFC Bournemouth player, Gavin Peacock would be the thorn in United’s side by scoring winners in both league games that season? The Wembley crossbar prevented the unlikely but possible hat trick before half time. His spectacular volleyed effort had Schmeichel beaten all ends up. The bar saved Manchester United’s double dreams.
Two Eric Cantona penalties, an unseen Mark Hughes goal and a Brian McClair tap in from Paul Ince’s unselfish play enabled me to experience a double actually being successfully executed with the team I support. This rarity was as rare as the rain that poured down at Wembley Stadium for the 1994 FA Cup Final.
It gets forgotten that Manchester United were denied a domestic treble that season. Aston Villa and Ron Atkinson winning the Coca Cola League Cup. Big Ron later said that he thought some if his players thought they’d won The Vodka and Coca Cola Cup. I’m sure the trebles were flowing for Villa that night.
United were close the following season in 1995 but this time were unable to be successful in the final countdown of the final day and FA Cup, falling short in both. Blackburn and Everton making sure there would be no sign of red ribbons on either trophy.
The football world fails to remember that the team that wouldn’t win anything with kids actually had an underage double in 1996. Luckily for them their big brother, Eric Cantona provided some fake ID whilst having a few singles himself that season. Cantona proving that you only need a single to have a good time in the many 1-0 wins that he scored winners in.
The final one perhaps fittingly against a Liverpool team dressed either for success or as a double for Dick Van Dyke’s Burt in Mary Poppins. Perhaps, they were dressed like a right Dick Van Dyke or something similar. I’ll let you decide.
Liverpool may have been dressed for the ultimate good time but Cantona was all about the singles and this final single provided another League and FA Cup double. Those pesky underage kids were able to have a large double that demonstrated their adulthood.
I started following football during Mexico 86 and waiting eight years for one double you get three coming in four years. This time Arsenal winning majestically against Newcastle after convincingly winning the league in 1998.
Doubles were coming around quick and fast. It was Cool Britannia after all in the 1990’s. British teams needed to spread their wings and explore what life was like on the continent. A cheeky package holiday or a Club 18-30 Holiday would allow European shores to be fully explored. The treble shots would accompany any beverage of choice. These European delights meant that there was expectation to win the big one. I am still talking football here. It was time for English sides to have a serious crack at Champions League success.
The last victory being when Liverpool defeated Roma on penalties in 1984. Unfortunately, the Heysel Stadium Disaster in 1985 meant that English fans were banned from European club football competitions for five years. This meant that there would never be any potential talk on the treble.
Manchester United went twenty-six years without winning the top flight league and it became a running joke amongst rival fans. I admit I shed some tears when Leeds United won the 1991/92 title. The spoilt brat in me spluttering that they will never win the bloody title.
Once my tears of sadness were transferred to joy the discussion instantly was on winning the top prize in European football. I used to buy the football magazine 90 Minutes and they used to have topical football cartoon in the front. In the edition after United won the league the cartoon congratulated Alex Ferguson on winning the first title for twenty-six years. The carton ended with the journalist showing Ferguson the European Cup and stating it has been twenty-five years since they last won that. I remember thinking give them a break but it highlighted that this trophy was now important. There was no talk of the treble on that 1993 day whilst reading 90 Minutes.
Arsenal, Leeds, United and Blackburn all fell short in the pursuit of the European Cup in the 1990’s. It seemed the five years ban had taken its toll. It certainly allowed Europe to catch up.
The forgotten years of the late 1990’s mean I usually forget that I was at Manchester United’s first game of the treble winning season. Here, Arsenal demolished them 3-0 in the season opening Charity Shield. Arsenal taking their third trophy in three months, their own treble I guess you could say. I had sunk a few the night before and the early coach ride was a killer. By his performance it looked like Japp Stam had been out on it with me too.
The only team that would have been in line for the treble would have been Arsenal as they had players just oozing confidence. Anelka was a striker like no other, pace, power and a ruthless in front of goal. Viera and Petit had upgraded their double to a treble in winning the World Cup. Therefore, the Charity Shield moved them up a level from the treble to a quadruple.
Arsenal were very much in the driving seat and very much likely victors of a double at the very least in 1998/98. The treble was not talked about in 1998 but if it did Arsenal would have been the likely canditates. At Highbury, Arsenal easily dispatched of United early in the season to enhance their strong psychological edge.
Much like my post about Italia 90 where it was a time that changed me personally, the 1998/99 season was much the same. It was always the dream to become a professional footballer or a PE Teacher. However, by 1998 I was scratching around in various jobs and living very much for the weekend. A professional footballer was long gone and possibly being a PE teacher was even further down the line.
I started work at Barclays in December 1998 and at twenty-one it seemed like I had stumbled into a career. Not the career I had craved but a decent career where I could hide my embarrassment at not seeing college through or not making it as a professional footballer. Here, I could proudly state that I was working for Barclays where it sounded professional and respectable.
In fact, Manchester United and Chelsea drew one each in my first week there. I was all caught up in pre match nerves that I didn’t even know they played when I overheard my boss recalling the match. he was telling some important people on the other side of the office that it was 1-1 and they were the best two sides in the league.
I knew by February 1999 that the job wasn’t for me but stuck with it. There were perks, one being, playing for the office football team in the National Barclays Knockout Cup. I like to think I was the final piece of their jigsaw when we won the National Cup in Ealing, London. We had to get through four or five qualifying rounds to reach the final in Ealing. I was being paid to play football with no holiday time being taken. Looking back, this was the closest I was to being a professional footballer.
I got booked in the final from FIFA referee Ray Lewis. The player dived over me to win a penalty, a clear dive. A seven quid fine was paid by Barclays and a free night was enjoyed on the booze as we celebrated the national cup victory. More similarities to the professional game.
This was the night Manchester United played Arsenal in the replay of the FA Cup Final. I was revelling in the cup victory and kept popping in and out of the match in the room opposite the disco. One visit to the legendary semi-final was when Anelka had his goal disallowed. Plenty of drinks had flowed and talk of the treble was most certainly being extended to the Ealing Disco Bar. Seeing Anelka celebrate in what looked like a winning goal for 2-1 meant I went back to the discotheque convinced that United would lose.
On the way home the trebles and doubles had meant I needed a cheeky kip as I was passed out. When I awoke to be dropped off, I was informed that United had won 2-1. The lads told me Roy Keane had been sent off, Peter Schmeichel saved a last-minute penalty and Ryan Giggs had come on as a sub to score a magnificent winning solo goal. I gave a reply full of expletives. They were definitely on the wind up.
The next morning, hungover and disorientated I vaguely remembered being told United had actually won. It was surely a dream. Whilst eating my cornflakes Ceefax proved it was not a dream. It took me until Football Focus on the Saturday to see the action and Giggs’ crazy celebration. The treble was now on.
Having booked the morning off I walked to work stinking of booze that could be mistaken for the sweet smell of success. My office manager was old school and was proud that a member of his department was part of the victorious football team in the National Cup.
Looking back the job wasn’t too bad as I was allowed to have lunch breaks playing in the 5 aside football team.
However, watching my bosses having long liquid Friday lunches where they’d glow from the George Pub house doubles meant I wanted better for myself. I wanted to finally fulfil some sort of professional potential. I had mastered the art of data inputting.
United and Arsenal had such a close battle and pushed each other to the limit. They went on such a long unbeaten run in the league and the FA Cup win may have just finally allowed Manchester United to wrestle that psychological gain from Arsenal. It is widely recognised that the FA Cup Semi-Final decided the league. Leagues are not decided in the FA Cup but perhaps the 1998/99 season was different.
Famous comebacks were something that Manchester United were renowned for under Alex Ferguson. During the 1998/99 season they scored two last minute goals to overturn Liverpool’s 1-0 advantage at Old Trafford. This match was in the fourth round of the FA Cup and this comeback was probably a time when the treble came on the radar.
Chelsea were also dispatched in this FA Cup run. Adding Arsenal to that and it has to be commended on defeating Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in one cup winning campaign. It surely helped breed confidence in the Premier League and in Europe. If that did not help the belief then coming out of a Champions League group with Barcelona and Bayern Munich must have enhanced confidence. In the knock out rounds Inter Milan and Juventus were dispatched in high quality drama.
At this time the Italian teams were ruling Europe and had cast a spell over English teams for a number of decades. Victories against any Italian teams were a rarity. United had to have the ultimate comeback in overhauling Juventus’ 2-0 early lead to end up winning 3-2. That night in the Stadio delle Alpi, Roy Keane had his very own Gazza moment where his booking meant suspension if United qualified for the final. Rather than crying, Keane rolled his sleeves up and dragged United to the final. This time there were English tears of joy in Turin. A superb comeback meant the treble was on.
Talking of comebacks, I would say the treble winning week marked my very own personal comeback. I was certainly livin’ la vida loca in May 1999. These times were certainly sweet like chocolate but I was trying to find the perfect moment to turn around from Barclays and be able to go flying without wings at college.
The decision was made on the Monday morning after Manchester United had won a third domestic double in five years. You get what you give and the decision was made to apply for an Access to Higher Education Course. The dream of the treble was making me dream big. I had always wanted to be a PE teacher and this was the stepping stone to achieving this.
Watching the 1999 European Cup Final was tense and I watched with my Dad, two brothers and best mates at the local pool bar. It’s fair to say that when Mario Basler scored an unlikely free kick in the first five minutes I was not feeling confident. My best mate was though, he had a tenner on Munich winning the first half and United winning at the end of the second half at 26/1.
Bayern Munich hit the woodwork twice and were dominating the match. My lucky baseball cap and United polo shirt combination were not providing much luck. I wore this outfit when United beat Spurs on the final day to clinch the Premier League Title. It was worn for the convincing double winning match against Newcastle. Finally, it was washed and ready to go for the treble chance.
With stoppage time looming I went upstairs for a pit stop in the toilet. Similar to when Leeds winning the title in 1992, I was being a spoilt brat. Surely a double should be celebrated. My friend was laughing and jeering at me. The European Cup was such an unlikely target and it was so close but yet so far.
It is the one thing that Liverpool have over Manchester United because they have found many ways to win this cup. For United, it is still a dream and they love putting awkward obstacles in front of them. The European Cup or Champions League allows Manchester United fans to dream. They have had a glut of domestic success but the European dreams were much more difficult to come by. It’s kind of added some humility to the expected success the 1990’s and 2000’s brought. The hope always exceeds the expectation.
As I was ignoring my mate laughing at me, I heard a massive cheer downstairs at the bar. There were some anti Manchester United fans in there and Bayern had surely won it. As I opened the downstairs bar door, I saw my Dad and brothers jumping around. I joined in and then as I sat down, I was bundled on top of as United grabbed a second injury time winning goal by Ole Gunner Solskjaer. Manchester United had won the treble. Let me just say that again, they had won the treble. Something that had not even been spoken about had been wrapped up with sporting drama like no other.
Crazy memories to a crazy season where I was living a crazy life. The next two days of work were booked off and my life followed a similar pattern to that of Manchester United’s 1998/99 season. I started work for Barclays and the thought of starting college was as distant as the treble was. It was not thought of or spoken about. As the season progressed dreams were being dreamt and doubles became trebles. Expectations in life were now higher on a footballing and personal perspective.
Perhaps the treble enabled the impossible to become a possible dream twenty-one years ago on so many levels. It raised the bar to a higher standard. That is what sport and life is all about. You should strive for the next challenge. Doubles are much more common and have lost their mysterious appeal. On a footballing level the treble is still the ultimate dream. A quadruple anyone?