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?

From the Manor Ground to the Hawthorns, 1500 and goodnight – West Bromwich 19th of May 2013

On Saturday the 8th of November 1986 in front of a crowd of 13,545 at the Manor Ground, Alex Ferguson took control of his first United match, an abject 2-0 defeat to Oxford United. There have been many 2-0 defeats United have suffered since that day. There were enough bad defeats in his first four years. It was a period so turbulent in United’s history that it is to the credit of the much maligned chairman Martin Edwards, that United kept faith with Ferguson when a lot of people on the Old Trafford terraces were calling for his dismissal. For all the 2-0 defeats and other such crazy results in Sir Alex Ferguson time as United’s manager, he’d never been involved in a 5-5 draw, it was fitting really that Sir Alex’s time as United manager concluded with a game that encapsulated so brilliantly the great and not so great of his time as United manager. Before yesterday, the last time United had drawn a match 5-5 was in November 1895 when as Newton Heath, they recorded that score against Lincoln City at Bank Street in Clayton during A.H.Albut’s reign.

Photo: War bob, Anthony Murphy

Sir Bobby Charlton coming out of the Sandwell Academy car park for yesterdays match (Photograph courtesy of Scott Murray) Continue reading From the Manor Ground to the Hawthorns, 1500 and goodnight – West Bromwich 19th of May 2013

Reds caught, bowled and stumped by Bale – Manchester United V Tottenham Hotspur 29th of September 2012

We can’t say this hadn’t been coming. Until today, United hadn’t lost a first team match at any level against Tottenham since May 2001. In that time, we’ve seen Tottenham blow a three goal half time lead (September 2001), concede a last minute equaliser from Carlos Tevez (February 2008) and blow a two goal half time lead (April 2009), that’s just off the top of my head. Last time the two sides met in March this year, United did a smash and grab that had the criminal fraternity purring in respect.

Alan Gilzean celebrates as a Pat Jennings’ drop kick bounces over Alex Stepney into the Scoreboard End net in the 1967 Charity Shield at Old Trafford

This fixture has traditionally, from the era of Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and Paddy Crerand playing for United and John White, Jimmy Greaves and Dave McKay playing for Tottenham been a classic match. Today was up there with the finest of those legendary matches over the last fifty years.

 Nobby Stiles tackles Jimmy Greaves during United’s 5-1 win against Tottenham in December 1965

Tottenham came to Old Trafford today and were immediately on the front foot. United had barely touched the ball before Jan Vertonghen fortuitously scored for Tottenham after 90 seconds with a deflection off Jonny Evans’ hand which bamboozled United’s now joint first choice goalkeeper, Anders Lindegaard. There may have been some luck in the goal but United’s defending in the build up to the goal was shocking. Tottenham didn’t hang back then. Like a lot of visiting sides at Old Trafford nowadays wise to the wafer thin midfield, they attacked the United defence with alarming ease. Moussa Dembélé, who’s already had one outstanding game at Old Trafford this season with Fulham, was in full control of middle of the park again today. Gareth Bale, hardly an unknown quantity, was allowed an uninterupted 50 yard run before hitting hard and low into the far post of Lindergaards,’s Stretford End net. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen Bale do that over the last 3/4 years, the Laurel and Hardyesque defending from Jonny Evans and Rio Ferdinand was a sight to behold. Such was the ease that Tottenham were passing through United’s defence, I was quietly fearing another outcome like last season’s Old Trafford derby at half time.

Gareth Bale puts Tottenham 2-0 up on 32 minutes

With the ineffectual Ryan Giggs being replaced by Wayne Rooney at half time, the second half was the best forty five minutes of football I’ve seen United play this season. During a chaotic three minutes in the second half United scored with a great flick from Nani. This was immediately followed by more appalling defending, this time from Patrice Evra, to allow Clint Dempsey an empty net after Gareth Bale had yet again cut in on the flank to force a parried save from Lindergaard. Immediately from United re-starting the game, Robin Van Persie played a brilliant through ball to Shinji Kagawa who scored to bring it back to 3-2. From that moment on it was constant United pressure, played in front of for once, a roaring Old Trafford crowd. Tottenham fans, who in the first half made a great job actually supporting their team rather than singing songs about what great supporters they are (hello Geordies), were now getting twitchy. They’ve seen this all before with United recovering seemingly irrecoverable deficits against their side. With a perfectly good penalty shout after a Sandro Raniere handball turned down, I had a gut feeling this was going to be Tottenham’s day. United pressed constantly with Rooney hitting the post, Michael Carrick the crossbar, Van Persie shooting wide amongst many other near misses. Towards the end with four centre forwards on the pitch and an attacking fly goalie, United went kamikaze but Tottenham’s defence soaked it all up. Tottenham were lucky in the second half but the good luck they had against United yesterday had been coming. If only for United’s abysmal first half performance and their own stoic second half performance, Tottenham deserved the win.

No time for acrobatics as Nani retrieves the ball from the net having scored to bring it back to 1-2

Despite the defeat, this was one of the best games I’ve seen at Old Trafford in a long time and the second half performance from United gave heart that we might start seeing United play the way we demand they do. The atmosphere was electric for the first time a good while; Christ, even the B Stand were on their feet! More of the same next time round would be great, but does it really need a two goal deficit to wake the Old Trafford crowd up?

No Banana Skin On Boxing Day, Manchester, 26th Of December 2011

Boxing day in Wigan is traditionally a fancy dress day. This explains why 200/300 of their travelling 1500 army came dressed as bananas yesterday, there were other more free thinking ones who came dressed as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Lennie the Lion. The rest of the Wigan fans just sat there, so much so that I was beginning to wonder if they’d borrowed some cast offs from Madame Tussauds in Blackpool to pad out the pathetically low turnout of away fans on a bank holiday for a match that is sixteen miles from their hometown. Wigan, like Leeds, is a rugby league town that just happens to have a football team attached to it. Leeds have found their true and correct place in the second flight and hopefully will stay there ad infinitum, I have a feeling that Wigan are gonna be joining them there this summer, having stayed in the Premier League with admirable resilience, since 2005. Wigan are beginning to remind me of Wimbledon, who had an abnormally long stay in the top flight before being relegated, moving fifty odd miles away to Milton Keynes and completly losing their identity in the process. Like Wimbledon, Wigan’s support in regards to numbers is lamentable, when a club can’t sell out their ground for the visit of United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, then to my eyes, they have no business being in the top division. I could sit here all night taking the piss out of Wigan, but it’s a bit like kicking a puppy. At least the fans who came to Old Trafford yesterday dressed as bananas did try and create an atmosphere. They were, in the second half suddenly celebrating an imaginary goal, I was begining to think that they’d been on Ken Kesey’s favourite medication, then they tried riling a pretty bored K Stand by singing City’s Mancini song, to the tune of Volare and about City’s recent 6-1 win at Old Trafford. United fans ignored them in a way an adult would ignore a child jumping up and down saying look at me. United fans, myself included here, were looking forward to going back to the pub to carry on with the festive drinking session that always occurs on Boxing Day and which had been rudely interrupted by, unusually for United, a 3PM kick off.

Continue reading No Banana Skin On Boxing Day, Manchester, 26th Of December 2011

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…