After a first half of such incompetent tedium, a very pissed off United following roared 4-4-2 and Attack, Attack, Attack-Attack-Attack from the upper tier of the School End at Loftus Road. This was a statement intended to ring in the ears of the United players as they walked off the pitch. Watching the first 45 minutes, it was difficult to see who exactly was in a perilous relegation battle and who had aspirations to play in the Champions League next season. It was a diabolical first half performance
Until today, I had never in my life seen a good game of football involving the 1992 Autoglass Trophy winners. A real see saw game saw for the third consecutive time, a farcical goal go in at the Scoreboard End. Peter Crouch forced a great save from David De Gea on 3 minutes before Jonny Evans attempted clearance deflected off Crouch’s shin and into the back of the net. When Van Persie equalised on 43 minutes, the relief around the ground could be touched. It didn’t last long. Two minutes later, Marko Arnautovic beat David De Gea on his near post from a free kick to De Gea’s right. Wayne Rooney was again immense today, he was busy and determined. Some United players didn’t have such a great game though. Jonny Evans and Phil Jones occasionally resembled Laurel and Hardy at the back, then we have Nani…(on doctors advice and some Mogadon , I’m leaving it there).
Sir Alex Ferguson last Sunday said that Robin Van Persie could’ve been killed by Swansea skipper, Ashley Williams kicking the ball at the back of his head. Whilst theoretically true, the likelihood was a lot less to happen but here, Sir Alex had slipped up. Through his emotional and hyperbolic statement, it gave Williams an opportunity to give a glib and faux gracious interview after the game expressing all kinds of false apology whilst making Sir Alex looked dramatic. Out of the woodwork came people like Roberto Martinez, a man well known to be no friend of Ferguson’s, a chance to defend Williams whilst at the same time attempting to get up Ferguson’s nose for the forthcoming match on New Years day. This is the same Martinez whom his boss, Dave Whelan, ever so subtly tried palming off to Liverpool last summer so Whelan then wouldn’t have to pay up his contract by sacking him, sadly for Whelan, the ruse failed.
Alan Pardew celebrates after scoring the winner against Liverpool in the 1990 FA Cup semi final at Villa Park. A goal that was rapturously received in the Grey Parrot in Hulme
A couple of days later, there was a lively exchange just prior to the second half of the Newcastle match between Sir Alex Ferguson, referee Mike Dean and linesman Jake Collin. A lot of people have assumed, but nobody has confirmed, that it was about Newcastle’s second goal. Whatever contentious things I find that Ferguson says nowadays, his press conference on Friday in what was supposed to be a lead up to yesterdays match saw him at his bullish and belligerent best. He simultaneously managed to incense the usually wrong but always self righteous ABU’s and cause the issue of a flood alert in Newcastle due to Geordies crying about his comments. I laughed heartily that the old bugger had done it again when I saw the general reaction from none United fans. Even Ant and Dec got in on the act. Apparently, Ferguson had lost it. Alan Pardew, a man who’s only memorable moment in football was in scoring the winner for Crystal Palace in the 1990 FA Cup semi final has picked on the wrong man by commenting on something that didn’t really have anything to do with him. Has Mike Ashley really given this clown an eight year contract? If so he’s been done like a kipper. After the way the thouroughly decent Chris Hughton was treated by this deluded big fish in a little pond club, it couldn’t happen to a nicer lot.
The first surprise we got was the news of a pitch inspection announced at 12.30. United haven’t had a match postponed at Old Trafford since Christmas 1991 when a match against Aston Villa was called off due to a frozen pitch. The rain in Manchester had been relentless over the Christmas period, the pitch on Boxing day looked in some parts dead. There were people wondering how could a match at Old Trafford be in any danger of postponement with all the technology available, but rain has no respect for technology. The pitch yesterday looked knackered, several times I saw what would normally be a good pass, particularly from the ever improving Tom Cleverley, get naused due to bobbles in the grass. I’m now waiting for the worm appeal that used to be issued by United in the Manchester Evening News when I was a kid via David Meek. The likelihood is though the pitch will be relaid in the new year as I can’t see Sir Alex Ferguson tolerating a playing surface like yesterdays for too long.
West Brom have done well this season for a team that were considered relegation fodder pre season. Whilst in no danger of winning the title, nor probably anything else for that matter, they have been no pushover this season. The way United have been playing this term and with the festive period famous for turning up surprise results, I wasn’t taking anything for granted before the match. Having now seen West Brom, I can’t believe how high up the table they are, I thought they were rubbish. It’s a credit to their quietly effective manager, Steve Clarke, that they are far further up the table than their ability is. Queens Park Rangers, whom are almost certain to go down, came to Old Trafford at the end of last month and gave United a better match. The most annoying thing about yesterdays game was that United should’ve been out of sight by half time but like the West Ham fixture, just over a month ago, suddenly West Brom found themselves only one down with 15 minutes to go and started giving United a game. The anxiety around Old Trafford before Robin Van Persie’s goal in injury time which sealed the result, was unbearable. With Van Persie one booking away from a suspension before the slate was wiped clear for New Year, Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t want to play him yesterday. It’s a sign of how uncomfortable Ferguson was during the match was that he substituted Shinji Kagawa on 66 minutes for Van Persie.
United made a great start to yesterdays game. Ashley Young played a pinball like cross forcing West Brom centre half Gareth McAuley into putting the ball into his own net. This is the second season in succesion that Ashley Young has forced a West Brom player into conceding an own goal after a similar cross in the opening fixture of last season caused Steven Reid to put the ball into his own net at the Hawthorns. West Brom didn’t have a shot on target until the 50th minute when Chris Brunt shot from 25 yards straight into David De Gea’s hands. West Brom played with more confidence as the game progressed, Gareth McAuley nearly repeated his goal into the Streford End in the 70th minute with a header that came off the bar.
Players walking off the pitch into the Stretford End paddock tunnel at half time (Photo James O’Neill)
The atmosphere for the match was probably the lowest key I’ve seen all season. United fans were lifted by the own goal in the 10th minute whilst the West Brom fans were probably the quietest away support I’ve seen at Old Trafford since Everton last April. All I remember from them apart from the usual drivel about supporting their local team, were them singing a song about their 5-3 win at Old Trafford, 34 years ago to the day. Since that day where West Brom won at Old Trafford for the (to date) last time and managed by future United manager Ron Atkinson, they’ve never since looked remotely like repeating the feat.
Thanks to Peter David Garton for his help in writing this and getting me thoroughly pissed yesterday and also, thanks to Andy Mitten from UWS for providing the information about the last match to be postponed at Old Trafford.
Two long, long weeks of of no club football but a couple of international friendlies for England, a storm over poppies, Sepp Blatters blarney and an embargo on transfers ’til January mean newspaper journalist get ever more desparate to fill their pages. The day after United beat Sunderland, a frenzy was brewing up over FIFA’s refusal to allow England players to wear poppies on their shirts for the forthcoming friendly against Spain. Amongst the usual knee jerk reaction of political correctness gone mad and such forth (waddya mean you’d forgotten about it ??). Exactly six years to the day before England played Spain, England played against Argentina without wearing poppies, there was no clamour for the team to wear poppies, can anybody tell me what’s changed in the last six years ? By sheer coincidence, prior to the poppy furore, England skipper John Terry, had been accused of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers centre half Anton Ferdinand. This allegation had taken up a lot of column inches in the national press and the FA, with admirable common sense had decided to adopt an innocent ’til proven guilty stance. I wonder why they didn’t take that stance with Johnathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer in 2001 or with Rio Ferdinand in 2003? The problem the FA have with the John Terry allegation is that, like badly pasted wallpaper, the bubble gets pressed down, only to resurface, just as bad, pretty close by. Still the poppy fury sold a few papers, got an awful lot of people wound up about something they’d forget about a week later and ended up with the farcical gesture of players having poppies painted on their boots to circumnavigate a ban that had never existed in the first place.
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.
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…