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Published: 22 June 2000


by MUTV MasterFan Paul Hinson

One of the most exciting moments of the close season is the publication of the provisional fixture list. Note, I say provisional, once upon a time the Football League released match dates that were cast in stone, rigid, unmovable, even with end-of-season fixture pile-ups. Now the TV money talks loudest....The Dell on a Monday night, just what a Red looks forward to with work responsibilties hijacked for Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning!

So you scan your teams games, and for a supporter with a family it is a nervous persusal. You work out whether the promised family holiday can be still fitted into August, are we at home on our partners Birthday? Boxing Day? Our Anniverary? For the single person the fixture list is looked at differently, looking at the Away trips more readily, calculating the expense, noting the European dates.

As a United fan, you look at the Liverpool games, then seeing as our neighbours have returned to the Premiership, when are we playing City? And the run-in. Having been spoilt with success in recent years, the mind tends to look at Middlesbrough away and Souuthampton away in April and wonder, will history repeat itself, and the title be wrapped up there? Other clubs will be anxiously looking at when they have to travel to Manchester 16, can they pack the midfield, defence, or have a go?

Apart from the familiar environment of Maine Road, we have Portman Road and the Valley on our schedule once again. No Blue will ever forget the 5-1 mirage from 1989, and no Red there will either. I prefer, naturally, other sweeter memories. Steve Coppell being the only one to stay on his feet on an icy pitch and hammering two goals in back in the late-70's, and that remarkable comeback from two down in 1993, Eric masterminding operations and then Keano grabbing the winner.

The Valley isn't a regular haunt for post-war Reds, certainly not for those under 40 years of age. I do recall that awful, wretched Sunday afternoon in 1999, when in the dying seconds Dwight Yorke nodded in to break an endless deadlock, and Fergie's first visit in 1987 resulting in another dull contest.

Ipswich, as all away venues, has seen United blow hot and cold. That painful 6-0 drubbing in 1980, with Gary Bailey saving two penalties, whilst Jovanovic went walkabout. Schmeichels attempted hack away gifting a goal in 1993. Happier times in the sun in May 1994, as we won 2-1 and virtually wrapped up the second Premiership title. Portman Road is the first Away this time, I always prefer to play Promoted clubs later in the season, when the initial enthusiasm, freshness and spirit has been diluted by a few defeats and realism has begun to sink in.

The whole campaign starts off with Newcastles visit to Old Trafford in August. This brings to mind a story.

Back in 1984, I was dating a Geordie girl, who I had met on Holiday in July. The Barcodes visit in September coincided with my Birthday, so we agreed that I would take her to see her first live match. I even got her a mention in the United Review, something along the lines of "Keen Geordie coming to see her team, and boyfriend hoping to convert her allegience."

Well, the weekend was a great one, but the match itself wasn't quite what I expected. Having settled into our seats in the North Stand, a perfect view, too perfect as it turned out, within a few minutes of the start, Gordon Strachan had danced around the keeper and scored the first goal. I looked at her and she shrugged her shoulders and kissed me. 1-0, fair enough, maybe we'll win but narrowly?

Not a chance. Strachan converted a penalty, Remi Moses pounced inside the box after a combination of slick one-twos, Mark Hughes hammered another in after out-muscling the Centre Half, and Jesper Olsen slid in a fifth from close range.

5-0. United humiliating the visitors. She just sat there and suffered. Poor girl. Wouldn't forget her visit to Old Trafford in a hurry. At least Olsen was one of her favourite players. That relationship was always fated not to last....

www.red11.org StatMan Paul Hinson

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