Ask any fan of the Premier League to name Manchester United’s players from the late 1990s and without hesitation they’ll probably name Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Dwight Yorke, Andy Cole, David Beckham, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer et al.
It’s highly unlikely that their team-mate, Nick Culkin, will feature in their answers unless they’re a die-hard Red Devil, and yet it’s Culkin who is the holder of a Premier League record that will never be beaten.
He was a 17-year-old goalkeeper plying his trade at York City when, in September 1995, United came calling with a £100,000 offer that was too good for York to refuse. Culkin, understandably, was over the moon.
He played in United’s youth and reserve teams to begin with, getting him used to a way of working that, whilst not completely alien to him, was a step up in professionalism from what he was used to.
He finally managed to make his debut in a pre-season friendly after being at the club for almost two years.
By now the third-choice keeper for the first-team, he took Peter Schmeichel’s place at half-time of the fixture against SK Brann, at the beginning of the 97/98 campaign.
It would remain the only first-team action he would see for another two seasons but Culkin was determined to play in England’s top division, even if his pathway was fraught with unforeseen twists and turns.
Once Schmeichel had left for Aston Villa, Culkin believed he would get his chance, and was crushed when Sir Alex Ferguson decided to sign Mark Bosnich as the Dane’s replacement.
Quite why the Scot turned to a keeper that had had his United contract cancelled once before is anyone’s guess, and when Bosnich arrived in no fit state to play, the manager was forced to promote Culkin to reserve custodian, behind Raymond van der Gouw.
It would still take a change of heart from Ferguson, or an injury to the Dutchman, for Culkin to get his chance, but within four matches of the start of the 1999/2000 campaign, his time had come.
United went to Highbury to face an Arsenal side that hadn’t lost in front of their own supporters since Boxing Day 1997.
The biggest crowd of the season had filled the old ground to capacity, and with Sky Sports billing it as the ‘first ever interactive match,’ those watching at home were captivated too.
The Gunners took the lead through Freddie Ljungberg before Keane levelled things up just before the hour.
A brilliant game then turned ugly with five minutes left as Keane and Patrick Vieira went head-to-head. Not content with putting a marker down against the Irishman, Vieira would then plant his forehead on Jaap Stam.
Referee Graham Poll decided not to issue any cards, perhaps quickly diffusing the situation by so doing.
With two minutes to go, Keane then struck the winner past Alex Manninger, who was only playing because David Seaman wasn’t unavailable.
Deep into injury time, Stam conceded a free-kick in a dangerous area. Matthew Upson connected with Dennis Bergkamp’s pinpoint delivery, but it was saved on the line by van der Gouw.With just the one hand on it, and as he fell backwards into the goal itself, he had just managed to get his second hand on the ball before Martin Keown’s knee connected with his head.
The ‘equaliser’ – as the ball ended up in the net – was swiftly chalked off, and it was immediately apparent that the Dutchman couldn’t continue.
Culkin didn’t even have time to warm up before being sent on, and with the clock now at 100 minutes, it was clear that his participation would be brief.
After the infringement by Keown, Poll ordered a goal-kick to restart play. Placing the ball on the six-yard box, Culkin studded the turf and walked backwards. As he launched the ball down field, Poll immediately whistled for full-time.
With the ball only in play from the point of impact onwards, Culkin’s debut in the Premier League had lasted just one second.
It was also his only appearance for United’s first-team.