My Football Life: David May
Happy birthday, David May!
The local lad celebrates the big five-oh today, so what better occasion to dive into the story of his football life. The ex-defender spoke to United Review last year and gave us this warts-and-all account of his career, from bagging up mud at Blackburn to conquering the world with the Reds...
I remember playing for my school, Boarshaw County Primary School in Middleton, probably at eight or nine. My first pair of boots looked like adidas but they had four stripes! I remember having to put the goals up - no netting, just frames - and the games were a little bit of kick-and-rush back then. I started at left-back, then centre-half, goalkeeper, midfield... I played all the positions. Let's say I was a utility player!
Becoming a player
I was 14 at the time, playing for my town team, Rochdale, when I got spotted by Ted Taylor, who was a scout for Blackburn. He asked me to go for trials at Blackburn. We played on the pitch at Ewood Park against Formby, and I actually scraped the mud and grass off my boots afterwards and kept it all in a bag for a couple of years, because I thought I'd never get the chance to play on a professional pitch again! I really relished the opportunity to make my first appearance on a proper pitch, even though I shouldn't actually have played. It was open age but it was for 15s and over, and I was 14. Anyway, I played and scored what turned out to be the winner. It was a little bit of a near-post shank, but I didn't care.
Maysie was part of the Treble Reunion match, where he was reunited with Peter Schmeichel and other former colleagues.
Blackburn played Norwich away and Mark Robins, who was playing for Norwich, told me afterwards that United were there watching me. I spoke to [United scout] Les Kershaw after the game, he was asking me about my contract situation and, because nothing was happening with Blackburn, he asked me how I felt about joining United. It was totally out of the blue, even though I'd been playing well for Blackburn, but that was enough for me. My mind was made up and even if Blackburn had come back and offered me the same money that Alan Shearer was on, I'd still have joined United. When the move to United went through, I was so proud. I was joining the biggest club in the world, they'd just won the Premier League and the FA Cup and I wanted to join a team that was going to go on and win things. That's all I ever wanted to do and I did that. I never for one minute regretted leaving Blackburn.
It would have been 1995/96, winning the Premier League. Blackburn had won it in my first season at United and I was absolutely devastated. I said to myself: It's not happening again. So '95/96, winning the league up at Middlesbrough, scoring the first goal to set us on the way and then beating Liverpool in the FA Cup final. Eric's winner... when I look back at the Liverpool lads in the way, you just wonder how on earth the ball got through them! It wasn't the best Cup final, but it was really because we won! Growing up as a kid and watching most FA Cup finals, to then play in one was fantastic.
Porto at home in 1997 [Champions League quarter-final first leg]. We won 4-0. They actually rested Mario Jardel who was an unbelievable centre-forward for them. They were a powerful team and maybe a few people fancied them ahead of the tie. I scored the opener, then Eric, Coley and Giggsy finished the game and it was surreal. Resting Jardel and thinking they could get through without him, that was a mistake on their part. I still remember my goal vividly. A corner got cleared out to Becks, the cross comes back in, Pally comes over the top of me to head it, the keeper saves it and I sweep it in the roof of the net. In commentary, Ron Atkinson said it was "a Denis Law-type finish," which I'll take!
There wasn't one in particular because they were all good lads. I still see Scholesy now, we still play golf together. We're both from Middleton. I travelled to games with Scholesy, roomed with big Pally, but because everyone got on so well I couldn't just pick out the one.
Signing for United, with my mum and dad being there. I've got two brothers who both played football, so god knows how many games my parents watched between them, following us around, but signing for United, being in the chairman's office with Sir Alex and Martin Edwards, that made me so proud. Then being in the FA Cup final, looking up at the crowd and seeing your mum and dad and your wife, knowing your brothers are there too. It just made me proud to fulfil not just my dream, but theirs too.
Juventus. Zidane, Del Piero, those two - they were never really out-and-out centre-forwards, they just played in a really awkward position. You have to decide whether you go short and tight with them or stay as a solid back four. They were a nightmare to mark. In the Premier League, Shearer's got to be up there. He was absolutely world-class.
In 1996/97 Glenn Hoddle was England manager, with John Gorman as his assistant. I got the call, was absolutely delighted, it was the same time that Butty got on to make his debut against Mexico. Being part of that was great, but not making my debut hurt a little bit. Tony Adams, Southgate, Keown, Campbell... there were some top centre-halves so it never happened for me.
I always thought I was a good reader of the game. I wasn't blessed with pace, but I don't think you need that when you can read the game. Sir Alex pulled me to one side after the recent Treble Reunion game and said: "You're still the best centre-half passer of a ball I've ever had," and I just looked at him. He said: "Honestly, your success rate was so high, it was mad." So that was a nice little touch from the gaffer!"
Yeah, it was tough. I wasn't playing, the gaffer pulled me into his office and said: "Look, you've had your injuries." Rio was there, Sheasy, Wes and others. I knew it was coming anyway, but to get the call in to say that United were letting me go [in 2003] was really tough. They'd been my family for the last nine years, but I understood what the gaffer was saying. He told me I'd been a great servant and that was that.