Paul Parker remembers the rain. He remembers the “awful Parma Violet suits” worn by the Chelsea players. He remembers Sir Alex Ferguson being “annoyed” at half-time.
Manchester United arrived at Wembley in 1994 with the chance the make history. A second successive Premier League title had been secured and a week later they faced Chelsea in the FA Cup final — as they will do again this weekend.
It was an opportunity to become the first team in United’s history to win the double, the first since Liverpool in 1986 and only the fourth of the 20th century.
“It poured,” Parker tells ESPN FC.
“When it started raining, the cup final suits the Chelsea lads were wearing showed all the rain marks. It went from something reasonably loud and went darker and darker as the rain came down. I remember they had a team picture taken before the game and they looked like a Welsh choir.”
While United had won the league by eight points from nearest challengers Blackburn, Chelsea had finished 14th. Still, they had beaten United twice over the course of the season, with Gavin Peacock scoring the only goal in both games.
He almost repeated the trick in the final, but his looping 20-yard effort in the first half came back off the crossbar.
“We were quite fortunate to go in at half-time 0-0,” recalls Parker. Cue a fiery Ferguson half-time team talk.
“He was annoyed,” says Parker.
“We were reminded what we would achieve if we won that game and the status we would be seen in — being a Manchester United player and having a double behind you.
“He questioned us and how much we really wanted it. He asked whether we thought back-to-back titles was enough.”
It worked. Eddie Newton brought down Denis Irwin in the box 15 minutes into the second half, and Eric Cantona scored the ensuing penalty. He added a second penalty six minutes later with Mark Hughes making in 3-0 three minutes after that.
Chelsea never recovered from conceding three goals in nine minutes, and substitute Brian McClair wrapped up a 4-0 victory in stoppage time after Paul Ince had burst through.
“Once we got that first goal, everything calmed down and we took control of the game after that,” says Parker.
“It was my first FA Cup final. When you were growing up in my era, it was the biggest game. The FA Cup was the cream. You were up from 9:00 a.m. watching the build-up right the way through. That’s how it was. It was the ultimate.
“I don’t think we really understood the significance of winning a double. Chelsea had beaten us twice that season already, even though we dominated the games. They had a little bit of a hoodoo over United at that time. But when it mattered the most, we got what we needed.
“Winning that double made a big difference. People now talk about trebles and quadruples — that’s how much the game has evolved. But at that time, it was the double.”
It would have been a treble had United not lost to Aston Villa in the League Cup final two months earlier.
“We dominated again but lost 3-1,” says right-back Parker, who made 57 appearances over the course of the 1993-94 season.
“But after losing the final on the Sunday, we played Liverpool in the league at Old Trafford on the Wednesday and won 1-0. It says a lot about that team.”
Ferguson puts his 1994 team on a par with his Champions League-winning sides of 1999 and 2008.
Peter Schmeichel in goal and a back four of Parker, Irwin, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister. Ince and Roy Keane in midfield with pace and flair out wide in Ryan Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis. Up front there was Hughes and Cantona.
“It was only afterwards that we realised how good that team was,” says Parker.
“It had great technical ability, great pace, it had strength and it had fighters in there. Fighters everywhere.
“Big Pete could start an argument in a phone box. Steve Bruce was tough. In midfield, we had Paul Ince and Roy Keane, then we had Mark Hughes up front who would fight his grandmother for the ball. We were physically and mentally strong.”
After victory in 1994, United lost the 2007 FA Cup final to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea — the first at the new Wembley. Mourinho will be on the opposite bench for the third installment on Saturday, looking to claim a third trophy in two years at Old Trafford.
There has been progress since the Portuguese coach took over from Louis van Gaal — an FA cup winner in 2016 — but Parker insists the benchmark for success will always be Ferguson’s great teams.
“They need more, without a shadow of a doubt,” he says.
“Manchester United can’t become a cup team — which is what they were prior to Sir Alex coming in. Manchester United need to be winning major trophies. Winning the FA Cup will cover up a few cracks, but the ultimate is winning titles and competing in the Champions League.
“Winning the FA Cup is still success, but Manchester United is built around being the best team in the country.”
Parker will have a foot in both camps this weekend after a brief spell at Stamford Bridge following his departure from United, after four major trophies and 146 appearances, in 1996.
Chelsea head into the game on the back of a disastrous 3-0 defeat at Newcastle on the final day of the season, while rumours persist that it could be Antonio Conte’s last game in charge.
“At this moment, Chelsea look like they’re in disarray,” says Parker.
“It’s all negative. Last weekend at Newcastle summed it up. But the players will lift themselves and United will need to make sure there is no complacency.”
Rob is ESPN FC’s Manchester United correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @RobDawsonESPN.