Manchester United made history in 2020 when they scored one of the most bizarre goals in Premier League history, clinching a win that signified the forces of VARmageddon and lockdown football coming together as one.
No, we haven’t just sold you the plot of a strange and overly dramatic, dystopian Hollywood blockbuster. This actually happened.
The hellish void of lockdown football seems to become more and more ridiculous the further we get away from it. The silence of no crowds, the outgrown haircuts and ever-changing safety regulations, teams looking and playing completely differently, and of course the whacky scorelines.
It was like the entire 2020-21 season existed merely as a vessel of the infamous Boxing Day 1963 football results. You know the ones.
But lockdown football has something that Boxing Day 1963 didn’t is Video Assistant Referee (VAR). Not just VAR, but VAR in its infancy in England.
Mix the two together and it’s probably why that 2020-21 season feels like such a fever dream looking back. Nothing will quite so surreal, though, as the 3-2 victory United escaped the AMEX Stadium with on September 26 2020, when Solly March’s equaliser in the fifth minute of injury time looked to have sealed a point for Graham Potter’s Brighton.
That should’ve been it. Points shared and a long drive home for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side. Plenty to think about and plenty of revision to do about United DNA, or whatever sort of fumes they were running on under the Norwegian.
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It wasn’t it, though. Remember Fergie time? Yeah, multiply that by 100, give it a good old shake, throw it about a bit and inject it with a pandemic and you get what happened instead of Brighton snatching a 2-2 draw. We’ll call it Ole time, for the sake of it.
Brighton, likely aggrieved with the prospect of only taking a point from the game after striking the woodwork twice in the second half despite falling behind, suddenly found themselves walking away empty-handed despite March’s best efforts, in one of the strangest moments in Premier League history.
So what happened?
With five minutes of injury time on the clock, March had headed in an equaliser inside the final minute of that added time. United were allowed to play on amid the delay through celebrations, and went down the other end desperately in search of anything to salvage the game, but looked resigned to a draw when March blocked Harry Maguire’s headed effort off the line.
Chris Kavanagh blew the full-time whistle and the game ended 2-2 after 97 minutes of play, until it didn’t. Maguire and United, incensed at something, were claiming a penalty, even though the game had just definitively ended with the sound of the whistle. You know, the full-time whistle that ends every game of football ever, across the globe.
Anyway, it turns out VAR Simon Hooper had begun investigating the potential shout for handball against Neal Maupay inside Brighton’s penalty area, with the ball coming off him from point-blank via Maguire’s header, before going towards goal.
Then came the tense delay as everyone waited for the final call, except it felt even more strange because the stadium was empty and the game had already finished. Things got even weirder when Kavanagh reversed his decision to end the game and pointed to the spot.
A penalty had been awarded after the full-time whistle had blown. Seriously. How on earth does that happen? Not even in the peak of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign of terror, where people were accusing him week in week out of having Howard Webb on his payroll, did he ever manage to watch his side win a game of football through a penalty awarded after the final whistle.
Bruno Fernandes then stepped up and slotted the spot kick past Mathew Ryan. 3-2 United in the 99th minute of a 90-minute contest and change. Misery compiler for Brighton. Barclays moment of the year. Ole time in full flow.
The BBC asked Potter ‘how on earth’ his side lost the game after the match, to which he could only respond: “It’s a good question… I haven’t got the answers at the moment”.
Graham, mate, it’s been almost three years and we still don’t have the answers. Don’t you worry.
“It’s a sore one to say the least. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
We unlocked a new level of Barclays that day. A level of Barclays that is yet to be reached again or bettered in terms of sheer absurdity.
And it’s unlikely it ever will be. The time capsule that is the 2020-21 lockdown season will never be forgotten, with moments like this making it one of the most standout 38-game seasons ever in the beautiful game.
By Mitchell Wilks