May’s days

Once seen as a jinx, David May became something of a mascot at Manchester United as he all but vanished from sight except for trophy ceremonies, as Chris Taylor remembers

“Who the hell is that?” asked my dad. “David May,” I told him. May had just come on as a 90th-minute substitute for Ruud van Nistelrooy at Anfield. With the score 2-1, Sir Alex had decided enough was enough and it was time to shut up shop completely.

“Who?” asked my dad, thoroughly confused. “You know. David May. Signed him from Blackburn about nine years ago. Hardly ever plays.” My dad stared blank­ly back at me. Even ignoring the creeping onset of old age, my dad’s reaction was understandable; the last time I could remember May playing was in 1997.

May cost Manchester United £1.2 million back in the summer of 1994. He was Sir Alex’s only major signing after winning the double the previous season. Steve Bruce was getting on and it was thought that May would be his long-term replacement. As it was, May spent the best part of the 1995 season playing at right-back. Anyone who saw him there would probably ad­mit it was not his strongest position. I imagine that he still has nightmares over his performance against IFK Gothenburg in the Champions League. I know I do. Having finished runner-up at Blackburn the previous season, May had to make do with second best again.

At the time it was claimed he was a curse. A hex. It was obvious to anyone who paid attention – if you had May in the team, you were destined to finish as run­ners-up. Luckily for Manchester United fans around the globe, Alex Ferguson is a strong-willed individual with no time for witchcraft. In 1996 he stuck May in the centre of defence and Manchester United won the League and FA Cup double again.

The next season was May’s year. Steve Bruce had been put out to pasture in the lower leagues and May was first-choice centre-back. Playing in his strongest position, May matured into an excellent defender and was even­tually called up to Glenn Hoddle’s England squad for Le Tournoi de France. It didn’t seem to matter that he withdrew through injury as he was bound to get another chance in no time. But he didn’t.

I don’t remember any specific instances of his play­ing in 1998. This may be a trauma-related amnesia after Arsenal won the league that year. It could be that I was too busy preparing to take my A levels and work­ing behind the cheese counter in Gateways. But the fact remains that between getting called up for the Eng­land squad and being released this summer, May did very little for Manchester United.

While Fergie and the boys were on the beach in Brazil – or working hard in inhospitable conditions, I forget which is the current party line – for the World Club Championship, May was left at home in England and sent on loan to Huddersfield Town. After just one match, he got injured and returned to Old Trafford.

And that’s about it. After signing for Burnley re­cently, May reportedly said: “Everyone thinks I’ve been injured for the past few years, but I haven’t, the man­ager just didn’t play me.” In nine years as a Manchester United player, May made just 118 ap­pearances. He picked up two League Cham­pionship medals, two FA Cup win­ners’ medals and a European Cup win­ners’ medal. That’s a pretty impressive trophy haul for any player (four more than Alan Shearer), let alone one who spent so long on the fringes of the first team.

But of course I couldn’t write about May and not mention his greatest mo­ment in a United shirt. Even though he was an unused substitute (stupidly, the manager de­cided to send on Sheringham and Solskjaer instead), May will forever be remembered for his actions at the European Cup final in Barcelona. After the trophy presentation, he took it upon himself to lead the celebrations and be­come, de­pending on your view point, the master of ceremonies or the most brazen of gatecrashers. With tens of thous­ands of United fans singing and dancing in the ground, May walked out to the centre circle with the trophy, held a finger to his lips and silenced the entire crowd. There, one by one, he called the United players forward for their turn to lift the trophy and receive their praise from the fans. It was an amazing sight, and one that no one who was there will forget. Mainly because he made sure he was there, in the background of every single photograph taken that night.

From WSC 200 October 2003. What was happening this month

Comments (1)
Comment by scofmann 2010-09-30 14:24:14

As a young Blackburn fan, I went to school with a lad who during the 93/94 season claimed that David May was his uncle. It was clear to all that he had picked a player in the Rovers team that wouldn't raise too many questions. Shearer was a bit obvious…

This ruse lasted all of 8 months. Whenever May's visage appeared in a Merlin sticker book, there would be our classmate, chirping in that he'd seen him just the week before last at a family wedding.

It fell apart pretty quickly as he disowned all knowledge of the man during the Summer when he moved to the hated United.

I would've picked Stuart Ripley, personally…