It had been two-and-a-half years since the last Manchester derby, but eight long years since City fans had enjoyed a victory over United...
United had splashed the cash in the summer, with Danny Wallace, Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, and Paul Ince all arriving for big money as Alex Ferguson attempted to rebuild a side that hadn’t won the league for 23 years.
City had won promotion on the final day of the previous campaign and had signed Ian Bishop and Clive Allen in a bid to avoid a third relegation in seven years, but there was no doubt who the favourites to win this game were.
City had four points from a possible 18 and were languishing near the foot of the table, while United were faring a little better on seven points from six games – but the pressure on Ferguson was growing.
“The build-up in the media was all about United as I recall,” says Bishop, who had been signed from Bournemouth. “About the money they’d spent and about the pressure on them and the fact that Bryan Robson was injured, but we didn’t buy into it at all.
We weren’t expected to do much by the media, but we didn’t think along those lines at all – we hadn’t started well that season, but we had played some good football and I had full confidence in what we were doing and so did Mel.
“One of the biggest things for me was that Neil McNab was injured, because he’d been big help to me since I arrived and really helped me on the pitch. He was one of the funniest and silliest characters we had a great oi have around.”
Manager Mel Machin was building his team around the Class of ’87 – the FA Youth Cup-winning squad that was full of homegrown talent and had yielded six first team regulars who were all around 20 years-old.
Machin had one or two experienced heads in his squad but was perhaps lacking strength in depth.
For most of his Manchester-born youngsters, this was their first senior derby, though Paul Lake, one of the most gifted City midfielders to emerge in decades, had enjoyed a taste of beating the Reds.
“I played in a pre-season game at Old Trafford – a testimonial and we beat them 2-0 and that was my first experience of a Manchester derby,” said Lake. £I’d played through the age groups against United from 16 onwards, for the reserves and the FA Youth Cup final but never played in a senior game against them up to that point.
“I was living in Haughton Green in Denton with my parents at the time and in the days before there were plenty of people wanting to chat about the game – some putting thumbs up and some putting two fingers up!
“Everyone is a Blue in my family and we’ve always known how important the derby is, especially at that time when our only successes had really been winning the FA youth Cup, getting promoted from the Second Division and then holding our own in the First Division – if you had a bit of a cup run, that was an OK season – other than that, the main event was the Manchester derby which was hugely significant for our season.”
Andy Hinchliffe was a thoroughbred of a left-back, blessed with a left foot that could deliver 70-yard passes to feet and an attacking, energetic nature to his game. Like Lake, he was a boyhood City fan who was champing at the bit to face the old enemy.
"Our only successes had really been winning the FA Youth Cup, getting promoted from the Second Division and then holding our own in the First Division – if you had a bit of a cup run, that was an OK season – other than that, the main event was the Manchester derby which was hugely significant for our season."
“We weren’t fazed and were excited about the game,” said Hinchcliffe. “For those of us who had come through the ranks, we’d played United quite a few times at youth level and beaten them and we wanted to repeat that at senior level. I wasn’t nervous at all; I don’t think any of us were because we were playing with a bunch of mates.
“Maybe I should have been, being a Manchester lad and it being my first major derby, but I felt great and was just looking forward to playing. I think Mel Machin was trying to get a blend of experience alongside the players who had come through the youth team and helped us win promotion. You couldn’t just have a bunch of young players and hope that you could survive – football isn’t like that – so we had Paul Cooper, Neil McNab, Clive Allen, Brian Gayle that complimented the young talent that we had. We didn’t have a big squad so once we knew that Neil and Clive were out, we didn’t have a vast squad so it was fairly obvious who was going to play.”
Ian Brightwell could run all day. A versatile youngster, he was the son of Olympic runners Robbie Brightwell and Anne Packer and he, too, was a fantastic athlete. He was yet another boyhood Blue, living the dream of playing for the club he loved.
“There were six of us who had grown up together since the age of 11 in the squad that day,” recalled Brightwell. “There was me, Steve Redmond, Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, David White, and Jason Beckford and as a City player and fan, playing United at Maine Road was a dream come true.
“I’d played in a couple of derbies before in 1986/87 but most of the lads hadn’t. We’d played together in the Second Division for a couple of years but there hadn’t been a Manchester derby since 1987 so the build-up and anticipation was huge."
"The focus was on all United ahead of the game.."
“We hadn’t been doing particularly well in the run up to the game, but neither had United. The talk in the Evening News and the national papers was all about the derby and I just wanted to get out there and play. United had signed some big money players, but it was a bonus that Robson was injured for that game. They had plenty of internationals in their starting line-up and there was no doubt we were going into the game as the underdogs, but that suited us because we felt we had nothing to lose.
“Mel was an excellent coach, but as managers go, he wasn’t particularly vocal. Tony was the first team coach and he was one who spoke more and as he’d been our youth team coach; we knew what he expected of us. I don’t recall us practising and set-pieces or tactics for the game in training that week, it was more little bits of advice from Tony as we were getting changed before the game. He told me just to get up and down the pitch as much as possible – fairly simply instructions!”
Lake believes it was the youngsters who took the lead in many ways on the day of the game.
He said: “Playing United was something to really get excited about and the fact that so many of us had come through the youth team, it felt extra special because we were all working for each other and looking back, ahead of a game like that, it would usually be the more experienced players who would hold the changing rooms and managed things. They would talk to us and get us focused, but we were missing some big characters like Neil McNab, Andy Dibble and Clive Allen so it felt like the youngsters who were right at it and hyped up ahead of the game.”
Maine Road was fit to bursting as the teams prepared to come out, but what nobody could have predicted was the events in the North Stand that were about to unfurl.
“It was a lovely September day with bright sunshine and blue skies as we ran out,” remembered Brightwell.
“It was a fast and furious start but we could see fighting in the North Stand and they started spilling on to the pitch. They weren’t invading, but there were problems and it turned out maybe a hundred or so United fans had got tickets among our supporters so the police started escorting then around the pitch and into the Platt Lane end.”
Ian Bishop was tasting his first major derby. The classy midfield playmaker had quickly become a terrace idol – not least for nutmegging Paul Gascoigne against Spurs a few weeks before with the gifted England star in his pomp at the time.
The Liverpool-born Bishop was only 24 but had to work his way back up the football ladder after playing just one game for Everton and then playing for Crewe, Carlisle, and Bournemouth. City had paid the Cherries £465,000 for his services, with Paul Moulden going in the opposite direction.
“I was nervous beforehand, but only until we started the game and was fine after that,” admitted Bishop. “In those first few minutes, you get an idea of how the game is going to be and they had started at a really high tempo that I thought we might struggle to keep up with, but of course, then we had to come off and while I don’t condone what the United fans did in the North Stand, I’ve no doubt that it worked in our favour. It gave us a few minutes to catch our breath and in a strange way, it took our minds off the task in hand.
“We had time to collect our thoughts and when we restarted, things were different.”
The crowd disturbances gave the referee no option but to take the players back to the safety of the dressing rooms. The North Stand was largely for families and was only for City supporters, so when it became clear a large group of United fans had somehow attained a block of tickets, it didn’t go down too well with those sat around them and fighting broke out.
But as the teams left the pitch, Tony Book was stood by the head tennis gym halfway down the tunnel and he wasn’t about to let the players go back and sit down.
"Whereas the United players went back to their changing room, Tony directed us to the gym where he told us to keep warm and got us doing little passing drills and short sharp movements to keep us on our toes, so by the time we went back out – maybe after five or so minutes – we were pumped up and ready to go and that was down to Tony. It made a huge difference.”
Lake added: “Tony said, ‘Come on, you’ve been preparing for this game all your life.’ Talking with him helped to calm us down and when we went back out, we had so much energy and were winning all the second balls, every tackle and we took the game to United.”
It seemed the delay certainly knocked United out of their stride – or did it simply gee up City who tapped into the tinderbox atmosphere better than the Reds?
“It’s impossible to speculate that if the crowd trouble and pause in play hadn’t happened, would things have been different?” opined Hinchcliffe. “We weren’t getting overrun before we went off the pitch and I don’t think you could say it spoiled their flow or momentum because I think we’d only played six or seven minutes. We didn’t want to stop – why would you when you just want to get on with it? I’ve not met any United fans who felt that way over the years.”
It didn’t matter whether the fighting did disrupt United’s game plan or not, because City went 2-0 up with a couple of goals inside three minutes shortly after the restart.
“Mel never said that we should slow things down or take the sting out of the game – we just took the game to them,” said Bishop. “For the first goal, Hinchy took a quick free-kick and pinged a ball out 60 or 70 yards – as he could - to Dave White and that sort of sent the tempo for us – that ‘let’s get on with it’ type of attitude and when Whitey was on the ball, things usually happened and though it wasn’t his best cross, but it wrong-footed Pallister and Dave Oldfield scored. We knew there was a long way to go so we just got in their faces straight from kick-off and a couple of minutes later, we scored again. Jim Leighton made a good save from Lakey and Trev dived in to make it 2-0 and while it wasn’t the best goal he ever scored; it was one of the most important.”
“We hit them with two quick goals – it was a classic one-two punch and they were on the ropes.”
United rallied somewhat, looking for the goal that would get them back in the game, but City held firm and, when a Reds attack broke down, they were punished by a devastating counter-attack that would lift the roof off Maine Road.
“It was funny, I hardly ever scored headers but I had scored one at Maine Road a few years before when I was playing for Carlisle United against City,” said Bishop. “At 2-0, they were still coming at us and I remember Steve Redmond intercepting a ball on the edge of our own box and I was alongside him when he did. He played a ball down the line to Oldfield and just got a toe to go around Pallister and I kept running forward and had Paul Ince tracking me – I thought, if I can keep him behind me I’ve got a chance so when he sped up, I did and when I slowed up, so did he.
“As the ball came into the box I thought ‘I’m gonna get this’ so as I went to meet it, I could see Jim Leighton coming out and I knew I was going to get clattered, so I braced myself as I headed it and didn’t see where it went. After we collided, I rolled away and realised I wasn’t hurt and looked up, saw the ball was in the net and then I started running away celebrating.
Looking back, I can’t believe how far I ran and I think that fact that I dived for the ball was as much as me falling over after covering that distance more than anything!
“At half-time, we knew it wasn’t over by a long way, but we also knew it was ours for the talking.“
“When Bish’s goal went in and the way we scored the others, there was an element of ‘Is this really happening?’ ,” said Hinchcliffe. “But the fact was we were 3-0 up and it wasn’t a case of ‘Oh my god, we’re three goals up’ – it was like, yeah, we deserve to be 3-0 up.”
Lake just wanted it to be full-time and was wary of a United comeback. With players like Mark Hughes and Brian McClair on the pitch, it wasn’t over.
“I remembered something Johan Cruyff said about when Holland scored after two minutes in the 1974 World Cup final against West Germany and the feeling the Dutch players had of wanting the game to be over there and then, and that’s how we felt,” he said. “The Germans won that game 2-1, but it stuck in my mind.”
He was right to be cautious.
“Three up at half-time, it was incredible but when Mark Hughes pulled one back after five minutes of the second-half, we were a little edgy because we had blown a 3-0 lead against Bournemouth at the end of the season before,” said Brightwell.
“There were one or two looks between us about how we were going to manage the game. United had a couple of chances after that, too,” added Lake.
But it would be Lake who ended United’s hopes shortly after, with a goal that he believes would today have never been allowed…
“There was a bit of good fortune about our fourth goal because all the Reds claimed the ball hit my hand and shouldn’t have stood – it ricocheted up and did brush my hand and today, VAR would have disallowed it, I’m sure – so I had to play it cool and by squaring it to David Oldfield who then scored the goal to make it 4-1,” he said.
“In my mind, it was a sure-fire way of guaranteeing it wasn’t disallowed. With that three goal advantage again, we were never going to lose from there.”
City fans were in dreamland, their team, full of local lads who were playing for the club they had supported and loved, thrashing United’s expensively assembled squad, and piling pressure on their beleaguered manager. It surely didn’t get any better than this – but not long after, it did as a three-pass move ended with Hinchcliffe burying a powerful header past Leighton to make it 5-1.
“Our fifth goal was the pièce de résistance. If that goal was scored today, they’d call it world class – it was just incredible.”
Hinchcliffe admits it was the highlight of a distinguished career…
“People have said to me over the years that I didn’t score another header and I always tell them I don’t care, because if I only ever got to score one headed goal, I would have chosen that one,” he said. “It wasn’t just about me, that goal – it was the way Bish checked back and then floated that ball out to David White on the right and then the way he put a first time ball into the box – something he wouldn’t normally do – and how many times does a left-back get that far forward?
“I never scored another goal like it and to get from the halfway line to the back of Jim Leighton’s net in three touches is like fantasy football… PlayStation stuff. Bish is the only one who you’d expect to do what he did in that move because of his ability to do stuff like that, but as for Whitey and me, if anyone asked why we did what we did, we’d both answer, ‘No idea!’ It was just instinct. Normally, he wouldn’t hit a half volley cross like that and 99 times out of a 100, I’d have chested the ball down and hit it with my left foot. I can’t explain it, but I’m glad I did! Clive Tyldesley’s commentary for ITV where he said, “He’s the left-back, remember!” compliments the goal perfectly.”
Bishop, who started the move said: “Whitey was always there and as a midfielder, to know you could stick a ball in behind the full-back and he’d be there was fantastic, but I didn’t envisage what he was going to do our that Hinchy was going to do what he did. I played a little one-two with Trev on the halfway line and there was no way I was going to break quickly, so I checked back and then played a ball out to the right, Whitey crossed it first time and Hinchy must have thought ‘Sod it – I want in on this!’ and he heads it in. It was the pass, the cross, the header and the fact it went straight into the top corner, it was just a wonderful goal. And the celebration afterwards with Hinchy running along the Kippax with his hand up saying ‘five, five’… that’s one of my favourite photographs. It was the icing on the cake.”
Brightwell added: “I honestly think that was one of the best goals ever scored in a Manchester derby. It was a special goal on a very special day. At that point I finally thought there was no way back for United and the celebrations started and the City fans were fantastic and could really enjoy that last 20 minutes or so. Alex Ferguson was under real pressure at the time and there were even suggestions he might be sacked – but they recovered pretty well after that, I suppose!”
The elated Hinchcliffe – who scored direct from a corner for City against Shrewsbury Town 10 months earlier – admits that he had a slight tinge of regret on the final whistle, sensing an historic opportunity might have been missed.
“At the end of the game, we we’d won 5-1 but there had been about 20 minutes to play after I got the fifth and there was a slight feeling of disappointment that we hadn’t gone on and scored six or seven – that was our nature. It was crazy that things went so well that day."
For the exhausted Lake, it was more about a release of pressure on the final whistle. He said: “I was one of those players who was always driven by fear of failure, so it was more of a relief rather than celebration and I just felt drained. There was the expectations of not being beaten and then the management of keeping the lead. They had much experience in their team though they had a few key players out like Robson, Webb and Bruce and you can’t paper over that. They are a difficult trio to replace, but they still had some very good, experienced players playing that day.
“Eventually, it sinks in that you’ve not only beaten your biggest rivals, but we had thumped them and played really good football, too – and all my mates were in the team and it just felt such a special occasion.”
For the jubilant City players, there was to be no party or painting the town red, pardon the pun. The supporters would do that – and did – but the players each went their own way after the match.
“I didn’t go out in Manchester that night, I went back to Liverpool and watched the game on Match of the Day in a social club with my dad, Bob,” recalled Bishop. “I might have missed out on a good night, but in hindsight, I’m glad I did because he was in there with all his mates – the proud dad and everything – and he hadn’t expected me to come so it was nice. So there I was with all these 60 and 70 year-olds watching the game, but now he has passed away, I look back on it and I’m glad we shared that time.”
And Paul Lake headed out of the city on a prior engagement…
“I’d arranged to go with my girlfriend to a family party in Blackpool that night, and it wasn’t because I thought that if we’d lost, I would need to get out of the way – it’s just how it fell,” he said. “So, instead of being in Manchester celebrating, I was eating rock and walking on the seafront in Blackpool. The following day, it was like there was nobody around and there was tumbleweed blowing as I went to buy every newspaper I could from the local shop!”
Bishop, Brightwell, Lake and Hinchcliffe all watch the game every now and then on YouTube, DVD or wherever they can find it.
They all believe they were part of something very special, that bright and sunny autumnal afternoon in 1989 and for those who witnessed it – including the author of the piece – and they are right. It was a game where everything went right for once and the doldrums of a forgettable decade were forgotten in an instant.
“Watching back and seeing the City fans and their reaction is spine-tingling, because you don’t get many games like that,” said Hinchcliffe. “The noise that day was incredible, and I don’t think the FA Cup final I played with Everton was that noisy or memorable for me as the ’89 derby. Wembley was great, playing for England was great, but being a Manchester lad, that meant more and is the standout game of my career and if I could relive one game from all the matches – you just don’t get experiences like that as a 20 year-old kid.
“It was just a moment in time. Being a City fan and having grown up watching them, playing for them and then being able to run along the Kippax holding four fingers and a thumb up to indicate our fifth was such a wonderful connection. I was the fan in the stands and now I was the player on the pitch and we all just watched it unfold together. Whenever fans ask for selfies or a picture, they want me to hold my hand up the way I did to celebrate that day and long after I’m gone, that moment will be remembered, probably even more than the goal.
"That connection will never be broken because it took the fans onto the pitch with us and in that moment, they knew I knew what it meant to be a City player and to score against United.”
Lake, too, believes it was a day no City fan will ever forget…
“Now, when I watch it back, it is the reaction of the fans that really resonates,” he said. “It evokes a lot of happy memories of Maine Road and how it was back then. It was also a sort of passing the baton on from the sides that played before us because it had been instilled in us just how important the Manchester derby was and I think we also passed the shirt on in a way to the players who are wearing it. We did our bit that day.
“We’ve enjoyed some incredible moments over the past decade and beating United 5-1 back in 1989 can’t be compared to any of that, but back then, for many City fans and families, it’s still a very powerful and happy memory to have because there wasn’t much else to shout about back then. It was a game of the time and a special day for us. It’s something that we can reflect on and something I’m very proud t have been part of.”
Hinchcliffe, now a successful commentator on Sky Sports has the final word on the matter.
“It’s funny,” he said. “In 2011, I commentated on the 6-1 win at Old Trafford where Edin Dzeko stole my thunder a bit when he put up five digits on one hand a one on the other to indicate the sixth goal.
“As I was climbing down the gantry, one of the crew – a big City fan – said that nobody would think about my celebration from ’89 after that, but I don’t think six works as well as five. There’s something symbolic in it… but that’s just my take on it!”
With thanks to Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Ian Brightwell and Ian Bishop.
'Match of the Season' was written by David Clayton and designed by Simon Thorley.