SIMPLY DREAD! How Gary Walsh was beaten twice by singer Mick Hucknall pre-match, got the nod over legend Schmeichel... then felt full force of a brilliant Stoichkov-inspired Barcelona
THE omens didn’t look good for Manchester United keeper Gary Walsh’s chances of keeping Barcelona quiet in the Nou Camp after Simply Red’s Mick Hucknall fired a couple of shots past him on the eve of the game.
The flame-haired singer and huge United fan had joined in the preparations as Alex Ferguson’s side looked to defy the odds against Hristo Stoichkov, Romario and Co back in 1994.
It was the era of the threeforeigners-only ruling in the Champions League.
For the crucial trip to Spain Ferguson jettisoned his No.1 keeper, the Great Dane Peter Schmeichel, in favour of Walsh in order to play Ukrainian-born Andrei Kanchelskis plus Republic of Ireland pair Roy Keane and Denis Irwin.
Keane and Irwin were classed as ‘foreigners’ and with Schmeichel sitting in the stand alongside the banned Eric Cantona, Walsh and United were dismantled by Johan Cruyff ’s brilliant Barca 4-0.
Now installed as West Brom’s goalkeeping coach, Walsh admits harbouring bittersweet memories of the November night that effectively ended United’s ambitions of advancing from the group stage.
“I had no idea I was going to play until the morning of the game,” said Walsh. “There was a knock on the door of my hotel room and it was the gaffer. I think he left it to the day of the game so I didn’t have too much time to get nervous. The three foreigners ruling worked out for me but not for the team. There was no time for my family to book flights to come over, having only been told on the day of the game.”
Thankfully, added Walsh, Ferguson (right in Nou Camp) had obviously not spotted the scoring feats of Simply Red leader Hucknall the previous evening.
“Mick was a big United fan who had travelled to Spain with us and had boarded the coach heading for the Nou Camp for our last practice session,” explained Walsh.
“We were doing shooting practice and Mick joined in. He put a couple past me to be honest. It was amazing I still got picked. The gaffer couldn’t have seen what had happened!”
United couldn’t handle a Barca side that also included a young Pep Guardiola with Bulgarian superstar Stoichkov scoring twice, Romario and Albert Ferrer – who went on to play for Chelsea – notching the other two goals.
“It was one of the biggest games I have ever played in. I remember there was a little chapel at the Nou Camp. I wish I’d have gone in there because we needed a bit more help from the man above,” said a smiling Walsh.
Schmeichel offered plenty of encouragement. Walsh added: “Peter was really good. I spent four years with him. He told me to go out there and play my own game and not to let the atmosphere get to me. He came down at half-time and reassured me which was fantastic.
“It’s a little weird as there’s a goalkeeping conference at St George’s Park on Sunday and he’s the guest speaker. I haven’t spoken to him for something like 15 to 20 years. It will be great to catch up.”
Although the Nou Camp was a humbling experience, Walsh is looking for a
DVD of the game.
“I’ve never watched a recording of the game.
“Maybe it’s time that I did,” he said. “Despite the result I was glad I had the opportunity to play in front of more than 100,000 fans. Games like that don’t come along too often.”
David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville were on the bench. Five years later at the same venue they would lift the famous trophy following the inspirational victory against Bayern Munich.
By then the restrictions on foreign players had disappeared, which completely changed the scenery as many of Europe’s leading sides quickly became dependent on expensive imports.
Walsh made three appearances in Europe for United that season as the club bowed out in the group stage – along with 10 games in the Premier League when Schmeichel suffered a back injury.
He believes United are still in with a shout in Tuesday night’s quarter-final second leg in the Nou Camp even though they are a goal down.
“United have won at PSG and Juventus so you can’t write them off,” he said. “Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has given them massive belief – 1-0 is nothing. Anything can happen as we saw in Paris.
“You wouldn’t bet against United scoring, with the attackers they have.”
Just a bit of advice. David de Gea should steer clear of Mick Hucknall if the singer is in town.