Arsenal icon Martin Keown still gets abuse from Man Utd fans for Ruud van Nistelrooy incident

Arsenal Martin Keown Man Utd Ruud van Nistelrooy

Arsenal hero Martin Keown confronted Ruud van Nistelrooy during a draw with Man Utd in 2003

Jack Otway

By Jack Otway

Published: 21/09/2023

- 13:09

It's now two decades since the 'Battle of Old Trafford' took place

Back in 2003, Manchester United hosted Arsenal in a crunch Premier League showdown.

With both teams looking to win the title that year, the match at Old Trafford was always going to be fascinating.

And fascinating it was. Though there were no goals that day, it's still a match that has lived long in the memory for many.

Arsenal were enraged when Patrick Vieira, their club captain, received his marching orders after lashing out at Ruud van Nistelrooy.

Ruud van Nistelrooy Patrick Vieira

Ruud van Nistelrooy enraged Patrick Vieira when Man Utd hosted Arsenal two decades ago


Vieira didn't make contact with the Dutchman but the intent was there and he was sent off, with tempers then flaring up.

Arsenal's mood was to worsen in the closing stages when United were given a penalty after Martin Keown was adjudged to have fouled Diego Forlan in the box.

Up stepped Van Nistelrooy, who was one of the deadliest strikers in the whole of world football at the time.

Yet he smashed his penalty against the bar to spark wild scenes in the aftermath.

Keown jumped in Van Nistelrooy's face, with his arm hitting the striker on the head with other Arsenal players joining in the fracas.

Two decades on and, in an interview with the Daily Mail, the former Gunners star has revealed he still suffers abuse from United fans for his actions.

"There isn't a day goes by where someone doesn't shout it at me or say something," he told the publication.

"On the train the other day, a crowded train and I'm going to the Wolverhampton game against Liverpool, Man United fans going up to Old Trafford, still giving me stick, still the banter is there.

"'You were the big man against Van Nistelrooy, Keown, weren't you,' one said."

"Yeah and I'm the big man now… is there an issue? (laughs).'"

Keown says the rivalry between the two sides was behind the incident.

But, lacking remorse, he said he didn't 'trust' Van Nistelrooy due to the way he'd conduct himself on the field.

"There was a rivalry between the two clubs and a trust, but one player we couldn't trust was Van Nistelrooy," he added.

"He was a hugely smart, intelligent player, but no trust.

"You couldn't trust Van Nistelrooy. Maybe he was cute. I preferred a player that was going to stand up and be physical and not collapse."

Keown also believes Van Nistelrooy was a nightmare to play against.

And when asked whether people actually believe he was the one who was wronged, rather than the United hero, he stated: "I don't care what they believe.

"I had graffiti outside my house, I had another United fan say to me: 'You were worse than Cantona (kung fu kick)!'

"And I said, well, as you're comparing, I jumped in the air and landed by Van Nistelrooy.

"So it's not a good look, but I don't think there was anything violent about what I did. I can remember it like yesterday.


Ruud van Nistelrooy Martin Keown

Ruud van Nistelrooy and Martin Keown clashed as Arsenal secured a crucial draw against Man Utd


"As I'm in the air actually, I'm even thinking to myself, well, where should I land? How much contact should I make?

"Should I hit him, bump into him? Just a little bit."

The two men appear to have now made up, however, with Keown revealing they've shaken hands in the years since.

"I wouldn't have a problem at all. I shook his hand at an FA Cup semi-final," he added.

"I went to him to say 'look don't take it personally. I was the same with Chris Sutton (smiles). Everybody got this sort of treatment from me.

"Don't take the pinching, the elbow, standing on the feet none of it. Don't take any of it personally. It's all part of the game."

You may like