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FA Charity Shield 
Wembley Stadium, 11th August 1996 
 
Manchester Utd  4  Newcastle Utd  0

IF ALAN SHEARER is the most costly individual to walk the turf of legends, Eric Cantona demonstrated at Wembley yesterday afternoon that he remains the most precious. For, while Shearer pined for the ball that seldom came, while Manchester United outpaced, outplayed and outwitted the pretenders from the North East, it was Cantona one-fifteenth the cost of the 15 million Shearer who inspired and led the Double-winners to such an emphatic victory in the FA Charity Shield.

One is tempted to say that here was an ordinary man, elevated by birthright and by his goals among Englishmen, competing against one who is extraordinary, who is French, and who reached yet again the extremes of wonderful touch and vision. Cantona might also have been sent off when his infamous temper erupted in the second half, but he received merely a yellow card for a physical assault on Philippe Albert that prefaced the turn from sunshine to a glowering late thunderstorm.

But how Manchester United proved their worth. It was not all about Shearer, and never could be. There is no point in possessing an idol, indeed in having 16.25 million of spare talents on the bench, if you are not a team, and from the start, as Newcastle groped for a pat tern, the other United were first into their stride, first to flow. They commanded midfield through Keane and Butt. At the back, May and Pallister stretched stride for stride with Shearer and Ferdinand.

And then there was Mr Irresistible: Cantona, a pariah at the beginning of last season, this time raising the curtain on the English season by shaking hands with Keith Wiseman and introducing the new Football Association chairman to his colleagues.

Early on there was potency from Newcastle's 21 million spearhead: Ferdinand, in particular, bristled with powerful determination and, in the eighth minute, a delicate flick would have opened up the Manchester defence, but Shearer was not yet on that wavelength. He read the invitation rather too late, and red shirts closed the door. It was scarcely to open again. In the 24th minute, Giggs, with wonderful insight, passed the ball between Newcastle's cumbersome centre backs for Cantona. Srnicek came out to deflect the ball with his legs.

Cantona was denied for 30 seconds. Like the Pimpernel he reappeared unseen on the other side of the penalty box and this time, prompted by Beckham, he controlled the ball at a touch, waited, and then coolly passed the ball beyond the stranded goalkeeper.

Cantona was involved again, as was Beckham, in a second goal four minutes later. The move swept half the length of the field as the ball flowed from Keane to Giggs and then to Cantona. He, audaciously, backheeled it to Beckham, whose control on the chest was polished and whose right foot then struck the ball across the face of goal for Butt, unmarked, to score with a flying header.

It was clear that, far from handing any of the serious silverware to their most ambi tious opponents, Manchester United did not even have the charity to allow Newcastle to dream seriously of taking home this shield.

For Shearer, growing more forlorn by the minute, it may have dawned that he had chosen wrong when he rejected Old Trafford in favour of St James' Park. Defiantly, he was to say that Newcastle would be all right, his implication being that they had lost the rehearsal but that the real season begins at Everton next Saturday. True enough, but all the euphoria of his chosen homecoming was to be further undermined when Manchester United came late with two cruel goals.

Before that, especially when Asprilla injected some brilliant if unorthodox individual flair to Newcastle, there had been fractuous interchanges. Not the least of these blackened Cantona's afternoon. In the 65th minute, Gary Neville had fouled Albert, and when they squared up, Cantona ran 15 yards to shake Albert by the back of the neck. Pandemonium. The Geordies were baying and even Cantona went red around the gills. Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, feared the worst, but the referee, Paul Durkin, abdicated responsibility, flourished the yellow card, and allowed Cantona to remain as man of the match.

Five minutes from the end, Newcastle also abdicated the art of defence. They stood four square when Beckham was allowed to bear down on Srnicek and lift the ball artfully over the goalkeeper. Three minutes later, Poborsky, the frisky Czech Republic winger, was fouled by Albert. Giggs placed placed the free kick superbly for Keane, and the Irishman's thunderbolt under darkening skies was too fierce for Srnicek to hold.

It was that emphatic. Ferguson was able to say how well he had shopped around looking for summer bargains, and Newcastle retreated, wounded, to their monied haven in the North East.

MANCHESTER UNITED (4-4-1-1): P Schmeichel D Irwin (sub: G Neville, 46min), D May, G Pallister, P Neville D Beckham, R Keane, N Butt (sub: K Poborsky, 41), R Giggs E Cantona P Scholes (sub: J Cruyff, 65).

NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): P Srnicek S Watson, D Peacock, P Albert, J Beresford P Beardsley (sub: F Asprilla, 75), D Batty, R Lee, D Ginola (sub: K Gillespie, 77) A Shearer, L Ferdinand.

Referee: P Durkin.

Rob Hughes

Stolen from the Times, 12th August  - we didn't have the heart to write anything down. 


Page last updated 24 June, 2009