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.
Sir Bobby Charlton coming out of the Sandwell Academy car park for yesterdays match (Photograph courtesy of Scott Murray)
Early on yesterday, we went into the West Brom club shop to find the programmes were being rationed to two per person. It transpired that West Brom had sold 5,000 of the programmes before midday which for them was unprecedented. On the same side of the ground, Lou Macari alongside former United and West Brom manager Ron Atkinson were sat outside a cordon talking amiably to passing fans whilst waiting to do a broadcast for MUTV. Shortly after, the United officials and team coach parked up in the Sandwell Academy across the road from the home section of the Smethwick End. David Gill came out and signed a few autographs, followed a minute later by Sir Bobby Charlton who along with his wife, was beseiged by fans seeking autographs. The security around Sir Bobby was lamentable. The autograph hunters whilst meaning no malice were clearly causing a nuisance to a man who let’s remember, is 76. There were some young reds with old school manners there who knew the score and ushered Sir Bobby through the throng, it was very pleasing to see. On the other side of the coin, there is a recurring problem amongst some people in United’s travelling support. They’ve read Tony O’Neill’s duology and Colin Blaney’s books and decided they want to make legends of themselves in a similar manner to O’Neill and Blaney. In other words, there’s a load of wannabe’s on the road following United whom are more interested in making their own folklore rather than supporting the team. I’m not going to get too self righteous about it going off at a match, if I see a pal of mine in mither I’ll be first in but there’s a difference between looking out for your mates scrapping against some gobby opposition fan and walking around like Liam fuckin’ Gallagher. Yesterday after the match, I saw a six handed group of late teens/early twenties United fans hassling some West Brom fan who had a five/six year old boy with him who was terrified. The lads mentioned in O’Neills book whilst not saints, never did anything like that. United fans used to be good at self policing and putting people like that right, it needs to start happening again because there’s too many people following United now who have the same shithouse and cowardly mentality of Leeds United fans.
Immediately prior to the counter attack which lead to Shinji Kagawa giving United the lead in the 6th minute, some knobhead from the United section threw a flare in the United penalty area as West Brom attacked. Next season we’ll probably get our allocation cut at the Hawthorns due to that, nice one dickhead. From there on in, United looked in danger of delivering a performance of mid to late 1990s vintage to sign off Sir Alex’s reign. For the second season in succession, United’s second goal at the Hawthorns was an own goal. Last season Steven Reid deflected an Ashley Young cross into his own net, this season Jonas Olsson deflected an Antonio Valencia cross into his own net on nine minutes. On half an hour following a brilliant dummy by Javier Hernandez, Alexander Büttner scored a classic full back’s goal, drilling the ball past the Glazer apologist former United keeper Ben Foster. Ten minutes after Büttner’s goal, James Morrison caught out a flat footed Phil Jones to pull a goal back for West Brom. Four minutes into the second half, Romelu Lukaku scored to bring the score to 3-2 past Anders Lindegaard whom for my money, was badly caught out on that goal. It wasn’t to be the last we’d see of Lukaku.
United suddenly started playing again after that goal. Three minutes later, as if to say enough of this messing about, Antonio Valencia set Robin Van Persie up for his 30th and final goal of a phenomenal season to make the score 4-2 to United. Ten minutes after Van Persie’s goal, Ryan Giggs set up Javier Hernandez with a brilliantly simple cross to make it 5-2. With Paul Scholes being introduced on 69 minutes for his last ever match, it became immediately obvious that his United team mates were desperate for him to score. Javier Hernandez squandered a great chance on 70 minutes trying to set Scholes up for a goal. Whilst alas there was no Scholes goal in his last match, he did at least provide one of his legendary tackles in the 82nd minute on Claudio Yakob to get himself booked. This was in the immediate aftermath of West Brom scoring twice in 47 seconds with goals from Romelu Lukaku who caught Jonny Evans and Phil Jones napping and Youssouf Mulumbu who capitalised on hilariously inept marking to score from seven yards. Five minutes later, Romelu Lukaku completed his hat-trick by scoring a goal which will now surely finish Anders Lindergaard’s Old Trafford career.
This time last year, there was a mild depression setting in, City were deservedly champions and looked like they were going to be good for winning it again this season. Hardly anybody I know thought United would win the title last August, especially after that shambolic display on opening day at Everton. United through a relentless determintion combined with a complete implosion of discipline mixed with complacency at City have won the title by eleven points. I don’t know what the odds were yesterday on a 5-5 draw but I’d hazard a guess that it would’ve been something similar to what would’ve been offered on United winning the title by eleven points last August. Sir Alex Ferguson has now moved upstairs for a well earned retirement whilst as a parting shot, seeing off yet another managerial adversary in the outwardly genial Roberto Mancini. David Moyes should be given time to implement his ideas in a job which is easily the most intimidating in the footballing world. There is some doubt from reds whose opinion I respect as to whether he’s the right man but he’s what we’ve got so we’ve got to back him. What I do like about Moyes is that he takes no shit from anybody and he certainly has a great knowledge of the game. We can only hope it ends well. In the meantime, celebrate being champions again, now with two more titles than Liverpool. Last summer’s experience should make us cherish it all the more. CHAMPIONS
Have a great summer