PL25: The day Neville the Red fed the Goat

To celebrate 25 years of the Premier League each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a memorable game that took place on the corresponding date. This time out we revisit an emotional farewell to a famous ground where the neighbours more than played their part.

The Manchester derby of 2002 was a very different animal to today’s quest to be first among equals. Fifteen years ago this was – on paper at least – a mismatch between Premier League aristocracy on the hunt for their eighth title and a club who hadn’t gone a season without experiencing the ecstasy of promotion or turmoil of relegation for six full years. One of those seasons even saw City drop to the third tier for the first time in their history. Some stability, then, was the watchword as the blue half of the city found themselves back in the big time and all with the added incentive of inheriting a new stadium that summer once the Commonwealth Games was concluded. Unfortunately for them their manager at the time was a certain Kevin Keegan, a thrill-seeking up-and-at-them coach who presumably thought ‘stability’ was a house for disabled horses.

Keegan had assembled a typically entertaining side that had cut a stylish swathe through the Championship the previous year, scoring an incredible 108 goals most of which were orchestrated by their twin magicians of Ali Benarbia and Eyal Berkovic. Retaining this talented squad gave them hope for the tough challenges ahead while up front, alongside their recent acquisition of Nicolas Anelka, was a cult legend with a song to match.

“Feed the Goat and he will score,” the Kippax faithful would sing, usually after yet another clinical finish from their striker Shaun Goater, a beloved figure at Manchester City due to his easy-going nature and penchant for scoring goals.

In reality this was a straightforward celebration of the Bermudan’s prolificacy but interpreted differently it could also be construed as an instruction to his team-mates. In the 26th minute of this enthralling local dust-up, visiting full-back Gary Neville perhaps got a little confused and took the lyrics to heart.

The score was already 1-1 even at this early juncture, Anelka pouncing on a powder puff palm-out from Barthez to convert his seventh of the campaign before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer slid in to even things up and this all before latecomers had taken their seats.  A period of frenetic back-and-to then took place before Berkovic found a rare acre of space and lofted it across the United box. The ball was clearly intended for Goater but unusually for the artful Israeli his sat-nav wasn’t working on this occasion, and as the ball trickled harmlessly towards the goal-line some players even began to turn their backs. The responsibility to shepherd it out of play fell to Neville – the man who most encapsulated Ferguson’s United; the man who seriously believed moustaches would come back into fashion – and he did so diligently until he heard the clumping of goat hoofs getting louder with every step. Panicking with the presence of the pressing Goater, the defender who represented England on 85 occasions including five major tournaments chose this moment to enact his most hilarious howler. He attempted to redirect the ball towards his keeper in doing so only managing to control it for the City forward who calmly knocked it ahead of his stride and slotted it into the far corner of the net.

Cue bedlam on the terraces and astonishment in the commentary box. In the last ever derby held at Maine Road, before the proud old ground faced demolition, a deeply unpopular player for the enemy had only gone and fed the Goat.

In truth it was not only Neville who erred in red on this day. His brother Phil was largely responsible for City’s opener while a midfield depleted by injuries was over-run throughout. On the hour mark Ferguson thundered down from his vantage in the director’s box to haul off an insipid Veron and distraught Neville but by then the home side were two goals up with Goater feasting on a second, his hundredth for the club.

Seven months later, Manchester City played their final ever game at Maine Road, an under-whelming 1-0 reverse to Southampton to secure them a mid-table finish. This, though, was the ground’s real farewell.

What happened next?

Undeterred by losing their third game in nine United revved up their engines and snatched an eighth Premier League title.

Manchester City moved into the City of Manchester Stadium after 80 fun, glorious and entirely unstable years at their former, much-missed home.