Reds' proud record in Northern Ireland
Manchester United are once again taking part in the STATSports SuperCupNI - formerly known as the Milk Cup - in Northern Ireland, as a tradition spanning three decades is upheld.
The SuperCupNI is an annual junior tournament held on Northern Ireland’s north coast, and has become somewhat synonymous with United’s participation over the years.
The Reds first sent a youth team to the competition in 1989 and since then we have been one of the most regular participants in the SuperCupNI.
“There’s no doubt that the number of fans who come to the Manchester United games [at the SuperCupNI] is absolutely colossal and for us and it brings massive exposure,”Sanford told ManUtd.com.
“Some of the games will be shown on TV, the Manchester United v Rangers certainly being one of them. The club have got a fantastic following here in Northern Ireland, but they’re a worldwide brand and the fact we’re able to get their games broadcast is fantastic for us. It gives us a bigger profile.”
Some of the Reds’ most celebrated players have taken part in the SuperCupNI, including our renowned ‘Class of ’92’ stars such as Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, with the latter set to officially open the competition in Coleraine on Sunday.
“The first tournament those boys won as a group was the 1991 Milk Cup and then they progressed into the first team,”Sanford reflected.
“So, we had David Beckham, we had the Neville brothers, Ryan Giggs and others.
“Actually, many years later when Beckham was over here with England's senior team, that famous time when Northern Ireland beat them 1-0 in 2005, he was asked about playing in the Milk Cup and responded by saying: ‘Yes, it’s the only time I have ever lifted a trophy as captain of a team’.”
Young Reds at the Milk Cup Gallery
Check out these images of United stars playing in Northern Ireland, in what is now known as the SuperCupNI.
“Occasionally we do an audit of players playing in the Premier League who have played in the tournament and on a good weekend there can be around 55,”said Sanford.
“Three or four years ago Marcus Rashford was playing here and now he’s one of the main men at Old Trafford. There are so many players who have played for United and played in our tournament and it’s fantastic to see that. We have a great connection with the club and we hope that will continue.”
United’s relationship with the SuperCupNI also extends beyond just the playing side and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer officially opened the tournament in 2008, while Sir Alex Ferguson has always been a keen advocate of the junior competition.
“United’s involvement in the tournament actually started as the result of a friendship Berty Peacock had with Sir Alex Ferguson,”explained Sanford, a lifelong Red.
“Sir Alex has always been a great supporter of the tournament and, in fact, we’ve had him over on various occasions - something like 11 times he has been over to do something for us.
“He has been absolutely superb for us. Sir Alex felt that Manchester United being represented at the tournament was vital. It was like him saying to Manchester United fans in Northern Ireland: ‘We can’t bring our first team across, but here are our youth teams’.
“He felt it was important that Manchester United played in Northern Ireland. Sir Alex’s support of the tournament was the driving force in Manchester United remaining involved for such a long period of time.”
Sanford also revealed Sir Alex once helped the tournament’s committee raise £38,000 during a gala dinner in Ballymena, which erased the previous year’s debt.
It’s not just the SuperCupNI where United have strong links with Northern Ireland and some of our most loyal supporters come from the province.
“The number of people who would travel from Northern Ireland on a weekend to see United play is colossal,” said Sanford.
“The support has always been there and it will continue. When I go across on a weekend the plane is often three-quarters full of United fans. Sometimes you think it’s Manchester United that keep the airlines in business!
“There has been a great affinity between Manchester United and Northern Irish players such as [George] Best and [Norman] Whiteside and that has just developed over the years.”
Information about this year’s tournament can be found at SuperCupNI.com.
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