Former Manchester United defender David May took time out to have an indepth discussion with Yolkie for an exclusive interview for Stretford-End.com. May, of course, was part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s “fledglings” team which won the 1996 league and Cup double, and has recently set up “United Nights”, an event that precedes the big games where supporters have a chance to meet their heroes. Read on for part one of our two part chat, to see Maysie’s views on his relationship with the supporters, his outspoken opinion of Selhurst Park and Eric’s Kung Fu kick, his toughest opponent, and his views on Stretford-End.com’s championing of cult heroes!
YOLKIE : At a club like United we have legends and cult heroes. Without wanting to be disrespectful, you’re comfortably a cult hero among the fans – the “Superstar” chant can still be heard on some matchdays. That’s quite a compliment – how would you describe your relationship with supporters?
DAVID MAY : Great, yeah.. I’ve always had a great relationship with the supporters, wherever I go, people sing the song. I’m very privileged to be fair. Not many players get a song sung about them, and I’m delighted with that.
YOLKIE : Of course you have legends like Eric who still get their songs sung but many got to a point where they got detached from the club. Cantona does do interviews and when he’s around, he’s a man of the people, but I suppose that’s the point. He’s rarely around anymore. Someone like yourself, you’re still around, so it’s really good that the supporters help keep it going too.
MAYSIE : Well, yeah, Eric’s an absolute legend in his own right. For me, if I can give something back to the fans, something where they can have a good time.. you know, not just watching football, but meeting ex-players, talk about old times, have a few beers, having a few photographs. I think it’s just something that should be done. All of the old players who have left and come along and do United Nights, at the end of the night, they all turn around and say what a great time they had meeting all of the fans. It’s not often that you get to do that, and it’s great that the ex-players are doing it.
YOLKIE : I love that you set United Nights up. It’s innovative in its own right, and providing a platform where supporters can feel as one with the players talking about the club we all love – it’s going to really take off, I think.
MAYSIE : Yeah, I hope so. I think it’s building bridges, you don’t get it, you can’t get it now. The status of some players now makes it difficult but at the events you have so many supporters and players talking about obscure stories.. I remember this, I remember that. It’s great to hear it from the players, whether it’s having to talk about Jesper Blomqvist taking the p*ss out of me in Gothenburg, or talking about the goal up at Middlesbrough to win the league in 1996. What a fantastic day that was.
YOLKIE : Actually, I was just going to ask about that. You didn’t score loads of goals for the club but when you did they generally were crucial – the goal against Sheff Wed in 1995 (though we ultimately didn’t win the league), the first goal against Middlesbrough to settle the nerves and the first against Porto in the classic 4-0 win. Looking back, your goals played a massive part during a time when “Fergie’s Fledglings” needed senior guidance. How do you look back at that mid to late 90’s spell when you were first choice?
MAYSIE : You know, people ask me all the time “what was it like to play for United”? And you know what, even if it was just for one game, it’s still one game more than the other 99.9% of the United fans who are out there. I was delighted, every game I played I was very proud to wear the United shirt and I tried my best in every game I ever played.
YOLKIE : You did get a lot of criticism – I read somewhere you’re in the top 50 worst players in the history of the top division, which is just ridiculous and clearly not true, and it’s just because you played for United. If you’re not someone like Jaap Stam and have the massive personality or persona, if you’re just unassuming and don’t make a fuss, generally the media will attack you at some point based solely on the fact you’re a United player. In your case, you never really made any high profile mistakes, none that I can instantly recall, you were never really embarrassed by anyone, and over the period of your time as first choice, no-one really had the upper hand on you (say, the way people talk about Torres on Vidic).
MAYSIE : The press can put whatever they want to put, but you notice none of those with the knives out ever played for Man Utd. They’re all jealous, stupid or have some other motive. Anyone can write a story and say he’s sh*t, he’s crap, he’s rubbish, but at the end of the day, the manager picked me 118 times to play for United, so I couldn’t have been that bad. So as for the press; b*ll*cks to ‘em.
YOLKIE : Exactly. It’s a subject we’ll return to later.. Back on the subject of your goals, another came in the infamous game at Selhurst Park with Eric’s Kung Fu kick. What was the mood amongst the players at the time? Did they support Cantona or did they think he had done wrong?
MAYSIE : Oh, god no. You know, I was surprised it’d never happened before. Eric did that, and rightly so. You have people week in week out on the stands personally slagging you off, to a certain extent I know you should refrain from doing that, but it was the combination of it all.. He’d just been sent off by a referee who wasn’t really in the right position to do it, then the lad comes out of the back of the stands, streaming down and calling him all the names under the sun… you know what, fair play to him. We went on to lose the league that year against Blackburn but it goes to show how much stick players receive and the pressure we were under..
YOLKIE : Especially when they play for United..
MAYSIE : Honest to God, you’d be amazed at the stick everybody gets. The best thing about United is that the club are united together. There’s one person who never slags any of the players off and that’s the manager. He’s never done that in front of anybody else. Alright, he might have a go at you behind closed doors – which is fine – but I’ve never heard him slag any United player off in front of anybody.
YOLKIE : What was the biggest b*ll*cking that you got from Fergie?
MAYSIE : Well, I got it that night when Eric did that. I think Gareth Southgate scored the equaliser, the manager had a go at me for not marking him, and I was nowhere near him! I’m thinking how can I get one for that and Eric’s just two footed the lad in the crowd!
YOLKIE : What was Fergie’s reaction to Eric then?
MAYSIE : He didn’t really say a lot.. bloody hell, it’s 16, 17 years ago.. I think he just said “Eric, I’m disappointed in you”, and that was it. He always respected Eric, course he did.. we often got a bit of a b*ll*cking but Eric got away with it. And rightly so, because the man’s a legend.
YOLKIE : Yeah – we can all agree with that. At the end of that season, it was a bit of a wind of change at United. Kanchelskis, Hughesie and Ince all sold, the end of your first year that ended pretty bitter, so the mood in 1996 when you were a starter in probably the most famous team in Fergie’s era must have been a complete contrast… what went through your mind in the summer of 95? Did you ever think you would be sold?
MAYSIE : Blackburn had just won the league so I was just more determined to win the league back. To lose the league to the team I had just come from, I was gutted, absolutely gutted. Then to lose the FA Cup Final… if we’d have beaten West Ham in that last league game I’m sure we would have gone on to win the final, I’m sure of that. But these things happen, people move on, you get new faces in, you become stronger and you become more determined. Even though it was the last game of the season (in 1996) it was still quite easy, Newcastle were 12 or 13 points in front of us at one point. I never thought for a minute we’d lose that game at Middlesbrough, and then the game against Liverpool in the final, there’s nothing worse than getting beat by Liverpool. They turned up that day in those pathetic suits..
YOLKIE : What did you think when you saw them turn up in them? That they were taking the p*ss?
MAYSIE : I just think they were trying to look “cool” to be truthful and they looked ridiculous. They had Armani suits and we had Burton suits! But that’s what you get with some personalities, they had 5 or 6 players who were the “spice boys” or whatever crap they were called, at the end of the day we won the league and we won the FA Cup.
YOLKIE : Your inclusion in that game, the 1996 Cup Final (completing Eric’s return to salvation) was at the expense of Steve Bruce, who, like Robbo two years earlier, saw an FA Cup Final spot as a final farewell evade him. Has he ever spoke to you about it since? Did you even think about it on those terms at the time?
MAYSIE : No, no! He was exactly as I was in 1999 for the Champions League Final – patted me on the back, wished me well, just said make sure I do the business and fair play to him. As I said earlier, it’s a team game.
YOLKIE : Yeah, Brucey seems like a really gracious guy.
MAYSIE : He’s an absolute gentleman.
YOLKIE : You inherited his number 4 shirt in 1996 but you also inherited his bad luck with the national side; your form in 1996/97 put you among the best centre halves in the country but you never got a cap, despite getting a call up at the end of that season. How disappointed were you?
MAYSIE : I’d have loved to have played for England, course I would. At the end of the day, it never came and so be it. I’m not bitter against Glenn Hoddle, it’s his decision – maybe another manager at another time and I’d have played, but I don’t hold it against anyone. As long as I could play for United that’s all I was bothered about to be fair. England would have just been a bonus.
YOLKIE : To be fair, Glenn Hoddle’s track record on his assessment of players was hardly the greatest, with those famous comments about Andy Cole..
MAYSIE : .. yeah, 5 chances to score one. But that’s just the way he is, so let him get on with it… (*Yolkie’s note: this comment was made as a “live and let live” comment rather than hinting at anything remotely malicious)
YOLKIE : The next season, we had a bit of a rough time with injuries, and you probably got the rough end of that as a consequence, with the signings of Berg and then Stam, and with Johnsen who was already established, they played the majority of the 1998/99 season.. Towards the end of that campaign you saw more game time, with the best part being another Cup Final appearance, trusted to play against the best domestic striker outside of United – impressing to the extent you managed to get a subs spot against Bayern Munich. Beyond all else it showed that the manager had a fundamental trust in you and you didn’t let us down – how do you view that season in terms of English football history? For instance, some class Arsenal’s 03/04 season as the greatest ever, while some point to Derby and Forest’s success in the 70’s and 80s.
MAYSIE : It was incredible. There were so many decent players there, and the manager had the chance of rotation. I remember getting in for the Leeds game, Jaap was struggling with an Achilles, I think we drew there, but I think I just reminded the manager what I could do. Then he gave me a game in the Cup Final when Jaap stuggled again, obviously he wanted to pick Jaap (on the Wednesday against Bayern), and I was feeling like Brucey felt in 1996. For the manager to tell you you’re not playing, it’s heart wrenching, but you don’t go ranting and raving, kicking off and upsetting the applecart. I didn’t want to do that before the biggest game in the clubs history.
YOLKIE : Your participation in the Leeds game reminded Fergie what you could do – you’d almost probably got to the point where you were a forgotten man, but not really fairly as you’d not done anything wrong.
MAYSIE : Jaap, Henning and Ronny were playing so well that there was no need to change it, so I just wanted to bide my time and take my opportunity when it came. I was gutted for Henning (who missed the final games with injury) who had some fantastic games in Europe, clearing things off the line. So I was gutted for him but one guys loss is another’s gain and I enjoyed my spell at the end of the season.
YOLKIE : Still, you outlasted all of them at the club, which again is no small feat. As you’re coming across now, you seemed a real team player and first and foremost care about the success of the club, for Fergie to just keep you around is a compliment in itself.
MAYSIE : To be fair, I barely played the last few seasons, and with the all the new kids coming through, it was just a pleasure to be around. And if the manager knew that if he ever needed me, I was there. I maybe only had 3 or 4 games the last couple of seasons but I enjoyed it, I loved it.
YOLKIE : Yeah.. you can say you were part – a full part, too – of what is probably the greatest ever achievement by a football team.
MAYSIE : Well, it is! Nobody had ever done it.. people say teams can do it (win the treble) this year, they can do it that year.. we were unlucky in 2008 when Portsmouth beat us at Old Trafford (in the FA Cup), we should have had a penalty, but we were lucky against Arsenal in 1999. Keaney getting sent off, big Pete making a penalty save.. at the end of the day you need luck.
YOLKIE : Your celebrations in Barcelona have become iconic in the clubs history; one of my Twitter followers wanted me to ask you if you ever got stick from the players for leading the celebration?
MAYSIE : No, not from the players, never. It was one of those things that everybody did, everyone had their moments that night. Yorkey had a massive cigar on the go all night, just everyone was having their thing. People always remind me of it and say “you led the celebrations” and you know what, if that’s all I did, happy days. I loved it and I’d do it all again tomorrow.
YOLKIE : That kind of attitude just really sums it up and is probably why you’re still held in affectionate prestige by supporters… the Champions League draw has just been made. Valencia, Rangers and the Turkish side that sound like a private health insurance company. What do you think of our chances?
MAYSIE : Well I think we’ll definitely qualify… the Turkish side, home and away should be six points, the hardest team is obviously Valencia. But they’re still missing a few players. Rangers, I know they’re the Champions of Scotland.. we beat them home and away last time, no reason why we shouldn’t do it again. If 12 points is the safety target, we should clear that.
YOLKIE : Yeah even though we’ve probably got a slip up somewhere there like last year.
MAYSIE : Sure, but we should do it. We should get six from Rangers, six from the Turks and that’s us through. We should win our home games. Even if we lose Valencia away, then, so be it, we’d still be top.
YOLKIE : Obviously, playing for a club like United, aiming for 18 points is the least that you would want the players to aim for or want to expect to achieve.
MAYSIE : I think if we go through as group leaders it will be important – so many tough teams in the draw this year.
YOLKIE : So, just changing track a bit. Who was the best player you played alongside at United?
MAYSIE : I’d probably say Eric. In training he would just keep the ball up with the outside of his foot for about 30 or 40 touches, he’d end up getting it up about 40 foot in the air and just bringing it down, and do that all day. We could watch him doing it all day too, absolutely brilliant. It was a pleasure watching him. And his attitude and enthusiasm rubbed off on everybody, even the young kids, made sure he looked after them. He was a great bloke.
YOLKIE : There’s probably still some of his spirit on the pitch that exists… he instilled the determination and never say die spirit in the likes of Becks, Keane, Scholes and Giggs, especially during the ’96 season, Eric’s ultimate year. You still see with Giggs and Scholes and it was that spirit that carried us through at the back end of last season, some of the players seemed to give up the ghost, but then there was Scholesy against City.
MAYSIE : It just goes to show, it is the nature of United that we can just carry on and carry on. People go on about “Fergie time” and the amount of goals we score late on in games, but it’s not, it’s the referee’s time and if he sees fit to put five or six minutes up then that’s up to him. United play to the final whistle, that’s what you’ve got to do, and other teams either give up or don’t have the determination or endeavour to go on and win.
YOLKIE : Exactly, the time goes up for both sides. It’s like teams collapse and use the injury time as an excuse. So, moving on, who was the best player you ever played against?
MAYSIE : Probably people like Duncan Ferguson. A big powerhouse.. Shearer was hard to play against.
YOLKIE : Even though he only got that one goal past you!
MAYSIE : Yeah but you still knew you had to give 110% in order for him not to score. There were a hell of a lot of good players I played against, though, a hell of a lot.
YOLKIE : Who were your best friends at the club?
MAYSIE : I don’t know, I think it was just a good group, a good set of lads, we all got on together. I think the thing people remember about United is the team spirit and the togetherness, you wouldn’t have two or three players here or there, everyone was in it together, and that’s what stands United in good stead. There’s no prima donnas, no-one’s “better than the other”.
YOLKIE : Maybe Ronaldo was a bit of a prima donna though, but I suppose we could allow him that!
MAYSIE : Well.. yeah, I suppose so. (reluctant concurrence)
YOLKIE : Where do you stand on the Ronaldo / Messi debate?
MAYSIE : Erm…
YOLKIE : Bit of a delay here David!
MAYSIE : Yeah.. probably Ronaldo. He scores more goals with his head, he can use either foot, I’d say Ronaldo. But I wouldn’t mind having Messi at United either!
YOLKIE : Yeah, me too! At Stretford-End.com though we love our cult heroes and though you were before our time – not wanting to make you feel old David! – your position in 1995 and 1996 would probably have been our cause to champion. We’ve previously backed Fletcher when few else did and this season we’re hoping Anderson silences his many critics that still exist at the club (probably the majority) to really emerge. Who’s your tip?
MAYSIE : Well, I’d like Anderson to do it, I’d like Nani to.. I think it’s about time he steps up to the plate now. He’s had 2 or 3 years at United, he knows what it’s all about, he did well towards the end of last season, coming into his own. He missed out on the World Cup through injury which is a shame because I’d have liked to have seen him on the world stage. But maybe one of the young kids coming through – Tom Cleverley, even if he has to do it on loan. The old heads will still be there though, Scholesy, Giggsy.. I’m sure Scholes will get Player of the Year, but he deserves it, definitely.
YOLKIE : That’s what they’re saying already with the PFA award but I’m sure his form will keep on. It is weird how players like Scholes and Giggs only get this kind of recognition at the end of their careers, and it’s probably due to a career of enduring the press hostility towards United. These are players who should be talked about now alongside the likes of Charlton and Best.
MAYSIE : A couple of years ago everyone was calling for Giggsy’s head and saying it’s time for him to retire. Okay, with time, the legs can’t always do it, but he’s got a fantastic footballing brain. I’d love those two to be 24, 25 now, because I tell you what, they’d be priceless. Up there with Ronaldo and Messi, I’m sure.
YOLKIE : So, the big one then.. do you think United will get the 19th title this year?
MAYSIE : I hope, more than anything, for the likes of Scholesy and Giggsy, if it’s their last year.. it’d be fantastic for them to go out on a high and create history for the club just as they did in 1999, winning the treble. You can’t forget Nev, too. Those players deserve to win the 19th title just to get over our biggest rivals in Liverpool.
YOLKIE : I couldn’t agree with you more.
Keep tuned to Stretford-End.com for Part 2 of our exclusive, candid chat with David, coming very soon.