Man Utd Fans Blog: Welcome to the sometimes sugar coated, sometimes vinegar soaked opinions of a home and away red. Updated weekly between August 2011 and July 2015, now only written occasionally. Any blues, scousers or sheepshaggers reading this, this is written for the amusement of United fans so if you don’t like it, seek solace elsewhere.
Manchester United 4-1 Portsmouth – 7th May 1988
Brian McClair scores a penalty on a dusty, dry pitch in front of the Stretford End (photo and caption courtesy of Kay Dickinson)
I started the Shy Talk (say it quicky) fanzine as the punk scene in Manchester was growing in 1977 and the cover price was 20p. UWS sellers sometimes get a backlash off pissed off reds when United have played shite or had a bad result. This reaction isn’t exclusive to football crowds. One of the editions of Shy Talk had a piece in it which was slagging The Stranglers off. I had the mag on sale at the Electric Circus when they next played there in June 1977 and Stranglers lead singer, Hugh Cornwell, bought a copy off me. Half an hour later, he was all over the place looking for me and wanting a fight after reading what had been written. The following night, The Drones were supporting The Stranglers in Sheffield and Cornwell saw me and came walking over. I thought, “here we go”, but he just said “sorry about that last night. It annoyed me. I thought we were all supposed to be on the same side”. I said “maybe, but you’re not on the same side as the lad who wrote that fucking piece”.
Shy Talk was done by me and a lad called Graham Leonard, but Graham never went to gigs. He was more a Pips (a very popular nightclub close to Victoria station) person than anything else. Graham worked for a printer on Wilbraham Road in Chorlton and when his gaffer wasn’t looking, he’d print off a load of them. He also designed the cover, but it was mostly written by me and it was a classic type of late seventies fanzine. Stencils and spelling mistakes on a typewriter that you’d just end up thinking ‘fuck it’ rather than correcting. Not only because we were all punks, but because we didn’t have the luxury of spell check and I couldn’t face the thought of typing it all out again for the sake of a daft mistake. Like nearly everything in punk, it was short lived. We went into the Virgin record shop on Lever St, asking them if they could stock it for us. They said yes and I asked how many did they want, thinking they’d say fifty or something like it. They asked me for 2,000. This was a nightmare as I knew I would then have to get them done professionally rather than mates printing copies off here and there at a printing shop when the boss wasn’t around.
I was originally a soul boy and working as a Glazier for William Pointer’s, who were based on Ayres Road in Old Trafford. Wayne Barrett, a lad I knew from work, he was an apprentice, only about 16. I was 18 and I didn’t get on with the other lads at work, they were knobheads, but me and Wayne became good pals. We would be given a list of the jobs to do around Town, drop the panes of glass off and then I’d put them in. Wayne shadowed me as a painter, he’d tosh the paint on soon after I’d finished with the putty. The job was a doddle and we used to get away with murder on the skive and the occasional little fiddle.
It was through Wayne that I got into the punk scene. He used to go into The Ranch on Dale St, which was owned by Frank Lamarr and it was next door to his main club, Foo Foo’s Palace. It was rather strange, I met these two girls and they said “come to The Ranch”, so I went down and I was tripping and all of a sudden, I saw that much colour in there. It was all Bowie and Roxy and I just sort of moved in with it all. Wayne said “Steve, buy a ticket”, so I bought one for me and one for Kim, who is my cousin. The tickets were for the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. I’ve got to emphasise, not the first one, the one that had as many people claiming they were at than saw City on a hillside at Blackburn in 2000, I didn’t even know who they were then. The vast majority of people, even on the ‘scene’ didn’t, this occasion was when Buzzcocks opened, Slaughter and The Dogs, who had and still have Wayne as lead singer, were waiting by in a satin jumpsuit and they were doing Mick Ronson and Bowie covers, stuff like that. But I wasn’t all that keen on Roxy Music, I could take Bowie, but at that time, I was still bang into soul music. All the girls in there were all in fishnet stockings and the like and I used to go to a party every week and when you’re young, like I was, you have the time of your life doing it.
The second Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall was six weeks after the now fabled one in June 1976. There was about 300 there that night and the crowd was a mix of the people who’d been to the first one, who’d then told their mates, all the punk rockers who went out watching bands and then the Bowie/Roxy lot. It was going off left, right and centre between these factions. Everybody was getting stuck in, the lads from The Ranch were mostly like Slaughter and the Dogs, Wythenshawe lads and there were pint pots being thrown around and crashing against the wall. They were smashing and coming down on everybody. It kicked off between all the Wythenshawe boys and all the punk rockers who were there. The Pistols also had a firm that had come up from London with them, but after having a look, they wisely kept their heads down. It was an evil atmosphere, just like being at a football match in those days. Looking back, I can see that it’s because of nights like that everybody gets served their beer in plastic glasses on a club night nowadays.
On first were Buzzcocks. As soon as they come on, I got what they were doing. It worked in my head, if you know what I mean. I thought, “this is fuckin’ brilliant this”. Slaughter and the Dogs were next and they were all right, but then the Pistols come on and John Lydon had an amazing presence. He seemed to be glaring at everybody in the room. It didn’t matter where he was looking, or who he was looking at, you felt that he was staring at you. It sent shivers down your back. He saw it going off all over the place and he was laughing his head off on stage while everybody was scrapping. He had the sarcasm that I find a lot of gay people have. It didn’t bother him if you got beat up. Steve Jones and Paul Cook, they were belting lads, they were mostly interested in what they could nick from the place and Glen Matlock was just an arsehole.
Three months after that gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, in October 1976 and with a backpack full of mags, we went to Lafayette in Wolverhampton, which was a Greasers club. Greasers were generally motorcycle enthusiasts who weren’t hard enough to be Hell’s Angels, it was kicking off there too. You couldn’t see most of it. By this time, the Pistols were touring and being advertised as S.P.O.Ts, which stood for Sex Pistols On Tour. They had to do it that way as if they tried booking a venue under their own name, the management would refuse to book them because of all the bad press they were getting at the time. In those pre internet days, you could get away with a stunt like that. If it wasn’t the venue management, then it would be the local odd lot or council trying to make a name for themselves by banning the Pistols from playing. That night, a Brummie band called The Prefects (who are still touring and are known as The Nightingales) were supporting the Pistols and they were brilliant. In the crowd, there was about 50 from London, over dressed and trying too hard, like they always were and being a lot braver than they were at the Lesser Free Trade Hall earlier in the year. As usual we were there in pairs of jeans, cords, basketball boots and t-shirts. Pretty much what I and my mates wore all the time. What most of the London lot didn’t seem to get was the Punk was a mindset, not a phase of fashion.
Soon after this gig, Sid Vicious replaced Glen Matlock on the bass guitar. Sid was a pretty erratic fella, always hyped up on the billy and he could and often did go off at any second. I next saw The Pistols at Ivanhoes in Huddersfield on Christmas Day 1977, which was a benefit show for the kids of the Firemen, who were halfway through a nine week strike at the time. This show happened to be the Pistols last UK gig until they reformed in 1996 for the Filthy Lucre tour. This show was a matinee, an afternoon show for all the kids, there was a Christmas party for them and all that, Sid Vicious was play fighting with all the kids, that kind of thing. Knowing how Pistols gigs could be like, this was a surreal day and a brilliant way for them to bring their UK touring days behind them, being as unpredictable as ever.
I played bass in a short lived band called The Negatives. It was me, Paul Morley on Guitar, Kevin Cummins on Drums and Dave Bentley as the singer, Dave was manager of a band called The Drones. We did it for a laugh. Paul Morley was writing for the NME at the time he was doing reviews of them of how bad they were, “perfect punk” and all this, stuff like “they released in EP but deleted it immediately” and some people would be scrambling around like mad trying to find a copy of a none existent EP by a band that not only couldn’t really play, but they’d never even heard play. Our party trick was basically a 15 minute version of “Louis Louis”, which as anybody who could play a guitar would tell you, a learner could pick up in no time. It was a piss take really. But great fun.
Steve Shy passed away on the 17th of July 2022. A man well known and well loved throughout many facets of Mancunian society, he will be much missed and while he may be no longer with us in body, he will be with us for many years in our thoughts of kindness, happiness and laughter.
This piece was first published in the December 2020 edition of the United We Stand fanzine. Published here with the kind permission of the magazine.
I know what you’re thinking. A football blog, but it’s June for Christs’s sake. You are undoubtedly right about it being June and indeed it being a football blog, so, that’s a good start all round. Winding back ever so gently as to what has undoubtedly been an awful season from our perspective, it actually had a somewhat palatable outcome come the end of May. Sure, United were predictably dreadful at Selhurst Park and the Leeds vermin stayed up, but also, on the bright side and much to most people’s surprise, Real Madrid beat the scousers in the European Cup final despite Liverpool comfortably being the better side (this actually made it sweeter). The kids won the Youth Cup against Forest in front of a crowd of over 67,000. This was one of those nights where you remember everything that is great about going to the match. A great atmosphere and a group of kids who looked motivated and wanting to play well. Meanwhile, at Old Trafford/Carrington, we now know that last December, United hired a management consultant as a stand-in team manager, and when his much feted consultancy was about to commence, he moved down over to manage Austria. Looking at the overall reaction, there’s one very good thing about Rangnick’s move to Vienna, it means nothing to me, nor anybody else by the looks of things. As for United’s state, well, looking at the dividends that they have been awarding themselves recently, everything is OK on planet Glazer, so all’s well.
Writing this a fortnight after City won the title, the world feels a far easier and different place to be than what it would be if the unthinkable happened and Liverpool won the quadruple. The glee of most United fans at City winning the title managed to piss off both the scousers and the berties, so I suppose that is a double of sorts (it will have to do at the moment, any port in a storm, and all that). Liverpool fans claimed that they would never prefer an Everton win over a United win, but they completely miss the point by this when expressing their disgust or disbelief at our joy. When all’s said and done, nobody gives a fuck about City, blimey, looking at the turnout for their ‘homecoming’, nobody in ‘their’ city gives a fuck about City. To be fair to the denizens of Tameside, Stockport and other parts of Cheshire where City are well supported, it’s a bit of a schlep to ‘manny’ on a Monday night, particularly when they’ve got their church services, karate classes or choir practice to attend, so we should cut them some slack for that.
In 2008, much to chagrin of reds, the city council, helmed by bitter Bertie Bernstein, came out with some bollocks excuse when they blocked a parade about safety concerns for the crowds converging in town for United winning the European Cup and the League. This was a problem that mysteriously vanished three years later when City won the FA Cup. In 2008, a lot of reds, myself included, were making noises about a bitter stitch up amongst the governing Labour cartel at the town hall on Albert Sq. I have little doubt that was factor, but significant also was the anticipated turnout too. I was on Deansgate in 2013 when United ‘came home’ with the Premier League title. Apart from the now venerated pictures of reds all over the five storey scaffolding near the Quay St junction of Deansgate, I have to admit that it got very tight amongst the masses on the side of the road on Deansgate. This most definitely was not a problem when City had Jack Grealish doing his clown act at the celebrations. Bloody hell, I thought United were had over by Everton for old trampoline shins, Romelu Lukaku, but looking at Grealish, City have given Aston Villa £100m for a court jester.
Back at the theatre of draws, there was some great news about Steve McLaren returning to United. Looking at his record, we can all agree that he’s no manager, a bit like his original predecessor at Old Trafford, Brian Kidd, but McLaren, like Kidd, is a top (top) coach and is respected by players that have worked his sessions. Players like Roy Keane, Gary Neville and Jaap Stam, not lads known for suffering fools, have all thrived under his coaching regime. If McLaren has their respect, he sure as hell has mine, so, unlike the coaches who have just been laughed out of Old Trafford, he should be a great addition to the backroom staff. There’s also the added bonus of McLaren’s enviable skills as a linguist. There have been concerns about Erik Ten Hag’s grasp of English, but with Steve McLaren’s now infamous experience of communication to a Dutch audience, then Ten Hag for sure should have no problem getting his message across with McLaren by his side.
While you’re reading this and either basking in the rays of another glorious British summer, or stood in a five hour queue at Ringpiece airport, we can look forward to next season with some optics (maybe a Whiskey, maybe a Brandy). For a start off Pogba has gone, so has Lingard and, much to my sadness, so has Mata. As for who’s coming in, well if you’re looking here for transfer talk, you’re looking in the wrong place brother. That said, one player to keep your eye on is Calvin Bassey at Rangers, he looked fantastic in the Europa League final and I would not say no to him at United. If he doesn’t come here, then surely Bassey will end up somewhere else in the Premier League before too long.
Looking at the joy experienced by Eintracht Franfurt fans and Roma fans for winning the Europa League and the Europa Conference League, I’m relishing the campaign in the Europa League and I expect Ten Hag to take it seriously too. A visit to the fine city of Budapest for the final would be most welcome next May. With the wasters still in the squad signed to the club on ridiculously high wages long contracts (a big ‘hi’ to Anthony Martial), Ten Hag is inheriting a squad with not as much deadwood in it, as being riddled with Dutch Elm disease. He’s also having to deal with an ownership model which has managed to make globally respected managers like Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho look like mugs. He’s going to need time while he tidies up the debris left to him by Woodward. Here’s hoping next season can bring some of the fun back and come next May, we don’t look back in anger, I hear you say.
This is what it’s all about, genuinely back in the big time and the visit of Juventus for United’s first European semi-final since the AC Milan tie of 1969 and the infamous goal that never was, scored by Denis Law. Juventus, with Michel Platini, Paolo Rossi and Zbigniew Boniek and the brilliant but the eternally dirty bastard, Claudio Gentile, possibly the most inappropriately named footballer I’ve ever seen. Of the six Juventus players that were part of the Italian World Cup winning squad of less than two years prior, five were still at the club. In Boniek, Juventus had a skilful centre forward who moved like shit off a shovel and in Michel Platini, they had the present Ballon d’Or holder, half way through his three year reign of being so and in my opinion, the best footballer in the world at that time. Platini would soon be an instrumental part of that magical France side which won the European Championships that summer. In the meantime on this warm Spring night at Old Trafford, Platini and his cohort were up against a United side that had both Bryan Robson and Ray Wilkins (captain and vice captain respectively) out injured. United had Paul McGrath, a centre half, playing in midfield alongside the tenacious Remi Moses and John Gidman, a right back who’d been out injured for most of the previous two years playing on the right wing. To say United were up against it is an understatement.
The pre match build up for this European Cup Winners Cup semi final and expectation had, if anything surpassed that of the famous Barcelona match which occurred three weeks prior. To no one’s great surprise, Barcelona, with Diego Maradona and the superb Bernd Schuster beat United 2-0 in the Camp Nou in the first leg.
The return saw United unexpectedly win 3-0 against a side completely overwhelmed by an Old Trafford crowd which was given officially as 58,547. Touts that night were asking and getting an astronomical £10.00 for Stretford End standing tickets. With the confidence gained from that special night and the great momentum United had at that moment, even a side as great as Juventus obviously were held no fear for United.
The night of the Juventus match was a quintessential European
Old Trafford night. The huge floodlights seemed to beam that little bit
brighter, the streets en route to the ground packed with nervous anticipation
and old boys stood outside the main stand in their camel coats smoking stogies.
As we took our places on the Stretford Paddock, the Stretford End was in full
voice with nearly an hour to go to kick off (imagine that now!). An official
crowd of 58,171 was in the stadium. This was smaller than the Barcelona game,
indeed, on Warwick Road touts were trying to sell tickets for below face value
as what became abundantly clear was that everybody who wanted a ticket, had
one. In the touting circles, this night became known as the ‘Juventus bonfire’
(oddly enough, tickets for the second leg of the European Cup semi final 15
years later between the two sides had the same fate)
In the press before this tie, there had been heavy speculation and innuendo about referee, Jan Keizer, being spotted talking to officials of Juventus at Schipol airport. This wouldn’t be the first time there had been suspicion about the behaviour of an Italian club in a European match. Both United and Liverpool lost hugely controversial European Cup semi-finals against AC Milan (1969) and Inter Milan (1965) respectively. The reactions of the managers being as their usual character, Matt Busby quietly dignified but seething inside, Bill Shankly hilariously outspoken, as was his wont. In 1973, Derby County lost a European Cup semi-final against Juventus, which led Brian Clough to say to the gathered Italian press corps that he “would not speak to cheating bastards” after Juventus centre forward Helmut Haller, he who scored the first goal in the 1966 World cup Final, was observed accompanying match referee and German compatriot Gerhard Schulenburg to the changing rooms at half time. Contemporarily, the same night United played Juventus, Nottingham Forest were playing Anderlecht in a UEFA Cup Semi Final, a match which was revealed to be corrupt in favour of the Belgians by UEFA in 1997.
It was in this suspicious atmosphere that the match progressed at Old Trafford with some very strange decisions being made by the Dutch referee. Claudio Gentile in particular with a foul on Arthur Graham that would earn him a six match ban nowadays, did not even get a booking. With all the media innuendo and the weird decisions, the Stretford End soon started loudly singing “Bribery, bribery, bribery” to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Sousa.
In the 10th minute, United, already badly hampered by absences to key players saw Gidman substituted for Alan Davies after he broke down injured. Four minutes later, United were caught out by a classic Italian sucker punch. From the Scoreboard End box and a United attack, it took 12 seconds for the Bianconeri to score. Boniek picked the ball up near the D on his own half way line and with his frightening pace, ran past Kevin Moran like he was a chicane, he fed Rossi on the mid-point of United’s 18 yard line, who shot and took a deflection off the luckless Graeme Hogg’s knee and past Gary Bailey’s left hand side of the Stretford End net. There was virtually no travelling Juventus supprters in the stadium, so the silence that greeted the goal was eerie.
From this, relentless pressure was applied by United against a team very experienced at soaking up this kind of football. Like a lot of contemporary Latin clubs, Juventus were a dab hand at the dark arts and United, like most English clubs of this era, had an almost Corinthian attitude and honesty to playing. In short, United were very naïve in a European sense. It would stay this way for at least another decade. Allowing for Juventus’ impressive composure under this pressure, in the 45th minute, an Arthur Albiston cross from near the halfway line caused chaos in the Juventus box. A Norman Whiteside shot from five yards was parried by Stefano Tacconi and Davies placed the ball into an unguarded net. It was to be his only goal for United.
Halfway through the second half as Boniek was about to take a corner in front of the J Stand, he collapsed as he was about to run up. We then had all kinds of histrionics on the pitch as an assortment of men in very expensive suits were walking around gesticulating wildly at the referee. Later in the game, Frank Stapleton had the chance to win the game for United in front of the Stretford End. Another chaotic scramble saw the ball fall for him in a similar way it fell for Davies. Stapleton went for the big finish and the ball crashed against the bar and out to safety for a very relieved visiting side.
United don’t bother with moral victories, we leave that to clubs with a smaller mentality, but there was a real feeling of pride as we left Old Trafford that night. This Juventus side, which would go onto win the tournament and the European Cup the following year in tragic circumstances were on paper, far superior to what United had available. United went for this Juventus side in the only way it knew how to, with guts and bravery. It worked against Barcelona (another technically superior side), it very nearly did against the Bianconeri, but heartbreak reigned a couple of weeks later when a last minute goal by Rossi ended any dreams reds had of heading to Basel in the middle of May. The following night, the once great Manchester Evening News had a back page photo of a dejected Paul McGrath walking off the pitch at Turin’s Stadio Comunale and a headline of “The Pride Guys”. It was spot on. For the return leg and like the previous tie in Barcelona, United officially took no supporters. This had become club policy after the debacle in Valencia in September 1982, when the local police started indiscriminately belting United fans with batons in the Mestalla. This caused a knock on effect after the match and United obviously felt that taking an official contingent to European aways was more trouble than it was worth.
United’s next match after the home leg against Juventus was an away trip to Meadow Lane, where they lost 1-0 Notts County, a club who’d inspired the Juventus strip in 1903. This result caused massive harm to a team whom still had a great chance of winning the title, but it also nicely summed up the mid 1980’s United side in a microcosm. Play one of the best sides in the world on a Wednesday night and be unlucky to only draw against them with half your side out injured and then, lose to a relegation bound Notts County four days later. Nothing ever changes really.
Originally published in Red News, November 2018.
By the fanzines, written by the fans, for the fans.
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Anybody under the age of 40 could be forgiven for thinking these are amongst the worst days in the modern history of Manchester United. There’s no doubt that there’s an awful atmosphere amongst supporters and with protests against the club’s malignant ownership organised during June and with them rearing their head again recently, it’s fair to say that now is the Winter of our discontent.
As bad as things are around
United at present, there have been worse periods, such as the one highlighted
with great clarity by Michael Crick and David Smith in Betrayal of a Legend, first published in May 1989. This piece will
review what was said in that book and how it resonates with the Manchester
United we watch and support today.
Betrayal of a Legend was written ostensibly from the perspective of David Smith, who had been deposed as Supporters Club chairman in the summer of 1987, in favour of the new fangled Membership Scheme which Margaret Thatcher’s government was trying to impose on all football clubs. The policy idea for compulsory membership was thrown out in January 1990, with the Taylor Report commissioned in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster of April 1989 saying that it “could not support a scheme of that kind, because he could not believe that the technology would work well enough to avoid the danger of congestion and disorder.” However, United, knowing that they were onto a good thing financially stuck with it to such a degree that it is now nigh on impossible to officially gain entrance to a United match without one. While the book gives a less than flattering account of the club’s methods of how they dealt with Smith (Crick & Smith 1-7: 1990) and Sir Matt Busby’s stewardship of the now rather quaint Souvenir Shop which his son used to run (Crick & Smith, 268/269: 1990), the forensic detail that Crick analyses the governance of Manchester United, mostly by the Edwards family and how it concurs with the modern running of the club by Glazer’s is what gives the most interesting reading from a modern perspective.
Over the eighteen months, there has been strong speculation about the appointment of a Director of Football (DoF) at United. Writing about this possibility for the Daily Mail in August 2018, Mike Keegan came out with an article which by his admittedly low bar was brimming with originality. Keegan said that “there appears to have been a belated recognition at Old Trafford that the old system and the days of Ferguson-esque tenures are over and that the club needs to come first”. While Keegan for once makes an interesting point, the reality is that at United, this is nothing new. Earlier this year figures like Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Darren Fletcher were speculated as potential candidates for this ‘new role’. Even allowing for the fact that at the time of writing, January 2020, no appointment has been made, in reality, it’s just a rebranding of what’s been happening on and off at United since Matt Busby handed over the team managerial reigns to Wilf McGuinness in June 1969, while he himself stayed on as ‘General Manager’ (Crick & Smith, 1990: 86). Busby eventually resigned from United’s board in August 1982 (Crick & Smith, 1990: 180) and in the summer of 1984, United replaced him with his stalwart skipper, Bobby Charlton. “Martin Edwards needed Charlton as a name on the board for his football experience rather than for any business activity” (Crick & Smith, 1990: 181/182). In effect, Charlton like Busby before him, was operating as United’s DoF before the job title had been invented. Crick & Smith (1990: 238) say that Ron Atkinson and Charlton came increasingly in conflict during the two years they worked together at United and that Edwards would generally defer to Charlton’s opinion. Crick & Smith (ibid) point out that in the summer of 1986, the year Atkinson was sacked, Charlton effectively vetoed Atkinson’s requisition of a £700,000 bid for Ipswich Town centre half, Terry Butcher. This is similar to Ed Woodward vetoing the signing of Harry Maguire when Jose Mourinho requested him in the summer of 2018. In his outstanding biography on Alex Ferguson, The Boss, Crick says that Atkinson believes that Charlton was a central player in persuading Ferguson to come to United, a claim that Bryan Robson backed up (Crick, 2002: 252). This is the classic case of a DoF at work and while Atkinson sailed off into the sunset with a £115,000 severance (Crick & Smith, 1990: 235), Ferguson, strongly aided by Charlton, set about the lengthy and at times torturous job of a root and branch rebuild of United. Without Charlton’s staunch support throughout that period, particularly the grim winter of 1989/90, it is unlikely that Ferguson would’ve survived as United’s manager without Charlton in his corner. (Ferguson & Mcllvanney, 1999: 280)
Atkinson’s last match as United manager was a 4-1 thrashing at The Dell as Southampton knocked United out of the League Cup on November 4th, 1986. Two days later, his dismissal was announced and Ferguson was installed as manager post haste. Crick & Smith (1990: 240) claim that Ferguson said that offer of the United job after Atkinson’s dismissal was a “complete surprise”. However, a decade later, Ferguson said in his autobiography, Managing My Life, that he was approached for the United job the night before Atkinson was sacked (Ferguson & Mcllvanney, 1999: 232). Reading this, it is difficult to ascertain what it was that completely surprised Ferguson after Atkinson was sacked.
May 2005 saw the Glazer takeover
of United. At Ferihegy Airport in Budapest just prior to United’s 3-0 win
against Debrecen the following August, Ferguson came across a pair of
reasonably well known disgruntled United fans at the arrivals carousel of the
airport. According to Mark Ogden (2015), then of the Daily Telegraph, One of
those traveling reds said to Ferguson “you fucked us over. You could have
spoken out about it.” Ferguson said in reply that “I’ve got a job to do and fifteen staff. They
come first. If you don’t like it, go and watch Chelsea.” While Ferguson’s
concerns for his staff was touching, these were also the words of a man of huge
political power within Manchester United. When Betrayal of a Legend was published in 1989 and even allowing for the
new three year contract granted in September of that year, it would be a safe
bet to say that Ferguson would not have dared say that to any United fan under
any circumstances. Then, he was far more vulnerable politically, particularly
as the winter progressed and relegation became a plausible prospect (season
1989/90 concluded with United finishing six points clear of relegation).
That year though, Ferguson got some very long overdue luck, both on and off the pitch, which along with Charlton’s endorsement, brought him some crucial time. As well as the completely unexpected 1-0 win in the FA Cup 3rd round away at a very good Nottingham Forest side, the ongoing debacle of the proposed sale of the club by Edwards to Michael Knighton in the summer of 1989 took a lot of heat off Ferguson. While United’s abysmal form was certainly noticed by the wider world, the shenanigans at board level was providing even more amusement to everybody else.
One thing Ferguson was scathing of in that period was football agents. Ferguson said of the agents influence that “It’s a rat race and the rats are winning” (Crick & Smith, 1990: 222). Happily, Ferguson to an extent made his peace with agents to such a degree that his son, Jason, ended up as one and indeed, did a lot of business with United, including transfers involving Kleberson, Tim Howard and Jaap Stam (amongst many others). In 2004, Sam Wallace of the Daily Telegraph claimed that Ferguson “has faced allegations in the past, from former players Jonathan Greening and Mark Wilson, of pressurising young players to sign up to his son’s agency”. Grown men obviously do move on and it was good for the club that through using his son, Ferguson could find somebody trustworthy to do the rats work for United at the club’s benefit. Alas, for Ferguson, this practice was soon scuppered when he chose to get into an argument with John Magnier and JP McManus, two of the club’s major shareholders, over stud rights to a horse he had been gifted a half share in. In retaliation, Magnier and McManus publicly submitted 99 questions about United’s transfer dealings, many of them involving his son. To this day, the implications of that row cast a grim shadow over the on pitch fortunes of United.
The first match of the 1989/90 season saw United play the League Champions, Arsenal. A day of glorious weather saw United thrash the gunners 4-1 and as an added bonus, the club’s shy and retiring new proposed owner displayed an impressive amount of ball control pre match in front of a rapturous Stretford End. The deal had been announced two days before on the ITN News At 10 and was such was the comical incompetence of the deal by Edwards, Bobby Charlton and fellow board member Michael Edelson only found about the deal “minutes before the news broke” (Crick & Smith, 1990: 278). This piss poor excuse of communication was not to be the last event of staggering incompetence over the forthcoming winter, a season which nearly turned United into a laughing stock comparable with City.
Edwards was never a popular chairman, but
for right or wrong, he had a vision for Manchester United that it could be a
multi-disciplinary sporting institution, à la Barcelona and Real Madrid. Some people lost
their shit in a big way when United announced the formation of a ladies team in
the middle of 2018/19 season. They lost it even more when it was announced on
the 3rd January 1985, that a basketball side playing under United’s
name would soon commence. This happened because United director and solicitor,
Maurice Watkins, was approached by FSO Warrington Vikings basketball club in
November 1984 and asked would United be in interested in taking them over
(Crick & Smith, 1990: 248). This set the wheels in motion for a deal which
cost United approximately £47,000 to have a basketball side. Not only were
traditional United fans baffled by this extension to the club’s identity, it
was also ended up being a financial drain. By the 1986 club annual general
meeting, a net loss of £253,000 had been imposed on Manchester United by the
basketball club (Crick & Smith, 1990: 252). To nobody’s great surprise,
Edwards sold the basketball club for £150,000 in January 1988. This gave even
more evidence to Edwards’ detractors, something that was in healthy supply in
Crick and Smith (1990: 259) said that few
areas of Old Trafford are not exploited to full advantage. With United’s seasonal
gate receipts of £5,000,000 (approx) accounting for two thirds of the annual
income, the long term intention was to get outside revenue accounting for at
least half of the revenue. With TV revenues and other spurious sponsorship
deals, this seemingly ludicrous prediction in 1989 has now not only come true,
but any other way of generating mass club revenue seems equally far fetched.
The Knighton debacle of 1989, when in
desperation, he tried selling the club’s shares before he had paid for them
looked even worse on Edwards’ part. Newspaper publisher, Eddie Shah, was called
one night by a representative of Knighton, asking him if he was interested in
buying Knighton’s share of United, a deal which would have made Knighton a
profit of £6,000,000. (Crick &
Smith, 1990: 287). To put it bluntly, this made Edwards look a fool. Not only
had he been taken for a ride by a smooth talking chancer with no due diligence
performed, he had also drastically undervalued the club that he owned a 52%
share in. There was much amusement at the time about Knighton trying to sell
shares in an institution he had not yet paid any money for. That amusement
wears thin thirty years hence when Darcie Glazer takes out a $6.8m loan secured
against 393,000 shares in Manchester United, shares that have been procured by
Eddie Shah was not the only significant
media figure to have taken an interest in Manchester United during Edwards
reign. Robert Maxwell expressed an interest in buying the club in February
1984, an interest which, thank fuck, never got past a preliminary meeting with
Edwards as Maxwell felt that Edwards’ valuation of the club at £15m was too
much (Crick & Smith, 1990: 186). In 1998, BskyB came into the equation, an
interest which was originally mooted in Betrayal…
and first occurred during season 1989/90 (Crick & Smith, 1990: 300).
To prevent a fiasco like the attempted
Knighton takeover ever happening again, or indeed United being at the mercy of
a predatory asset stripper, Charlton said “I don’t think any one person should
have charge of United and the best safeguard is for the club to be floated on
the stock market” (Crick & Smith, 1990: 298). This was eventually done in
the summer of 1991. Edwards diluted his shareholding significantly, whilst retaining
his political power at United, a power that lasted until the winter of 1999
when his risible handling of Roy Keane’s contract demands saw him lose most of
his authority, eventually becoming a ceremonial presence within the United
hierarchy (he is now United’s ‘honorary president’). Whilst Edwards stayed in
situ for eight years, Charlton’s comments about a flotation remain of most
interest, particularly in light of what happened in May 2005. On a pre season
tour in Houston in July 2010, Sir Alex Ferguson said “when Manchester United
went PLC, without doubt it was always going to be bought. It’s unfair that
because the Glazers’ have bought the club, they should come under criticism
when anybody could have bought it”. It is unknown whether Ferguson and Charlton
ever debated this matter in 1991 when the flotation occurred, but taking
Ferguson’s words at face value, it is clear that he thinks Charlton, his
strongest ally on the board, was wrong with what he said about a flotation
protecting the club. United were always vulnerable post flotation and there is
no way that a dispute between Ferguson and the club’s main shareholders over
horse stud rights caused the ‘inevitable’ debt loaded takeover. Absolutely not.
Get that silly idea out of your head right away laddie.
The conclusion to Betrayal… said “Even the world’s most brilliant football manager
could not transform Manchester United, so long as the club is run from the
Chairman’s office in the way it has been. United have been dragged into
mediocrity by both administrative mismanagement and an obsession with money
which has infected the whole club” (Crick & Smith, 1990: 303).
In their wildest dreams, Crick and Smith could not have seen what was around the corner for United, a turn which happened at Nottingham Forest in January 1990 and it began an era when Alex Ferguson became indisputably United’s most successful ever manager. United continued to be a money obsessed club with an attitude of high handed arrogance towards fans, which barring the odd exception from certain club figures, survives to this day. The consistent success and brilliance of the United sides from 1990 to 2013 softened that blow considerably to die hard supporters (even allowing for the formation of FC United in 2005 by time served reds), but it’s tragically ironic with his laughably amateurish political maneuvering over the Rock of Gibraltar, the club’s most successful ever manager has inadvertently led the club to the mess it is today. Betrayal of a Legend goes to show that while there has been many huge changes in thirty years, with Ed Woodard at the helm now and Martin Edwards then, a farcical incompetence of prevails at the club. I would recommend Betrayal of a Legend to any red. It becomes obvious that some things will never change.
…Oh Christ, so we have. A song sung with such annoying repetition over winter months by the faithful, it was relatively easy to gloss over the somewhat dubious respective merits of the lyric as United made a storming start to Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s reign as United manager. We have Ole at the wheel and with the obvious love for him from the terraces, it really does feel good. However, doubts are already creeping in. On the concourse at Goodison on Sunday at half time, there were murmurs from the usual moaning twats about Solskjær’s suitability for the job. He maybe at the wheel, but there’s already a few passengers getting travel sickness.
Thinking of passengers, we got Sanchez, Paul Pogba and Fred indeed. Batting away the people moaning about Solskjær, there really is a bitter irony to those three players being celebrated in song from the terraces. Sanchez has the heart of the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. It comes to something when a swap deal involving Henrik Mkhitarian sees United come off worse. Sanchez arrived with great fanfare playing John Brown’s Body on a grand piano and with two adorable Golden Retrievers, he even set up an Instagram page for them. I reckon those dogs could’ve done a better job in a United shirt than he has. He has been shit. As for Pogba, I doubt it was a coincidence that for United’s best night of Solskjær’s reign to date, he was suspended after getting sent off in the first leg against Paris Saint Germain. Fear not, he was all over the post match celebrations, there was no way he was missing that photo opportunity. Fred also had his finest moment in Paris, when he hustled Juan Bernat away from barracking Marcus Rashford as he was about to take the penalty in the Parc de Princes. Has Fred done anything else worth remembering as a player since he signed for £50m+ last summer? If you can remember anything then please leave a comment at the bottom saying so as I’ll be fucked if I can.
After the euphoria of Paris, there was a relish in the air as United went to Arsenal the following Sunday. A 2-0 defeat was disappointing, but not the end of the world. United played well at Arsenal, it was just one of those days. The following weekend, United were knocked out of the FA Cup by Wolves at Molineux. That was harder to take due to it being United’s only realistic chance of a trophy this season and the fact that Wolves, for the second time this season, had played United off the pitch. What was even harder to take was a couple of weeks later United deservedly losing again to Wolves. The most annoying thing about it is that Wolves have only won twice since the beginning of March and both of those victories have been against United. We’re truly through the looking glass when we’re looking at a match against Wolves as an elephant trap. United have only won twice since that night in Paris and both of those wins, against Watford and West Ham, were very lucky.
Talking of elephants, Romelu Lukaku has the mobility and the physical presence of one on a football pitch. For the hat trick, he also has the first touch of an elephant. Lukaku has an eye for a goal, nobody can doubt that and, as Paris proved, he also can do it on the big stage. However, looking at Lukaku, I can’t help feeling that at £70m plus, United have been done like a kipper again in the transfer market. If Everton had United over for Lukaku, they also royally had United over on the Sunday passed. For years I have lamented United’s delivery of crosses and corners. I rarely expect either to beat the first man, however, on Sunday, Everton’s second goal was scored less than ten seconds after a United corner. It has come to something when the opposition are more dangerous from a United corner than United are. There’s no doubt that Everton deserved the win and only a fool would ever take a trip to Goodison lightly, no matter what form Everton are in, but that performance on Sunday was a disgrace. Easily as bad as any under Mourinho or van Gaal’s stewardship. Say what you want about van Gaal and Mourinho, but these are managers who between them have won three European Cups and have managed Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Ajax. These are decorated managers, respected throughout the world and both have come to United and have eventually looked like mugs. When that happens, the structure of the whole club has to be looked at from top to bottom. At the top, we have owners who extract great profits from the club, so nothing is wrong from their perspective, but anybody who thinks the Glazer’s own the club because of their love for United or football want their heads examining. We now have a relative novice ‘at the wheel’, I hope it comes good, I really do, but as per 2014 and 2016, you’d better belt up for the ride, because it isn’t going to be a smooth one. Ole’s going to need all the support he can muster as he tries to sift through that coven of a squad he has. Don’t underestimate what he’s up against. Players with bad attitudes on long and lucrative contracts and in Ed Woodward, a boss who’s a genius at signing sponsorship deals with brands that have tenuous links to football, but a complete half wit when it comes to football itself.
In the meantime, look forward to tomorrow night’s derby match as the pride of Cheshire and the Beswick branch of the Abu Dhabi United football group come to Old Trafford. Reds might feel like turkey’s on Christmas Eve, but you never know. From 2002 to 2010, I saw lousy City sides beat great United teams, so there’s no reason why United can’t beat City tomorrow night. As for the implications of a potential United win? Fuck it, I’m going back to bed. Wake me up in August.