United were like Liverpool once…
20+ years without the Holy Grail nestling like a shiny silver beacon of light in the Old Trafford trophy cabinet. Years of underachievement, disappointment and watching your main rivals clean up the trophies was the story of Manchester United since the last league championship of 1967, in fact much like the Liverpool over the past 20 years. Yes there were the magical nights that gave us the European Cup of 68, the Cup Winners Cup of 91 and not to mention the Scouse busting FA cup wins of the 70’s and 80’s. But it was the league title however that all reds craved.
The league title that Bryan Robson would sweat alcohol, blood, sweat and tears for during his peak in the 80’s (bit like Gerrard for the mob down the East Lancs, probably without the same amount of booze though).
The league title that saw McGuiness, O’Farrell, Docherty, Sexton, Atkinson all try and fail to deliver to the ever increasing restless reds.
We all know what happened next, November 1986 in walked a Scot who would go on to make our dreams become reality and deliver riches beyond what anyone who grew up watching the shirts in the 70’s or 80’s could ever dream of. But before the joy, before the light came the dark of 1991-92 and in particular the dark day that was New Years Day 1992, the day Dennis Bailey ruined my tea!
The 1991-92 season was a historic one in British football, it was the year before Sky and the year before football was invented! The Premier League was looming large and live football would soon be revolutionised by the Murdoch machine. Yet before Richard Keys and his hands of hair graced our screens Elton Welsby was the face of ITV football’s flagship programme ‘The Match’ and where he went the taunts from the stands would follow ‘Elton Welsby you’re a…’ I’m sure you can guess the rest. Elton and the team arrived on that fateful New Years Day for United v QPR, bringing the excitement of knowing you were there and millions would be watching on at home. It was a novelty, not like the almost daily diet we get now, it was special to be on TV then. The 5pm kick-off also contributed to the drama that was about to unfold, the county settled down with hangovers and expected United to win.
I remember wandering down to the ground, 3 hours before kick-off with my brother and his girlfriend with the sense of excitement that the Christmas games always bring. As we walked up from our usual parking space on the Kings Road my pessimistic brother said what he usually says even to this very day, “We’ll struggle to beat these lot.”. Pah I scoffed, it’s QPR and we are top of the league and just like a scouser does now I muttered those immortal words “this year is our year.”
We always got into the ground around 2 and half hours before kick-off in those days, you had to make sure you got your spot in the Stretford End, half-way down to the right hand side of the goal leaning on a bar was mine. The Stretty always felt full, I remember some days I couldn’t even more my arms from my side during particularly big games, however the rest of the stadium wasn’t so full and only 38,554 turned up that New Years Day – at least that is what the club announced…
The Christmas period had been fruitful for United. I took my place at Boundary Park on Boxing Day for one of my most enjoyable away games as a United fan, 6–3 against Oldham, Denis Irwin and Brian McClair both scored twice, while Giggsy and Andrei Kanchelskis also scored, helping United maintain their lead at the top of the league. Three days later, we went to the sheep pen and came back with a battling 1–1 with our nearest title contenders Leeds, the league was now in sight.
We were top of the table, unbeaten at home and odds on favourites to be crowned First Division champions ahead of the lot from the wrong side of the Pennines.
That is when Dennis Bailey stepped in.
On that unforgettable New Years Day Dennis Bailey claimed the only hat-trick of his professional career to give QPR their first — and last — away win over United stunning us, the 38,554 in the ground and the millions watching on live television. The 4-1 result did not flatter QPR we were shocking. Bailey was like the Brazilian Ronaldo that day. QPR were already 1 up before Bailey stepped up after only 5 minutes to score his 1st and the hangovers in the stands suddenly felt a thousand times worse. After the explosive opening the rest of the half passed with no further goals and you had to think to yourself, get an early goal and we can still get something here, how wrong I would be…
Soon after half-time, they got the third. Bailey, outpaced Steve Bruce and chipped Schmeichel as he flew out Schmeichel style. 3 up and the crowd began to turn against United. McClair pulled one back to give us hope with less than ten minutes to go and as we would see many times in the subsequent years, United went for it.
As the expected red tide bombed forward QPR broke in their own half, and England’s finest Andy Sinton (and you think England have problems now) ran the length of the field down the right, cutting in, he shot and Schmeichel saved us, or so we thought, the ball hit the post and who was there first?
Bruce with a last ditch clearance?
Pallister? To elegantly bring the ball out to start another attack?
No Dennis Bailey.
A tap-in. Old Trafford was in shock, time stood still. There was no coming back, 4-1 at home, to QPR. New Years Day disaster. The millions of ABU’s getting the perfect present to begin their year. As we trudged away despondently into the new year night, the prospect of another year without the Holy Grail felt very real.
The season continued and the top spot changed hands 7 times before Leeds took control in April and hit the top, staying there until the end. We won the League Cup for the 1st time (more of that another time) adding to the Uefa Super Cup we had won however losing the league hurt. It hurt like it hurt this year
So what of Dennis Bailey now? Well I would like to hate him for breaking my dreams and ruining 1992 but he seems like a real decent bloke. He’s found god, helps under privileged kids and is generally an all round good egg. That day at Old Trafford was however his peak, when all the stars align to give you that one off occasion that you will never forget. He played for 19 different professional and non-league clubs and retired only a few years ago, that 4-1 win for QPR is still what most people remember him for.
It’s why I remember Dennis Bailey, it is why Dennis Bailey ruined my tea.
Let Brian Moore and Dennis the King take you back to that horrible place…