Former Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards on the night the tide turned for the club and English football: ‘It felt as good as anything’
Winning a European trophy didn't just help Manchester United progress, it helped changed the perception of English football across the continent
Martin Edwards served as Manchester United chairman between 1980 and 2002, appointing Sir Alex Ferguson and ultimately leading the club to countless domestic trophies and the historic treble in 1999.
It took until 1991 for Manchester United to reach their first European final with Edwards as chairman, though, coming off the back of a European ban due to the Heysel Stadium disaster six years earlier.
Manchester United came up against Barcelona in that final, the European Cup Winners' Cup, where they won 2-1 through two Mark Hughes goals. For Edwards, this represented a huge shift in the direction of both the club and English football as a whole.
“There were so many different aspects to Rotterdam,” Edwards tells FourFourTwo. “English teams had been out of Europe after Heysel, and when we came back, people wondered how we would do without the experience of playing.
"We enjoyed a fairly easy ride against Pecsi Munkas and Wrexham, winning comfortably, then we went to Montpellier and won the key game away, before another good victory at Legia Warsaw in the semi-final. In the final, we came up against the mighty Barcelona, with a top manager in Johan Cruyff and two world-class players in Ronald Koeman and Michael Laudrup.
“Alex [Ferguson] had joined us in 1986 and we’d had a pretty lean time until we won the FA Cup in 1990. There was all that business about some of the supporters wanting him out. They felt he didn’t have the experience to be successful in the English league; that Scotland was much different. So, winning in Rotterdam would be important."
It wasn't all plain sailing, though, especially when considering issues with fans travelling over from England.
“But there was a worry regarding trouble. Police and stewards went to Holland a few days before. The last thing anybody wanted was trouble from English clubs – we would have been banned again.”
The 1991 final also represented 23 years since Manchester United had last won a trophy on the continent, too, after the 1968 European Cup. Fans were clearly ecstatic, as Edwards describes.
“There was real pent-up feeling in the celebration,” he says. “The fans really let themselves go; directors and players, too. It felt as good as anything – it put English football and United back on the map again.
"The night passed without trouble, and the Barcelona fans took the defeat quite well. The beauty of it was that you could tell the club was going places. Rotterdam gave the side so much confidence. It helped hugely for future successes.”
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Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future.