Recalling David Beckham’s first Man Utd goal, Galatasaray, & a small step towards eventual European glory
A year on from an infamous trip to Istanbul to face Galatasaray, Manchester United were no longer in hell as proposed in 1993, but felt the heat inside Old Trafford on a December night as they welcomed the Turkish side to Manchester.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils found themselves between a rock and a hard place in their bid to make the knockout stages of the 1994-95 Champions League.
Beating Gala in front of a home crowd wasn’t enough. They needed a favour from IFK Goteborg out in Spain, that favour being beating none other than Barcelona. Tough ask.
But Ferguson knew that. And with a league campaign to focus on as well as restrictions from UEFA on fielding foreign players, the shackles were somewhat off heading into the Theatre of Dreams to face Galatasaray.
‘Somewhat’ being the key word.
While the writing might’ve been on the wall results-wise before any balls were kicked that night, United still had much to prove and amends to make.
2,000 miles away from home, United were treated by swarms of Gala supporters and ultras as they tried to leave the airport terminal in Istanbul in 1993, the beginning of an extremely difficult trip.
Being greeted with ‘welcome to hell’ banners set the tone for an immensely intimidating environment, one which Gary Pallister conceded United might not have been equipped for when speaking to The Independent in 2012.
“We were not then an experienced European team. We had won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1991 but this was almost our first Champions League experience away from home.
“Everything seemed as if it was allowed to be attacked. They let the supporters in at the airport with all the ‘Welcome to Hell’ banners. They could only have come in with the police’s say-so. It was all about taking a team out of its comfort zone and, if you have done that, then you have won half the battle.”
They departed Turkey having flopped in the wake of serious hostility, Ferguson infuriated and vowing never to play in the country again with travelling fans arrested and victimised, an unthinkable scenario following the aftermath of Heysel.
So when United had to travel out to Turkey again the following year – and later host Gala in a crucial contest after drawing the same fixture 3-3 last time around – tensions were high even if optimism wasn’t.
19-year-old David Beckham was entrusted with his first European start, the latest achievement in a string of high points involving United’s use of their academy, and the emergence of the Class of ’92.
After Simon Davies had fired United in front early on, it was Beckham who made a name for himself and made the game feel like one that remains overlooked but quietly incredibly important in United’s history, given their reputation with youngsters and letting players make a name for themselves.
Beckham, keeping up with the play as the visitors failed to clear a ball bouncing towards their goal, reacted first to a rushed clearance from Bulent Korkmaz.
The reaction? What would become trademark, cool as you like finishing from the future star. The ball bobbled its way away from goal, only to be fired back towards the Stretford End and nestle low into the back of the net, thanks to a venomous strike from the right foot of a young Beckham.
Happy 46th birthday to David Beckham🎁🎉🎂
Below is Beck's first ever goal which came in 1994 against Galatasaray – what is your favourite Beckham goal, assist or moment ❓ pic.twitter.com/m9dTnHYkVu
— 𝘾𝙖𝙣𝙩𝙤𝙣𝙖 𝘾𝙤𝙡𝙡𝙖𝙧𝙨 – aka Larry 🇾🇪 (@Cantona_Collars) May 2, 2021
Two-nil United, at an important time in the game. A sucker punch – and Beckham’s first goal for the club.
His coolly taken strike on his maiden European start would set the tone for a comprehensive second-half performance as a young United outfit put another two past Galatasaray to win 4-0.
Speaking after the game, Ferguson was delighted with how the evening went: “I was proud of the young players.”
“I told them to go out and enjoy the match and they did. I knew they had the talent but you always question whether they have the temperament to cope with a big match at Old Trafford. This game proved they have.”
European nights at Old Trafford are not for the faint-hearted.
Be it the reigning, defending two-time Premier League champions in the middle of the 1990s, or a sleeping giant being underestimated by many after a slow start, the air on those Champions League evenings is simply different.
Looking back with rose-tinted spectacles, it’s easy to dismiss the parallels between Ferguson’s United outfit in December 1994 and Erik ten Hag’s crop heading into an Old Trafford clash with Galatasaray in September 2023.
But they’re there. Backs against the wall, the squad having disappointed, there is always still something to prove when you’re pulling on United’s red shirt in front of 74,000 supporters.
A 4-0 win and a goal from Beckham wasn’t enough to inspire United into the knockout stages, but it was a key moment in writing the wrongs of the year previous and perhaps one of the early catalysts for United’s eventual rise to the top of the European mountain come the end of that decade.
There’s always time for a hero on a Champions League night at Old Trafford.