Former York City star Christian Fox remembers playing against a strong Manchester United in pre-season friendly at Bootham Crescent in the summer of 2000 in the latest ‘My Greatest Game’.
The Selby Town manager played for the Minstermen at the turn of the century after coming through the York youth team system, making over 70 appearances for the then-Football League outfit.
York City 0-2 Manchester United (Roy Keane 52, 62) – 29th July 2000
Manchester United: Van der Gouw, G Neville, Irwin, Wallwork, Silvestre, Keane, Beckham, Scholes, Notman, Yorke, Giggs. Subs: Teather, Webber, Djordjic.
“A funny story from the game is that we found out that David Beckham had asked York City if he could land a helicopter on the pitch after the game to take him down to London or somewhere. Maybe to meet up with Posh Spice? The club refused to let him so he either came separately in his car and someone drove his car up so he could leave in it afterwards.
“The game was arranged in the deal which took the goalkeeper Nick Culkin from York to United. They agreed to come and the club knew it would be a sell out.
“I’m a boyhood Manchester United fan so I was really looking forward to it. The week before we had been to Keele University a pre-season tour or whatever, but we didn’t really know what team they would bring. They always promised they would bring a decent team. I knew I was playing because we had gone through a few things like shape in the week leading up to it. To play in a game like that being a boyhood fan was really exciting. It wasn’t just me who was excited because there were a few other Man U fans in the group and at the time they were the best team in the country. They had just won the Premier League and the year before the Champions League.
“The team they brought was really strong. I remember standing in the tunnel and that tunnel at York is fairly narrow and the one thing that struck was how slight Roy Keane was. You’d seen him on TV and you think he’s a big unit and presence, but was quite slight with his thin legs and he was quite small. I was next to Beckham and I remember looking across and seeing his wedding ring taped up. The size of the ring seemed massive. I don’t know either what Man U thought to the changing rooms because you can’t swing a cat in the away dressing room. I don’t know what it would have been like with all the staff in there as well. Alex Ferguson was also there and he was on the touchline. The only time I saw him was in the tunnel.
“In the game, we played three in midfield for some bizarre reason against those four in United’s midfield. There was me, Steve Agnew who is now Newcastle United’s assistant manager to Steve Bruce and Kevin Hume who’d been at Halifax. So there was us three in midfield and we had to mark bloody Beckham, Keane, Scholes and Giggs. That was our jobs, it sounds ridiculous. We knew it was going to be a hard afternoon, running and chasing after the ball. It was also July and absolutely boiling. There was three or four players who stood out. Keane obviously, Scholes, Giggs, but the one who did who wouldn’t have thought before the game was Dennis Irwin. He was absolutely unbelievable. He was in his later career at the time. He was up and down and rapid as well. That was the difference between the teams, the fitness, the speed and the work rate overall. They were all technically good players, but the other bits shone. Beckham was good and his range of passing was unbelievable. He was knocking 60-70 yard passes to people’s feet. It was 2-0 and Roy Keane scored them both, but it could have been ten. They were getting through on goal and trying to nutmeg the goalkeeper or chip it over him. It was embarrassing really, but we couldn’t get anywhere near them for the majority of the game. When we had the ball, they let us have time on it which was different to what we used to in normal league games.
“There was over 9000 people there and it was bouncing. It was one of the only times that it was like that when I was at York. I didn’t play, but we drew Fulham in the Cup and that was another time when it was full capacity. But the Man U game was probably the only time when I played at Bootham Cresent and it was a full house. The atmosphere was amazing. It is strange that a pre-season friendly is one of my main highlights of playing for York, but we didn’t have the best of times. We were never competing for promotion, but weren’t fighting relegation either. It sticks out because of being a Man U fan. I don’t remember too well who will have played for York that day. Alan Fettis was in goal, Darren Edmondson right, the Brighton manager Graham Potter was left-back. Gary Hobson would have played and Peter Swann was centre-back. Then there was the three I mentioned in midfield. Barry Conlon would have played upfront, I’m not sure who else. It will be in the archives.
“In every game the team that year was all set up to how we would stop the opposition rather than how we would impose ourselves on the game. That was the story of my time at York, it was always about the other team. I never really pay attention to the other team when I manage. Unless we can’t, we always try to be on the front foot. It is a bit depressing looking back. It was all about hitting the corners and turning teams, play the percentage game I suppose. It was literally about getting up the pitch, try win corners, knock it behind them. If you’re going to play like that you’re just hitting and hoping. It sounds daft, but I probably rarely touched the ball because it was all about working hard and stopping the other team. I probably didn’t enjoy playing at times. I did through the Youth teams and the YTS’s because we always had good teams. But with the pro side, I enjoyed the training because of the camaraderie with the lads, but not the matches and certainly towards the end of my York career, I was playing in the reserves and it wasn’t that enjoyable. I still have fond memories of playing for York and I keep an eye on results. I came through the youth system so I spent nine years of my life with the club.”
Christian Fox was interviewed by James Grayson