Sunderland’s Twelve Days of Christmas: 12+1 Manchester United

Jake: 18 years on
Jake: 18 years on

First of all, massive apologies to Pete Sixsmith, who intended his excellent series to end yesterday, the anniversary of his last chosen game. It was delayed not to coincide with tonight’s Capital One cup semi versus the same opposition, Man Utd, but by simple incompetence. Perhaps we were thrown by his decision to make the 12 Days a baker’s dozen …

See the full series here:

13. 06/01/96 Manchester United FA Cup Third Round (a) Drew 2-2

I couldn’t let this one go and anyway, January 6 is the Feast of the Three Kings across parts of Europe and presents are being opened in Spain and Greece by eager children who have had to sit and look at the bloody things as they sat under the tree for 12 days. No wonder stoicism came from the Greeks.

This was a corker of a game, a real FA Cup tie in the days when the FA Cup Third Round was still an important date in the football calendar. Most managers could be bothered with it as it guaranteed a place in Europe and it gave improving clubs like ours an opportunity to show just what we could do.

It was a sizzling draw, played in front of a 41,563 crowd – these were the days when United fans didn’t have to buy their seats for cup ties – which included 7,000 Sunderland fans who knew that the club was on one of its up periods.

Peter Reid had put together a good, solid Division One side and we were sitting in second place after a disappointing 1-3 defeat at Derby on the 28th December. The cup tie had whetted appetites as Sunderland fans looked forward to a prosperous 1996 and a first taste of the Premier League.

Five of us drove to the game and drank in a couple of manky pubs on the way into Manchester. Old Trafford was not yet the behemoth it has now become; there were no trams and the sites at Salford had not yet been developed. I think that we parked somewhere on the Trafford Park Industrial Estate and walked to the ground.

They put us in the Scoreboard End and there was a real unity amongst the support, something that I have not seen since the last promotion campaign under Roy Keane. Away crowds are always more intense than home crowds. I rarely sing at home games but have been known to exercise the old tonsils on the away terraces. I did on this day as did the other 6,999 Mackems present.

The team was Chamberlain; Kubicki, Ord, Melville, Scott; Kelly, Bracewell, Ball, Gray (Michael); Gray (P), Russell. Subs; Howey, Agnew, Smith. There are some decent players there. Darius Kubicki was our first and so far only Polish player, a solid and dependable right full back who never let the club down in the four years he spent at Roker Park. Craig Russell was never going to be a top class striker, but his SAFC roots and his infectious grin commended him to fans, while Kevin Ball had won the fans over with his solid performances and fist pumping antics.

United fielded a strong side, including two future Sunderland managers. Steve Bruce (booed throughout because of his Geordie Roots) made up a back four with Irwin, Neville (G) and Pallister (booed throughout for his Teesside Roots), while in midfield Roy Keane (booed throughout for his Cork Roots) was allied with Butt, Giggs and Beckham (booed throughout because of his London roots). Up front were future Sunderland star Andy Cole and Eric Cantona who we turned down the previous year, preferring Brett Angell instead – or at least that is what I was told by the man who knew the woman who lived next door to the man whose brother drove a taxi in Sunderland.

The goalkeeper was Kevin Pilkington, a journeyman pro who had the misfortune to understudy Peter Schmeichel. We had a PE teacher at school at that time, a sprightly little filly who had the Head of PE in a real tizz and she had taught “Pilks” (her name for him, not mine) when he was at Secondary school in the 80’s. He didn’t have a great game against us but he has had a decent career and now, at the age of 39, he is the goalkeeping coach at Notts County, a club where he made almost 150 appearances.

United took the lead through Nicky Butt as we struggled to contain them, but whatever Reid said in the dressing room at half time, it worked. Steve Agnew replaced Phil Gray and, after Craig Russell had levelled, the balding Barnsleyman put us ahead. A famous win was on the card as the gallant 7,000 roared us home.

Alas, it was not to be as once again, Sunderland failed to close a game out. Alec Chamberlain, nice guy and now coaching Watford’s keepers, dropped a cross and Cantona scored a goal as prosaic as his goal 11 months later was magnificent. Disappointment amongst the faithful, but a splendid trip home, including seeing a Mag driving his car near Bolton alongside our car and 27 Sunderland coaches. He looked worried.

Of course, we lost the replay, despite taking the lead through Phil Gray, but we did win promotion at the end of the season in which was probably the most satisfying promotion I have seen. Not a team of stars, but a group of players who bought in to the philosophy of “win or lose, we’re on the booze”, that Reid and Bobby Saxton brought in to Roker.

Hopefully, by the time you read this, we will have negotiated the potential Carlisle banana skin (above Sheffield United in the league) and will be preparing to frighten the pants of United again – but don’t put your mortgage on either (Pete of little faith – ed).

* See the SAFC v NUFC ‘Who are You?’ at

'Busby MUFC' with son
‘Busby MUFC’ with son


Salut! Sunderland:
The links between our clubs have thinned with the departures of Keane and Bruce, and some of the players they and predecessors had at their disposal. Any vivid memories of those we still have (Wes Brown – our best defender when fit – John O’Shea or Phil Bardsley)?

Busby MUFC:

He’s big, he’s bad, he’s Wesley Brown…! I do miss Wesley’s crunching challenges. Sir Alex once described him as the best natural defender in the country and he certainly showed why he was rated that highly in the 2007/8 season when we won the Champions League. I’m not completely blinkered; I know he wasn’t actually the best defender in the league but he was very good. He was also unforgiving in the challenge and would regularly leave strikers in a crumpled heap! I used to love watching that.

It’s a running theme through some of my favourite players that they do that; Robson, Keane & even Cantona weren’t ever afraid to get stuck in (sometimes illegally) and I think someone like Chris Smalling could learn a thing or two from Brown.

** And guess the score at

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