Former Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll speaks to Gareth Cauldwell about his time at the club

Roy Carroll holds very fond memories of his time at Manchester United, and so he should.

The Fermanagh man made 72 appearances for the English giants over his four year stay at the club and won both the Premier League and the FA Cup.

He was involved in some memorable games and some unforgettable incidents as well as having played with some of the best players in the world and under one of the greatest managers ever in Sir Alex Ferguson.

Carroll had been making a name for himself at Wigan Athletic when as a 23 year old United came calling back in 2001 although he nearly found himself on his way to another Premier League club instead.

“There had two or three other Premier League clubs interested in me and I was set to go to Leicester City but that fell through at the last minute as it does in football sometimes.

“But I got a phone call from my agent to say Sir Alex would like to speak to me so I went down to speak to him.

“Manchester United had came to Wigan two years before to open the new stadium and he said they had been watching me since then so I was a bit shocked,” he added.

It did not take much persuasion for Carroll to sign on the dotted line and he was soon on his way to Old Trafford.

He admits though that he was nervous ahead of his first training session at Carrington with the likes of Roy Keane, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs.

“I had probably been thinking about it too much as I had three weeks from when I signed until my first training session. I was thinking about what was I going to say and what would be said to me and it was nerve wrecking.

“The first day I walked in though was just so amazing and everybody was just down to earth. I settled in really well,” he explained.

And it was not long before he made his debut in a 1-1 draw away to Aston Villa in the league.

“I had never really had a full time keeper coach so I came to United to learn my trade and I wasn’t expecting to make my debut any time soon. However, I played in the fourth or fifth game of the season and my debut was against Peter Schmeichel who was in goals for Aston Villa. The game went so quick,” he added.

Carroll faced some stiff competition with World Cup winner Fabian Barthez the number one when he arrived and Tim Howard joined the club during his spell there as well.

“When Schmeichel left Fabian Barthez came in and he did unbelievably in the first season and I then came in in his second year. He made a few mistakes but he was still a good goalkeeper, he won the World Cup and not many can say that.He was also a really good guy,” said Carroll.

The next season was to prove a successful one for the club as they came from eight points down to see off Arsenal and land the league title.

And Roy was to play his part in the title march, playing the last three games and ten in all over the campaign.

“We sealed it on the second last day of the season and we lifted the trophy at Everton who we played on the last day. We were relaxed playing that game because we already had the title won but we still won the game 2-1 which was a measure of what was expected at the club,” he said.

That summer saw the arrival of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo at the club and Carroll was in no doubt about the impact he would make having seen him at first hand in a friendly game against Sporting Lisbon.

“We were in America during pre-season and we stopped in Portugal on the way back to play Sporting Lisbon. There was this young lad, who we found out was Ronaldo, playing for them and he was just unbelievable. His speed with the ball at his feet was frightening and I wasn’t surprised to see the club sign him soon after.

“Ronaldo worked so hard and after a year or so he had grown so quickly. The discipline he had to become a footballer was amazing, you could see the talent but he also worked really hard at his game.

“He looks after himself really well and that’s why he is still playing at the highest level with Juventus,” he commented.

That following season United went on to win the FA Cup with Carroll coming off the bench in Cardiff.

“I had played against Arsenal in the semi-final and did okay but I know myself that in the run up to the FA Cup final that I had a few dodgy games, you know yourself when you are not playing well, and I felt Sir Alex was going to speak to me which he did.

“He said that he was going to play Tim Howard in the final but that I would get on if things were going well for us.

“It got into the last ten minutes of the game and I felt that was it and I wouldn’t get on but he kept his word and he put me on and it is things like that which you really respect him for,” said the former Northern Ireland international.

On Ferguson’s style of management, Roy states that when the gaffer spoke, everybody listened.

“He was the manager, not the coach. You had the coaches taking the coaching sessions during the day and Sir Alex was maybe walking around watching things but when he spoke everybody listened and on match day Sir Alex was the man giving you the information.

“I have been in many changing rooms at half time where everybody keeps talking when the manager walks in but when Sir Alex walked in everybody would be quiet and that was just the respect he got from the players.

“Sometimes he didn’t even have to speak, his stature in the changing room would often be enough to lift you.

“I remember playing Spurs and we were 3-0 down at half time and he walked in and just said a few words, he probably wasn’t even in the changing room for 30 seconds, and walked out and we went out and won the game 5-3,” stated Carroll.

Ferguson was famous for his hairdryer treatment to players if he felt they needed it and the goalkeeper thought he was going to be on the end of it when his mistake almost led to a goal in another game against Spurs. The goal that never was saw Pedro Mendes hopeful effort somehow find a way past the keeper and was clearly across the line before Carroll scooped it away. In a time before goal-line technology though the error was not spotted and Carroll got away with it.

“I thought I was going to get it when there was that goal that wasn’t against Spurs.

“I took a long time coming off the pitch because I was thinking to myself what was going to happen. But he just asked me what happened and I told him I took my eye of the ball and was concentrating on the getting the second phase underway by throwing the ball out to Gary Neville and he just said my reactions was really good.

“ I show that to young goalkeeper around the country now because it shows what can happen when you don’t concentrate on a shot the whole way.”

That 2004-05 season also saw the infamous tunnel spat between Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira at Highbury with Carroll having a ringside seat as he stood directly behind his captain.

“Games between the two sides back in those days were always very close battles. I think it was the season before when Martin Keown jumped up in front of Ruud (Van Nistlerooy) when he missed the penalty. We would have had a lot of wars and battles against them but that’s what football was all about. You see Roy Keane and Vieira now doing shows on tv together.

“It got heated but I think that incident in the tunnel probably sparked the night for us and it was an amazing game to play in,” said Carroll as United went on to run out 4-2 winners.

“It was probably one of the best games I have played in, the quality of play from both teams was amazing. John O’Shea scored a chip at the end and you could probably tell he didn’t score too many goals because he didn’t know what to do with the celebration,” he laughed.

Keane was the side’s leader and Carroll says that the skipper was a winner.

“He’s hard but I understand why he is hard, it’s because he is a winner, he wants to win things. It was the same with all the players. When I went to Manchester United the big thing for me was the winning mentality. It’s crazy the amount of trophies the likes of Paul Scholes has won.

“The best thing about Roy Keane though is that you could speak to him outside of football and I sought a lot of advice from Roy and he helped me. I respect all the Manchester United players and from the first day to the last day it was a brilliant experience to be at a club like that.”

United progressed to a second successive FA Cup final in 2005 and on this occasion Carroll was in goals but it was to end in disappointment in what turned out to be his last game for the club.

“We lost it on penalties to Arsenal when we really should have won it in the 90 minutes. We were all over Arsenal in that game and it was disappointing to lose,” he said.

The 2004/05 season was to be the one that Carroll would play his most games for the club but he had already decided earlier that season to leave with United going on to bring in Edwin Van Der Saar that summer and Carroll heading to West Ham.

“In fairness, Sir Alex was really good about it. It was January when we spoke about it and two days later I told him I was going to move on because I wanted to play more games and he just shook my hand. Any other manager might have decided to leave me in the stands because I would be leaving at the end of the season but I played the rest of the season. I had actually played more that season than in any of the other three seasons,” he added.

“I could have stayed for another four year, Sir Alex wanted me to stay but they brought in Edwin Van Der Saar who was a really, really good goalkeeper and I spoke to a few senior players and they asked me what I wanted to do. I said that I wanted to play football and they just said that I had answered my own question.

“I had won a league and an FA Cup and yes I might win it again but I also might not be involved so I decided I wanted to move on and play.

“I loved my time at the club though, I learnt my craft there and to have had an opportunity to play for a club like that was brilliant,” he concluded.