Sunday, 28th January 2001
Looking back at the build up to the match, although I refused to acknowledge it at the time, an unstoppable irresistable momentum was built up by players, fans and even the directors of this club that made the result a racing certainty. Think of how you felt when you first heard/saw the draw. Home Team: Manchester United 'please not us, please not us' Away team: West Ham United 'Oh b*llocks we're out of the cup'. How different was that feeling, to the feeling you had when your alarm clock went off at Oh my God O'clock on Sunday morning. From despair to I cannot wait for this to start.
You can see how the whole thing built up. How your heart lifted as the match got nearer, when you found out that we would have 9,000 fans there, when the club laid on the free coaches, when you got your ticket, when you'd sorted your travel arrangements, when Paolo said he'd kill himself if he didn't help West ham win a trophy etc etc. I think the rising excitement transmitted itself through to the players, with the result that while Manchester Utd had 11 players who wanted to win for themselves and 58,000 who were going to watch, we had 11 players who HAD to win for the fans and 9,000 fans who were going to sing and ensure that victory happened by sheer force of will. Nigel Winterburn's clenched fist salute to the away contingent at the end of the first half showed just how much the players were responding to the waves of support that the incredible 9,000 followers were generating.
All this was set against a match for which there was no logical credible way to reason that we could win it. They were the better side, the best in the country. They have a core group of players who'd been together for 4-5 years and won every honour in the game. They have a manager who has virtually eliminated complacency, so that any fired up underdog cannot rely on outworking them. . We hadn't beaten them for nearly a decade, with 11 consecutive losses away, of which the last 3 were slaughters. Against this Harry assembled his £6.5m worth of the elderly, the mentally unstable, the unwanted and a few boys asked to do a man's job. Most of the team have been first team players for West ham for less than a year. We had a goalkeeper plucked from Newcastle's reserves carrying an injury. We had 2 defenders in their late 30's who had lost their places at previous clubs, one of who was not even allocated a squad number. We had 2 loanees with less than a handful of Premiership games between them, one of whom came with the label 'phenomenally unstable'. The other defender was playing his second Hammers game, fresh out of a first divison club's reserves. The two strikers both came having fallen out with their clubs and were not playing for their teams at the time. The midfield, facing the unchallenged might of Roy Keane and his gang were 2 19 year olds and a 22 year old. Even Harry's staunchest supporters thought that taking on Keane and the rest with Cole, Carrick and Lampard was suicide. Ditto playing Cole and Di Canio together, and playing 3 at the back.
Sorry about the pre-amble, but the sheer scale of the task has to be appreciated, in order to undertsand the magnitude of victory. West Ham began with a 352, but with Kanoute playing on his own most of the time and Cole and Di Canio taking on a defensive burden to make the system more solid. Although we started under the cosh, crucially we were competing strongly all over the pitch, harassing their midfield and working man fully to cut off the supply to Beckham and Giggs. Hislop caused the biggest alarms with some highly dubious kicking, and Giggs got free a couple of times, but as the half neared its close belief began to seep into the team and we began to move the ball through midfield extremely well. Off the pitch the visiting fans maintained a barrage of noise which was commented upon favourably in every newspaper report, and sounded fantastic on the TV coverage so I'm told. As half time sounded Winterburn acknowledged the visiting support with a clenched fist, showing how important it was to reach this part of the game still very much in the match.
After half time, Man U took the game to West Ham for about 5 minutes, but then the youthful midfield really began to start playing. At times they bewildered Keane and Butt with some excellent passing and movement, my personal favourite being a cornered and surrounded Cole by the flank releasing Kanoute with a sublime back heel. Kanoute himself began to twist and turn with the ball. For 20 minutes we were the better team, and when the goal came it was deserved. No need to describe the goal, we've all seen it. I remember it as if in slow motion: despite the celebrations I kept expecting Ref Gherkin to disallow the goal. These sorts of things don't happen to West Ham, hell they don't happen to any visiting teams at Old Trafford. I was only truly convinced when Man U took the kick off. 8,999 Hammers fans went totally beserk, running down aisles and hugging total strangers. The other Hammers fan fell to the floor and blubbed his eyes out.
After that it was a case of clinging on, relief and joy unbounded at the whistle. We were kept in the ground for half an hour after the game, most would have probably stayed anyway. The joy on the players faces at the end was fantastic to see, all accompanied by the entirely predictable harrassing of the ref and catalogue of excuses from the losers.
It took 2 days to even begin to come down from the emotion and joy of the day. To be the heroes of all football fans across the land was an incredible experience. It now only remains to place this day alongside those others that will be revered by generations of Hammers over the next few decades, and to hope that this is the start of a journey that ends in Cardiff.
Hislop (10) kicked like a tw*t in the first half, but some important stops and a couple of dominant catch and claims late on.
Dailly (10)Leeds paid £5m a piece for Duberry and Matteo. Spurs paid £5m a piece for Perry and Thatcher. Dailly looks an absolute steal at the money, some great covering and tackles.
Tihinen (10)Hyypia was the defensive player of the year last season, and Hannu looks just as good. Dominant in the air, couple of great clearances off the line.
Pearce (10) How the old warrior must have loved it out there, his sort of game.
Schemmel (10) Might just be the key to getting our 352 to work properly. Defensively sound, combative and useful going forward, we simply must buy him. Phenomenally good, will get better with match fitness.
Winterburn (10) Worked as hard as any trying to subdue Beckham, which he did. Beckham put in no threatening crosses at all, and was made to look limited. One of those players who you absoslutely detested when he was at another club, but his atttitude wins you over within minutes.
Lampard (10) Quality display from Frank, must keep it up now.
Cole (10) Worked immensely hard and covered a huge amount of ground. Looked part of the team in terms of shape, rather than a talented maverick. One of my dreams was always Joe turning it on at Old Trafford in front of would be suitor Sir Alec Ferguson, and this he did. Had Butt chasing shadows at times.
Carrick (10) Awesome, nothing less. Did everything you could ever ask in front of Eriksson. An England call up awaits, and surely the England assault on future championships will be based around Carrick and Gerrard in central midfield.
Di Canio (10) Worked his nuts off. His face was unreal after that goal - unconfounded joy, sheer disbelief, emotion and on the verge of tears all written across that expressive Italian face.
Kanoute (10) Only a consistent finish away from being better than Thierry Henry. Impossible to tackle sometimes, and some quality hold up play as a lone striker.
Redknapp (10) Motivationally and tactically perfect. He'll need to live up to this standard in future......
Match officials (10) What's going on here, you ask, and rightly so. The intimidation, coercion and influencing of referees at Old Trafford has been going on for so long now, and is so entrenched that you just have to accept it. All you can ask is that while annoying free kicks, throw ins etc go against you, when those 2 or 3 game deciding incidents come along the officials stay strong. Had someone described the Di Canio goal beforehand, I would have bet my house that the Gherkin would over-rule his lino and disallow the goal. And, having not done this Gherkin would have known that the full wrath of both players and Sir Alex was heading his way. He could have easily reduced this by giving one of the penalties for handball, but he didn't.
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