Date: Saturday 17th August, 1996
Manchester United: 3 (Cantona, Irwin, Beckham)
The man with the long blonde Brylcreem locks looked up and elegantly clipped the ball over Neil Sullivan’s head and into the Wimbledon keeper’s net, from just a yard inside the United half. A goal which would catapult David Beckham into superstar status.
Opening day games can be quite turgid affairs. Teams with no form or new signings still bedding in can be either a hit or a miss. United, having recently beaten Newcastle United 4-0 in the charity shield, opened up their Premier League campaign at Selhurst Park. Wimbledon were the hosts, not Crystal Palace, as their mid 90’s ground share was still in full swing. An attendance of over 25,000 (mainly United fans) was sat on a summers day, waiting to be entertained.
As Roy Keane put it “a stroll in the sun” as that was exactly what it was for the reigning champions. Keane was beginning to show why Sir Alex Ferguson was right to let Paul Ince leave the club. Keane gave Vinnie Jones the run around that day. Starting with the opening goal for Eric Cantona. Keane leaving Jones in his wake, bursting down the right wing, his cross being half cleared and finding its way to Cantona, before the Frenchman fired a vicious strike past the hapless Sullivan.
United were looking to swat away their rivals before the league had even got underway. The Irishman was again in the thick of the action, this time sliding the ball through the inside right channel, into the run of fellow emerald Islander, Denis Irwin. Irwin tricked the opposition keeper by giving him the eyes. Sullivan, expecting Irwin to whip a cross across his six-yard box, took half a step to his right, just ever so slightly away from his near post and Irwin made sure he paid the price. Irwin lashed the ball past Sullivan, beating him at the inside of his near post. United cruising to an opening day victory.
The legendary Johan Cruyff’s son, Jordi, had been signed during the summer. Coming on to make his debut, Cruyff took no time in looking to make an entrance. Noticing Neil Sullivan slightly off his line, Cruyff decided to take a pot shot from the halfway line. His shot, had it been on target, would have sailed into the net. Unfortunately for the young Dutchman, it sailed over the keeper’s head and into the stand.
With the game ticking into the 90th minute, Efan Ekoku was dispossessed by another United new boy, Ronny Johnsen. The ball squirming loose to Brian McClair whose toe-poke rolled towards David Beckham. Beckham, sizing up the effort in front of him, took aim and fired an outrageous attempt over Sullivan’s head and into the Wimbledon goal. The way that Beckham struck the ball was like how an artist would caress his paint on the canvass of a masterpiece.
Beckham had taken notice of Cruyff’s effort and decided he could go one better and oh my did he do that! The rumours are that it was the first game in which Beckham had decided to use the now infamous Adidas Predator boot.
United went on to win 3-0. A fine opening day performance. David Beckham, on the other hand, had just introduced himself to the whole world. I wonder whatever happened to him?
Sullivan, Cunningham, McAllister, Perry, Gayle, Thatcher, Jones, Earle, Leonhardsen, Clarke, Holdsworth
Schmeichel, May, Irwin, Pallister, Neville P, Beckham, Butt, Cruyff, Keane, Scholes, Cantona