“I heard it and said, ‘For goodness sake behave yourself’.”
Roy Keane was once subjected to a ‘racist remark’ after a game against Arsenal, according to Alex Ferguson.
The alleged incident happened during a bad-tempered Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Highbury in February 1997.
In the same game, there was another alleged racist incident between Gunners striker Ian Wright and Man United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel.
Schmeichel and Wright
With 20 minutes to go in the game, and Man United winning 2-1, Schmeichel and Wright raced to reach a ball at the edge of the penalty box.
The Danish goalkeeper got there first and got a touch on the ball. But Wright landed a two-footed challenge on Schmeichel.
The Arsenal striker, who had already been booked for a foul on Denis Irwin, was fortunate not to hurt his opponent.
It was a reckless challenge and one that arguably warranted a red card even in the late ’90s when referees were more lenient. Ferguson and the Man United players were incensed as Wright was not sent-off.
What followed next brought the incident from the back pages to the front page of newspapers in Britain.
It was alleged that television pictures showed Schmeichel directing racist abuse at Wright in the aftermath of the challenge. The pair had to be separated at the end of the game and in the tunnel at Highbury.
The Crown Prosecution Service investigated the incident and it dominated the media cycle over the coming weeks.
Police find ‘no evidence’
The following month, police found no evidence of the goalkeeper racially abusing his opponent and the FA urged both men to put their differences aside, which they eventually would do.
Ferguson, Schmeichel and Man United maintained throughout that Schmeichel was completely innocent.
The former Man United manager, however, said there was another racist incident following the game involving an unnamed Arsenal player and Roy Keane.
Ferguson felt that there was a ‘racist remark’ aimed at Keane in the Highbury tunnel.
“The tackle is not the end of the matter”
“At the end of the game, I go straight into our dressing room and wait for the players when I hear a hullabaloo outside. I go back just in time to hear Wright’s voice down the tunnel.
“He’s shouting, ‘Don’t you dare make racist remarks to me.’ By this time, Peter is inside our dressing room so I ask him what it’s all about. He says he had no idea, and that all he said to Wright as they came off the field was, ‘You tried to do me.’
“A couple of Arsenal players did apologise to me.”
“I believe that Peter did not make a racist remark,” Ferguson continues.
“I can tell you, however, that there was one racist remark in the tunnel. And that came from an Arsenal player who called Roy Keane ‘an Irish bastard.’
“I heard it and said, ‘For goodness sake behave yourself.’ Actually, a couple of Arsenal players did apologise to me. Nigel Winterburn, last into the Arsenal dressing room, shook hands and congratulated us on our performance.
“That was a nice touch of class, which is something you associate with the Arsenal of 20 years ago, but regrettably, not so much these days.”
Keane does not mention the incident in either of his autobiographies.
Wright and Schmeichel move on
Keane and Ian Wright are friends and colleagues from their time working together as pundits on ITV.
Wright and Schmeichel, meanwhile, would move on from the unpleasant incident.
The pair have worked together as pundits on BBC’s Match of the Day. Wright says he and Schmeichel are now on good terms and he is ’embarrassed’ by the tackle.
“I didn’t try to snap him, all I did in that particular incident was jump on the ball,” Wright said recently on the Match of the Day podcast.
“I was a little bit wound up at the time. Peter said a couple of things I didn’t find very nice – a couple of unsavoury things.”
“We had an altercation at Old Trafford, which led to this game a couple of months later. The funny thing is, the tackle that everyone sees, the whistle had already gone and I just didn’t stop.”
“We get on well and play golf now,” Wright continued.
“We laugh about it. When we speak about it, we always talk about how much I genuinely hated him as a goalkeeper.”
The heated game came at the start of a bitter rivalry between Ferguson’s Man United and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
Ferguson’s team went on to win the Premier League that season. Arsenal won the double the following season and United won the treble in 1999.
Keane would later famously go toe to toe with Patrick Vieira in the Highbury tunnel.