By Keith Brookman
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United have been a big news story this season.
Solskjaer, the incumbent of the managerial seat at Old Trafford, has hardly put a foot wrong since taking charge and has led the club to the quarter finals of the Champions League.
So, it’s hard to believe that in July it will be twenty years since Manchester United, and Solskjaer, played at the Memorial Ground.
The occasion was, of course, a testimonial match for Lee Martin. The former United defender, who scored the winning goal in the 1989 FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace (against former Rovers goalkeeper Nigel Martyn), had been forced to retire from the game through injury.
His career had seen him leave Old Trafford in 1994 having made only 73 league appearances for the club. He signed for Glasgow Celtic that year, but a broken leg sustained while in Scotland restricted his appearances to 19 and in the summer of 1996, he had been persuaded, by Ian Holloway, to join Rovers.
However, persistent back problems during his time in BS7 eventually persuaded him to call it a day, though not before a final attempt to save his career with a loan spell at Huddersfield Town, where he played four games.
It was all in vain, though, and he was forced to admit defeat and his former boss, Alex Ferguson, had no hesitation in agreeing to bring a United side down to Bristol to play against The Gas even though United were scheduled to face Arsenal in the Charity Shield at Wembley just two days later.
United, who had completed a remarkable treble of winning the Premiership, FA Cup and European Cup the previous season, included regular first teamers David Beckham, Paul Scholes, David May and Solskjaer in their lineup.
A crowd of 10,534 turned up on a balmy July evening and they saw United take an early lead through Solskjaer who tapped the ball in from close range after goalkeeper Lee Jones failed to hold a Ryan Ford cross.
Rovers scored twice in four minutes just after half time, though, Jamie Cureton whipped in a curling right foot shot off the underside of the crossbar for the equaliser before putting Rovers ahead from the penalty spot after Jason Roberts had been fouled by John O’Shea.
Mind you, his spot kick was beaten out by goalkeeper Nick Culkin, who later spent a season long loan with The Gas, but ‘Curo’ picked up the rebound and slotted home.
Lee Jones saved a penalty at the other end, from Alex Norman after Mike Trought had fouled David Healy, but United did equalise two minutes from time with a 25 yard effort from Healy.
The Rovers side that night included a number of members of the current Former Players Association, the full lineup being as follows; Jones, Pethick, Thomson (Smith, 67), Tillson (Martin, 84), Foster (Trought, 67), Challis, Hillier (Trees, 65), Mauge, Pritchard (Leoni, 65), Roberts (Bennett, 63), Cureton (Ellington, 63).
United’s lineup was; Culkin, Clegg, May, O’Shea (Hilton,77), Curtis, Ford (Healy, 64), Beckham (Stewart, 64), Scholes (Welling, 64), Chadwick, Solskjaer (Norman, 64), Greening.
All of this brings me to the title of the article inspired, naturally, by the photos shown below; Michael Meaker with Paul Scholes and Solskjaer with Ray Johnston.
All four, of course, are or have recently been managers, something probably only Solskjaer might have been thinking about all those years ago. While he’s in charge at Old Trafford, his erstwhile colleague Paul Scholes recently took his first steps in management, with the club next to where he grew up, Oldham Athletic, but resigned after just 31 days.
As for Meaker, well he was assistant manager at Truro City until last week, and Johnston, whose only Rovers appearance came in the final game of the 1998/99 season against Macclesfield Town (‘Curo’, who else, scored a hat trick that 4-3 win at Moss Rose) is now in charge at Hallen.
I’m not too sure if any of the other United players involved that night have gone on to manage/coach at any level, but of the Rovers players on duty, Lee Jones is goalkeeping coach at Morecambe, Andy Tillson has had extensive coaching duties with Exeter City and Team Bath, while Trevor Challis is with the Bristol City Academy and David Hillier did have a spell as manager of Oldland Abbotonians.
Stephane Leoni is manager of French side US Sarre-Union and Jamie Cureton, while still playing, and scoring for Bishop’s Stortford, is also their joint Interim Manager.