UTD Podcast: How Hughes remembers Rotterdam
“At the stadium there were Reds everywhere,” says Sparky, recalling the Cup Winners’ Cup final on 15 May 1991...
“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 Brucie 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 Brucie and said 'well done Brucie, 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.” As Hughes alludes to, his second goal in Rotterdam was a world-class finish from an acute angle and the United legend explains his high levels of confidence at that time were influential. “At that time, I was playing well so I was confident in my play and I think that is really important. Obviously, going into big games, you want to be confident that you will play well and I was at that point. “The actual situation, I think Robbo knocked the ball through and the goalkeeper, I think it was Sergio Busquets' 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. “He pushed me a little bit wide and even the commentator Brian Moore, god bless him, said 'he is pushed wide and he is too far out'. But from my point of view, I knew it was an open goal so if I hit this ball to the net it is going to go in. But for whatever reason, and I don't why I did it, probably because I was confident I could do it, I thought 'I am going to smash this' and thankfully I did because if I had side footed it, there were two defenders running back who would have cleared it. For whatever reason, fate or call it what you like, I made a decision to whack it.”