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

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… 

The Lawman And The Mercenary.

I was watching Denis Law last Saturday being interviewed on Football Focus, generally reminiscing about his days as a pro-footballer and drawing the inevitable comparisons with the lifestyles and living conditions that pro-footballers live in today. Two things mentioned regarding the treatment of his knee injury in the 1960s by doctors and the brinksmanship over a demanded £10.00 a week pay rise, which resulted in him being transfer listed by Sir Matt Busby, brought modern events into stark comparison. Specifically Owen Hargreaves recent comments over the treatment of his knee injury during the last three years of his lamentably injury plaugued time at United and Carlos Tevez’s alleged refusal to come off the subs bench on Tuesday night in the Allianz Arena in Munich.

Hargreaves claimed he was being used as a guinea pig during his injury by the medical staff employed by United, whether Hargreaves is right or wrong is not for me to say due to my lack of expertise in the treatment of knee injuries but if he has any complaints about his treatment, he wants to listen to Laws story about knee injury treatments in the 1960s to get some perspective, particularly when Law said he felt like his knee was being treated by “butchers”.

In an era when the word legend is overused, Denis Law is a legend in the old fashioned sense of the word. A bigger folk hero to the hearts and minds of United fans, you’d struggle to find. The original king of the Stretford end, he’s so popular at Old Trafford that he’s revered as much for his reaction to a goal he scored at in the Scoreboard end of Old Trafford against an already relegated United side in 1974 which just compounded it, as for any other deed of his during his time at Old Trafford. Along with Bobby Charlton, he’s probably the only United figurehead that could walk in and around City’s newly monikered stadium without getting abused.

Carlos Tevez is another ex United player who performed like a legend on the pitch when playing in red. A tigerish and mithering centre forward who never gives the best centre halves in the business a minutes peace. I’ve lost count of how many important goals he scored or created in a red shirt from where/what most people would call a lost cause. He was loved on the terraces and stands of Old Trafford, just like he was at his previous club, West Ham. When Tevez announced in June 2009 that he was leaving United, no United fan of my aquaintance was happy about hearing it. This was the second world class player United had lost in a couple of weeks after United had sold Christiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for an eye popping £80,000,000. People were sorry but not surprised to see Ronaldo go, consensus was though that if the money paid by Real Madrid went towards signing Carlos Tevez permanently, then it’d be alright.

It didn’t, Tevez announced he was leaving United soon after and a few days after that, announced where he was going. Tevez had previously said that out of respect to United, he wouldn’t sign for our main rivals, Liverpool. It was a choice between City and Chelsea. Whilst amused at the unintended effects of his words, putting City firmly in their place, he went and signed for them. City fans were unsurprisingly ecstatic of signing Carlos Tevez from United. There was all kinds of talk of this being a seismic shift in the balance of power between the two Manchester clubs. These seismic shifts have been occuring on a bi-weekly basis since September 2008 in which time, United have won two titles and a league cup and City have won the FA Cup.  City fans with a nostrodamic foresight were singing, to the tune of “London bridge is falling down”, songs about Carlos Tevez and Munich on the day they signed him, they had him sussed all along.

Over the five years that Tevez has played in England, he has picked up a truly mind boogling amount of money in wages, to play for clubs and fans who worshiped him almost unconditionally and he has treated the fans of these clubs and the clubs themselves with an almost regal disdain, culminating in the incident in Munich on Tuesday night. Denis Law, as alluded to before, is an almost regal presence at Old Trafford. It’s an indictment of the warped realities of modern and old school football that a man who literally gave the lifelong wellbeing of his knees for Man United has, in the last twelve years released three autobiographies.

I’m not Denis Law’s accountant and thus, not privvy to his finances but the prolific nature of his autobiographical scribes tells me that he’s doing it for the need of money.  I just hope that the release of this book, obviously aimed at the Christmas stocking filler market, along with Paul Scholes and Gary Nevilles recent tomes flooding the market with United related books, yields enough money so that Denis can spend his dotage sitting in the garden, enjoying his grandkids or basically doing what the hell he wants to do and never having the need to do it again. Buy yourself the book, buy your father, granddad or uncle the book and buy your United mad kids, nieces and nephews the book, he’s a great man with an interesting story to tell.