There is a natural divide when asking supporters to name their favourite shirt but ask any Manchester United supporter which is the coolest their club have ever had and you’re likely to get a unanimous decision.
Sure, depending on your era, you may have a particular fondness for the late 70’s white Admiral effort with the black stripes, but even supporters from the Doherty era go misty-eyed at the strip that is surely the creme de la creme. I’m talking, of course, about the 1993-1995 all black, “Sharp Viewcam” effort. Reference it and one image comes to mind; Eric Cantona, collar up.
It was the first shirt released after United had ended their long wait for a league title and so is reflective of an era of confidence and arrogance; helped by the team’s incredible form in its first season while wearing the shirt. Its first outing came at Villa Park on 23rd August against the previous season’s runners up. Villa were worthy competitors but United’s class told with a thrilling Lee Sharpe brace.
Five days later and Sharpe was starring in the shirt again as United travelled to the Dell. Sharpe scored in a 3-1 win, where the strip was unusually altered so that the Reds wore the blue socks from the previous season’s change strip. However Cantona was the star man, scoring a ridiculous chip to demonstrate that he was an island of calm surrounded by a sea of crazy.
It was December until the shirt was worn again, at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane. Cantona scored the pick of the goals in a 3-0 win.
The shirt was worn 4 more times that season - at Anfield, Upton Park, the County Ground and Highbury. All of those games were drawn - the Liverpool game famously remembered for United being 3-0 up. The last two of those draws were a little more infamous; Cantona was sent off in both games, though his red card against Arsenal was harsh to say the least.
Perhaps those red cards suggested the shirt may be bad luck; for the next game, United played Villa at Wembley in the League Cup Final and wore green and gold.
It was the second game of the 1994/95 season when the shirt was worn again, in a trip to newly promoted Nottingham Forest. Forest would have an incredible season so a 1-1 draw wasn’t the worst result; the game is most remembered by Reds for a fantastic volley from Andrei Kanchelskis.
For its next outing, United were playing Barcelona in the Nou Camp. For some reason, probably involving continental advertising regulations, United had to advertise ‘Sharp’ and not the Viewcam. It was surely this boardroom negotiation that distracted the players in a 4-0 defeat.
Four days later the Reds wore black at Villa, registering another 2-1 win, while they also wore it for another draw at Highbury at the end of that month.
The following month United debuted a new blue and white away strip which became the second strip for most of the remainder of the season. The new shirt was worn at Southampton, Sheffield United in the Cup, and in the FA Cup semi final against Crystal Palace. There were however two more high profile occasions that United wore the black strip.
They were in black the night Eric Cantona saw red and “kung-fu” kicked at a Crystal Palace fan. This earned the strip its informal nickname.
It was worn for a defeat at Anfield but its final outing was a much more damaging result. United drew at West Ham on the last day of the season despite throwing the kitchen sink at Ludek Miklosko.
The following year, United released the grey strip, leaving supporters instantly wishing the black one had been kept around. Incidentally, in the 1996/97 season, having ditched the grey shirt, United wore their blue and white strip at the Dell as the white shirt they’d hastily released in its place was too much of a clash. United lost 6-3 that day, the only time in Premier League history they wore the same shirt in three consecutive seasons. Would they have won that day if they had worn black? We can never be sure but all the signs point to yes.
Jokes aside, the black strip is synonymous with so many highs and lows over its two year span that many memories of that time are automatically associated with it. To some, even referencing that era brings to mind the black strip more than United wearing red.
Attempts to recreate strips of that style were made in the future but never quite hit the spot. There was a black shirt with green and white trim in the treble season which was garish in comparison and a plain black with white trim strip in the 2003/2005 period, most remembered for its part in games against Arsenal.
Nothing quite matched the original, though; perhaps the attempts to replicate it is proof that some classic works of art are simply meant for their own moment in time.