Manchester United
1999 The Treble


An Archive of the Manchester United 1999 Treble Season.

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THE TREBLE

The treble had been called 'the impossible dream'. It was considered that the demands of English football made it almost impossible for an English club to achieve 'the treble'.

Perhaps history will judge that Manchester United were destined to be the first club to achieve it. Certainly some of the events in the final matches of the season suggested a sense of destiny.  And if any further evidence of destiny is needed, the record books also show that only once before had any team been within reach of the treble. Twenty two years previously, Liverpool needed to win the F.A.Cup Final to claim the second of the three trophies that comprise the treble. Liverpool lost, and in doing so confirmed the belief that the elusive treble was beyond realistic expectation. It was Manchester United who beat them that day.

When United finally clinched the treble, fate also decreed that their final match should be played on the day marking the 90th anniversary of Sir Matt Busby's birth, and against a club from Munich; both Sir Matt and Munich forever linked with the history of Manchester United.

The treble meant firstly winning the English Premier League - one of the most demanding football leagues in the world in which every team was capable, on their day, of beating any other team. The Premiership was a massive test of consistency and endurance.

Next was the F.A.Cup - the oldest, most famous, and most competitively contested domestic club competition in football. To win the F.A.Cup at Wembley is for many players the ultimate ambition. A domestic knockout competition, the F.A.Cup offers no second chances - one defeat and the team is out.

Finally, and hardest of all, the European Club Champions Cup. The most prestigious club competition in world football. The cream of Europe's teams, the best from their respective countries, contest the Cup that bestows the honour of European Champions. This was also a personal quest for both Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. It was United under the legendary Sir Matt Busby who had paved the way for English Clubs to enter the European Cup. In 1958, Sir Matt's young prodigies, the Busby Babes were all but wiped out in the Munich air crash while returning from a European game. It took Busby 10 more years to rebuild a team capable of winning the European Cup which he finally did with his team built around Best, Law, and Charlton. Alex Ferguson had made it his personal Holy Grail for United to be the champions of Europe again.

To win any one of these competitions would be a success. To win all three was unthinkable.

Then, in the 1998-1999 season, Alex Ferguson, later Sir Alex, assembled a squad and a team which swept all before them. As the season reached its climax in May 1999, with the team within reach of all three trophies, the dramatic events in those final matches will live in the memories of all football fans who saw them.

The Premier League was eventually won, by one point, on the last day of the season. If Arsenal won their last game of the season, then only by also winning their final match against Tottenham were United assured of winning the League. In what had become characteristic of United, they promptly went one-nil down before coming back to beat Tottenham 2-1.

United's place in the F.A.Cup Final had only been possible after two titanic Semi-Final battles, also against Arsenal. After a drawn first match in which a United goal was harshly ruled off-side, there was a thrilling replay in which United played the latter stages of the game with 10 men against the 11 of Arsenal. With the full 90 minutes played and the score at 1-1, Arsenal were awarded a penalty to take them through to the Final. United's Peter Schmeichel saved the penalty and kept United in the competition. Then in extra time, there was "that goal". Ryan Giggs received the ball in his own half, ran over half the length of the pitch evading five Arsenal tackles on the way, before scoring what was heralded as one of the great individual goals of all time.

On the day, the F.A. Cup Final itself proved to be the easiest of the treble winning matches and United outplayed Newcastle United to win 2-0.

Then there was the European Champions Cup. Throughout the season in all competitions United had driven both Manager and fans to despair by conceding one or even two goals and seemingly heading for defeat before staging thrilling fight backs. The habit became such that it was accepted by both the press and the Manager that they always seemed to make it difficult for themselves. This hallmark of the treble team was most evident during their campaign to win the European Champions Cup.

They had reached the Final in sensational style, but nothing could compare with the drama of the Final itself played against Bayern Munich in Barcelona. With the full 90 minutes played, United were losing 1-0 and the Bayern Munich colours had already been tied on the trophy. The UEFA officials, on their way to make the presentation passed by the watching Sir Bobby Charlton and commiserated with him on United's loss. The UEFA officials then went inside the Stadium to prepare for the presentation while the referee allowed just 3 minutes of extra stoppage time to be played.

When UEFA's officials emerged from inside the Stadium for the presentation they could not understand why the winners looked distraught while the losers were celebrating. Their astonishment was shared by all who had seen what had happened. The answer of course was that in those three incredible minutes, Manchester United had made history.

 


1999. No part of this site may be copied or reproduced in any format without the prior written permission of the authors. This site is not part of Manchester United.