Does Sparky regret taking Bruce's goal in Rotterdam?
Our UTD Podcast with Mark Hughes has been incredibly well received by listeners and the Welshman’s memories of the 1991 European Cup-Winners’ Cup final are a clear highlight for many.
Mark admits the match itself wasn’t a classic in terms of action, but the atmosphere on that night became the stuff of legend and Sparky’s recollections are enough to raise hairs on the back of your neck.
Make sure you listen to our feature-length episode with Hughes to understood why so many fans are raving about it, but, for now, let’s get stuck into the former centre-forward’s memories of ’91.
“It was important that we, as a club, flew the flag for English football because we had been out of Europe for five years, and we were the first team back in after the ban after Heysel,” says Hughes. “So, we wanted to fly the flag and we wanted to make a real statement about English football. It had been away for five years, but we were still here and it was still a league to be concerned about.
“To get to the final was fantastic but the final itself wasn't a great game, as I recall. I haven’t seen it from start to finish on too many occasions since, but I have watched it and it wasn't a great game. The quality was sadly lacking, but who cares? It doesn't matter. We were there to win the trophy and it was a great night. Everybody still talks about Rotterdam.
“I remember when we turned up at the stadium, there were just Reds everywhere and I don't think I saw a Barcelona fan until we got into the stadium - a section behind one goal and they didn't even fill that. The rest of the stadium was all Reds so you sensed it was going to be our night.
“I always remember - and I have actually got a picture of it - when the two teams lined up, waiting for the referee to blow the whistle, it has just started to rain so it was all misty and a bit cold. I looked across a couple of their lads were rubbing their arms, bouncing up and down, trying to keep warm, so I'm thinking 'this lot don't fancy it' because it was a British football game in my view.”
After a competitive first half, United took the lead in the second period when Bryan Robson's cross was headed magnificently towards goal by Steve Bruce. Somewhat controversially, Hughes tapped it over the line to make sure and when asked by UTD Podcast co-host David May if he regrets that decisive touch, Sparky’s amusingly blunt response reflects his direct approach to the game.
“No, you're joking aren't you?” he laughs. “I didn’t usually score from that close in, if I'm honest! The reality is that it was a great ball in and Brucey with a great header. But I was just doing my job and I didn't think it was going to go over the line because there were two defenders flying in, so I thought I had better just knock it over the line.
“Everyone ran to Brucey and said 'well done, Brucey, great goal'. I just turned to the halfway line and I looked up at the screen on the opposite side of the pitch, and 'Hughes' came up in lights and I thought 'that will do me'. So I got the benefit and I don't think he was happy about it, but I definitely got the second one.”
“The actual situation, I think Robbo knocked the ball through and the goalkeeper, I think it was Sergio Busquets's dad who came in for that game. He wasn't the regular goalkeeper, who missed out, so he was the reserve goalkeeper. He came out, made this decision, and he was way out of his penalty box. I skipped past and was thinking it was an empty net.