Exclusive: Arsenal still owe me apology over Old Trafford food fracas, claims furious Ferguson

United manager labels Wenger 'a disgrace' as he breaks silence over what happened in tunnel
Click to follow
The Independent Football
With less than three weeks to go before his side visit Highbury, Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday reopened the controversy surrounding Manchester United's victory over Arsenal at Old Trafford in October, and the infamous "food fight" which followed it in the Old Trafford tunnel.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Ferguson spoke in detail about the incidents for the first time. He described the behaviour of Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, as a "disgrace" and the refusal of the Arsenal board to apologise as a disappointment.

Ferguson also wanted to "set the record straight" about the match. He said Wenger's suggestion that Arsenal's unbeaten run came to an end only because his team had been "kicked off the pitch" was completely inaccurate. Ferguson said that not only were Arsenal the aggressors on the pitch, they were also responsible for the subsequent tunnel row which left Ferguson with pizza and soup stains on his shirt.

Ferguson told me: "In the tunnel he [Wenger] was publicly criticising my players, calling them cheats. I was told about this when they came into the dressing-room, so I went out into the tunnel and said to him: 'You get in there and behave yourself, leave my players alone'.

"He came sprinting towards me with his hands raised saying: 'What do you want to do about it?' He was standing right there. To not apologise for the behaviour of the players to another manager is unthinkable. It is a disgrace. But I don't expect Wenger to ever apologise."

Ferguson said the clubs then agreed, at boardroom level, not to discuss the incident but Arsenal reneged on the deal. "In the boardroom David Gill [United's chief executive] and David Dein [Arsenal's vice-chairman] agreed nothing would be said by either club," Ferguson said. "Then in the ensuing weeks all you got was a diatribe from Arsenal about being kicked off the pitch and all that nonsense. David Gill phoned David Dein three times to complain about this but nothing was done.

"Now the return is coming round [1 February] and they will come out with another diatribe. David Gill and I feel we should set the record right. I don't expect Wenger ever to apologise for anything - he's that type of person - but I would have expected Arsenal Football Club to have written to David Gill apologising for their players' behaviour. David Gill, without question, would not have allowed that to happen at Manchester United, and neither would I."

As well as being angered at the general acceptance of Arsenal's version of events surrounding the "food fight", Ferguson is equally concerned at the prevailing view of the match itself. Ferguson has been carefully through the tape. He admits Ruud van Nistelrooy's foul on Ashley Cole, for which he incurred a three-match ban, was reprehensible but said there was an equally dangerous foul by Thierry Henry on Gabriel Heinze that went unpunished. In the game as a whole Arsenal committed more fouls than United.

"The great thing about television is we can go through the video," Ferguson said. "If you look at the overall picture of the game, they had more bookings than us, more fouls than us, and in my opinion the worst fouls in the game. [Jose Antonio] Reyes has complained he was kicked off the pitch. There were four fouls on Reyes, one from Wayne Rooney, one from Phil Neville and two from Gary Neville.

"Four fouls in the whole match - that hardly constitutes being 'kicked off the pitch'. There were six fouls on [Cristiano] Ronaldo and one of the worst was from Reyes. Patrick Vieira did six fouls before the one he was booked for, a cynical one on Ryan Giggs in the second half. To say the least that is stretching the referee's tolerance. He's the captain. He almost refereed the game that day, or tried to."

Ferguson added: "Wenger's quote on the morning of the game: 'I can't promise my players will behave themselves', was a terrible message in relation to what happened the previous year. In the opening 45 seconds Cole has gone out and done Ronaldo. I'm not complaining. Football is a competitive game. Great forwards like Ronaldo always get tackled. But that set the benchmark. The referee [Mike Riley] could easily have booked Cole after 45 seconds but what would that have done to the game? The referee tried his very best to have control and allow the game to flow, which is great credit to him.

"Van Nistelrooy could have damaged Ashley Cole with that tackle. He could have given him a serious injury and he knows that. Ruud could'nt believe it when he saw it on video. He's not that kind of player. Neither would you say Henry was the type to be violent but he could have seriously injured Gabriel Heinze when he kneed him in the head. We reported that but the FA said, 'It is more than 48 hours after the game, we can't do anything'.

"Far be it from us being supposed to have kicked Arsenal off the pitch. Yet Wenger is always complaining the match was not played in the right spirit. They are the worst losers of all time. They don't know how to lose. Maybe it is just Manchester United. They don't lose many games to other teams."

Maybe not, but Ferguson's comments echo those made by Sir Bobby Robson after Arsenal lost at home to Newcastle three seasons ago, a match which concluded with Henry confronting the referee Graham Poll on the pitch. Henry was later banned for three matches.

Ferguson added: "We tend to forget that the worst disciplinary record of all time was Arsenal's up until last season. Everybody hoped that the watershed for them would be that game at Old Trafford when Van Nistelrooy was attacked by their players.

"In fairness to them it has improved. They had been up to all sorts, manhandling referees, spitting at players. Yet they are now seen as paragons of virtue. To Wenger it never happens, it is all some dream or nightmare. People forget he was done for manhandling a referee [fourth official Paul Taylor in August 2000]. He got a 12-match suspension [and fine of four weeks' wages] wiped out to a [£10,000] fine [on appeal, the charge having been downgraded].

"I'm not saying this to wind the game up," concluded Ferguson. "I'm saying this to protect my club before we go to Highbury for a crucial match. It's important to put the facts right. Whoever gets to referee the game has got a mammoth job on and I don't want him going into it with the wrong impression of what really happened at Old Trafford."

As for the match itself, given an even playing field Ferguson, who takes his team to Liverpool today, is confident. "It is a must-win game, but I never feel threatened by Arsenal. I know we can handle them."