The Forgotten Heroes Of Premier League 94/95: Brian McClair

Few of us could forget the 1994/95 season in the Premier League, when the two-year-old competition really came of age. Title favourites Manchester United were pipped to glory by Kenny Dalglish’s plucky Blackburn Rovers. And “King” Eric Cantona revealed his unusual kung-fu tactics in dealing with unruly fans.

There were some memorable player performances that season too. Alan Shearer contributed to Blackburn’s championship run, with an incredible 34 goals (to this day, the most scored in one season) for the prolific striker. With Robbie Fowler, Jürgen Klinsmann, and goals like this one from Matt Le Tissier, certain players couldn’t fail to make the back pages. Other players quietly went about their business though, without any hype or bluster. They were the bread and butter of the league, and without them, the glory of the bigger names would’ve been non-existent. In 1994/95, Manchester United’s Brian “Choccy” McClair was one of those players.

McClair joined United in 1987 from Celtic, where he’d already been a proven goalscorer. His £850,000 transfer (a big money fee back in those days) put pressure on him to instantly bang in the goals for the Red Devils. And Alex Ferguson wouldn’t give him an easy start either, as McClair first encountered one of Fergie’s infamous “hairdryer” moments after a pre-season friendly:

“The gaffer exploded through the door, nearly taking it off its hinges. He went down the line of players one by one, and when he got to me I got it. I remember thinking: ‘I’m not sure I’m going to be able to survive this’.

“When he’d finished with me he noticed I was the only one who didn’t have a Manchester United top on.

“He said: ‘Where’s your f*****g jersey?’ I had a green top over my shoulder.

“When I said I’d swapped it he went off on me again. He yelled: ‘It’s not yours to swap, who the f*** do you think you are?’

“He finished and moved on to the next guy, and when he’d finished going down the line, I, being naive, put my hand up.

“He said: ‘What the f*** is it?’ I said: ‘Do you want me to go and get it back?’”

McClair proved his worth (despite losing his jersey) to Ferguson that season though. He hit the net 31 times in all competitions and became the first United player since George Best to score more than 20 league goals in one season.

With a solid seven years at Old Trafford under his belt, McClair was considered a stalwart at the club by the start of the 94/95 season. At 31 years old, he was entering the twilight of his career but he still had something to give, no matter what the role was. For the best part of his playing career, he’d been a striker. However, he was re-positioned at United following the arrival of Cantona in 1992, and slotted into Bryan Robson’s old position in the centre of midfield. He made the role his own, until the arrival of a certain Roy Keane in 1993.

Facing stiff competition for his place, McClair began to lose out on a starting berth in the team. For some, this would be enough to make them reconsider their place at the top of the game. Not for McClair though. The resolute Scot plowed on undeterred, making worthwhile contributions from the bench. He helped United win the 1993/94 Premier League title, and he scored the fourth goal in their 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea in the 1994 FA Cup Final.

His usefulness for United in that season did not go unnoticed by Ferguson either. McClair wasn’t winding down his playing time just yet, and in 1994/95 the exact opposite would happen. He’d make 40 appearances for United, and 53 appearances in total across all competitions (missing just two games).

With his new role at the centre of the pitch, he wasn’t the goal-scoring dynamo he once was. But despite this, he still managed to tuck five goals away in the Premier League, including this beauty against Wimbledon:

McClair became a constant presence for United in the second half of the season. With Cantona banned after *THAT* incident at Selhurst Park, and new-boy stutters from multi-million pound signing Andy Cole, McClair would be more involved in the team. Ever present in their squad, he was always causing worries for opposition defences, despite his age. For United though, it wasn’t enough as Blackburn Rovers famously beat them to the title by just one point. The 1994/95 season would prove to be a rare blip for Ferguson’s team, as they finished it without a single trophy.

For “Choccy” (disappointingly named because of his surname rhyming with eclair, not because of his love of chocolate), this season was anything but a failure though. He proved he could still keep up with the big boys, even if it was only as a bit-part player. The 1994/95 season would be his swansong, as he featured less and less in the subsequent years. Retirement followed in 1999, before a lengthy, and successful, coaching career for him at Old Trafford.

Brian McClair might not have been the most glamorous of players, and he’d rarely make the headlines. But few United fans will forget his outstanding contribution as an integral squad player during their 1994/95 run. An ever dependable bench-warmer, who fully cemented his place as a United legend that season.