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Monday 22 October 2018

Fine goal in Dublin sealed Sivebaek's Reds deal

'Ireland away was our best display'

John Sivebaek on Denmark duty back in the mid-1980s
John Sivebaek on Denmark duty back in the mid-1980s

It's not a strike rate to boast of. Eighty-seven caps and just one goal for the national team.

But from the viewpoint of Danish footballer John Sivebaek, what a goal. Not just the quality of his strike, in Denmark's 4-1 demolition of Eoin Hand's Ireland side in Dublin in November 1985, but what came after.

He's now the answer to a pub quiz question which only true anoraks know: who scored the first goal for Manchester United in the Alex Ferguson era? Sivebaek, who earned his move to Old Trafford on the back of that goal, and display, in Lansdowne Road, and ended up in the history books.

"I do still remember scoring that goal under Fergie," Sivebaek tells the Herald of his strike for United against QPR, the first goal scored under Ferguson after 213 minutes of goal-free action.

"He was very pleased with me for scoring that goal and I am glad to think I played some small part in the story that followed.

"It was against QPR, at Old Trafford, and it's nice to have that bit of history. Even then I could see that he would be a special manager, it didn't happen for me at United in terms of success but I was glad to see the club do well."

It was a tumultuous time to be at Old Trafford: the man who signed Sivebaek, Ron Atkinson, got the sack. There was the small matter of serious violence when Sivebaek made his debut, at Anfield, in February 1986.

"It was a real wake-up call for me, I didn't really understand what was going on. The team bus was attacked, stones were thrown at the bus, there was tear gas all around, I had only just arrived and I was just focused on my debut and then you have all this in the background, I was a bit scared but we came through, I think we drew 1-1," he says.

But Denmark's 4-1 win over a strong Irish side in Dublin kicked it all off.

"It was a great game for us even if I hadn't scored, I think that was one of the best games I ever played for the national team and that was the reason why I signed for United, Ron Atkinson was in Dublin that day, he saw me and he made his decision afterwards," says Sivebaek, now a players' agent in Denmark.

"I didn't know about United's interest until after that game in Dublin, I had some offers from other clubs in Europe, after the Ireland win more people were interested but when Ron Atkinson called me, there was no doubt in my mind that I was going there, who could say no to Manchester United? We'd had a good qualifying tournament for the '86 World Cup, but Dublin was one of our best displays, even though the pitch there was not good, we were surprised to see that when we went out onto the field to play, the state of the pitch, but we still played our good football," he adds.

A fellow Dane, Jesper Olsen, was already at United and made him feel welcome and Sivebaek was friendly with the large Irish contingent in the squad, but the alcohol use at the club was a new experience.

"It was another culture that I was not used to, I can't say it was a real drinking culture but they did drink more than I was used to in Denmark and I wasn't expecting that. You had to adapt to that and I tried as much as I could but it wasn't easy, it was just another culture," he says.

Sivebaek predicts a battle over the two legs.

"Denmark started the campaign badly but finished well. I watched Ireland against Wales, they were a bit lucky to win but you can see they are a physical team, they have good players but still have a good shape to them, their big asset is their physical presence and that's the big difference between the teams, we play good football, we have good technical players. Over two games anything could happen but it's not about form, it's about how good you can be on the day."

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