Reliving Manchester United’s 1993/94 Premier League and FA Cup double

The League title was home. After 26 long years of waiting, Manchester United were finally Champions of England once again. Sir Alex Ferguson had achieved what no manager since Sir Matt Busby had. He had returned the club to the summit of the English Football world. Now came the hardest part. Keeping United there. It was a challenge Ferguson would meet; emphatically in fact. Not only did United retain their crown, the first time they had done so since 1956-57, they also won the FA Cup achieving the first Double in the 115 year history of the club.

Following the success of 1992/93, Ferguson added future United Captain, then 21-year old, Roy Keane to the ranks, signing him from Nottingham Forest. It was a shrewd signing and Keane partnered Paul Ince in the centre of United’s midfield and racked up an impressive 50 appearances in all competitions. Outside of United’s defence, only Ince and Mark Hughes played more times in 1993/94.

United defeated Arsenal on penalties in the Charity Shield curtain-raiser on the 7th August 1993, in a successful start to the season which saw them win five of their opening six matches, drawing the other with Newcastle United. In fact, United hit the top spot in the League for the first time the week before the Newcastle match, and that draw was the only time that season the first place position was relinquished. United went top again two days later with a victory over Aston Villa, and they remained there for the rest of the season.

It was an impressive domination of the chasing pack. Title contenders, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle could only look on as United won match after match, week after week. At one point, United were 16 points clear of second place before ending the campaign eight points ahead of runners-up, Blackburn. Ferguson had crafted the perfect mix of youth, in Keane, Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs with experience, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Brian McClair, Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes complementing the team beautifully.

Memorable victories over local rivals, Manchester City at Maine Road, where they won 3-2 with an 87th minute Keane winner after being 2-0 down, and hammerings of 5-0 over Sheffield Wednesday and 5-2 over Oldham Athletic highlighted their exciting league campaign. If their League form was impressive, United’s Cup form was imperious also. Sweeping aside all comers, United raced to the 1994 League Cup Final; a trophy they had won for the first time two years earlier. They crushed the likes of Leicester City 5-1 in the Third Round and Sheffield Wednesday 5-1 on aggregate in the Semi-Finals en-route to the Final.

Unfortunately, defeat to former United boss, Ron Atkinson’s Aston Villa ended their hopes of a domestic Treble which seemed almost inevitable at one point given the domination of the side over their opposition. However, in the FA Cup, United were successful in going one step further. That campaign began with a narrow 1-0 victory over Sheffield United courtesy of a Hughes goal. United narrowly avoided elimination in the Semi-Final before Hughes again popped up with a 119th-minute equaliser in extra time versus Oldham. United comfortably won the replay 4-1.

Chelsea stood between United and victory in the FA Cup Final. After an even first half, United dominated the West Londoners 4-0 in the second, with a brace of penalties from Cantona and goals from Hughes and McClair securing the trophy.

A disappointing European campaign aside, which ended back in November in the infamous “Welcome to Hell” match in Istanbul versus Galatasaray, United’s season was an unmitigated triumph. In their European venture, United exited on the away goals rule but the tie is forever remembered by the hostility and harassment United’s players and fans were subjected to. Several United stars were attached by Turkish police including Cantona and Hughes, while many fans were thrown in jail for no discernible reason and treated disgracefully.

The sub-plot to the match masked the fact United were proven to be novices in Europe’s premier tournament in 1993. It would be a further few years before they became contenders for the crown for the first time since that memorable Wembley night in 1968. Even the drama of Istanbul could not detract from what United achieved in 1993-94. Their first ever Double. Most notably was that United achieved this, and improved on their 1992/93 success with a largely new breed of players. The likes of Robson, McClair, Dion Dublin, Keith Gillespie, Mike Phelan, Lee Martin were phased out of the first team with younger players like Keane, Giggs, and Sharpe coming more to the fore.

Following their Double triumph, in the close season, Ferguson continued to look to youth, making central defender, David May his lone signee as a long-term replacement for Steve Bruce, and integrated more youth stars such as Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Gary Neville into the squad as he continued to build for the future. These young players proved the catalyst for United’s further multiple trophy season successes later in the decade, with United repeating their League and FA Cup Double feat in 1995/96 and finally adding the European Cup to those titles with their famous Treble success of 1998/99.

Ferguson’s knack of building and re-building teams capable of winning multiple competitions in a single season began in 1993-94 – the blueprint served him well for another two decades of unprecedented success.

55 years on – The significance of the 1963 FA Cup Final victory

The 1958 Munich air-disaster claimed the lives of 23 people, including eight Manchester United players.

The disaster saw the United team that had won two consecutive League titles struggle to overcome the devastation of losing the heart of its team.

In 1963, United had not reached a major final since the 1958 FA Cup final defeat versus Bolton Wanderers in which a patched-up United team, just three months removed from the air crash, fielded only four crash survivors – the rest of the team being made up of newcomers. Six of the players that had contested the 1957 FA Cup Final, the previous year, being among the dead; David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Billy Whelan, Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman and Roger Byrne.

Save for a second-placed finish in the First Division in 1959-60, United had struggled to mount a challenge on any front since Munich and were a team firmly in transition.

Indeed, they narrowly avoided relegation in 1962-63, surviving by a single point, finishing in 19th place in the First Division. This made their progress to the FA Cup Final even more remarkable.

Their opponents that day, Leicester City were the clear favourites. Leicester had defeated United 4-3 during the league season and had also earned a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford.

Throughout 1962-63, United had been a shadow of their former selves.

However, 1962-63 was also the debut season of a man who would become one of United’s most recognisable legends. That man was Denis Law.

Law had already become the top scorer for United during the season with 28 goals and he added another, with the opening goal in the final.

United defeated Leicester City 3-1, with David Herd adding both of United’s other goals, either side of what proved to be a Leicester consolation strike. United dominated the game for the final hour, following Law’s opener and were well-deserved winners on the day. The team being match sharp having only survived relegation on the final day of the season. Leicester in comparison had had nothing to play for, for several weeks, having come up short in their title challenge.

United played like champions and Law and Herd, an acquisition the previous year, made for a lethal partnership up front.

The 1963 triumph inspired a great upsurge in prosperity for United as Sir Matt Busby inspired another period of sustained success.

In addition to the successful acquisition of Law, the subsequent season 1963-64 saw the debut of another member of United’s “Holy Trinity”, 17-year-old George Best who played 26 times and scored six goals. United challenged on all fronts despite finishing the season trophy-less. United finished runners-up in the League, four points behind champions, Liverpool and reached the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup and Quarter Finals of the Cup Winners Cup.

However, in 1964-65, United finally reclaimed the Championship, eight years after their last League triumph, pipping Leeds United to the crown on goal difference. The “Holy Trinity” of Best, Charlton, and Law combined to incredible effect with a combined total of 71 goals in all competitions aided ably by the likes of Herd and John Connelly who likewise could not stop scoring. United narrowly avoided making the season even better, finishing as Semi-Finalists in both the FA Cup and Inter-Cities Fair Cup (the pre-cursor to the UEFA Cup and Europa League).

Sir Matt Busby had successful re-built his Busby Babes to stunning effect.

Although they finished the following season empty-handed, United again competed on all fronts, finishing fourth in the League and reaching the Semi-Finals of the FA Cup and European Cup.

1966-67 saw Alex Stepney sign for the club replacing Harry Gregg in goal. Stepney was ever-present as United reclaimed the League Championship for the fifth time under Busby, besting runners-up Nottingham Forest by four points.

However, the best was yet to come. A full decade after the 1958 Munich air disaster, United finally won the European Cup in 1968, becoming the first English club to do so. A new generation of Babes achieved what the 1958 legends were so close to achieving prior to that fateful February night.

Busby’s rebuilt team had won it all. The 1965, 1967, and 1968 triumphs can all be traced back to the first post-Munich triumph, the 1963 FA Cup Final. Without that unexpected victory acting as a springboard, who knows what would have become of United during the sixties. The eventual decline in the seventies may have come a decade earlier and robbed United fans of the ultimate memory, Busby, and Charlton, Munich survivors holding the greatest European prize aloft.

Written by Paul Benson

copyright: JW