Lee Sharpe receives his first England cap. A proud day.
Over to Magic Spongers' very own Rob MacDonald...
Manchester United 2-2 Barcelona: Champions League Group Stages, October 19 1994
When I was very young, I was in Cub Scouts and we got to a Cup Final. 4th Wilmslow v 1st Lindow I think it was. As a boy it was a confusing time – why was this game different? How would I feel if we lost? How would I feel if we won? What the fuck are those numbers for? (To this day I’ve seen neither hide nor hair of 2nd or 3rd Wilmslow, though I remember 1st, 4th, 5th AND 6th. Did 2nd or 3rd Wilmslow even exist? What? Why not?).
More importantly though, our team had to name our favourite players for the matchday programme, which was actually more an advertising booklet for all the Dads’ companies with our names in the middle and a strange anecdote in which our manager accused us, his own team, of ‘leaking goals like a damaged sieve’.
Most of my team mates were United fans. You could see this in their ‘favourite player’ choices – Eric Cantona, Bryan Robson, Mark Hughes (it was 1993 I think) – even our defenders all loved Cantona. And you could tell the best players around at the time because their names repeated down the page. Except for one. ‘R MacDonald’, it said. ‘Position: Left Midfield’. ‘School: Gorsey Bank’.
‘Favourite Player: L Sharpe’.
So there it is. My favourite player was (is) Lee Sharpe. The answer to all those left-wing problems England used to have, but who loved getting smashed a bit too much to really be involved. My favourite European Cup game naturally includes ‘Sharpey’, and the fact that it also involves a smorgasbord of luminaries including Romario, Hristo Stoitchkov, Ronald Koeman and, er, David May, is largely irrelevant.
Many years ago, after Sharpe had scored two goals as United won away at Villa Park, Sir Alex Ferguson suggested that there was something special about games ‘under the lights, when the pitch is fantastic’. He was spot on, too, and though obviously a lot of European matches take place under floodlights and on football pitches, this United game against the Barcelona dream team in 1994 was particularly good. Mainly because of Sharpe. He fucking LOVED massive games. Even though he never really played in any.
You can see the main highlights here. The first inclination that it was Sharpe’s night came as he skipped past whatever hapless right-back Cruyff had entrusted with the most thankless job in European football (some no-mark, probably) and delivered a BRILLIANT cross onto Hughes’s head. Here was the sudden realisation, to a 10-year old, of what a brilliant cross looked like. Sharpe was actually the best crosser of the ball at Man United, a fact that everyone seems to have forgotten, probably because some ponce who used to be in the Spice Girls turned up in Predators. Or something.
Hughes’s header is textbook too. So is the goalkeeper’s ludicrous token attempt to change direction as the ball goes past him. Here was the sudden realisation, to a 10-year old, of what a ‘continental goalkeeper’ looked like. It makes it look a much better goal too. But that cross is still ace.
Sharpe skinned Barcelona pretty much every time he got the ball. The goal – THAT backheel – was the crowning glory. How good is Ince driving through there? HOW GOOD IS THAT FINISH?! Take that, Thierry Henry and Nwankwo Kanu. That’s how you score a cheeky backheel. And how good is that second token despairing dive? YOU ARE NOT GETTING THAT SON. NO CHANCE.
The best bit of all of it, as with any old European clip, is Brian Moore’s commentary*. “A super strike again!” he crows. TOO RIGHT BRIAN. IT’S THE BEST GOAL I’VE EVER SEEN. “And a smile that says ‘We’ve done it!’”. YES WE HAVE. WE HAVE DONE IT! Perhaps it’s a measure of United’s modest ambition in Europe at the time that an equaliser at Old Trafford in Europe was akin to ‘doing it’ (their hopes in the group stage were effectively ended away at a Jesper Blomqvist-inspired IFK Gothenberg), but whatever.
Lest it be forgotten, wing duties at United used to be shared between Sharpe, Ryan Giggs and Russian sprinter Andrei Kanchelskis. Sharpe, on occasion, kept Giggs out of the team. Oh aye. But the truly great are always truly flawed. While Giggs is still a mainstay of the Manchester United midfield, while Kanchelskis is now, respectably, manager of FC Ufa in Russia, Sharpe has taken the road less travelled. Celebrity Love Island. Celebrity Wrestling. Dancing on Ice. Coronation Street. Jayne Middlemiss. Abi Titmuss. Not for him the perverse, self-obsessed world of modern football. Not for him a superinjunction following the gross misrepresentation of his life in historical television series ‘Sharpe’.
NO! LEE SHARPE WILL NOT GO QUIETLY INTO THE NIGHT, FRIENDS.
NO! Lee Sharpe would much rather go out onto a playing field and smash fuck out of some sheds.
What a hero. What a game.
*The very best bit, I have to admit, is actually David May’s quite ludicrous foul on Stoitchkov at 1.26 in the video. THAT is the best bit. What is he doing?