One of the great pleasures of being a Manchester United fan when I was growing up in Old Trafford was that you felt they belonged to you and every August you thought as kids do and half believed , this year we’ll win it – yet that elusive league title seemed so far away, so for years we just took it saturday by saturday and enjoyed the match for the 90 minutes of entertainment it was . I’m on record as saying that my all time favourite and in my opinion best ever United player was George Best. After all from around 1969/70 season when I first started going regularly he was almost like a one man team and a team with two George Bests in it would have won the treble . It was difficult for the next 26 years to think about that 68 team without feeling a bit sad. After all for all our glory later on , has any English team ever contained 3 European footballers of the year in its starting 11.
We had our ups and downs and share of bad luck in particular losing to Leeds United in the 3rd replay of the FA Cup semi-final at Bolton’s Burnden Park to the hated Leeds in 1970. A glimmer of hope under Frank O’Farrell who started well, buying Ian Storey Moore and Martin Buchan , but blotting his copy book a little with the purchase of Ted MacDougal. We dreamt about success , but having seen Best , Law and Charlton , and looking at an ageing or under- performing team being bailed out by George Best we never really believed.
Tommy Docherty took over and Best suddenly went leaving us looking the mediocre team we were as did Denis and prematurely Tony Dunne and Brian Kidd. Relegation with a side who played all season without a recognised striker or centre forward was a shock , yet in hindsight inevitable and then a triumphant return to division one the following season as division 2 champions with a young all out attacking team with an average age of 22 , our hopes were raised , but as a fan there was still no belief . Coppell, Hill and the often injured striker Stuart Pearson were brilliant at times , but they weren’t George Best , Bobby Charlton or Denis Law , although the Doc did lead us to two FA cup finals including the victory over Liverpool in 77 that prevented them from becoming the first ever team in England to win that historical treble. Dave Sexton came in and we were less attacking and exciting than under Docherty – it seemed a bit flat, more pragmatic , strong and sensible signings (apart from Gary Birtles – blimey ) but no real flair about our play – runners up to Liverpool but the most defensive looking 1-0 winning type United side I’d ever witnessed. The Old Trafford crowd agreed too , less than scintillating football and attendances at Old Trafford dropped by 12,000 , and Sexton became the only top flight manager I can ever recall being sacked after 7 straight wins .
Big Ron . Well we liked his style after Sexton and he signed Bryan Robson , after George Best my favourite player and he built us a very good side , but boy were they injury prone and one substitute wasn’t enough for United in those days. 10 games and 10 wins at the start of 85/86 season , dared we believe , with former, then the injuries started , John Gidman a broken leg , Jesper Olsen out injured replaced by Manchester City winger Peter Barnes playing a blinder , Gordon Strachan dislocating his shoulder against West Brom and Robson injured playing for England …again and again. We finished 4th and it seemed like despite all the top 4 finishes under Big Ron and a couple of FA cup wins , the league was as elusive as ever.
Unbelievably we started the 86/87 season disastrously , Robson again out injured after dislocating his shoulder in the World Cup in Mexico , Goalkeeper Gary Bailey out with his dodgy knee we just never seemed to get going at all. When Sir Alex Ferguson took over at United in November we were 4th from bottom with Chelsea, Man City and Newcastle below us in the relegation places. I still felt a bit sorry for Big Ron, in five years under him we’d finished 3rd twice and 4th on 3 occasions , and though a strike partnership of Davenport and Stapleton was lacking somewhat , you have to wonder what if he’d kept Mark Hughes and the board had allowed him to buy Terry Butcher and team him up at centre half with Paul McGrath (apparently according to Big Ron , the board were in agreement to go ahead and buy him when an ex-player on the board said I don’t think he’s any better than what we’ve already got’ ) and though I admired Kevin Moran , imagine Terry Butcher and Bryan Robson as United’s spine- ah what might have been. Having said that , the only time you ever heard groans and booing at Old Trafford under big Ron was if there were ever more than three passes between our back four , that just wasn’t the United way , at United we wanted to see the team attack – suicidally so at times.
Ferguson brought a more physical approach from United who were beginning to pick up a bit under Big Ron , and we finished in 11th place , our worse finish in the league since 1980/81.
1987/88 saw Alex make his first signings for United , Viv Anderson , England international right back who never quite looked like he fitted in at United and Celtic Striker Bian McClair . We finished second , but still didn’t look likely winners. The 88/89 season we seemed to keep drawing and spluttering finishing 11th. The 1989/90 season was when the moaning really started. What was Ferguson doing. I remember sitting with my mates in our local pub, The Throstles Nest in Old Trafford as we struggled towards Christmas wondering how he could offload players like Paul McGrath , Norman Whiteside and bring in the likes of Mickey Phelan and Mal Donaghy and though Neil Webb had looked good in the 4-1 home demolition of Arsenal back in August , we still weren’t sure whether we’d bought another injury prone one season wonder from Nottingham Forest. We were being a bit loud and damning about him when an old Irish bloke called Mr Moore chipped in .
” Listen lads you know nothing about football, Alex Ferguson will be the greatest manager Manchester United have had since Sir Matt Busby”.
We almost spat out our beer at that – Ferguson as good as Busby – how could this old Irish bloke who we knew worked in the offices at Old Trafford shuffling through ticket applications know that.
” I’ve worked at Old Trafford for 40 years – and in all that time when Frank O’Farrell was manager and Tommy Docherty and Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson , not a single one of them even came and said hello to me and asked me my name . But Alex did on his first day and asked about my family and did the same with everybody who works there from the cleaners to the canteen staff – just like Busby did- take my word for it lads he’s going to be one of the greats”.
Out of respect we sort of nodded our heads solemnly , but didn’t buy into it. However I began to wonder if he wasn’t onto something when we suddenly seemed to pick up in February, March time and started to look a bit more like winning than losing. A decent run in the FA cup culminating in two close but entertaining encounters with a Crystal Palace side who’d just won promotion gave us our first trophy in 5 years and we began to start to wonder and hope. His buys weren’t setting Old Trafford alight but no-one could question their determination and effort.
Looking back now it almost seems like it’s a dream , at last we could look back to 1967/68 and that team of Best ,Law and Charlton without any tinge of regret for what once was (except for the admission prices and the inclusion and atmosphere). Under Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United achieved a level of success that is sheer fantasy , Roy Of The Rovers stuff – 13 league titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups , 2 European Championships , European Cup Winners Cup . Great teams full of great players, and what drama , last gasp winners , fight backs , heroic displays . Even when people talk about Fergie’s so-called flop signings I think hmm, Djemba Djemba, Kleberson, Poborski , Forlan , Ralph Milne – you know what it wasn’t for lack of effort or trying on the players behalf and as for Veron , every time I see him described as a flop I just wonder if people actually saw him playing, I thought he was our best player in that second season at Old Trafford – he was just excess to requirements in some respects – although I thought we should have kept him for another season at least after Beckham went. One thing is for certain it was a lot easier 27 years ago to compile an all time United 11 than it is nowadays , because you really are far too spoilt for choices and combinations and I’m happy to be old enough to remember the league win in 1967 , the European Cup in 1968 , and to be honest , I don’t think United have ever had a genuinely poor manager , they’ve all had their qualities , but Ferguson really was something else.
Now Sir Alex has retired we can look back on the trebles and doubles, the breathtaking games and the sheer bad luck that meant Sir Alex could easily have won at least half a dozen more trophies and the status that United have in the World and wonder how he achieved so much , where did it come from. It sometimes scares me to think what we’d have missed if we’d lost patience with him , if he hadn’t won the FA cup, If Dion Dublin hadn’t broken his leg so tragically , if we’d actually signed Shearer so there was no Eric Cantona to partner with Mark Hughes – it’s like one of those awful nightmares. As for the immortal class of 1992 , perhaps we should thank Gordon Robins , Mark Robin’s dad. After all he was the one who had Boundary Park Juniors who produced players such as Mark Robins, Phil and Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes, Ben Thornleigh(what a player) even David May. Seems somehow strange that they’d all join United, and Mark Robins who seemed so prodigious was shipped out so quickly and his father never got any of the credit for his contribution to that fine United Youth team.
All these years later and Mr Moore has been dead for some time , but we still talk about that. It seemed so unbelievable, but Mr Moore knew it was about Ferguson’s working class values and his character and intolerance of snobbery that in turn was reflected in the club itself and made it great – where everyone is valued and treated as important from the tea lady to the star striker so everyone feels incentivised to see success. If only British Industry Bosses could adopt that model – where everyone is appreciated for playing their part. But then that sounds about as likely as Liverpool ever winning the league again or man City keeping a manager for more than 4 years.
So to our new Manager David Moyes. If he needs time I’m confident United fans will give it to him, his consistency at Everton shows he’s not a flash in the pan manager and his loyalty to his club will in turn hopefully help the players to recognise that he’ll be loyal to them if they are loyal to the interests of Manchester United. I have to say and I was criticised by some reds as ‘stupid’ , but I wanted Moyes and not Mourinho . Jose Mourinho would be wrong for United , his mentality is wrong , we’re a working class club at heart in a working class City – and no one , not even revered legends like Busby and now Ferguson are bigger than United so it would be distasteful to me as a fan to have some bloke who refers to himself as ‘The Special One’ trying to sequester our already financially sequestered football team, it’s very un-Mancunian and there are enough things in this corporate world that are un-Mancunian about our Club and our once great City for my liking .
Will Moyes let the team team play the Manchester United way , I think he will , although we as fans can’t push the issue any more and a hostile media will be waiting in ambush to slaughter him at the first sign of a blip result .On a positive note it’s the first time in my life I’ve ever seen a new United manager arrive and I’ve truly believed he can win the league in his first season, I hope he can get Wayne Rooney to stay and recapture his form and bring Ronaldo back to where he belongs and longs to be – if he can do that then who needs Bale and title 21 is as good as ours already Special one or not.