Some football fans are lucky to have a choice.
Many might only see their side win a league title once in their lifetime. A rare breakaway from mediocrity when everything comes together and opponents are picked up and discarded like a loose chocolate bar wrapper.
Manchester United supporters have a selection box of goodies to plump from, 13 Premier League titles to be precise, spanning three decades where their team were considered Quality Street. I decided to ask United supporters which of these titles tasted the best during this appetite for success.
It began in the division’s inaugural year in 1992/93 when Alex Ferguson’s United ended 26 years without a top division title. They only had to wait 12 months for the next, and it came with an FA Cup, the club’s first domestic double.
Phil Brown was 17 years old at the time of the 1994 glory. Born in Belfast, he caught the United bug as a child in the early 80s and travelled over for his first match at Old Trafford in October 1991, a 1-1 draw with Arsenal.
Now 43, he co-hosts a United podcast Beyond the Pitch from his base in California, where he has lived for 20 years.
“If you’re asking what United’s best Premier League team was, arguably it’s 1994,” he said.
“It was a magnificent side with the likes of Mark Hughes, who was my favourite player then, and Eric Cantona. It was very highly rated among United fans.”
It remains the highest points tally Manchester United have collected in the Premier League, albeit aided by four extra games than their next 11 titles. Despite that, a mere two of 191 votes chose it as the best in an unofficial Manchester United FC Facebook group.
I started the poll having spent hours carefully collecting stats behind United’s triumphs. Within 30 seconds of posting in the group, I received a vote for 1998/99 with the comment: “Won the treble…next poll.”
United had indeed won the league, FA Cup and Champions League, lifting all three in the space of 10 memorable May days. But in the Premier League their record of 79 points is the second lowest of the 13 titles, as they edged past Arsenal by a point.
Brown understands why so many remember this as the best, demonstrated by its 151 votes.
“At the time, Arsenal were magnificent,” he recalls. “It’s more about the way United won the treble, they looked dead and buried against Juventus in the Champions League, and the same against Arsenal in the FA Cup.
“The way United won those competitions, including the Premier League which went to the last game and they came from behind, was so memorable.
“You’re defined by the quality of your rivals. Where would Real Madrid be without Barcelona? If your rivals are doing well, it puts pressure on you.”
Only one supporter voted for United’s next Premier League winning season, 1999/2000, which statistically is the best with 2.39 points per game, winning their last 11 to soar to the title by a record 18 points. They scored 97 in the league, their highest, but conceded 45, the most leaked during a Premier League title campaign.
Brown said: “There’s more of a buzz from close title races. The biggest one I got was from 1998/99 because it came right at the end when everything was on the line.”
The treble winners only lost five matches out of 63 in all competitions, and to juggle three major ones is remarkable. Only a shock FA Cup defeat to Portsmouth prevented repetition in 2007/08, the season voted clear second in the poll.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney shone in attack and Edwin van der Sar excelled in goal, conceding just 22 in the league. The league was secured with a final day win over Wigan and the Champions League at a rainy Moscow, with Chelsea runners-up in both.
There are six campaigns which received no votes. In 1995/96, United won a second double and overcame a 12-point deficit to clinch the Premier League on the final day. It speaks volumes of their success that their up-and-coming side with David Beckham and Paul Scholes emerging is dwarfed by what happened three years later.
The 2006/07 season produced United’s best win percentage across all competitions, and joint best in the league, but it is still not enough for fans. They ‘only’ reached the semi-finals in the Champions League and lost the FA Cup final.
These fine margins appear to sway the vote for Manchester United fans rather than win percentages. It will clearly take something extraordinary to outdo the 1999 team.