Forgotten Heroes - The Three Players who Saved Alex Ferguson's Job in 1990

Forgotten Heroes

Forgotten heroes.
Manchester United Win the 1990 FA Cup - Photo: Twitter

Manchester United are now a cultural and corporate monolith and though the results on the field have not been as dominate as before, the 'Red Devils' will continue to roll forward as a global entity and enjoy the support of hundred of millions of fans around the world. The shift which saw Manchester United from a long sleeping giant into the dominant force came under the watchful eye of Sir Alex Ferguson CBE.


During his 26 years reign with Manchester United, Sir Alex won an incredible 38 trophies and oversaw a culture of excellence and relentless expectations. Some of the trophy haul included 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, and two UEFA Champions League titles. Off the field, Sir Alex was knighted in the 1999 Queen's Birthday Honours list for his services to the game.

For all these incredible achievements, his early years at Old Trafford were a struggle as the board, history and the fan’s expectations weighed on his shoulders and the results on the field were poor.

After three years of disappointments, it came to a head when it was rumoured that he had one game to save his job.

That game was FA Cup third round game against Nottingham Forest on January 7th 1990 and who knows what would have happened if Manchester United had lost.


United are now the byword for sporting excellence, multi-million pound signings, blanket media coverage and a global fan base; but these foundations were laid in the late eighties and early nineties. United were a huge club in the sixties and the pressures of expectation were stifling as the years rolled on without success. Alex Ferguson was the man to answer the call, little Aberdeen had punched above their weight in the SPL and in Europe and "Fergie" with his impressive track record was seen as the person to install discipline into a then average team.

There were some darker days when the Stretford End were becoming increasingly impatient at the lack of success under the first four years of Alex Ferguson's underachieving reign.

In the '89-90 season, United again flattered to deceive with a 4-1 opening day victory over Arsenal but then went onto to endure another mediocre season including a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of their cross city rivals Manchester city.


The Three Players who Saved Alex Ferguson's Job.
Mark Robin Scores in the third round of the FA Cup. Photo: Alamy

A poor run of results saw United plummet down the table, according to legend, rumblings of discontent were increasingly vocal; the FA cup now offered the chance of salvation for Ferguson, United were drawn away to the once mighty Nottingham Forest (Stuart Pearce, Brian, Nigel Jenson, Nigel Clough et al), no easy pushovers. United and Ferguson's fate came down to one match in January 1990, lose and according to legend, Ferguson was reportedly going to receive the sack.

The Three Players who Saved Alex Ferguson's Job.
Was this the goal which changed football history? Photo: Getty Images 

The journeyman striker Mark Robins scored the only goal of the game and United progressed through the cup; Robin's again scored in the semi-final against Oldham and United were through to the final against Crystal Palace. The first game was a pulsating 3-3 draw. The replay was to offer up two more unlikely heroes.....


Lee Martin Scores.....

Man Utd.
Lee Martin - Photo: Getty Images 

Scottish goalkeeper Jim Leighton was controversially dropped by Ferguson for the replay. This probably was a hard choice for the manager to make as Leighton was a loyal servant for Ferguson at Aberdeen. Luckily, Leighton recovered from this disappointment and eventually played for Scotland at the 1998 World Cup.

Man Utd.
The late Les Sealey

His replacement was the late Les Sealey, another journeyman who was given an once in a life opportunity and literally grabbed it by keeping a clean sheet; a much more tense affair was settled by then youth player Lee Martin who scored the only goal (and only scored one more for United!). Importantly Ferguson had won a trophy, his position was secure and the foundations of success were laid. The success hungry club had its first taste of glory and this momentum would continue and continue.......


The Three Players who Saved Alex Ferguson's Job.
Cup Winners Cup Final 1991 - Photo: Getty Images 

Despite all their clashes in the champions league, everyone seems to have forgotten that United and Barcelona have met in a major European final before, the now defunct Cup-winners cup in 1991 in Rotterdam. The team included Lee Sharpe who briefly blazed for United but never truly fulfilled his potential. Again at that point, Barcelona were hot favourites but it was not to be for Barca as United triumphed 2-1 and endured an onslaught in the final ten minutes of the game. Who was a major hero for the night? Les Sealey........ Another watershed moment for United and greater European glory would soon await them................


Lee Martin never again reached the heights of his winning goal again and went on to make fleeting appearances for United, Celtic and Bristol City and now works in education as a youth career advisor, a world away from United. Les Sealey sadly passed away due to a heart condition in 2001 but as a measure of a man gave his FA cup winner's medal to Jim Leighton (Both eventually got medals) and remains a cult hero.

Mark Robins is now manager at Coventry City and cites Ferguson was a hugely positive influence.

Many players came and left United and assisted with the development of the club under Fergie's reign; hopefully the three aforementioned player's roles, no matter how small, will be remembered and appreciated for their fans forever.

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