By Ian Hine
Despite meeting United five times in the past two years, we have played them just 21 times in our history.
The first encounter was in January 1909 when we travelled to Manchester for an FA Cup first round tie. It was an ill-tempered affair, with United’s Welsh International Billy Meredith receiving his marching orders for lashing out at Albion skipper Tom Stewart.
We had to wait 70 years for our next meeting, a first division fixture that ended in a 2-0 win for United. Albion’s first win came in November 1982, a 1-0 win at The Goldstone with the on-loan Peter Ward scoring the only goal. That was to be our only win until May 2018 when another 1-0 victory secured our Premier League survival.
For this week’s column, I’m going back to September 1992 and a Coca Cola Cup second round tie at The Goldstone. It was a difficult season for Albion, with years of financial troubles finally catching up with the club.
We had started reasonably well in the league and despite the off-field issues, hopes were high that we could bounce straight back after relegation from Division Two. Colchester United had been beaten in the First Round and the draw of Manchester United attracted a crowd of 16,649 to Hove.
Manager Barry Lloyd was relishing the chance of playing against ‘arguably one of the most famous clubs in Europe’. “Tonight’s tie will be a real experience for everyone at the club”, he said in his programme notes. He had been struggling to find a settled line-up and he made a number of changes for the game.
Mark Beeney had been ever-present so far that season and he continued in goal. The back four was made up of Ian Chapman, Gary Chivers, Steve Foster and Paul McCarthy. In midfield, John Crumplin and Clive Walker were paired with Dean Wilkins and Matthew Edwards. Up front, Robert Codner was alongside Andy Kennedy.
United’s team had a familiar ring to it. Gary Bailey was in goal, behind a back four of Lee Martin, Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce and Denis Irwin. In midfield, Paul Ince and Neil Webb anchored things alongside Brian McClair and Andrei Kanchelskis, with Mark Hughes and Danny Wallace up front.
Wallace gave United the lead in the first half, but Albion more then held their own against the team that was starting a period of dominance at the top of English football. The Seagulls continued to take the game to United after the break and got their reward when Matt Edwards equalised.
The game was also notable for a famous substitution. When Kanchelskis was withdrawn, his replacement was a relatively unknown youngster called David Beckham. I wonder what happened to him?
The 1-1 draw was a magnificent result for the Seagulls and over 2,000 fans made the trip to Old Trafford for the second leg. The team couldn’t repeat the heroics of the first match, but gave an excellent account in a narrow 1-0 defeat.
The season continued to play out against a background of financial woes. A winding up order was averted at the last minute, following the sale of Mark Beeney to Leeds United. The £350,000 initial payment was taken direct to the Worthing tax offices in April 1993 and Albion were saved, but it turned out to be a false dawn.
The club was served with another winding up petition in July 1993 and the problems continued until a re-structuring in October 1993 and a further High Court appearance accompanied the arrival of David Bellotti as chief executive. The next four years were dark days for Albion until the arrival of Dick Knight in April 1997.
Those days seem so long ago, as we look at the Premier League table with Albion in eighth position, above Manchester United.
We go into Sunday’s game arguably more confident of getting a result than at any stage in our history. Perhaps it is time for our very first win at Old Trafford and our first away Premier League victory against one of the so-called ‘top-six’.