Alex Ferguson trusted the supporters of Manchester United sometime in 1999 and compared the pursuit of three trophies simultaneously with the ancient circus art of turning records.
And while there were countless wobbles in what would ultimately be a glorious campaign for Ferguson and United, we rarely came closer to the metaphorical pile of broken pottery than an unforgettable night in mid-April.
In 1999, meetings between United and Arsenal began to get that titanic quality that would last for most of the next decade. At some distance they were the best teams in English football when the 20th century came to an end.
It has been 20 years since Ryan Giggs scored one of the biggest goals of all time to arrange an exciting Man United-Arsenal FA Cup match
Giggs ran from his own half in extra time to arrange one of the most pulsating football matches ever in favor of United
The shirtless party of the Welsh winger went down in folklore when United took a crucial step towards their historic Treble victory
Arsenal was managed by the professorial, pioneering Frenchman, Arsene Wenger. They had the same formidable back line that had sent them through the 1990s, Patrick Vieira’s midfield engine, Marc Overmars’ legs, and Dennis Bergkamp’s effortless class.
United, led by Ferguson, a manager of power and pedigree, had the colossus of Peter Schmeichel in the goal, the stingy Jaap Stam in defense, the warrior Roy Keane in midfield, the craft of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Scholes, the free-score partnership of Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke.
The club had won four of the first five Premier League titles before Wenger’s Arsenal appeared to give them a bloody nose at winning the Double of league and FA Cup in 1998.
Now it was the business end of another season and when Arsenal and United were pulled together in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, the stakes couldn’t have been higher.
By the time of the game, United had a one-point lead over Arsenal at the top of the Premiership with eight games to play. The semi-final also fell between the two legs of the United States Champions League semi-final with Juventus – another nemesis from the late 1990s – with the first match at 1-1 in Old Trafford.
Arsenal was from Europe, but it was very double or stopped. For United it was Treble or bust. To call it a crucial, seasonal schedule, it was to say the least.
The first game, played at Villa Park in Birmingham on Sunday, April 11, ended in a stalemate after 120 uncompromising minutes. United thought they should have won – Roy Keane saw a goal in the first half not allowed and opportunities came and went after Nelson Vivas collected a second yellow card five minutes into the extension.
Roy Keane saw a goal rejected in the scoreless semi-final at Villa Park three days before the epic replay
Arsenal’s Freddie Ljungberg is knocked down by Peter Schmeichel of United during the 120-minute stalemate
We were still a long way from the semi-finals that were always staged in Wembley – typical Villa Park and Old Trafford played as hosts. So they came together three nights later at the same location for what would become the very last FA final semi-final. It might prove to be the greatest game of the greatest rivalry of the greatest era in the Premier League years.
The first surprise came on the team magazine. Ferguson turned those records in view of Turin the following week and dropped his striking strike by Yorke and Cole. Received without complaining backup brigade Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Giggs and Scholes were also on the couch.
The flow of United remained unaffected, they started better and led after 18 minutes. Sheringham was on his way to a dead end with three red Arsenal shirts around him, but managed to cut the ball back to Beckham.
Beckham, whose season was a story of redemption after becoming public enemy No. 1 after his departure to England against Argentina during the World Cup, had no other idea than to shoot from 30 meters.
It was flawlessly beaten, the curl brought it out of reach of David Seaman and just inside the post. Something special was always needed to break an Arsenal defense that had not given in in 690 minutes and there it was.
Beckham, all baggy shirt and blonde highlights, just ran away and ran festively until his teammates caught up with him.
David Beckham runs away after scoring the opening goal of Manchester United in the 17th minute of the replay
Nicolas Anelka was sidelined when he came across Schmeichel’s shot from Bergkamp’s shot to score in the second half
Gary Neville hurried to the officials to protest that Anelka was indeed offside when he drove on
ARSENAL 1 MANCHESTER UNITED 2 (After extra time)
April 14, 1999 in Villa Park
FA Cup semi-final repeat
Arsenal: Sailor; Dixon, Adams (c), Keown, Winterburn; Ljungberg (Overmars 62), Parlor (Kanu 105), Petit (Bould 119), Vieira; Anelka, Bergkamp
Substitute substances that are not used: Lukic (GK); vivas
Manager: Arsene Wenger
Scorer: Bergkamp 69
booked: Keown, Parlor
Manchester United: Schmeichel; G. Neville, Johnson, Stam, P. Neville; Beckham, Butt, Keane (c), Blomqvist (Giggs 61); Sheringham (Scholes 76), Solskjaer (Yorke 91)
Substitute substances that are not used: Van der Gouw (GK); Irwin
Manager: Alex Ferguson
Scorers: Beckham 17; Giggs 109
booked: Stam, Beckham, Keane
Sent: Keane 74
Manager: David Elleray (Harrow-on-the-Hill)
Cover of the competition program
United was in charge of the game until the hour with Solskjaer and Jesper Blomqvist, who reject excellent chances to arrange the game early in the second half. Then the momentum shifted dramatically.
It took a fortune to reach the Arsenal level. Bergkamp turned away from Keane and aimed at a distance. His shot struck Stam on the knee and completely changed his job into Schmeichel’s wrong foot.
Bergkamp roared a throat sound and celebrated with clenched fists. The cruel deflection rattled United.
Three minutes later and another Bergkamp shot was spilled unusually by Schmeichel, allowing Nicolas Anelka to take the ball around him and score.
Celebrations were quickly interrupted by the flag of a raised linesman. Anelka’s jubilant expression melted away in total frustration, but he was offside. Gary Neville pursued referee David Elleray to make sure that the goal would not count.
Sky was still repeating the unauthorized goal when Keane Marc Overmars hacked and duly received a second yellow card. Keane didn’t even acknowledge Elleray, walking a glove of cheering Arsenal fans as he walked straight to the tunnel.
Suddenly the chance of highs from United dangled. And especially in injury time when Phil Neville clumsy Ray Parlor in the box. Penalty.
Before this point, Bergkamp had scored 21 of his 23 career penalties. If he made it 22, United would not have time to respond. Not that Schmeichel had understood the importance of the moment.
“I had lost my sense of time and had the impression that there were at least seven or eight minutes left,” he recalled later. “So when Bergkamp placed the ball on the spot, the full implications of the penalty had not hit me.”
Schmeichel gambled correctly, diving to his left to ward off Bergkamp’s kick, before aggressively pushing aside an excited Beckham who had come to celebrate with him.
As Solskjaer reflected: “If Bergkamp had scored, they would have won the Double. The margins were that small. “
The moment struck the filling from Arsenal. Parlor said: ‘Being in the dressing room after that match was a nightmare, especially Dennis Bergkamp. He did not speak for three or four days, he was so distraught that he had missed that punishment. “
Bergkamp never took another penalty in his career.
But at the time, when a pulsating game went into extra time, it was a huge benefit to Arsenal. Ferguson had thrown Giggs, Scholes and then Yorke to keep United’s offensive advantage, but given their numerical disadvantage, the game plan was a lot to punish.
Things looked ominous when Schmeichel squeezed his thigh and saved a Bergkamp shot after 94 minutes.
It led to the spectacle of Gary Neville taking his goal kicks, a moment of comedy amid the chaos.
Neville said, “I went to the fans to get one and smiled thinking,” This is incredible, this. ” You know when you just feel: “This is something special.”
And, boy, would he be right? The Villa Park clock read 109 minutes when Vieira of all people played a loose ball over the midfield just within half of United. Giggs, with fresh legs coming up just after the hour, bounced.
Phil Neville is distraught after having shot Ray Parlor to admit a stop-time penalty – but Schmeichel saved him
United was seconds away from seeing their Treble ambitions go up in smoke, but Schmeichel saved Bergkamp’s penalty
Roy Keane’s dropout on Marc Overmars was enough to earn him a second yellow card and an early bath in extra time
Baying Arsenal fans celebrate Roy Keane’s second yellow card, produced by referee David Elleray during extra time
Arsenal captain Tony Adams came in to try to prevent Giggs shooting, but his mazy run culminated in a rising shot
“I kept saying,” Pass it on! Pass it on! ” Ferguson recalled. “At that time we said:” Keep the ball “. Our main thought on that couch was: “Hold the ball, hold it, kill the time”.
It is just as well that Fergie’s voice was not supported because perhaps we could have missed the biggest FA Cup goal ever. Hell, one of the biggest goals of a soccer match ever.
He left, United’s fleeting No. 11, from 10 yards in his own half, coming straight forward to dodge Lee Dixon and then Vieira who destroyed the body and came back.
“When he left, it seemed that there was no danger,” Dixon admitted. “We weren’t really worried about him.”
Keane, watching TV in the dressing room, remembered: “I still can’t understand why no Arsenal player was fooling him. I would have definitely eliminated him. Smell that danger. You must know that a player like Giggsy has it in his closet. “
By the time Dixon’s alarm bells began to ring, Giggs had made his way between him and Martin Keown, who had been left behind. Tony Adams jumped to Giggs as he shaped to shoot, but it was too late. The shot was like an arrow, high above Zeeman and in the net.
Go directly to number 1 in the hit parade of the biggest goals of football. Perhaps.
Giggs takes off his shirt to celebrate his winning goal – but afterwards he couldn’t understand what it was all about
Giggs’ extra-time goal led to a pitch invasion by Manchester United fans at Villa Park, harassing the players
Beckham is lifted by a United fan amidst jubilant scenes that follow the stunning Giggs individual goal
Peter Schmeichel celebrates Giggs’ miracle goal when United took a critical step towards their ultimate Treble success
Keane later described how he believed Giggs was in a kind of zen-like trance and played “like you did when you were a kid on the street with nothing at stake except in a vague way, personal justification.”
Maybe that explained the celebration. Giggs turned off his shirt to reveal a hairy chest rug and turned his gear around his head as frenzied United fans stormed the field.
Beckham said: ‘I can still remember the scent of the fans around us: a guy in particular must have chain smoking throughout the game and he grabbed me. I couldn’t get the smell of his cigarette smoke from my shirt and nostrils for the rest of the game. “
“It was the worst celebration I have ever seen in my life,” said an acid Dixon.
“I think that goal has won them the Treble, because if Bergkamp scores, I think the game is over. That goal was certainly what their season decided, “Wenger said a few years later.
After United had seen a few breathless final minutes to triumph, the man of the moment did not appreciate the extent of what he had done.
“When they got out of the stadium, some reporters said to me,” Is it the best thing you’ve ever scored? “Giggs said a few years later.
‘And I wondered what the fuss was about, because after the game I thought I might have removed the ball 30 or 35 meters.
“To score that goal on that occasion was great for me and great for the team in a memorable year.”
(From left to right) Beckham, Giggs and Teddy Sheringham are all smiles in the dressing room after the win
(From left to right) Ronny Johnsen, Jaap Stam and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrate United’s epic victory in the semi-final
The barely credible nature of United’s victory seemed to make them invincible for the final furlong of the season.
They triumphed 3-2 away to Juventus, fighting back from two goals. They took the last minute Premier League title from Arsenal on the last day and then beat Newcastle 2-0 in a one-sided cup final.
Four days later, Sheringham and Solskjaer miraculously defeated stop-time goals in the Champions League Bayern Munich final to complete the Treble, something that had never before been reached by an English club.
And the plates remained intact in one way or another.