It’s a big event in the world of football when one title challenger goes to the home of another and beats them six goals to one. It has a seismic effect, as the rest of the league shifts uneasily and tries to decide what such a scoreline can mean. A football club’s reputation lies in tatters, while another commands a new respect. And, in the Ferguson household, another nerve ending dies in a crusty, bulbous nose.
It always happens to him, doesn’t it? He’s supposed to be the best, but it always happens to him. As the Manchester derby result escalated from eye-brow raising, to stunning, to downright embarrassing, the blame was all on Ferguson. City’s win was the kind of 6-1 that says, ‘Not this year, old man.’ As the empty wine bottles rolled across the living room floor, and as he cut his son’s moaning short by yelling, ‘You think your weekend was bad?’ and throwing the phone at the wall, you wonder if that 6-1 was Ferguson’s madeleine moment, if it sent his mind hurtling twenty years back to a Sunday afternoon in 1992.
Much like in the derby, Ferguson that day was an impotent spectator. His side had beaten Everton the day before, but the bigger match was saved for Sunday and television: Leeds, in second place, faced Sheffield Wednesday, who were storming into the title race, at Hillsborough,
Leeds didn’t even have their best team out. Batty was suspended and replaced by Hodge; Strachan was injured so Wallace went to the right and Shutt played upfront. It made no difference. Neither did Gordon Watson’s criminal dive or John Sheridan’s subsequent penalty that made it 2-1..
Chapman had already opened the scoring with a sniffed goal, and Tony Dorigo had added a sublime free kick past England goalkeeper Chris Woods. Chapman got an elegant second with a trademark vertical diving header – strikers just don’t score goals that way anymore – after Lukic passed to Dorigo who passed to Speed; and Chappy nodded his hat trick early in the second half. On came Mike Whitlow to make it five with another header, and then Wallace burst through the demoralised defence for 6-1. Six!
Chapman had quite a day, apart from the hat-trick. In the first half he got the ball on the touchline, dribbled and swerved past three defenders like a six-foot Maradona, and cracked a dipping shot against the bar. When a buxom basque-wearing blonde invaded the pitch, Chappy was straight over for a word. He’d used to play for Wednesday, of course. I bet he’s still got the match ball and the champagne.
You can imagine the reaction in a stained armchair on the other side of the Pennines, the sizzling face of the man Howard Wilkinson was quietly beating to the League Championship; but the moment I always treasure from this game belonged to Howard. As Leeds players’ celebrated their fourth, the camera cut to Wilkinson. He would later face a FA ban for his reaction to Watson’s dive, but now he leaned against the dugout with his hands deep in the pockets of his Umbro benchcoat, and his face took on an expression simultaneously smug, satisfied, and zen. Wilko is a man with a taste for the finer pleasures, and this was one. This was six-one.
From The Square Ball magazine 2011/12 issue four.