The 1995–96 season was Manchester United’s fourth season in the Premier League, and their 21st consecutive season in the top division of English football. United finished the season by becoming the first English team to win the Double (league title and FA Cup) twice. Their triumph was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Alex Ferguson had sold experienced players Paul Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis before the start of the season, and not made any major signings. Instead, he had drafted in young players like Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers, Gary and Phil.
Eric Cantona returned from his eight-month suspension at the beginning of October, and finished the season as the club’s top scorer with 19 goals in all competitions, the last one being the winner against Liverpool in the FA Cup Final. He also picked up a Premier League winner’s medal and the FWA Player of the Year award. The title had been sealed on the final day of the season with a 3–0 win at Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough.
Having started the season without a major summer signing, the critics were ready to pounce on United, and made no apologies for writing United’s chances of success off as they lost their first game of the season 3–1 at Aston Villa, a side who by contrast had spent heavily on players in recent months after a difficult period of transition. United hit back by winning their next five league games and were soon second to Newcastle United, spearheaded by multimillion-pound new signings Les Ferdinand and David Ginola. They actually went top of the league after a goalless draw at Sheffield Wednesday towards the end of September, only for the Tynesiders to return to the top of the table soon after. Then came Cantona’s comeback on 1 October, when he scored a penalty to equalise and hold Liverpool to a 2-2 draw Old Trafford.
The autumn saw United suffer first-hurdle exits to York City in the League Cup and Rotor Volgograd in the UEFA Cup, although United did preserve their 39-year unbeaten record in European competitions thanks to a late equaliser by goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel in the second leg of the European tie. On the domestic scene, the 3–0 defeat they suffered at home to the Division Two strugglers in the first leg of the League Cup second round would be their only home defeat of the season. A 3–1 win in the return leg at Bootham Crescent was not enough and United suffered a humiliating exit, although at least these disappointments meant that United only had the league to concentrate on until after Christmas, unlike some of their fellow title contenders.
United remained unbeaten throughout October and November, although they remained second behind Newcastle in the league. Then came a five match winless run which saw them 10 points behind Newcastle by Christmas. On 27 December, they hosted Newcastle at Old Trafford and won 2–0, with one of the goals coming from Andy Cole, the former Newcastle goal machine who had arrived at Old Trafford the previous winter, and the gap was down to seven points. Then came a 2-1 win over QPR, which briefly cut the gap to four. Making his debut in that game was French defender William Prunier signed on a trial contract following an injury to Gary Pallister. Prunier also appeared in the United team at Tottenham on New Year’s Day, but United crashed 4–1 at White Hart Lane and Prunier was soon gone. United’s title hopes appeared to be fading, and when they went 2-1 down at Old Trafford in the FA Cup third round to Division One promotion challengers Sunderland, it looked as though 1995-96 could prove to be another trophyless season for United. But then came an Eric Cantona equaliser with 10 minutes remaining, forcing a replay at Roker Park, where Sunderland once again took the lead before United finally won 2–1. But there was more frustration in the league as United’s second league game of 1996 saw them draw 0-0 at home to Aston Villa. The last league game of the month was won 1–0 at West Ham, and then came an easy 3–0 win over Reading in the FA Cup fourth round at Elm Park.
United narrowed the gap between themselves and leaders Newcastle once again in February, winning all four of their league games that month. A 4-2 away win over Wimbledon was followed by a home clash with Blackburn, who were now mid table in a disappointing defence of their league title. Lee Sharpe was on the scoresheet as United won 1–0, and their next game was a 2–0 home win over Everton. The month was completed with a 6–0 away win over Bolton, which pushed their hosts closer to eventual relegation but also gave United’s goal difference a major boost as well as putting United just four points behind Newcastle. United had also defeated Manchester City 2–1 in the FA Cup fifth round at Old Trafford, and so a unique second double was suddenly looking like a very serious possibility.
March began with a visit to Tyneside, for what was billed by many as the title decider. United kept their hosts, who had yet to drop points at home, at bay in the first half of the game, thanks largely to the goalkeeping heroics of Schmeichel. The deadlock was finally broken in the second half with a Cantona goal, and the gap was now down to a single point. United briefly went top the following weekend with a 1–1 draw at struggling QPR, and after another Cantona goal gave them a 1–0 home win over Arsenal on 20 March, United went top of the table and stayed there for the rest of the season.
The title race went down to the wire, but United went into the last game of the season knowing that a draw at Middlesbrough would give them the title, and Newcastle needed to beat Tottenham to have any chance of depriving them of title glory. A 3–0 victory gave United the title, and the following Saturday they triumphed 1–0 over Liverpool in the FA Cup final, with a late goal from Cantona (already voted FWA Player of the Year) making them the first team to win the double twice.
Veteran defenders Steve Bruce and Paul Parker moved on at the end of the season, as did goalkeeper Tony Coton, who had only joined the club in January and never played a first team game. As the season drew to a close, speculation mounted that United would sign a world-class striker – possibly Alan Shearer – to partner Eric Cantona in the bid to bring the European Cup to Old Trafford.
The season also produced one of the most infamous moments in football shirt history, when United changed their kits at half-time during their away defeat to Southampton, with Alex Ferguson stating that it was because he felt the kit left players unable to spot each other on the pitch, as well as the fact that United had not won a single of their five games played wearing the kit.
The book ‘You Can’t Win Anything With Kids’ commemorating this season was written by Wayne Barton and was released in 2016.
Pre-season and friendlies
|Date||Opponents||H / A||Result|
|31 July 1995||Selangor||A||4–1||Bruce, Butt, Pallister, Sharpe||50,000|
|2 August 1995||Selangor||A||2–0||Bruce, Scholes||20,000|
|7 August 1995||Birmingham City||A||0–1||13,330|
|9 August 1995||Bradford City||A||1–0||Keane||13,457|
|11 August 1995||Shelbourne||A||2–2||Butt, Beckham||12,500|
|13 August 1995||East Fife||A||4–0||Beckham (2), McClair, Sharpe||5,385|
|15 August 1995||Oldham Athletic||A||2–0||Sharpe, Jobson (o.g.)||8,766|
|5 December 1995||International Select||N||1–2||Scholes||22,000|
|12 December 1995||Celtic||A||1–3||Scholes||37,306|
FA Premier League
|Date||Opponents||H / A||Result|
|19 August 1995||Aston Villa||A||1–3||Beckham 84′||34,655||19th|
|23 August 1995||West Ham United||H||2–1||Scholes 50′, Keane 68′||31,966||5th|
|26 August 1995||Wimbledon||H||3–1||Keane (2) 28′, 80′, Cole 60′||32,226||4th|
|28 August 1995||Blackburn Rovers||A||2–1||Sharpe 46′, Beckham 67′||29,843||2nd|
|9 September 1995||Everton||A||3–2||Sharpe (2) 3′, 49′, Giggs 74′||39,496||2nd|
|16 September 1995||Bolton Wanderers||H||3–0||Scholes (2) 18′, 86′, Giggs 34′||32,812||1st|
|23 September 1995||Sheffield Wednesday||A||0–0||34,101||3rd|
|1 October 1995||Liverpool||H||2–2||Butt 2′, Cantona 71′ (pen.)||34,934||3rd|
|14 October 1995||Manchester City||H||1–0||Scholes 5′||35,707||2nd|
|21 October 1995||Chelsea||A||4–1||Scholes (2) 4′, 10′, Giggs 78′, McClair 85′||31,019||2nd|
|28 October 1995||Middlesbrough||H||2–0||Pallister 44′, Cole 88′||36,580||2nd|
|4 November 1995||Arsenal||A||0–1||38,317||2nd|
|18 November 1995||Southampton||H||4–1||Giggs (2) 1′, 4′, Scholes 9′, Cole 69′||39,301||2nd|
|22 November 1995||Coventry City||A||4–0||Irwin 28′, McClair (2) 48′, 76′, Beckham 58′||23,400||2nd|
|27 November 1995||Nottingham Forest||A||1–1||Cantona 67′ (pen.)||29,263||2nd|
|2 December 1995||Chelsea||H||1–1||Beckham 61′||42,019||2nd|
|9 December 1995||Sheffield Wednesday||H||2–2||Cantona (2) 18′, 84′||41,849||2nd|
|17 December 1995||Liverpool||A||0–2||40,546||2nd|
|24 December 1995||Leeds United||A||1–3||Cole 30′||39,801||2nd|
|27 December 1995||Newcastle United||H||2–0||Cole 6′, Keane 53′||42,024||2nd|
|30 December 1995||Queens Park Rangers||H||2–1||Cole 45′, Giggs 52′||41,890||2nd|
|1 January 1996||Tottenham Hotspur||A||1–4||Cole 36′||32,852||2nd|
|13 January 1996||Aston Villa||H||0–0||42,667||3rd|
|22 January 1996||West Ham United||A||1–0||Cantona 9′||24,197||2nd|
|3 February 1996||Wimbledon||A||4–2||Cole 41′, Perry 45′ (o.g.), Cantona (2) 71′, 81′ (pen.)||25,380||2nd|
|10 February 1996||Blackburn Rovers||H||1–0||Sharpe 15′||42,681||2nd|
|21 February 1996||Everton||H||2–0||Keane 30′, Giggs 82′||42,459||2nd|
|25 February 1996||Bolton Wanderers||A||6–0||Beckham 5′, Bruce 15′, Cole 70′, Scholes (2) 76′, 79′, Butt 90′||21,381||2nd|
|4 March 1996||Newcastle United||A||1–0||Cantona 52′||36,584||2nd|
|16 March 1996||Queens Park Rangers||A||1–1||Cantona 90′||18,817||2nd|
|20 March 1996||Arsenal||H||1–0||Cantona 65′||50,028||1st|
|24 March 1996||Tottenham Hotspur||H||1–0||Cantona 51′||50,157||1st|
|6 April 1996||Manchester City||A||3–2||Cantona 7′ (pen.), Cole 42′, Giggs 78′||29,668||1st|
|8 April 1996||Coventry City||H||1–0||Cantona 47′||50,332||1st|
|13 April 1996||Southampton||A||1–3||Giggs 89′||15,262||1st|
|17 April 1996||Leeds United||H||1–0||Keane 72′||48,382||1st|
|28 April 1996||Nottingham Forest||H||5–0||Scholes 42′, Beckham (2) 45′, 55′, Giggs 70′, Cantona 90′||53,926||1st|
|5 May 1996||Middlesbrough||A||3–0||May 14′, Cole 54′, Giggs 81′||29,921||1st|
Pld = Matches played; W = Matches won; D = Matches drawn; L = Matches lost; GF = Goals for; GA = Goals against; GD = Goal difference; Pts = Points
|Date||Round||Opponents||H / A||Result|
|6 January 1996||Round 3||Sunderland||H||2–2||Butt 13′, Cantona 80′||41,563|
|16 January 1996||Round 3|
|Sunderland||A||2–1||Scholes 70′, Cole 90′||21,378|
|27 January 1996||Round 4||Reading||A||3–0||Giggs 37′, Parker 57′, Cantona 90′||14,780|
|18 February 1996||Round 5||Manchester City||H||2–1||Cantona 39′ (pen.), Sharpe 78′||42,692|
|11 March 1996||Round 6||Southampton||H||2–0||Cantona 49′, Sharpe 90′||45,446|
|31 March 1996||Semi-final||Chelsea||N||2–1||Cole 55′, Beckham 59′||38,421|
|11 May 1996||Final||Liverpool||N||1–0||Cantona 86′||79,007|
|Date||Round||Opponents||H / A||Result|
|20 September 1995||Round 2|
|3 October 1995||Round 2|
|York City||A||3–1||Scholes (2) 7′, 80′, Cooke 14′||9,386|
|Date||Round||Opponents||H / A||Result|
|12 September 1995||Round 2|
|26 September 1995||Round 2|
|Rotor Volgograd||H||2–2||Scholes 60′, Schmeichel 89′||29,724|
|No.||Pos.||Name||League||FA Cup||League Cup||Europe||Total|