After the very ‘wordy’ first part it is probably best to just fire straight in to this 1997/98 United squad. To begin with let’s look at the Goalkeepers and Defenders.
What can you say about Sieb Dijkstra that hasn’t already been said? I mean Sports Interactive did spell his second name wrong but I think most people maybe used ‘Dykstra’ (his full first name is actually Sybrandus). He was the first ‘mental goalie’ that I remember and he is someone who is still held in really high regard amongst fans of United, Motherwell and probably most supporters in Scotland who remember him with great fondness. A really good goalkeeper on his day he is definitely in my top few keepers I have seen play for us.
The first signing we ever made that I can remember thinking, “but why?”. The reason being is I remembered Maxwell’s part in the Scottish Cup winning goal for United against Rangers as he was in goal for the Ibrox side that day (and of course he was Motherwell’s goalkeeper in 1991 when we lost in the final to them). I quite liked Maxwell and always thought he was solid but a bit boring in comparison to Dijkstra. I suppose it is a bit strange thinking that we had two really experienced goalkeepers on the books when you look at most squads today who maybe just have one and then an obvious backup (even though Maxwell in 97/98 was definitely second choice). I know that both he and Dijkstra have ended up as coaches with Ally Maxwell currently working in the USA as a staff member for ‘SC del Sol’ in Arizona.
Mark Perry was probably one of the first players I thought was pretty good but remember some people giving him a bit of stick. I thought he and Steven Pressley were excellent together in the heart of the defence and I think I was quite annoyed and a bit upset when he left to join Aberdeen. He started his career at Tannadice in 1988 and in the 97/98 season Perry, Pressley, Malpas, Dijkstra and Pedersen all made over 40 appearances showing how consistent our backline was at the time.
Another whose name has been misspelled by Sports Interactive (it should be Stewart). A very strange signing at the time and someone who I liked only because he was a fairly short, angry footballer and I’m basically the same (but not as good). Back then I didn’t really know enough about transfers so I can’t really say why we picked him up at such an ‘old’ age but the fact he only made 10 appearances for us means he isn’t exactly someone with a lasting legacy.
This guy isn’t real. Given he has 1 for strength and 1 for stamina I’m quite glad.
The curious case of Armand Benneker (who as far as I can see is still a scout at Manchester United). I’ll be honest, I have no idea what happened here and any attempt to track information down has been hard to do. I’m sure there is a story about him trying to sue United at some point? Technically he shouldn’t be in the United squad for the 97/98 season but again it is difficult to try to find out exactly what happened as his last game was in 1996 and we cancelled his contract after 9 appearances. He had FANTASTIC hair (but not in a Stuart Armstrong way, more of a Thor’s flowing locks type look).
I was a big, big Pressley fan. For a long time ‘Elvis’ has held the title of the most expensive player United have ever bought and to be honest that record will probably last forever. We paid Coventry City £750,000 for the central defender and he went on to make 100 appearances for us, forming part of my favourite ever Tannadice defence. I hadn’t really processed the fact that he left the club on a Bosman. If he was bought by someone then we would have probably doubled our money at least. He went on to have a very good career beyond United and I always try to keep an eye on how things are going for him. Currently he is in Cyprus as manager of Pafos.
The man. The legend. Quite simply Erik Pedersen is, for people in my age bracket, THE cult hero. Given that he has a massive United badge tattooed on his arm it is safe to say that he knows it. I still miss his big screaming “C’MON!!” routine that he did in front of the East Stand before, during and after most games and he is the player you want everyone who pulls on the shirt to be like in terms of commitment and endeavour. His coming-of-age match for United was undoubtedly the victory of Rangers at Tannadice where he totally outclassed Brian Laudrup who was undoubtedly one of the best footballers in Europe at the time. One game that sticks out for me for all the wrong reasons is the Scottish Cup game against Celtic when he scored an injury time own goal to put us out of the tournament. His wife had given birth earlier that afternoon and it could have been the perfect day for Erik but to lose in that manner was heartbreaking. A Tannadice hero.
Another Tannadice legend. I was privileged as a football fan to have seen Malpas play, even if just for a couple of seasons. I used to watch a lot of Italian football in the late 90s (we all did) and I always used to think that Maurice Malpas was like our Franco Baresi. A one club man with a receding hairline who optimised class when it came to the art of defending. Will we ever have a player like him again? I doubt it.
I don’t think Jim Paterson made a single appearance for United in 97/98 but given he was only 17 at the time it was no surprise. Anyone who remembers watching him play for United will remember his infamous shimmy/step-over skill that was pretty much the only piece of trickery in his locker but he did possess a great left-foot and he probably had some untapped potential during his time at the club. After leaving Tannadice he did have a decent enough career but I always thought that he could have made more of a step up. He did suffer some horrendous injuries (including two leg breaks).
In terms of Goalkeepers and Defenders that’s nearly it but there are four players who made appearances for United in 97/98 who are not on the Championship Manager database…
Julian Alsford – I just remember him being really, really, really rubbish. He was released after just 4 appearances.
Neil Duffy – I didn’t mind Cornelius Duffy and to be honest as a utility player he was a decent enough option. We did sign him from Dundee which was an abhorrent thing for the club to do in the eyes of 14-year-old me but once he played a few games I managed to let my anger subside!
Iain Jenkins – I actually have a bit of a soft sport for Jenkins, who spent some of his time at the club as captain. A versatile defender he only stayed for a couple of seasons but he did end up spending much of his post-playing life in Dundee as part of the SFA Academy setup.
Magnus Sköldmark – Signing Scandinavian players was very much our thing back in the late 90s and I loved it. Most ended up being really good players but a couple ended up as just being a bit ‘meh’ and Sköldmark was one of those. We signed him from a Chinese team and he left after a couple of seasons but he didn’t play for much longer before becoming a footballing director.
Tomorrow (or the next day, or the next) we will have ‘Part 3’ looking at the midfield and the strikers.