The Play until United Win Rule is a piece of FA approved legislation that determines:
"Any football match in which at the end of the initial 90 minute period Manchester United are not ahead will continue until the point at which they take the lead. The game will then be terminated at this point."
The rule is one of the seventeen fundamental Laws of the Game, and is invoked on a regular basis with as many as 25 Manchester United games a season seeing it in action. The law was initially passed by Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, who is also the FA Chairman, to apply to the English game but has since been ratified by FIFA fool Sepp Blatter.
First known instance
The first, and most widely cited, usage of the rule occured in 1992 when Manchester United chased their first league title in 382 years (the previous 294 titles had been won by arch rivals Liverpool). In a crucial fixture against a weirdly-at-the-time-half-decent Sheffield Wednesday side, United managed to be a goal behind at the end of the 90 minutes.
Ferguson then signalled to the referee that the rule should be put into action by symbolically pointing at his watch and shouting furious expletives toward him. The referee then allowed play to continue. The game was eventually levelled in the 137th minute after Steve Bruce headed in a corner "mistakenly"awarded to United despite Sheffield Wednesday having won a corner at the other end of the field.
In a confused turn of events, the referee wrongly believed the rule had therefore been served and blew the final whistle. After a conversation/furious screaming row in the officials room that doubles as Ferguson's office, the officials brought the players back on.
This was controversial as several Sheffield Wednesday players had already changed into their suits and shoes that led to many losing their footing on the wet turf, and several being keen to avoid the muddy ball coming near them. Wednesday winger Chris Waddle even implored the officials to simply give United a "pelanty" (English: Penalty) to end the game but this request was not understood by anyone.
After the referee awarded United nineteen successive corners, their sole attacking tactic of the era, again saw future fatman Steve Bruce head the ball into the net. Footage of the incident reveals that Wednesday defender Nigel Worthington was perfectly placed to clear the ball but had fallen asleep against the post owing to the time. The goal was officially timed in the 308th minute of the game, occuring at 02.13am local time. The final whistle immediately blew and United moved top of the league, eventually clinching the first of their 47 consecutive titles since.
Owing to the fact that most of the United supporters had left the stadium in the 60th minute for the drive back to The South, the stadium was almost deserted at the time Bruce scored the final goal. To avoid this anomaly, the television footage of Bruce's 2nd goal is infact a replay of the first goal with the image reversed. Assistant manager Brian Kidd donated a home movie of himself leaping around in his garden to be spliced into the footage to cover the lack of fan reaction.
That Night in Barcelona
Arguably the most crucial usage of the Play until United Win Rule occured on That Night in Barcelona, an event occasionally also called the 1999 Champions League Final. In the fixture, facing German champions Bayern Munich, United trailed 0-1 after a procession of bungled tactical decisions by Ferguson and a lack of performance by all their key players (bar Roy Keane and Paul Scholes both unjustly suspended by European bureaucrats for having viciously hacked down opponents in the semi final).
After his by-now traditional watch pointing and expletive laden outburst toward the official, the Play until United Win Rule was enacted. Proving resilient opposition, Bayern dug trenches in their half of the field and settled in for the long haul, occasionally lobbing the ball over to the United trenches and blitzing their goal with sudden attacks as darkness fell.
TV commentators noted the Germans' tenacity in contrast to most domestic opponents of United's, who usually concede the inevitable required goals within the first 8 minutes of additional time. The common phrases "Never write the Germans off" and "we know the Germans won't give up" were repeatedly uttered by Manchester United's official commentator Clive Tydesley there to provide biased commentary for ITV. Co-commentator Ron Atkinson put this down to the Germans' superior racial supremacy, though this comment was less heard as Tydesley cut across him to manically announce that United had won a throw-in.
In the 211th minute, United finally won their first corner of the game in their only piece of decent play up to that point. 51 year old Teddy Sheringham swept the ball into the net after a hapless effort at goal by professional gigolo Ryan Giggs deflected to him. Realising that this provided the most likely end to the game, the exhausted referee then awarded United a second corner instead of Bayern being allowed to kick off at the centre spot.
In a tactical blunder, the German defensive lines were too stretched and their supply line to support their attack became blocked. Many of their players were also suffering from hunger, as it was now five hours since kick off, and morale within their troops was later reported to have been low. Many now privately admitted that the final victory was no longer possible, although the youngest in their ranks still fought on to the final moment with great zeal.
United seized upon the situation, and the second corner by Gillette shaving products model David Beckham saw the 8 year old mascot Ole Gunnar Solskjaer net the deciding goal. The game was then instantly ended and United were European champions. The goal occured at 05:33 Central European Summer Time, hence Tydesley's famous and endlessly-repeated phrase referring to the night in Barcelona.