The youngster who started for Man Utd in the CL before ‘downwards spiral’

Mark Lynch is the answer to an intriguing quiz question.

He is the only Manchester United player to make one first-team appearance for the club and score an own goal in that sole game.

It was in March 2003 when the defender was given his debut by Sir Alex Ferguson in a Champions League game at Deportivo La Coruna, which ended 2-0 to the Spaniards.

Victor had given Deportivo a first-half lead before Lynch, playing as a right wing-back, turned the ball into his own net two minutes after the restart.

But, instead of being on the receiving end of Fergie’s infamous hairdryer treatment, the United manager rewarded the young defender with a new contract.

“The following day, some of the newspapers had headlines such as ‘Lynch hanged himself’,” the now-38-year-old says.

“Sir Alex told me not to take any notice and that I had done well during the game. He knew that these things happened and it wasn’t as though my own goal had knocked us out of Europe.”

Thankfully for Lynch, United had already qualified for the quarter-finals – where they would go on to lose to Real Madrid – which meant that Ferguson was able to field an inexperienced side at the Riazor. Their youngest ever in the Champions League, in fact.

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READ: Where are they now? Man Utd’s youngest ever Champions League side

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“We had a training session the night before the game at Deportivo’s stadium and did some shape work in a 3-5-2 formation,” Lynch says.

“It occurred to me that it was likely Sir Alex would go with those tactics, which meant I would be playing.

“We had quite a lot of defenders in the squad at the point and, had he gone with four at the back, I might not have played.

“At the end of the session, Sir Alex came up to me and said, ‘Lynchy, you’re starting tomorrow and you are going to play at right wing-back.’”

The Deportivo team was a vintage one which included such names as Djalminha, Juan Carlos Valeron and Roy Makaay.

Lynch’s own goal came in the 47th minute when he and Albert Luque competed for Victor’s cross, with Lynch putting the ball beyond United goalkeeper Ricardo.

“I was tight with Luque, but Victor’s ball kind of hit me in the face and went in. It wasn’t a great feeling, but I was determined to enjoy the game, whatever happened.”

Making the breakthrough

Unlike many of United’s youngsters, who tended to make their debuts from the ages of 17 and above, Lynch had to wait until he was 21 for his chance.

Manchester born and bred, he was taken on by United when he was 11 after being spotted by local scouts.

Raised in a United-supporting family, he came through the famed youth system at Old Trafford, where his coaches included Reds legends Nobby Stiles and Arthur Albiston.

A regular for the club’s youth and reserve teams, in 2001 he was sent on loan to St Johnstone, in Scotland’s Premiership, in a bid to further his football education.

“Obviously St Johnstone are nowhere near the stature of Manchester United and they were struggling at the time, which was something I had not been used to,” Lynch says.

“I found it difficult at first and it was a steep learning curve to play in such a competitive league, and against teams like Celtic and Rangers.

“It was my first time living away from home and losing every week took its toll on my confidence but, looking back, it was what I needed.”

On his return to United, Lynch began to train with the first team and was occasionally part of the first-team squad on matchdays.

United’s last home game of the 2001-2002 season, against Charlton Athletic, saw him named a substitute – much to his surprise.

“I received a call on the morning of the game from Sir Alex, who told me, ‘Lynchy, get yourself down to the stadium because you are going to be involved.’

“At the end of the day, it is a chance to play with your idols, but I had to show them that I wasn’t overawed and tried to take it in my stride.”

Unused that day, the match against Deportivo came 10 months later.

Beginning of the end

The following December, he had been due to start in a League Cup game against West Brom but damaged his knee two days previously – an injury which would plague him throughout his career.

His absence also meant a chance for Phil Bardsley, who went on to build a successful career with Sunderland, Stoke City and Burnley.

At the end of the 2003-2004 campaign, Lynch joined Sunderland, having realised his time at United had come to a close.

“I had Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Wes Brown in front of me, as well as John O’Shea, who could also play right-back. I was 22 and there was only so much time I could spend trying to establish myself at United.

“It was really sad the day I drove away from the training ground because United was all I had known since I was 11, and I was leaving guys behind who I had grown up with, as well as all the coaches.

“As emotional as it was, I had to look at it as a new start and I have never regretted leaving.”

He made 11 appearances under Mick McCarthy at Sunderland before moving to Hull City, where he suffered another knee injury 30 seconds into his debut. On his return to the team, he was sent off.

Spells at Yeovil Town – where he played in the 2007 League One play-off final defeat to Blackpool – Rotherham United and Stockport County followed before he decided to call it a day at the age of 30 while at non-league Altrincham.

“It became apparent that turning up to play on a Saturday no longer interested me,” the father of two says.

“My career became a downward spiral because I never managed more than two seasons at one club.

“Having said that, I was at such a big club in United for such a long time and have a lot of good memories.

“There is nothing I would really change because everything that happened in my career was pretty much circumstantial. It was just one of those things and you move on with life.”

Today, he runs a fitness business, MRK5 Business, and has little to do with football.

“I don’t watch it an awful lot and I never pined to get back into it,” Lynch says. “It was something I had and have now left behind.

“I took my dad to the United – Liverpool game at Old Trafford in October for his 70th birthday, but that was the first time I had been there in around 10 years.

“I keep tabs on United from time to time but, being the father of two girls, my life now revolves around gymnastics, swimming and ballet.”

By Simon Yaffe

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