While there were bigger fish for Manchester United to fry, the FA Cup had assumed extra significance for them in 2001. United were desperate to regain the trophy they won in 1999 but were unable to defend the following season, convinced by the Football Association to take part in the Club World Championship in Brazil in January 2000 instead, on the erroneous basis that their presence would boost England's chances of hosting the 2006 World Cup. Clever, clever.
United were criticised but insisted that they were not given a choice, while David Davies, the FA's interim executive director, was looking to the future. "We opposed it initially, but we've had to look outwards," he said. "Whether we like it or not there is going to be a World Club Cup in the future." But the FA's politicking did not quite go to plan. The World Cup went to Germany and they had successfully undermined their own competition. Still, that Club World Cup sure has been a hoot for the past 14 years …
For Manchester United, then, the FA Cup was not to be taken lightly in the 2000-01 season. From their point of view, Chelsea were merely interim holders, winning it by default in their absence and order would be restored now that they were back. It was certainly difficult to look past them. Their campaign began with an awkward trip in the third round to Jean Tigana's Fulham, who were running away with the Division One title and gave United a fright, but eventually succumbed to an excellent winner in the 89th minute from Teddy Sheringham.
The fourth-round draw was kind to them, handed a home tie against Harry Redknapp's West Ham, who were floating about harmlessly in mid-table in the Premier League. West Ham's record at Old Trafford, where they had not won since 1986, was miserable. They had lost on each of their subsequent 11 visits and were comprehensively beaten 3-1 when they faced United in the league on New Year's Day in 2001. No one, not even the 9,000 travelling West Ham fans, was expecting the Cup to work its magic four weeks later.
While West Ham had been in acceptable form, they were beset by injuries to key players. After failing to replace Rio Ferdinand adequately after his £18m move to Leeds United in November, West Ham then lost their captain, Steve Lomas, and right winger, Trevor Sinclair, to bad knee injuries in the middle of January. To make matters worse, Shaka Hislop, their goalkeeper, and Freddie Kanouté, their brilliant but fragile forward, were struggling with knee and calf injuries, respectively. United were missing Paul Scholes. His place alongside Roy Keane in midfield was taken by Nicky Butt.
Hislop and Kanouté both passed fitness tests on the morning of the match, but the early signs were not promising for the former. A fine shot-stopper, he had not been as commanding in goal since his return from a broken leg and his dodgy knee meant that Stuart Pearce had to take West Ham's goal-kicks. Given the circumstances, it would have been advisable for West Ham to avoid backpasses but where's the fun in making life easy for yourself. After 15 minutes, the ball was rolled back to Hislop and, as Ryan Giggs closed him down, his legs turned to jelly and a hapless slice sent the ball spinning towards the West Ham goal. Time stood still and Giggs set off in pursuit of the ball – but Hannu Tihinen, a new loan signing, beat him to it, booting clear two yards from the line.
West Ham had a liability in goal. But it was not hard to understand why they wanted to keep Hislop on given that their substitute goalkeeper, Craig Forrest, had conceded 16 goals on his previous two appearances at Old Trafford. He was in goal when West Ham lost 7-1 to United in April 2000 and when Ipswich lost 9-0 in 1995.
It was mostly one-way traffic in the first half, as Giggs twice went close, Andy Cole headed wide and Hislop tipped a David Beckham free-kick over.
West Ham should have fallen behind after 55 minutes. Cole sped past Christian Dailly on the right and when his shot was blocked by Hislop, Sheringham blazed the rebound into the Stretford End from 12 yards out. Hislop smiled and a minute later, he denied Giggs after a lightning break from United.
Somehow West Ham were surviving the United storm and in front of the England manager, Sven-Göran Eriksson, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Frank Lampard were starting to put on a show. Soon Cole was step-overing past Keane and shooting from 25 yards, Barthez diving to his right to push the ball away. After 76 minutes, West Ham attacked again, the move starting with Carrick, Cole and Lampard playing their way out of trouble with an intricate triangle in their own half. England's future, right there.
The ball was worked to Sebastien Schemmel on the right and he touched it inside to Kanouté, under little pressure 40 yards from goal. He surveyed his options and then, as United's defence attempted to push up, he stroked a pass through to Paolo Di Canio. The arms went up, the flag stayed down and Di Canio was through on goal. Di Canio was through on goal!
The Italian still had a lot to do. The pass forced him wide and Barthez could easily close down the angle by coming off his line. Instead, he just stood there with his arm in the air, as if he was hailing a taxi, attempting to fool Di Canio into thinking that the linesman had raised his flag. But you can't kid a kidder and Di Canio, ignoring Lampard to his left, poked the ball past the United keeper with the outside of his right foot to give West Ham the lead.
There were still 14 minutes plus Fergie Time left, though, and United, now with four strikers on, poured forward. In the 90th minute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrowed a shot inches wide. Then he nodded down to Cole, whose thumping drive was brilliantly pushed away by Nigel Winterburn. Incredibly Paul Durkin did not award a penalty. Ferguson later blamed him and also said that holding big rugby matches at Old Trafford had damaged the pitch. The game ended with West Ham camped in their six-yard box and Barthez in their half, the crowd treated to the bizarre sight of the United goalkeeper playing as a left-winger. JS
2) West Ham 1-6 Manchester United, 6 May 1967
Human relationships are governed either by inescapable fact – family, as it's sometimes known – or serendipity. The friends and spouses we contract are generally determined by chance, a reality quite disquieting to contemplate.
In sport, it's fact that dominates; serious, inalienable associations are based first on geography and then direct competition. But, occasionally, one is generated from beyond these parameters such as that between Manchester United and West Ham United, a product of circumstance and consequence.
The clubs have always shared similar philosophies – attractive football, homegrown talent and wild support - and now, are managed by David Moyes and Sam Allardyce. But the rivalry is based on significantly more than that, beginning in earnest in 1964.
At the start of March, the sides met at Upton Park, a game for which Matt Busby omitted George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton – United had an FA Cup quarter-final second replay two days later. They beat a full-strength Hammers anyway and then thrashed Sunderland before travelling to Hillsborough, where they met West Ham again. In conditions which in those days constituted a revitalising shower, but now would mean abandonment and Wicked Witch of the West-style meltdowns, West Ham won 3-1, then beat Preston at Wembley. United were pipped to the title by Liverpool.
But a year later, they were champions. With Paddy Crerand, Charlton and Law peaking, Best, and John Connelly still around, this was the highest iteration of Matt Busby's third great side – one that then went to Benfica, won 5-1, and changed the world. Injuries meant they fell at the semi-final stage and again lost the title to Liverpool, so, by 1966-67, time was running out – the Munich survivors still needed a European Cup, which needed a league title first.
And with two games to go, they were well-placed, from January onwards following the pre-Jimmy Hill pro forma precisely; win at home, draw away. As such, if they could avoid defeat at West Ham, they would be champions, bringing a deluge of Mancunians to that there London – the game's attendance of 38,424 was a post-war record for Upton Park.
United's young supporters boasted a burgeoning notoriety, and as such, those who travelled were greeted with aggravation – yet another example of the good, honest old-fashioned East End spirit that sustained London through the blitz and accordant spate of lootings. There followed much Tube disruption and many bloody faces.
Inside the ground, its gates locked at 1.30pm, various projectiles were disbursed by those with suitable angle and range. But inside the shed, where there was no segregation, conditions were so cramped that aspiring participants could only fling bottles against the roof, and hope that the shrapnel located a suitable target.
The matchday programme, meanwhile, was busy kvelling in the aftermath of West Ham's recent trip to Houston Astrodome to play Real Madrid. There also featured a reprint of a piece from the Houston Chronicle, written by the splendidly-named Wells Twombly and describing "a great moment in sports history, comparable to the world's first indoor destruction derby or non-sanguinary bull baiting. The game that the multitudes of the Earth worship above all others was finally coming to the bloody backward colonies."
Accordingly, there was no space in which to introduce the day's visitors, but they were well-known and close to full strength. David Herd was missing after breaking his leg in the act of scoring six weeks earlier, and Bobby Noble, injured in a car crash coming home from Sunderland, would never play again.
But both iconic trios were in place, though just a few weeks earlier, Busby was rumoured to have sought Geoff Hurst to replace Herd, while Law had dominated Bobby Moore in Scotland's 3-2 victory over England – after which the victors proclaimed themselves unofficial World Champions. With West Ham on a run of five straight defeats, various youngsters were given a go, including a triffic young winger named Harry Redknapp, while the 20 year-old goalkeeper Colin Mackleworth made just his third appearance.
United, in an all-white strip gleaming in the sun, went ahead through Charlton on two minutes, and within seven, had another. "I scored with a header!" recalls Crerand, before, even more incredibly, Bill Foulkes made it three – between them, the two played for United 1,082 times, mustering just 24 goals. Title already secure, just past the half's halfway point Best added a fourth, The Guardian's Albert Barham rhapsodising United's "delicate meshing of the gears in the game's lubricated flow", and chastising a West Ham defence "by turn apprehensive and careless".
"Upton Park was bedlam," shrilled David Meek in the Manchester Evening News. "All hell was breaking loose as United were being roared on by over 30,000 near hysterical supporters. The referee had ordered the ballboys to try and clear the goalmouth which was knee deep in toilet rolls and streamers. The St John ambulance men were streaming along the sides of the pitch, their stretchers laden with fans who had succumbed to hysteria".
At the break, United's players reclined in the changing room, only to be informed that "3-0's a bit dodgy. Keep it tight".
"We scored straight from kick off," Crerand explains, "and Matt, god bless him, came out a minute later, saw West Ham kicking off and thought it was the start of the game. 'Boss, it's 4-0', we said, so he said 'Och, go out and attack them, then!'"
John Charles (namesake of the Welsh legend) quickly pulled a goal back, but was later goaded by Law at a corner, returning a dig at the cost of a penalty. Law duly scored, then knocked in the sixth at the end of a move also involving Crerand and Best.
At full-time, United's supporters invaded the pitch, some digging up lumps of it before Busby arrived to address them, while outside the ground, rival fans engaged in earnest debate. But there was only one arrest – a Mancunian teenager, whose father was forced down to London to fetch him home. The Joy of Six has learnt that for this offence, he was awarded the inescapable fact of a stern and focused smacked bottom. DH
It's hard to believe now, but once upon a time, Manchester United viewed midfield not just as a location, but a position. And for nearly 25 years, theirs boasted the best midfield general around – but perhaps because he was seen as an interregnum between Robson and Keane, Paul Ince never quite received the appreciation he deserved. When Keane picked him in his greatest United XI ahead of Scholes, it was simply assumed that he was seeking to provoke, rather than imparting the wisdom of a man who knew absolutely, from first hand and second fiddle.
Which is why West Ham were so upset when Ince left. Well, that, and the fact that he was a local boy who posed for a photo in a United top before a protracted transfer was concluded.
And there already existed a fair degree of animosity between the clubs. The 1967 conversations were followed by a succession of disturbances in 1975, 1983, 1985 and 1986, when both clubs also visited Amsterdam. With English clubs banned from Europe, pre-season tours replaced them in supporters' affections, and, inevitably, those of United and West Ham both ended up on the Koningin Beatrix, where the inevitable happened. "Only skirmishes", reckoned one celebrant, and a young Mani appeared similarly unflustered – but others in attendance knew differently.
So it was that when United visited in 1992, things were tense; West Ham were effectively relegated, while United were in pursuit of their first title since the 1967 shenanigans. But, after starting the season well, their results had descended into binary unfinery, the struggle for goals blamed variously on the Old Trafford pitch, the failure to sign Mick Harford, and fixture congestion. Still, though, United were in control, a point behind Leeds with this game in hand, after which only two remained.
Events were open and even, before, just after the hour, Ludek Miklosko saved Mark Hughes's overhead kick. Then, from the ensuing corner, Keen and Bishop broke, before Slater's left-wing cross was cleared by Pallister to the edge of the box and directly onto the instep of the advancing Kenny Brown – whose dad, er, Ken – had played in the 1964 game. He either controlled an outrageous near-half-volley into the bottom corner, or was hit by a ball that scooted into the bottom corner, but either way, West Ham were ahead.
And they stayed ahead, United's every shot on target fielded by the immaculate Miklosko, such that when, at full-time, the PA blasted out Losing My Religion, they knew they had lost something far more valuable. Their fate was assured the following weekend, but just as United's being relegated by Denis Law is a myth, as they were down regardless, so too is the notion that the league was ceded at Anfield – it was simply rubbed in.
In interview, Ferguson described West Ham's effort as "obscene", a precursor to his "cheating their manager" comment in the 1995-96 run in that so upset Kevin Keegan. Clearly he had learned by then that these things are effective only when said in advance. Meanwhile, outside the ground, Cockney glee was unbound – this was an eternal moment to West Ham.
When the teams next met, West Ham had won promotion and United that elusive title, before, in February, Ince made his first return to Upton Park. His injury at the end of 1991-92 had been a major factor in United's demise, but if he'd been an outstanding influence then, now he was the complete midfielder, roaring around the pitch in a furious bionic crouch.
Enjoying his most prolific season, he'd scored the previous week in a shellacking of Wimbledon, one of the finest team performances of the Fergie era, and United were clear at the top of the table. But, secure in 14th spot, West Ham were ready for a fight. And so were their supporters, the atmosphere around and inside the ground pitched, intense and vicious - far more so than when Beckham returned from the World Cup in August 1998.
United soon took the lead, Hughes slipping home Keane's cross, but were hauled back in the second half. First, rough play at the far post allowed Lee Chapman to ram past Schmeichel, before Trevor Morley put West Ham ahead three minutes later. However, not long before time, Miklosko only parried Irwin's cross, Hughes's lunge created a kerfuffle, and a supersonic hitchkick delivered Ince to willpower in the equaliser. His celebratory dash to the fans foreshadowed that he made at Anfield in May 1999, following a similar late equaliser to sicken those who'd once loved him.
The following season, the teams met on the final day. Again, West Ham were comfortable, whilst United needed to win and hope that Blackburn failed to beat Liverpool, in order to achieve three consecutive titles for the first time in their history.
Everyone with an interest has their favourite Fergie selection foible, of which there are many: David May at right-back at Gothenburg, 1994; rushing back an unfit Juan Sebatian Véron for Madrid in 2003; rushing back an unfit Ruud van Nistelrooy for Palace in 2005; Giggs, Scholes and Neville against Chelsea in 2010. But, already shorn of Eric Cantona's distaste for xenophobia, his omission of perhaps United's finest ever big-game player from this game is amongst the finest.
So it was that when Manchester City's Michael Hughes opened the scoring, Manchester United's Mark was sat at the side. But, after he came on at half-time, Brian McClair equalised, and with Liverpool clawing back a deficit to lead Blackburn, United required one more goal. And unlike in 1992, less tired and less afraid, they could dominate possession, pinning West Ham back.
But with men serried across the box, things were not easy. Though the common conception is that Andy Cole spurned a multitude of dollies, the reality is somewhat different. It is true that he should have found a way to score at least once, but at each chance was confronted by an inspired Miklosko, diving directly in front of the ball such that transporting it past him was tricky. He could not, Blackburn were champions, and Upton Park contorted and convulsed in merriment.
"We'll be back with Cantona!" offered the away end and they were right; they would be, he would score a crucial winner, and United would reclaim the double. But first, they had to finish losing it, achieved at Wembley the following Saturday.
Outside the ground, Cockney glee was unbound; this was another eternal moment to West Ham. DH
4) West Ham 2-4 Manchester United, 18 December 1999
As Gareth Southgate stepped up to take his penalty, everyone knew what was going to happen next. The universe is a cruel place. Southgate had to score to keep his side in the shoot-out. Opening up his body, he struck his penalty firmly with the inside of his right foot and sent the ball towards the goal. The direction was fine. It was not a bad effort. But Southgate had made his intentions too obvious. The goalkeeper dived the right way. The ball wasn't far enough into the corner and the goalkeeper reached it. Southgate had missed. His team had lost. Upton Park erupted. West Ham were in the semi-final of the League Cup and Southgate's Aston Villa were out. Gotcha! You thought … yes, we know what you thought.
Southgate's miss came at the end of a gripping cup tie between West Ham and Villa at Upton Park on 15 December 1999. West Ham were through to the last four, where they would face Leicester City. But life is rarely that simple when West Ham are involved. Two days after the win over Villa, it emerged they had selected a cup-tied player, Manny Omoyinmi, and could be thrown out of the competition. Omoyinmi had only played the last seven minutes of extra-time after coming off the bench and did not take a penalty, but none of that mattered: West Ham were in trouble. Villa pressed for West Ham's elimination, but eventually settled for a replay at Upton Park in January, which they won.
West Ham's club secretary Graham Mackrell, Sheffield Wednesday's secretary at the time of the Hillsborough disaster, and the football secretary Alison O'Dowd both resigned. Omoyinmi did not appear for West Ham again. West Ham's manager, Harry Redknapp, bemoaned a "cock-up". God forbid, of course, that he should know what one of his players was up to while he was on loan at Gillingham. Good old Harry. Such a character.
A day after the story broke, a thoroughly fed-up West Ham hosted United. Everyone inside Upton Park was in a funk. The mood was flat and United wasted no time twisting the knife, an unmarked Dwight Yorke heading in David Beckham's cross after 10 minutes. Three minutes later Yorke turned provider, crossing for Giggs to flick past Hislop. Then Giggs battered a volley from 25 yards into the bottom-left corner. There were only 19 minutes gone. West Ham were all over the place.
Yet they managed to drag themselves back into the match, Di Canio sending a scissor-kick under Raymond van der Gouw to give the home side a lifeline after 25 minutes. But surely that was just a minor inconvenience for United.
Think again. Seven minutes into the second half, Marc Keller slipped a pass through to Di Canio, who drew Van der Gouw, jinked to the left and then tapped the ball into the empty net, to the considerable delight of the BBC's Barry Davies.
United might have feared the worst. They are not immune to relinquishing healthy leads at Upton Park. In December 1996, they were 2-0 up with 12 minutes left but drew 2-2, Julian Dicks almost taking Peter Schmeichel's head off with the equalising penalty in a match that featured an exquisite Beckham chip. Beckham made a habit of scoring stunners at Upton Park. There was a cracking free-kick in a 2-2 draw (West Ham were 2-0 down with four minutes left, fought back through goals from Di Canio and Davor Suker and then saw Beckham hit the post twice in stoppage time) and a feathery chip in a 5-3 win for United in March 2002.
But back to 1999. United were rocking and West Ham, inspired by Di Canio, in the form of his life, were rampant. Shortly after his second goal, he went through again, his hat-trick and West Ham's equaliser seemingly an inevitability. He dropped a shoulder, trying to trick Van der Gouw a second time. But this time the Dutchman would not be fooled so easily and stood his ground. This wasn't in the script and Di Canio was stuttering like Frank Underwood in a CNN debate. He tried a chip but the ball barely left the ground and Van der Gouw saved. United exacted swift and brutal punishment, Giggs bursting past Lomas on the left and crossing to Yorke, who poked in his second. Four-two to United, game over. But it was some game. JS
It was the final day of the 2006-07 season and West Ham went to Old Trafford needing to avoid defeat in order to stay up. But most of the country wanted to see them go down as punishment for the way they had contrived to sign Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano on the final day of the summer transfer window.
Their fellow strugglers – Sheffield United, Charlton Athletic, Wigan Athletic and Watford – wanted West Ham to be handed a points deduction that would almost certainly have confirmed their relegation. Yet on 27 April, West Ham were fined a record £5.5m fine instead after they were found guilty of acting improperly and withholding vital documentation over the ownership of Tevez and Mascherano, who were part-owned by Kia Joorabchian's Media Sports Investment when they left Corinthians. The Gang of Four reacted with disbelief.
Among the reasons for the three-man panel's decision not to deduct points was the club's guilty plea and the fact that they were under new ownership. Terry Brown was the owner when Tevez and Mascherano were signed but sold the club to Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson in November 2007. Gudmundsson was an Icelandic billionaire and later declared bankrupt in 2009.
In the panel's defence, they might also have suspected that West Ham were going down anyway, with or without a points deduction. For much of the season, they were a rabble. Rather than relishing the opportunity, key players were put out by the arrival of the two Argentinian superstars, team spirit deteriorated and Alan Pardew was replaced by Alan Curbishley after an appalling 4-0 defeat at Bolton in December. Curbishley's first game was against United and West Ham won 1-0 but their form soon nosedived again. On New Year's Day, they lost 6-0 at Reading, before losing 4-0 at Charlton in February. Mascherano was also allowed to join Liverpool in January. Four months later, he was excelling in a Champions League final. West Ham preferred to pick Hayden Mullins and Nigel Quashie.
However Tevez was still around and although he did not score his first goal until March he was inspired during the run-in. A day after West Ham received their fine, they won 3-0 at Wigan and in their penultimate match, Tevez scored twice as Bolton were beaten 3-1 at Upton Park. Naturally all the focus was on him, although that ignored the vital contributions made by Robert Green, Lucas Neill, Mark Noble and Bobby Zamora. Green more or less defeated Arsenal single-handedly at the start of April, while Zamora scored the only goal in a win against Everton on 21 April. Yet when West Ham lost 3-0 to Sheffield United on 14 April – with Tevez in the side – their goose looked cooked. Sheffield United were five points clear with five games to play.
Maybe Sheffield United relaxed. After all, there was nothing to suggest that West Ham could win their last four matches, especially as one of them was at Old Trafford. Yet United had already won the league, had the FA Cup final against Chelsea a week later and rested key players. While Wayne Rooney started, Giggs, Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo were on the bench. Even then, United still had enough to pin West Ham back for most of the first half. "Curbishley's players had been penned in their own half, indebted to goalline clearances and United's careless finishing and desperately grateful for any respite from the home side's relentless attacking," Daniel Taylor wrote in the Guardian. And then, on the stroke of half-time, Tevez struck, bustling past Wes Brown and sidefooting underneath Edwin van der Sar.
Over at Bramall Lane, Sheffield United were hosting Wigan, who had not won since the start of March. In order for both sides to stay up, they needed West Ham to lose. Otherwise a draw for Sheffield United would be enough, while Wigan needed to win. In a whirlwind first half, Paul Scharner gave the visitors an early lead, before Jon Stead equalised. Then, just as Tevez was giving West Ham the lead, Wigan won a penalty. Up stepped David Unsworth, who had moved to Wigan from Sheffield United in January, and he scored.
At Old Trafford, the home fans were baying for West Ham's blood. They wanted them down and Ferguson reacted by bringing on Ronaldo, Scholes and Giggs just before the hour. Green had to make two great saves from Ronaldo. But West Ham were hanging on and Sheffield United needed to score. Danny Webber had their best chance but missed and they could not find a way through even after Wigan's Lee McCulloch was sent off.
When the final whistles blew, West Ham and Wigan had survived. Sheffield United were down and so began their descent into League One, their anger hardly lessened by West Ham having to pay them millions in compensation. Seven years on, there are still people who have not forgiven West Ham. But perhaps their critics should consider this: while they stayed up in the most indefensible way imaginable, they did spectacularly annoy Neil Warnock and Sean Bean. That has to count for something. JS
Like the vast majority of Britain, United and West Ham occupied most of the eighties with miserable dossing. But both enjoyed brief shining moments, some at the expense of the other.
In 1983, United began their successful FA Cup campaign with a 2-0 home win over West Ham, and then, in 1985, came a quarter-final belter. On a typical Old Trafford bobbling bog that might have suited Trevor Brooking, Norman Whiteside's hat-trick helped United to a 4-2 win, which followed by beating Liverpool in a replayed semi-final masterpiece, before upsetting an Everton side that had just added the Cup Winners' Cup to the championship, and was still reeling from three days celebrating with Howard Kendall.
But West Ham had impressed with their smart, precise play, and revenge would come the following season. They weren't quite ready when the teams first met, United three games into a ten-match winning run – the second best opening streak in top division history. But at Sheffield Wednesday in November came their first defeat, a game in which Bryan Robson also got injured, and though they were still clear at Christmas, their lead was down from ten points to four. Then, a deal was agreed in the new year to sell Mark Hughes to Barcelona, his form suffered, and the mid-season addition of the ineptitude twins, Colin and Littleterry Gibson, served only to compound matters – momentum was gone.
Robson returned for a cup tie at Sunderland, getting himself sent-off, but United won the replay, losing Strachan to injury instead. The next weekend, the first in February, they visited the Boleyn, two points off the top but with two games in hand on the leaders.
West Ham, meanwhile, had long since deduced the relationship of what to what. Since the teams' last meeting, they'd lost only twice, and compiled a run of 12 wins in 14 games between the middles of September and December. In the summer, Frank McAvennie had arrived from St Mirren, and when an injury to Paul Goddard forced John Lyall to move him up front, he formed a partnership with Tony Cottee that became the most deadly in the division - and earned him an appearance on Wogan. But equally important was the return of Alan Devonshire, whose intellect supplied a sizeable chunk of the goals that took them to fifth in the table – eight points off the lead, but with three games in hand.
The game was a Big Match Sunday afternoon bonus, and the teams were dressed for the occasion in jerseys to acquaint frisson with strides. The home side wore suggestive claret punctuated with pinstriped blue hoops, United the purest, most improper white, adorned with lascivious black shoulder braces and delectable red numbers.
And they played as they looked, the game a classic of the era. After 26 minutes of exchanges, United took the lead, Hughes lifting a through-ball over Steve Walford, directly into the path of Robson – tanking towards the box for no reason other than it being the perfect thing to be doing. He then lobbed an expert's finish over Phil Parkes, one of several varieties of goal that were typical of him.
But, halfway through the second half, with United comfortable, Devonshire – disguised as Frank Zappa – teed up Mark Ward. Just outside the right corner of the box, ball tottering along the turf, he spanked it first time and low across Bailey into the corner, for an excellent goal.
United looked set to retaliate immediately – and then Robson departed with jiggered ankle. Shortly afterwards, Whiteside sliced into Cottee's path, Bailey charged out for no reason, and the ball was slotted by him, United's entire decade distilled into seven minutes.
A month later, the teams reconvened for a midweek Cup date, producing yet another superb game. Robson was back – for three minutes and until he dislocated his shoulder, the image of Jim McGregor leading him off a standard of the time. McAvennie opened the scoring, but Frank Stapleton's brilliant header earned a replay – just as well, given the standard of the reverse kits.
Back that weekend at a typically rutted Old Trafford, United dominated. But an excellent display from Parkes was furnished with an edge-of-the-box header from Geoff Pike – given his name, who else could he play for? – and a Ray Stewart penalty. The holders were out.
In typical West Ham style, West Ham lost the quarter-final, played three days later, and their next two league games as well. But a run of 11 wins in 13 games kept them in the title race until its final day, and in the event they came third, their highest ever finish – before, in typical West Ham style, they slipped to 15th the following season.
In typical United style, United sputtered to fourth place, then won only two of their first 13 on the resumption, eventually sacking Ron Atkinson. Alex Ferguson was appointed in his stead, and typical United style soon became something else: disappointment without attacking football or the tantalising prospect of glory and success. And then it became something very different altogether. DH
Thanks to Naj Armanazi, Roy Cavanagh, Trevor Collier, Paddy Crerand, Vic Grady, Warren Heyman, and Carl Thompson.