Is That The Programme?

There was an air of uncertainty and discontent in 1987 as Red News first graced Warwick Road with its presence. The magnitude of the job Alex Ferguson had in front of him was becoming increasingly apparent and whilst it was early in his incumbency, such was the turbulence of Manchester United’s season, there wasn’t 100% confidence on the disgruntled terraces of Old Trafford that he was the man to repair the debris left to him by Ron Atkinson.

30th anniversary edition of Red News, where this piece was originally published

In the wider world, Margaret Thatcher’s government were continuing their vendetta against football fans. One of these ideas was to make every football supporter carry membership cards for the club they were affiliated too when attending matches. It was around this time that United introduced their own shitty membership scheme, the benefits which included 10p off a pencil rubber in the newly fangled superstore for the commencement of the 87/88 campaign. One of the most controversial measures of this scheme was making the Stretford End terrace members only, where the Stretford Paddock was fine for anybody who wanted to attend. This resulted in a lot of refuseniks (this writer included) moving over to the Paddock and it’s also this writer’s opinion that the Stretford End was never quite the same after this. Continue reading Is That The Programme?

One night on Chester Road – Eric Cantona signs for United

There are some moments in life that you’ll remember exactly what you were doing and where you were. Virtually everybody of my parents’ generation remember precisely what they were doing and where they were doing it when they heard that John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been assassinated in his convertible Limousine in Dallas, November 1963. I vividly remember what I was doing when John Lennon was murdered, Princess Diana’s car crashed and the happiest memory of them all, when Eric Cantona signed for United, twenty years ago tomorrow.

Eric Cantona shields the ball from Brian Deane of Sheffield United at Elland Road in October 1992. Leeds would eventually sign Brian Deane to replace Cantona for nearly three times the price United paid for Cantona Continue reading One night on Chester Road – Eric Cantona signs for United

The Statues At The Liberty – Swansea 19th Of November 2011

On the 7th of November 1990, Alex Ferguson took his United team just over the Welsh border to Wrexham for a European Cup Winners Cup second round, 2nd leg match for a 2-0 win that would be the last time United played a competitive match in Wales until today. I remember that night well, with it being my first “Euro away” watching United, it was an efficient and dour performance with United doing just what was required and nothing else. Today, twenty one years, one hundred miles south in distance and the same place in quality of performance, United did enough to win a game against a team who have a manager who believes in having his team playing good football, but a team that United should have been out of sight of by half time, but for some sloppy final balls/passes. It’s becoming a recurring theme this, but United have yet again got away with winning a game when not firing on all cylinders. At this rate, I’ll be happy for United to stay in contention for the title by January where I’m hoping that Alex Ferguson spends some of that Ronaldo money which he insist is still there and get a midfielder who can pass a ball accurately, tackle and take control of the game. If he doesn’t, then I think we can forget about the title.

Despite Swansea City’s admirable attitude to playing football, they are a mediocre side who whilst having periods of dominating possession never really looked like scoring, save for a glaring miss by Scott Sinclair on 23 minutes. Most teams, losing to United by a goal with, lets say ten minutes to go, would go on kamikaze attacking mission against which would normally result in United breaking on the counter and scoring, occasionally a siege can develop and United will concede. Swansea today played the closing stages of the match like a team seeing out a draw. There was no urgency or frenzy from them. It was a strange approach from a home side. All through the game United’s defence had Swansea well under control, Phil Jones once again outstanding. On 11 minutes, the time defying Ryan Giggs hustled the ball off Angel Rangel to set up Javier Hernandez to stumble the ball home.

After that, there was an abundance of opportunities for United to extend the lead only to lay off a casual and sloppy final ball. Wayne Rooney was playing too deep, attempting the lung bursting playing style of Bryan Robson and Roy Keane, at one point in the first half, it looked like he was trying to play a twenty five yard pass to himself, such was his vigour. I love that sense of commitment and desire that Rooney has, but his union card says he’s a goalscorer and one of the best in the world too, hopefully his time in midfield is as a makeshift, in lieu of a new midfielder signing in January.

One statistic I heard after the match was that United have the most clean sheets in the Premier League. This is after the statistic being bandied about in early October that said United had given opposing teams the most shots on goal up until then. This means to me that far from being a calamity, United have, with David de Gea actually signed a good keeper. Odd that nobody in punditry has pointed that out after the glee that greeted his mistake at Wembley or the Hawthorns. Where’s Mike Summerbee when you need him ? Humbug !

As for the atmosphere in the ground, the Welsh, southern Welsh in particular, are famous for their love of singing and they didn’t let anybody down today. A noisy and raucous crowd finally seemed to lose heart after about sixty minutes when I could hear United fans singing songs about Andy Cole, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Paul Scholes. Take Andy Cole for example, my fellow reds are the only fans I’ve ever come across who sing songs celebrating a player who left ten years ago, whilst the match is playing. It’s a sign that if a player does good for us and behave honourably after leaving United (hello Mark Hughes), he’ll always be remembered and feted by Reds. It makes me proud to be a United fan but the truth also is that when United fans start singing songs in the middle of a game celebrating them players, it’s because they are bored. That’s fair enough, I’d rather United fans did that than do what the perenially unimaginitive do and start doing a Mexican wave. There’s nothing else in the world like being a red and tonight, I’m gonna be in the pub celebrating that, hopefully in true Manchester United style…

Fergie Time: 25 Years ago 1986/1987

United made a terrible start to the 1986-1987 season, apparently still in a state of depressed inertia after blowing a ten point lead the previous season. The reds didn’t win ’til the 13th of September, beating Southampton 5-1 but United were only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. The discontent on the terraces towards Ron Atkinson was now coming to the fore. Ron Atkinson never had the hearts and minds at Old Trafford with the fans the way Sir Matt Busby or Tommy Docherty possesed, despite being very popular with the media. The United team were suddenly looking old and tired, players who should have never have pulled on the red shirt, like Graeme Hogg, Colin Gibson & Johnny Sivebaek were getting regular games. The main problem with the midfield of Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath was trying to keep them out of the pub. Up front, we had a forward line of an ageing Frank Stapleton, the incredible Terry Gibson, a man who was signed from Coventry in exchange for Alan Brazil, he had the physical build of Diego Maradona and the footballing skill of Madonna and the hard working but not good enough signing from Nottingham Forest, Peter Davenport.

United drawing at Filbert Street in September 1986

United were drawn against Southampton for the 3rd round of the League Cup and six weeks after beating them 5-1 at Old Trafford, drew 0-0 meaning a replay at the Dell. Just over a week later, Southampton beat United 4-1 to knock United out of the league cup in what was Atkinsons’ last match as United manager.

Ron Atkinson’s last match as manager at The Dell

We’ve since learned that Bobby Charlton sounded Alex Ferguson out about the United managers job at 1986 World Cup in Mexico whilst he was there as Scotlands’ caretaker manager.

Alex Ferguson who’d nearly become Tottenham Hotspur manager when Keith Burkenshaw resigned in 1985, had been a phonemenal success in Scotland as Aberdeen manager and he had a clause in his Aberdeen contract that if Manchester United expressed an interest in him, he could talk to them. The talks which ended up in Ferguson becoming United manager were conducted in such a clandestine way as to bless a novel by Ian Fleming. On the 5th of November 1986, Ron Atkinson was dismissed as Uniteds’ manager, he walked away with a dignity which Tommy Docherty would’ve done well to witness and emulate. The following day, Alex Ferguson was announced as Uniteds’ new manager. He had two days to prepare for his first match against Oxford United at the Manor Ground. United lost 2-0 to Oxford, Ferguson claimed later that the enormity of what he’d taken on became apparent that day.

United lose 2-0 at the Manor Ground on the 8th November 1986. Alex Ferguson’s first match in charge

Following a goalless draw at Carrow Road, United won for the first time under Alex Ferguson when Johnny Sivabeck scored against Queens Park Rangers in a 1-0 win two weeks after he took over the reigns. Following a 1-0 defeat to newly promoted Wimbledon and two consecutive 3-3 draws against Spurs and Aston Villa, United went to Anfield to play the previous seasons double winners, Liverpool. If there was one game United didn’t need at this moment it was to be playing away to a Liverpool team whom in my opinion, at that time, would’ve given any team in the world a good game. As per usual in this fixture during the 1980s, Norman Whiteside upset the scousers and the form book whilst delighting the bookmakers to give United an unexpected win and as an added bonus, incur the wrath of the legendary John Peel on Radio 1. United only won one away league game all season, it would be typical that of all the places to get that win, it would be Anfield where it happened. Everything that symbolised United during that era occurred the following day when United lost at home to a Norwich City who in those days, were no mugs, but they shouldn’t have been beating United at Old Trafford.

Norman Whiteside scores the winner at Anfield on Boxing Day 1986

In early February and in a game where Terry Gibson scored his only goal for the reds, United won 2-0 against a title challenging Arsenal side who’d been taken over by George Graham the previous summer. This was the first sign of the steel Ferguson had instilled in the United side. Norman Whiteside wound up Arsenal midfielder Paul Davis and full back Viv Anderson to a frenzy and alongside Bryan Robson, ran the midfield imperiously. It wouldn’t be the last time during Fergusons reign that a match involving United and Arsenal became heated. Ferguson steadied the United side for the rest of the season to achieve mid table safety by March. On Easter Monday, with a last minute goal from Peter Davenport, United completed their first league double over Liverpool since 1969/1970.

United beat Liverpool 1-0 on Easter Monday 1987 with a late goal from Peter Davenport. Look out for Alan Hansen in the run to the goal. “Dreadful defending Des”

United finished the season in 11th place and with a 3-1 win over Aston Villa. In the FA cup, United beat Man City in the third round with a goal by Whiteside before losing to eventual winners, Coventry City in the fourth round. After the start to the season United made, the fans were generally happy with the placing but were hoping on a quick improvement. What United fans didn’t then realise was that the charismatic and likeable Atkinson had left the club in a shambles. In them days, City had a pretty decent youth side and were getting the best kids off the streets of Manchester, Uniteds’ youth side, despite reaching the youth cup final in 1986, losing over two legs to City, was a mess. This along with sorting out the active social lives and bonding sessions that Uniteds best players indulged in was Fergusons overriding priority which came to a head during the hilarious and now infamous interview with Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath, on Granadas Kick off programme where both of them had clearly had a good day, just prior to an away match at Loftus road. This new policy was implemented much to the chagrin of pub landlords in Hulme, Salford, Altrincham…

United are knocked out of the FA Cup by eventual winners, Coventry City on the January 31st 1987. Look at the state of the pitch…