On Sunday afternoon there will be many football fans glued to their TVs in the hope of seeing Manchester United humiliated in front of their own fans by bitter rivals Liverpool. Jürgen Klopp’s men arrive at Old Trafford with a 100 per-cent record so far this season to face a United side that has made its worse start to a campaign for 30 years.
If Ole Gunnar Solskjær is looking for any sort of hope however, he could do worse than to simply wind back those 30 years to New Year’s Day 1989, when an all-conquering Liverpool side faced off against a United XI that contained players drafted in from the youth team to combat a growing injury crisis (sound familiar?)
Ninety pulsating minutes later and the young pups were fast-tracked into Old Trafford folklore, after coming from behind to beat the champions 3-1 in front of a hungover nation watching on live telly.
Here’s what happened to the boys nicknamed “Fergie’s Fledglings”.
The lad from Halesowen was the pin-up boy of Manchester United after bursting onto the scene in the 1988-89 campaign. He played nearly 200 times for United and patented the “Sharpey Shuffle” in honour of his goalscoring exploits during a career spanning eight years.
His love of the bright lights and the burgeoning music scene in the city however, ensured his success at Old Trafford was sporadic rather than meteoric, despite helping the club to three Premier League titles, two FA Cups, a League Cup and Cup Winners Cup.
When “Sharpey” took a young Ryan Giggs under his wing Fergie sensed danger and when he turned up at the player’s house one night in the middle of an impromptu party, Sharpe’s relationship with the gaffer was never the same again after failing to follow Giggs’s example and knock nightclubbing on the head.
He crossed the Pennines to join Leeds in 1996 before injury and off-field activities finally took their toll. Spells at Sampdoria, Bradford, Portsmouth, Exeter, Grindavik and Garforth Town followed, but by the mid-noughties it was all over. Sharpe often pops up on retro footy shows to remind us that he was once a very decent footballer.
May 17 1990 will be forever be remembered as Lee Martin Day, after the left-back scored the winning goal for United in the FA Cup Final replay against Crystal Palace. That was as good as it good for the local boy from Hyde who, like Sharpe, established himself in the starting XI during 1988-89.
Martin was unlucky in some respects when Welsh sex god Clayton “Sunbed” Blackmore made the left-back position his own, as United triumphed against Barcelona in the 1991 Cup Winners Cup Final in Rotterdam. Paul Parker’s arrival in the summer of that year meant that Martin spent more time in the players’ lounge on match days than he did on the pitch and in 1994 he headed to Scotland to join Celtic.
His career took him back south of the border in 1996, but not many people remember his spells with Bristol Rovers, Huddersfield, Glossop North End, Bangor City and Cefn Druids. Martin now works for MUTV.
Beardsmore had already been at Old Trafford for three years when he scored the third goal on that unforgettable night in 1989. The Wigan-born midfielder was so good in that game that match commentator Brian Moore almost spontaneously combusted when the youngster put the game beyond Liverpool’s reach.
Despite promising to set the world alight, Beardsmore’s time at United fizzled out and within two years of scoring that goal he was shipped out on-loan to Blackburn Rovers, who were still playing on a farmer’s field during this time and reminiscing about their glory years in the early 1900s. To his credit, Beardsmore forged out a decent playing career on the south-coast after joining Bournemouth in 1993, spending five years there and making over 200 appearances for The Cherries.
After hanging up his boots, Beardsmore joined Bolton Wanderers as Assistant Community Officer before returning to Bournemouth to take up a similar role.
The man who is believed to be responsible for keeping Fergie in a job came on as a substitute for Scottish prankster Gordon Strachan in this game and for the next three seasons he remained an idol of the Stretford End. The goal everyone still talks about is his winner against Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup Third Round at the City Ground in January 1990, which is credited as the moment the club launched their decade of dominance.
Seasoned United fans will of course point to his semi-final replay winner against Oldham as his most important and will be the first to concede that Fergie’s team was still fairly crap around this time despite winning their first domestic gong for five years. At the end of that campaign, only Mark Hughes had scored more goals for the Red Devils, but a dip in form over the next 18 months saw him transferred to Norwich for the start of the Premier League era.
Robins was still finding the back of the net 13 years later after spells with clubs from Leicester to Burton Albion via Denmark, Greece and Spain. Some of the Fergie magic must have rubbed off on the man from Ashton-under-Lyne, however, as Robins continues to forge out a half-decent career as a manager having steered Coventry City to play-off promotion success last season.