Leeds United Youth Cup winner on putting Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and good friend David Beckham on losing side
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It wasn’t exactly celebrated in Leeds, yet Sir Alex Ferguson proved otherwise as a Manchester United side with an average age of 26 sealed the 1996 Premier League and FA Cup double.
Yet 27 years ago this evening four key cogs of that double-winning side had a rather less enjoyable night at Elland Road as Leeds United defeated Manchester United in the final of the 1993 FA Youth Cup.
The latter was kept in check by United right back Andy Couzens.
The so called ‘Red Devils class of 92’ soon bounced back to win a glut of honours yet Couzens says performing in front of 31,000 at Elland Road on May 13, 1993 gave all those involved a taste of the big time.
Now 44, Couzens was part of the Whites side that recorded a 2-1 victory against Manchester United in the second leg of the 1993 FA Youth Cup final at Elland Road 27 years ago today.
Having recorded a 2-0 victory in front of 30,562 fans at Old Trafford just four days earlier, Paul Hart’s Whites ran out emphatic 4-1 winners on aggregate with first leg strikes from Jamie Forrester and Noel Whelan followed by another Forrester goal and Matthew Smithard effort inside a packed Elland Road.
Looking to give the Red Devils hope as they trailed 3-0 on aggregate after Forrester’s strike in the second leg, Scholes at least netted a 29th-minute penalty.
Longer term, Scholes went on to achieve rather much more than that in bagging a whole host of honours in later years for Ferguson’s first team alongside 93 Youth Cup team mates Beckham, Butt and the Neville brothers.
But Couzens knows Leeds’ Youth Cup triumph will always hold a place in the history books and forever bring back special memories for United’s own ‘class of 92.’
“They had was a half decent team, I think we can say that!” Couzens tells the YEP.
“They were a really good team obviously and they came to the forefront later on down the line but we beat them up over two legs.
“We thoroughly deserved both wins and with the win down at Old Trafford they had 30,000 there was amazing just in that sense.
“Then we came back to Elland Road and it was packed and we were like ‘bloody hell, this is a bit special’.
“We knew it was going to be quite big, we knew Sky were there and things like.
“But after we got changed we were told by the police there was going to be a 15 or 20 minute delay because of the crowd.
“They had to open the East Stand up to get people in and to get 31,000 for a Youth Cup game is unbelievable and also there were the goals that we scored and Jamie Forrester’s goal in particular and his interview afterwards with his chewing gum in his mouth and stuff.
"We still take the mick out of him for that now.
“But we were young and we enjoyed it.
“I think we did two laps of honour, one before we got the trophy and another lap of honour after and everybody was still there.
"It was great memories and we had a very good night after as well with all the first teamers.
“Every first teamer who was there watching came out with us and we felt like kings really but it also made us want more, to play in front of these crowd more and more."
For Shipley-born Couzens, a first team debut finally presented itself in March 1995 and the defender turned midfielder went on to make 36 appearances for the Whites before joining Carlisle United and then Blackpool with whom Couzens ended his career after injuries aged 25.
These days the former footballer runs two personal businesses - one in intravenous vitamin therapy and another in personal training.
Couzens has also been branching out into more media week of late and the former White is still heavily involved with Leeds in working match days at Elland Road in hospitality with some of the club’s former stars.
Going back 27 years, Couzens was forming a friendship with someone who would prove one of England’s biggest stars - David Beckham.
“To be fair with Beckham at that time I think he was a later developer than the rest,” recalled Couzens.
“I think the one that everybody knew about was Nicky Butt.
“You look back at that team, you had both Nevilles, Scholesy, Savage, Gillespie, John O’Kane who played in the Premier League and Ben Thornley who at that time was classed as one of the best in that team and destined for huge things.
“Injury put paid to that. Beckham was just Beckham really.
“I played England under-21s with him so I went away with him for a couple of weeks when we went to the Toulon Touarnament.
“He’s just a very, genuine, nice guy, we got on really well, we swapped numbers and we were both sponsored by Adidas as well.
“He made his debut against Leeds at Old Trafford when I was playing my second full game at Old Trafford so we had quite a lot in common and we ended up becoming decent friends really.
“We went down to Adidas together - we always knew we would get more stuff if we went together than if we went separately so always arranged to go together really.
“He’s obviously a mega superstar now.”
Yet Couzens and Leeds were the stars of May 13, 1993 and rest assured any opportunity to relive those memories is grasped with both hands.
Couzens reasoned: “It’s a bit weird because I don’t think I get recognised but I was at a do last year and Scholesy was there and he came up and had a chat and he knew who I was and obviously I knew who he was and there’s still that camaraderie between us and I am friends with Ben Thornley who I was up against in both legs.
“I think there’s a common ground for all of us that we all came through that era.
“A lot of the Leeds lads obviously Tinks and Sharpy and Noel and Rob Bowman they played also in the England set up for the European Championships, the 18s which was with the likes of your Chris Casper’s who was the captain of Man United.
“Buttsy was in there, Scholesy was in there, they had a few people who they already knew and there is a little bit camaraderie even now when we do catch up with people. It brings us together.
“You look at Scholesy, he’s classed as one of the best midfielders in the world by some huge, huge players and I think you could see when he scored the penalty at Elland Road when he put his hands to his ears to the Kop that he was full of confidence.
“Obviously they went on, Fergie kept with them and Fergie kept them in the team.
“The famous saying was 'you can’t win anything with kids'.
"But I think you can see that you can if you have the confidence to stick with them and put the right people around them.”
Reflecting on the feelings of that memorable night 27 years on, Couzens beamed: “It was amazing and the biggest thing for me is that everybody asks about that game.
“Every supporter remembers it and we get people coming up to us and saying 'that was my first game I came to and that’s what got me hooked on football' which is unbelievable for a Youth Game.
“It was the catalyst really for a lot of people to go on in their careers because that experience itself was one of the best experiences all of us had had.
"Normally you have just got one man and his dog watching on the side at Fullerton Park.
“To then having 30,000 at Old Trafford and 31,000 at Elland Road, it just won’t happen again."