The League Cup has taken many names over its 53 year history and in the 1990-91 season the electrical retailer Rumbelows gave their name to the competition that would give us a cracking cup tie for us to watch on their rented telly sets.
George Graham’s Arsenal, a canny mix of cloggers, muggers, drinkers and dribblers, hosted Alex Ferguson’s pretenders, Manchester United, in their first meeting since the infamous Old Trafford brawl of just one month earlier where 21 of the 22 players engaged in a full on handbag-fest which resulted in a points deduction for both clubs. Moustachioed Gunners ‘keeper David Seaman being the only man to refrain from joining in the contretemps.
This midweek, televised clash between these two arch enemies burst into life after a mere two minutes of action. United’s perma-tanned full back Clayton Blackmore drilled his free kick low past the Arsenal wall and into the net past ‘Spunky’ Seaman to silence the packed North Bank end of Highbury.
Both sides were going at it hammer-and-tongs and with chances aplenty at both ends it was United who would extend their lead when former England winger Danny Wallace squared the ball across the box for curly-haired, Welsh wrestler, Mark Hughes to smash another past the helpless Seaman. The famous Arsenal back four were being mesmerised by the visitors’ attacking style. Unsurprising given the eye-frazzling design of United’s away shirts.
Worse was to come when Lee Dixon was robbed of the ball by snake-hipped, Brummie fanny-rat, Lee Sharpe, who then curled a glorious, uncharacteristic right-footed effort into the top corner from 20 yards out to give Fergie’s men an unbelievable three goal lead. Sharpe, who was all the rage at Old Trafford before Ryan Giggs was even a glint in Ferguson’s eye, would end the night as the star of the show.
The half time whistle blew to give the erstwhile stuffed-envelope enthusiast, George Graham, the opportunity to bollock his usually miserly defence, and the travelling fans, who in those days all came from Manchester, a reason to party in the capital.
The early stages of the second half gave the Gunners hope of a comeback when big-nosed striker Alan Smith pounced on a volley from Michael ‘It’s Up For Grabs Now’ Thomas which rebounded off United’s slightly unhinged goalie, Les Sealey, to narrow the deficit to two goals. Smith would exploit Sealey again soon after following a corner on Arsenal’s right hand side. Chief rabble-rouser, Tony Adams, headed goalwards only for Sealey to fumble weakly and the lanky frontman poked home his second of the night. 2-3, game on, or so Arsenal thought!
The revival was snuffed out when Denis Irwin, one of Ferguson’s greatest signings, swung over an inch-perfect cross from the United right. Sharpe ghosted into the box and leapt like the proverbial salmon to nod home a fourth goal. The 19-year-old would then bag his hat-trick following more good work by Wallace who slotted the left winger through the heart of the absent Gunners rearguard to shoot past Seaman again for an incredible 5-2 lead.
The diminutive former Southampton man Wallace would deservedly round off the drubbing when he got on the end of Hughes’ drilled cross to score the sixth and final United goal of the night.
Arsenal’s collective broken and flattened noses may have been out of joint temporarily after this defeat but they would ultimately lift the League title after going the whole season suffering just one defeat and conceding a record-breaking 18 goals all season. They were denied in the FA Cup by a Gazza-inspired Tottenham in that famous Wembley semi-final.
Although Ferguson and United weren’t quite at the stage of winning Championships yet, the fruits of the Scotsman’s labour were slowly coming to bear. They would lose the Rumbelows Cup Final to Sheffield Wednesday, managed by former United boss, Ron Atkinson in a classic final but would taste European glory in Rotterdam, by defeating Johann Cruyff’s Barcelona in the Cup Winners Cup Final.