October 20th 1996
Newcastle Utd 5-0 Manchester Utd
Poor old Manchester Utd. After the last G.O.T.W. saw Matthew Le Tissier punish them in Saints’ famous 6-3 win over the Red Devils at the Dell, this week the 90s Football Party marks Sunday’s clash between Newcastle and Sir Alex Ferguson’s men by looking at the defining goal of the drubbing they suffered the week before that trip to the south coast – 5-0 at what anyone who has any respect for football continues to call St. James’ Park.
There had been little to suggest that such a result was on the cards. Kevin Keegan’s entertainers had blown a 12-point lead the previous season while United stormed to the double, and despite breaking the world transfer record to bring Euro ’96 top scorer Alan Shearer ‘home’ to Newcastle, the Magpies had been spanked 4-0 by the champions in the Charity Shield. Going into this game in October 1996, Fergie’s boys were undefeated, and Peter Schemichel hadn’t conceded a goal in his past five games in all competitions.
Yet after a brief feeling out process at SJP, an annihilation ensued. There was controversy surrounding the opening goal, as debate raged as to whether Darren Peacock’s header from a corner actually crossed the line. From that point however, Newcastle put a football spin on Hulk Hogan’s old ‘Hulk-Up’ routine, seemingly impervious and unstoppable as they demolished their opponents. David Ginola cut inside just before half time to unleash a John Woo-style swerving bullet from 20 yards into the far corner to make it 2-0. After the break, Les Ferdinand looped in a very odd header that seemed to hit the bar about three times before it went in, before Alan Shearer, who had raised the ire of both Alex Ferguson and the United support by turning down the Red Devils after extensive talks that summer to sign for Newcastle, added his inevitable contribution to make it four.
Then it happened. Still pouring forward in the search for more, a Newcastle attack foundered and they were forced to start again. Pushing up from centre back, Phillippe Albert received the ball. His touch was bad. He took another touch. That wasn’t much cop either. Then, around 30 yards out, as Schmeichel came off his line towards the penalty spot to close off the shot, the Belgian instead nonchalantly clipped the ball over him. Almost in slow motion, it sailed beyond the United keeper (who that year alone was lobbed by Albert, Davor Suker and Le Tissier, yet it’s always David Seaman who’s tarred with the ‘easy to chip’ brush) and dipped to nestle comfortably in the net. As Albert took off in celebration, everyone else seemed to just stand agape – in English football, this wasn’t the sort of thing we were used to seeing from our centre halves.
It’s become the moment everyone remembers about that game (even more so than the glorious sight of substitute Tino Asprilla looking supremely apathetic when the camera panned to the bench after every goal, in stark contrast to Keegan, McDermott etc, who were going beserk). Shellshocked, United stumbled into another mauling the following week at Southampton. Newcastle meanwhile, went from strength to strength…
Yet ultimately the result is little more than a curious footnote as far as 1996/97 is concerned. It changed nothing. United strolled to the title once again, winning the league by seven points, while in many ways the game was a last hurrah for the Entertainers. In January of that season, Keegan resigned, and replacement Kenny Dalglish was determined to disband them and build a more dour, functional unit in their place.
Although the likes of Ginola, Ferdinand and Asprilla were all sacrifices to Dalglish’s project, Albert continued to feature prominently during his reign – although he was rather curiously benched in favour of Nikos Dabizas, the original Greek bearing gifts (well that was Odysseus, but you catch my drift) for the 1998 FA Cup final. His Newcastle career only hit the skids when Ruud Gullit replaced Dalglish. As he entered his 30s, injuries began to catch up with the defender, while Gullit flat out told him he wasn’t in his plans. In 1999, he joined Keegan’s Fulham on loan, helping them to the Second Division title with two goals in 13 games. He headed home to his first club, Charleroi, the following season, and retired due to a knee problem not long afterwards.
Nevertheless, the Belgian had been a class act throughout his five years on Tyneside. Two goals and a series of eye-catching performances at USA ’94 (including the winner against Holland) were enough to catch Keegan’s eye, and after the finals Newcastle stumped up £2.6m to bring ‘Prince’ Albert (as he was never known) to the North East. Although the Entertainers’ gung-ho stylings often saw their defence come in for criticism, the Newcastle backline was consistently among the Premier League’s six meanest throughout Albert’s time there, and the Belgian himself was no shrinking violet in the physicality stakes despite his attacking instincts and adeptness at bringing the ball out from the back.
Wherever he goes, whatever he does however, his name will always be synonymous with that outrageous lob against the champions in 1996. It is a goal that in some ways has become shorthand for the Keegan era in general – a centre half waltzing upfield to loft one in with a casual grace that most strikers of the age couldn’t manage.
If this video is a bit brief and dayglo for your tastes, highlights of all five goals can be found here.