EXCLUSIVE: Martin Keown reveals all on the iconic Battle of Old Trafford 20 years on as Man United fans still tear into him about Ruud van Nistelrooy moment

It’s 20 years since Martin Keown and Ruud van Nistelrooy locked horns. Old Trafford, September 21, 2003.

Keown was fined £20,000 for his part in the riotous eruption that followed a disputed red card for Patrick Vieira. Arsenal were angry and believed Van Nistelrooy had conned the referee with his reaction.

It was the escalation of years of intense rivalry between the two best teams in the country and, after Van Nistelrooy missed a late penalty in the 0-0 draw, Keown’s taunting celebration earned him a reputation and created one of the Premier League‘s iconic images.

This week, the cameras were rolling in our ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ studio with podcast hosts Ian Ladyman and Chris Sutton, a former opponent of Keown’s, firing in the questions. Keown – a Mail Sport columnist – dropped in to answer for his sins. 

This is an abridged version of what happened next.

Martin Keown taunts Ruud van Nistelrooy following the Dutchman’s missed penalty as the Arsenal vs Manchester United rivalry erupted back in 2003

Keown re-enacts his taunt of Ruud van Nistelrooy to Chris Sutton and Ian Ladyman in the 'It's All Kicking Off' studio 20 years on from the iconic Premier League moment

Keown re-enacts his taunt of Ruud van Nistelrooy to Chris Sutton and Ian Ladyman in the ‘It’s All Kicking Off’ studio 20 years on from the iconic Premier League moment 

The trio gathered in the Mail Sport studio to discuss the 'Battle of Old Trafford' 20 years on

The trio gathered in the Mail Sport studio to discuss the ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ 20 years on

Ladyman: Can you believe it was 20 years ago? One of the most infamous matches in Premier League history. It has its own Wikipedia page.

Keown: There isn’t a day goes by where someone doesn’t shout it at me or say something. On the train the other day, a crowded train and I’m going to the Wolverhampton game against Liverpool, Man United fans going up to Old Trafford, still giving me stick, still the banter is there.

‘You were the big man against Van Nistelrooy, Keown, weren’t you,’ one said.

‘Yeah and I’m the big man now… is there an issue? (laughs).’

Ladyman: Remind us. What happened on that day, the Battle of Old Trafford, in your words?

Keown: Van Nistelrooy goes up to challenge and is leaving all sorts on Patrick (Vieira). He’s gone in with his leg, he’s kicked out, and Patrick has tried to react a little bit.

And then Van Nistelrooy cowers away as if he’s been hit. The angle the referee has, you might say, that’s a good decision. VAR today would just completely wipe that out. It’s ridiculous.

You have to remember this was years and years of unrest between Manchester United and Arsenal. They were winning everything, but we were coming for them. They just didn’t like it.

Patrick Vieira was sent off for kicking out at Van Nistelrooy with 10 minutes of the game left

Patrick Vieira was sent off for kicking out at Van Nistelrooy with 10 minutes of the game left

Referee Steve Bennett gives Vieira a second yellow card and a red as Keown looks on

Referee Steve Bennett gives Vieira a second yellow card and a red as Keown looks on 

Tempers immediately flared with Arsenal's players accusing Van Nistelrooy of overreacting

Tempers immediately flared with Arsenal’s players accusing Van Nistelrooy of overreacting 

Ladyman: I love the way that you describe United as ‘they’. There’s a real edge in your voice still, 20 years on. They, not Manchester United.

Keown: If you think about back in those days, they were winning every Premier League, and it was almost easy for them. And then suddenly this Frenchman comes along with all this array of talent. 

I was giggling when these new players were coming into our Arsenal dressing room. The quality was unreal.

In those days, you’d be lucky to get a free-kick at Old Trafford, let alone a win. It was a really difficult place to go, but for us it wasn’t. We loved it. 

We loved going there because when you look around the dressing room, I could see World Cup winners, wonderful talents everywhere.

There was a rivalry between the two clubs and a trust, but one player we couldn’t trust was Van Nistelrooy. He was a hugely smart, intelligent player, but no trust.

Later in the contest, United won a penalty but Van Nistelrooy smashed it off the crossbar

Later in the contest, United won a penalty but Van Nistelrooy smashed it off the crossbar

Keown couldn't resist making his feelings known to Van Nistelrooy as tempers boiled over

Keown couldn’t resist making his feelings known to Van Nistelrooy as tempers boiled over

The United striker found himself jostled by Keown as other Arsenal players got involved

The United striker found himself jostled by Keown as other Arsenal players got involved

Ladyman: What do you mean by ‘trust’?

Keown: You couldn’t trust Van Nistelrooy. Maybe he was cute. I preferred a player that was going to stand up and be physical and not collapse.

Sutton: Hang on Martin, you used to pinch your opponent, you pinched me! I have great respect for you, Martin… a brilliant defender, but you were a bit of a thug.

A nasty guy on the pitch… that was the reputation, (you were) the only player who pinched me!

Keown: I picked it up playing in European games. I thought I’d try it in England. ‘Let’s see how this player will react…’

I was a contact defender, so I’m going to make the first contact. Pinching… 90 per cent of my opponents were rattled by it. 

It’s like I had a little book and I knew what players would crumble, but you couldn’t get a reaction from a Mark Hughes, nor Gianluca Vialli.

Sutton: You did it to me, in a game between Norwich at Arsenal at Highbury. I thought ‘strange!’.

You said: ‘There is more of that to come.’

Ashley Cole and Kolo Toure also got involved as Keown gave Van Nistelrooy a piece of his mind

Ashley Cole and Kolo Toure also got involved as Keown gave Van Nistelrooy a piece of his mind

The Daily Mail back page the day after the infamous Old Trafford battle 20 years ago

The Daily Mail back page the day after the infamous Old Trafford battle 20 years ago

Keown: But I could trust the way you’d play. You were pretty well solid and consistent. You wouldn’t fall over like a pack of cards in the penalty box, just out of the blue. 

This is what Van Nistelrooy would do. He was very clever. Mark Hughes would take it. You would hit him and he would stand there. 

Back in my early days, I was playing against the likes of Mick Harford, who just, they try to beat you up when you’re only a young kid.

Sutton: I bet you didn’t pinch Mick Harford! You wouldn’t have been that stupid.

Keown: No, that wouldn’t have been… the fire was already there. You didn’t need to light that fire. But I enjoyed those battles. 

I played against John Fashanu, I don’t think he won a single header. In any of the games I played against him. Because almost out of fear, I needed to have to win it. Because he was a brute.

In terms of physicality. I used to train the same way. No, not pinching. But ask Ian Wright and Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka. They loved it. It was physical. It was full on. Every day. They wanted to see it, to feel it. 

I’d wear screw-in boots in training, and the lads would say, what are you doing wearing those? But that was just me, I had to set the tone through the week.

Keown with the famous picture 20 years on from the classic Premier League moment

Keown with the famous picture 20 years on from the classic Premier League moment

Keown gives Sutton a pinch in our Mail Sport photoshoot - and certainly not for the first time!

Keown gives Sutton a pinch in our Mail Sport photoshoot – and certainly not for the first time! 

Battle of Old Trafford 

Barclaycard Premiership – September 21, 2003 

Manchester United: Howard; G. Neville, Ferdinand, Silvestre, O’Shea (Forlan 76); Ronaldo, Keane, P. Neville, Fortune, Giggs; Van Nistelrooy.

Substitutes Not Used: Carroll; Butt, Djemba-Djemba, Fletcher.

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson 

Booked: Keane, Van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo, Fortune.

Arsenal: Lehmann; Lauren, Toure, Keown, Cole; Parlour, Vieira, Silva, Ljungberg; Bergkamp (Edu 82), Henry

Substitutes Not Used: Stack, Pires, Wiltord, Cygan.

Manager: Arsene Wenger 

Sent Off: Vieira (81).

Booked: Toure, Keown, Vieira.

Attendance: 67,639

Referee: Steve Bennett (Kent).

Match programme cover

Match programme cover

Ladyman: Back to Van Nistelrooy, he didn’t have the wider reputation that you say, of being a diver, of being dirty.

Keown: You weren’t playing against him! He trampled all over me. He was stamping all over me. You say that, Ian, because you don’t see that from the press box or from the stands.

Sutton: So you felt wronged in this? Do you think that people actually believe that you were the one who was wronged?

Keown: I don’t care what they believe. I had graffiti outside my house, I had another United fan say to me: ‘You were worse than Cantona (kung fu kick)!’ 

And I said, well, as you’re comparing, I jumped in the air and landed by Van Nistelrooy. So it’s not a good look, but I don’t think there was anything violent about what I did. I can remember it like yesterday. 

As I’m in the air actually, I’m even thinking to myself, well, where should I land? How much contact should I make? Should I hit him, bump into him? Just a little bit.

Ladyman: What did you family say when the saw the image? What about Arsene Wenger?

Keown: My wife said ‘I think you’ve gone and done it now!’

The boss created an environment where a player could go to him. So a couple of days later, I went and said, ‘boss, you know, I don’t think that was ideal.’

He said: (French accent) ‘Well, Martin, we can, you know, yes, but, you know, we will sort it out.’

So, we did, but it was none of this, like a parent in your ear. The manager is the ultimate role model in the building and everybody follows. 

And then that’s really what happened with Arsene Wenger. I went to him to tell him, he didn’t need to tell me.

Ladyman: Your relationship with Sir Alex Ferguson was different. Is it true that you used to man mark him at half time?!

Keown: Alex Ferguson used to try and get to the referee at half-time. So I thought, right, that’s not happening again. So I would wait and stop it from happening.

Nothing physical. I just wanted to stop it happening by getting in between Ferguson and the referee. I was looking out for it.

These are fine margins. When we played Man United, we wouldn’t enter the tunnel before them before kick-off. No, they would have to wait for us. They used to do the same thing for other teams, but we were the only team doing this to them. 

It was one of several classic games in the rivalry between Wenger's Arsenal and Fergie's United

It was one of several classic games in the rivalry between Wenger’s Arsenal and Fergie’s United

Keown says he still gets banter off Man United fans, who bring up the game even now

Keown says he still gets banter off Man United fans, who bring up the game even now

So there was this stand-off. I remember one particular game, the referee is at the door saying, well, are you coming out? No, not ’til they do. I love it, I love it. And these are the details.

Sutton: If you saw Van Nistelrooy now, would you have a beer with him?

Keown: I wouldn’t have a problem at all. I shook his hand at an FA Cup semi-final.

I went to him to say ‘look don’t take it personally. I was the same with Chris Sutton (smiles). Everybody got this sort of treatment from me. 

‘Don’t take the pinching, the elbow, standing on the feet none of it. Don’t take any of it personally. It’s all part of the game.’

Watch the IAKO YouTube Special from the Mail Sport Studios.

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF! 

It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube, Apple Music and Spotify.


Source From: Football | Mail Online

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