Manchester United headed to Wembley in 1999 attempting to complete part two of a potential treble having secured the Premier League on the last day of the season against Tottenham Hotspur in a brilliant comeback.
But the biggest memory before the FA Cup final was of course the semi-final replay against where Ryan Giggs scored his most famous goal against Arsenal when he weaved through their whole defence, fired it into the roof of the net and whipped off his shirt to show his hairy chest in all its glory. It still remains one of the most iconic moments in United’s history.
It was a season in which United felt indomitable and unbeatable. Every time the wind blew against us, we gathered ourselves and swung it back in our favour and the FA Cup final itself was no different.
Roy Keane had to be replaced by Teddy Sheringham less than ten minutes into the game and with the UEFA Champions League final in just four days, Sir Alex Ferguson had to rest key players like Jaap Stam and top scorer Dwight Yorke. We were up agains it and to run us through his memories from the day is Matt Stewart (@MStewart0013) who was at the game.
“I’m one of the fortunate generation of Man United supporters who has known nothing but unprecedented dominance. It’s never more than two or three seasons at most without seeing us lift a trophy. In the 1990s it wasn’t even that long. If we suffered a disappointment one year it felt like a certainty we wouldn’t miss out the next. I supported United (thank you Dad) and followed football before but 1998/99 is the first season I can point to and say I became a fanatic. I can tell you where I was for David Beckham’s free-kick equaliser against Leicester City in the 2-2 season opener and exactly where I was when he curled in another free-kick in against Villa in May. I’m sure there are many of us who can do the same for moments of that season. The 1999 final was my first ever FA Cup final, on the day before my birthday, it never even crossed my mind that we might lose. I was too young to fear defeat.
“When The Peoples Person asked me to write some of my memories of the FA Cup final I realised that for every important or trivial moment in matches I can easily recall, many from 22 May 1999 are sadly hard to come by. I think the FA Cup gets a little lost as the ‘middle leg’ of the Treble. We have Giggsy’s wonder goal in the semi-final replay and Coley ‘getting it over Walker!’ to win the Premier League, then the miraculous euphoria of Barcelona. There is the 2-2 at Anfield in the League run in, the Italian job in the European Cup. In comparison I can’t remember the FA Cup final as a great game but I know we won it with something left in the tank. Teddy scored early out of basically nothing. When Scholesy scored it was game over.
“Wembley was huge. Everything about it was just ‘big’. The pitch seemed to give players so much space, the crowd was massive. The noise in the ground was incredible. The atmosphere is something I had never experienced before. It’s a bit cliché but the walk to the stadium surrounded flags, scarves and sheer colour matches everything that is conjured up when you say ‘FA Cup final at Wembley’. It was a bright sunny day.
“Preparing for this piece, I watched the whole game for the first time since I was actually there. I could never have told you Dietmar Hamann played for Newcastle, never mind that he was probably their best player in the first half but I can remember Keane having to come off after a terrible late challenge from Gary Speed. Newcastle went in hard particularly in the first half but Scholes’ goal is etched into my memory. When he hit it, the angle was as if it was coming straight at us behind the goal. United had chances. Newcastle had a few. We played some good football and were clearly the better side. I can remember Shearer’s begrudging applause when we went up to collect the trophy. Slap in into you Al’.
“Most of my memories are from the before and after. I vividly remember having to scramble back into the taxi at the tube station traveling to the stadium before the game when a group of fat, drunk, Newcastle fans hurled abuse at a skinny, bespectacled, almost ten-year-old and his dad. The taxi driver in fairness to him told us to get back in the cab and took us to another station for free. One of them actually kicked my rucksack as I was bundled back into the car. A part of me will never forgive or forget that if I’m honest. However I contrast that to a pair of Geordie women my dad and I met in the hotel restaurant and actually ended up having dinner with. They were genuinely lovely people. They followed Newcastle wherever they played including pre-season tours and promised they would get me Shearer’s autograph the next time they saw him. True to their word a few months later I received a letter from them complete with two autographs. They had got Shearer to sign a second one because the pen had begun to run out on the first! Two sides of football eh?
“The morning after the game we were sitting having breakfast when a hotel staff member came over to say the Manchester United team were coming down to leave. I’ve since found out my dad had deliberately booked the same hotel the team were staying at. We rushed to the main lobby and I ended up having my pictures taken with virtually the whole team. I was truly starstruck for most of it. Sir Alex Ferguson met us with a genuine smile. Every single player was fantastic with us, everyone took the time to make sure we got pictures and autographs. I was sat a side table’s width from Posh Spice of all people while my dad was offering David Beckham the lend of his mobile phone! Those were the days.”
Next up in our FA Cup final series in 2003/4 against Millwall and a nice trip to Milennium Stadium.