Brian Greenhoff has died at the age of 60. Tragically young , he’s one of those players that United fans value because he was one of those who came up through our ranks and showed all the signs early on of greatness. In the Docherty side that was relegated and then promoted Brian Greenhoff was a midfielder and looked destined to be an all time great.
The frustration for many of us United fans who used to watch Brian Greenhoff in the reserves was despite the accolades and his England caps he never really fulfilled his potential. We knew he had a lot more as a footballer in his locker.
One Brian Greenhoff memory always sticks with me – it was in the days when we were in division 2 and playing against a very useful Don Howe managed West Brom side at the Hawthorns.
The irony was that Mick Martin had started the game with Greenhoff as United’s subsititute. Mick Martin who was a 100%er in the trying stakes was taken off with the game at 1-1 and Brian Greenhoff made his entrance. Within minutes of taking the field Brian was involved in a very nasty clash of heads with a West Brom player and stretchered off with concussion. With United down to ten men and the game poised – Tommy Docherty then pushed a still dazed Brian Greenhoff back onto the pitch.
He then decided to take the ball, run 20 or thirty yards with it , beating two opposition players then blasted a 25 yard shot which the keeper tipped onto the cross bar. From the resulting corner Brian Greenhoff then headed the ball from the edge of the box past the keeper only to see it again hit the bar.
The story that went around afterwards was that at full time a still dazed Brian Greenhoff turned to Tommy Docherty and asked, ‘Who are we playing and what score is it?’. If only we could have tapped into that instinctive fearlessness with Brian Greenhoff and allowed it to bloom and really show itself. The tragedy is he never had Sir Alex as a manager.
Strange that Brian Greenhoff really showed how good a player he really was when he was semi-concussed. He was eventually converted to centre half playing alongside Martin Buchan and indeed was capped 17 or 18 times in that position for England, but to me he was always a midfield ball winner and dynamo with a great first touch and an instinctive drive to get forward.
When I think of that Tommy Docherty all out attacking side it’s always Brian Greenhoff I see in my mind breaking up opposition attacks, getting the ball forward, running and shooting from 30 yards out, an urgent and inspiring player for us United fans at a time when we didn’t have a lot to shout about.’Greenhoff For England’ we chanted it throughout our relegation fight, throughout our time in division two, and when he finally got capped for England, United fans were the least surprised, because we know what it takes to be a United player and Brian Greenhoff was born a United player. R.I.P Barnsley boy.