The new season gets under way amidst the sun and warmth of August. A rare sight in the north west with Manchester spending two thirds of the year drenched in rain.
New faces join up with the Red Devils, looking to spearhead a title challenge in which the locals have been waiting for, for the last four seasons. Nemanja Matic, Victor Lindelof and marquee signing, Romelu Lukaku, signed from Chelsea, Benfica and Everton respectively, will be hoping to make a significant difference on the league form which was so sporadic last season. Lukaku, as he did yesterday, signed to turn many of last seasons draws into this season’s wins.
With the Manchester skies often dark and dreary, its a surprise to see United rolling out the infamous “grey” third strip, for the 2017/18 season. United, famed for their red shirts, white shorts and black socks, accompanied nicely by either a white, think Rotterdam in the Cup Winners Cup ’92, away kit with the blue, think European Cup ’68 or even Europa League 2017, strip used as a third kit.
Now cast your minds back around 22 years ago. Manchester United had just conceded both the Premier League and FA cup final. Blackburn Rovers, eventually pipping United to the post to claim the title, while a Paul Rideout goal for Everton, sunk United again, leaving them trophy less for the first time in six seasons. Eric Cantona was in the middle of serving his eight month ban for assaulting a Crystal Palace fan. Fan favourites Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis were all shipped out amidst the previous season’s collapse.
Villa Park in 1995 would be the venue for the first game of the new season. A new look United side which included the new generation of youngsters. Gary Neville, Philip Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and even the ever so slightly older Lee Sharpe, were to be given the task of filling the gaps left by the seasoned campaigners. The game was also to be the first chance the fans would get to see the shiny new all grey strip, which had been unveiled during the summer.
The game didn’t go very well. United would go on to lose the seasons opener, 3-1. This prompted one of the most famous quotes ever to be said about a Manchester United team. Alan Hansen, former Liverpool defender and then Match of the Day pundit, described United’s performance as poor. And then he dropped this bombshell:
“You’ll never win anything with kids” – Alan Hansen, Match of the Day 1995
United would go on to win their next five games. The grey strip would not be rolled out again until the away game in November at Highbury. Arsenal would run out 1-0 victors in a not too entertaining game. Three weeks later and with Nottingham Forest’s City ground the venue, the wall of United grey, again appeared. Another dull display, in keeping with the teams strip, ensued. Only an Eric Cantona penalty, midway through the second half was enough to spare United’s blushes, and get back on the coach with a 1-1 draw.
A trip to Anfield just before christmas beckoned and with United’s last three matches ending in draws, Sir Alex Ferguson was expecting United to turn the corner and kickstart their faltering festive period. Unfortunately for the boss, the grey kit was packed onto the coach and as you can probably guess, led to a 2-0 defeat.
The turn of the year saw a turn in United’s league form. The twelve point gap in which Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle had accumulated, was chipped away at until United had overturned the deficit. Another league title was in sight for Sir Alex. Only a blip in the last half a dozen games would see a second season title less.
Southampton away, April 1996. United had edged in front of Newcastle and were pushing for the line. As the players arrived at the tiny Dell, out again appeared the grey strip, except this time strangely, it was coupled with white shorts and white socks. Southampton raced into a three goal lead by half time. Sir Alex decided enough was enough. He sent the team out for the second half in the blue and white striped second strip. Despite Ryan Giggs pulling a goal back at the death, it wasn’t enough as United crashed to a 3-1 defeat.
‘The manager just stormed in and said: “Get that kit off, you’re getting changed.” Those were the first words he said at half-time.’ – Lee Sharpe
United would go on to eventually lift the title and complete the double by beating Liverpool in the FA cup final. The grey kit was never to be seen again. Changing strips at half time prompted the FA to fine United to the tune of £10,000. Sir Alex paid this out of his own pocket and cited the reason behind the change at half time was that the players moaned that they couldn’t see each other.
‘I changed the kits at half-time and we got charged £10,000 for it. It was the best £10,000 I ever spent.’ – Sir Alex Ferguson
As mentioned earlier, this season sees the re-emergence of the grey strip. This was supposedly voted for by the fans, I’m guessing not old enough to remember the previous appearances in grey. The design on the new shirt features United’s ‘Holy Trinity’. A nice touch, with the iconic trio of Sir Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law.
The shirt’s only appearance in the pre season tour of the States was during the 1-0 defeat to Barcelona. Although only a friendly, some fans on social media were mocking the return to the unfavoured colour.
So just to recap, including the pre season friendly, our record in grey reads as follows:
Grim reading for a grim outfit. Let’s hope that the football this season, lights up both the Manchester skies, and the contrast of shirt colour.