MY FIRST EVER UNITED GAME 13th AUGUST 1969
I first went to Old Trafford as a 4 year old. I should have been excited, after all United had Denis law, George Best , Bobby Charlton , Nobby Stiles, Paddy Crerand , John Conelly. Unfortunately it was to see United reserves play non-league Netherfield Town. It wasn’t even a Central league game , it was a friendly – for the reserves. I’d been mithering my older brother Tony to take me for ages, but he was 12 and liked going with his mates and didn’t want the responsibility of a very small kid with him. He took me to a few reserve matches all of which ended up in dull 1-0 victories to United , except a rather dull 1-1 draw with Liverpool reserves when there were one or two known faces including Shay Brennan , John Fitzpatrick , David Sadler and Johnny Aston in the team , having said that the United goal was scored by Carlo Sartori , supposedly the new George Best. The only player I recall in that Liverpool reserve side was a young Ray Clemence in nets ( Liverpool’s first choice keeper was the rather rotund Tommy Lawrence) and I had a glimpse of Liverpool’s future tactics with half the match taken up it seemed by Clemence rolling the ball out to either full back and them passing it back for him to pick up and roll out again , a tactic which would win Liverpool a host of titles and cups in the years to come.
I didn’t get to go to a United first team game at Old Trafford until I was 7. It was United’s first home game of 1969/70 Wednesday August 13th against glamour club Everton. Due to the fact that the World Cup was to take place the following summer , that season kicked off early , on the 9th August with Manchester United taking on the newly promoted Crystal place at Selhurst Park . Alex Stepney , United’s goalkeeper was injured at the time , so Jimmy Rimmer ( later to become an excellent first team keeper with Aston Villa’s successful sides of the mid seventies to early eighties ) was deputising . Of course I’d seen Jimmy Rimmer in the reserves for United on those forgettable occasions our Tony had tried to put me off football for life . The United team had struggled against Palace in that opening game , drawing 2-2 with United ‘s goals coming from dashing Scottish winger Willie Morgan and the Stalwart Bobby Charlton . Now their first home game was against Everton on a Wednesday night August 13th , a match which provided me with that pessimistic streak all us true United fans carry deep in our hearts .
Football even then wasn’t cheap . It cost 2/6 for a junior (12.5 pence , now it seems cheap , but my pocket money at the time was 9d a week 4p in modern money) to stand in the Stretford End Paddock, which was where the Stretford End curved round onto the sout stand with all the executive boxes . Basically the Paddock was the Stretford End for kids and people who didn’t like strangers urinating down the backs of their legs . it was a 7.30pm kick off and we arrived at the ground by 6pm. I’ll always feel sorry for youngsters now who will never see over sixty thousand spectators at Old Trafford with the massed ranks of United fans leading the chorus and singing their hearts out .
To the tune of Al Jolson’s Mammy ” Oh Dennis , Dennis , I’d walk a million miles for one of your goals , oh Dennis . ” To the tune of Gin Gan Goolie “We’ve got Willie , Willie , Willie Morgan on the wing , on the wing . ” champions of Europe ” , ” You’re going home by F…..ing ambulance
” We don’t carry bottles we don’t carry lead , we only carry hatchets to bury in your head , we are the great supporters and that is everyone , we only hate Man City Leeds and Everton ” . and to the tune of , Land Of Hope and Glory . ” We hate Nottingham Forest , we hate Liverpool too ( and Leicester ) , we hate Manchester City , but United we love you “. ” I get a funny feeling inside of me , when I see United score , Maybe it’s because I’m from Manchester , where the king is Dennis Law .”
The crowd around us swelled until we could hardly breathe as the ground filled with more and more people with the approach of Kick Off . We were down by the wall and tried to climb up and sit on it , only to be shoved off it by the stewards . Standing on tip toes I could see the players from hat seemed like the legs up , before the weight of people from behind caused me to duck suffocatingly beneath the mass of bodies . My cousin Phillip seemed most perturbed . He didn’t like big crowds or wide open spaces . He caught his asthmatic breath and looked around him nervously , the sweat shining off his face accentuating his teenage acne . My Aunty Mag later said that Phillip was both claustrophobic and agoraphobic and I now know that there’s only one thing worse than agoraphobia …. and that’s going out .. From the scoreboard end the Everton fans were singing . Everton Everton , in the gaps the United fans shouted shit , shit . My shoulders were squashed inwards , my feet were suffering cramp from standing on tip toes . Would I be able to see over this wall when Bobby Charlton scored . there were more songs about Dennis law . But as the teams came onto the field choruses of ” Kiddo , Kiddo rose up from around the ground hailing United’s young striker and more importantly to the United crowd local boy made good , Brian Kidd . The Everton team in their Royal blue shirts were full of big names . Howard Kendall , Alan Ball , Brian Labone , Ray Wilson , Colin Harvey , Jimmy Husband , Joe Royle , Gordon West .Our Tony pointed out that there were so many internationals in that team and he was worried as United were without Nobby Stiles , Eire international left back Tony Dunne as well as first choice goalie Alex Stepney with Jimmy Rimmer who went on to play for Arsenal and win a league championship medal with Aston Villa deputising .
The match took on a familiar pattern with Everton seeming to be first to every fifty fifty ball . United may have been the best team in the world , but on this particular night Everton made them look very much second rate and the Goodison school of science made my first trip to Old Trafford an unhappy one . The final score was Man United 0 Everton 2 ; I had seen my first United game at Old Trafford , but it was to be some time before I could understand what our Tony had got so excited about . Still I’d seen all those players from my football cards in the flesh , it meant a lot to me , and with the way some of them played , I had no doubt that I could and would one day do much better than them when it was my turn to pull on that red jersey in front of sixty thousand people and hear my name ringing from the terraces.
Our Tony was glum after the game . ” They should never have had Wilf McGuinness as manager and let Matt Busby move upstairs to general manager , if Nobby Stiles and Tony Dunne had played we would have won , and if Bill Foulkes had been left out we would have stood a chance . Tony’s
vitriol poured on the veteran Bill Foulkes , he was past it Tony said , United needed a new centre half and Denis Law didn’t look fit . I walked silently hurrying in our Tony’s footsteps in the night air . He’d already called me a jinx and said he’d never take me to another United match again , to this day he’s been as good as his word
Man United Versus Ajax 1976 plus preview 16/2/2012
The European Cup final that never was. Certainly back in 1969 United should have been playing Ajax in the European cup final after a perfectly good goal by Denis Law in Milan against AC in the semi-final first leg was mysteriously ruled offside by a referee and at Old Trafford there was a near riot as United leading 1-0 and 2-1 down on aggregate and with 13 minutes of the match left Paddy Crerand chipped in a ball that crossed the line but wasn’t given by the referee. The AC Milan Keeper was actually hit by a piece of brick and play was held up as the referee sorted out the pandemonium which erupted. AC Milan went on to play against an all star Ajax team in the final that year , losing 4-1.
That would be United’s last European game for 8 years and United’s return came Ironically enough against Ajax , the conquerors of AC Milan 8 years earlier. Tommy Docherty led the charge back into Europe in the U.E.F.A cup on the strength of United’s 3rd place finish in the league in the 1975/76 season. The United team had an average age of 22 and could only play one way and that was all out gung-ho attack. The regret is in those days it wasn’t 3 points for a win, teams could pass back to the keeper and he could pick the ball up and defenders were allowed to kick lumps out of attacking players with very little danger of being booked or sent off, in fact throughout the 1970′s and 1980′s the rules of football favoured negative cynical tactics hence the success of english teams like liverpool and arsenal and those teams from Germany and Italy.
In Holland’s Olympic stadium United went at Ajax with all guns blazing going close several times to scoring. The players again , as always with poor refereeing in Europe, were convinced they had scored just after the interval when a fierce shot by Scottish left back Stewart Houston was fumbled by Ajax keeper Piet Schrijvers. The keeper had turned sharply to scoop the ball away , with nearby players like striker Stuart Pearson convinced it had crossed he line. Lou Macari hit the post with a flicjk at goal from Gordon Hill’s corner, and Ajax were involved in several other scrambles. Yet the Dutchmen survived to emerge 1-0 winners when Rudi Krol , their world cup star and a survivor from the days when Ajax ruled the European roost, left his sweepers post to jink through and slip the ball past Alex Stepney just before the interval.
United were disappointed to lose , but as Docherty chortled at the end to the Ajax president: ‘Sorry ,my friend, one goal won’t be enough for you in Manchester.’
And that’s exactly how it worked out. At Old Trafford. Despite some misgivings amongst us United fans about Stuart Pearson being out, Lou Macari scored two minutes before half time to make it 1-1 on aggregate. United without Stuart Pearson lacked a certain amount of penetration and Macari seemed to be struggling with a knock. Tommy Docherty taking note sent on young Scottish centre half Steve Paterson ( he would become the first European footballer to play in the Japanese league in 1983) and moved Brian greenhoff from centre half into midfield. Greenhoff stepped up the tempo , powered down the right and with the help of Steve coppel crossed for Sammy McIlroy to touch home the winner. Ironically as United celebrated their win , the Ajax manager Yugoslavian Tomislav Ivic pointed out: ‘United play beautiful football, but the Germans and the Italians have harder man-to-man marking and a more defensive attitude …and that will be the test.’
So now to tonight’s first of two legs against the current Ajax side. the UEFA cup is the only trophy Manchester United have never won. With a thin squad still carrying knocks and injuries the question is will Sir Alex take it seriously enough to field his strongest team. Certainly as a United fan I’d prefer to win the league than be bogged down in difficult mid-week fixtures in Europe which in the past , even with a full-ish squad , have affected our performances in the league and I suspect the Scottish wizard will be thinking along those lines too. Manchester City with a squad that reads like the credits list at the end of the movie Avatar must have an eye on the UEFA cup. After all for Manchester City it’s their one and only chance to actually win a trophy United have never won, which may lead them to brag about this particular tin cup. Anything else our noisy neighbours may go on to win , we’ve already wonin a variety of combinations, so they can’t really eclipse us, after all will there ever be another team capable of winning a glorious treble or another first team to win a double double or win the European cup , or even play in Europe. Much as I’d like to see United win both the UEFA Cup and the League , expediency says we should field our reserves for this one, see what they’re made of and treat it like a continental Carling Cup. Let City get bogged down in this European side show and lets save our ammunition to keep a good run going in the league until final triumph and number 20 in May
MAN UNITED VERSUS STOKE CITY
It’s hard as a United fan not to be concerned about this one. Although Stoke have a congested fixture list and some starting doubts , including Matthew Etherington, United look like they are genuinely facing a minor crisis. Rumours that nani will be out for at least 2 months abound, Rooney is a doubt after taking several knocks against Arsenal, to expect Scholes to perform again at that level so soon is somewhat unrealistic and we lacked a cutting edge against Liverpool despite having good posession. Tony Pullis is already talking his team’s chances down , but I suspect he feels that now is the best chance he’ll have of taking 3 points at Old Trafford and Stoke’s away record is good. I was there back in April of 1976 when United decimated by injury and with one eye on the FA cup blew their league title chances by losing 1-0 at Old Trafford to the last decent Stoke City team. Stoke that day had a forward line of Jimmy Greenhoff, Ian Moores a young Garth Crookes and Terry Conroy with John Mahoney and the mercurial Alan Hudson in Midfield ,England International Mike Pejic at centre half ( dropped by Joe Mercer when caretaker manger of England for ‘looking too miserable and not smiling’ ) and Peter Shilton in nets. United were without our striker Stuart Pearson so played utility man Dave McCreery up front , and disaster upon disaster , Steve Coppell was out and Tommy Jackson shoved in. The following season Stoke City had the roof blow off their mainstand at The Victoria Ground and had to sell Jimmy Greenhoff to United for £120,000 as well as Alan Hudson and Mike Pejic to cover the £250,000 repair bill , and that was the start of their demise , being relegated in 1976/77 season , and how it hurt those Stoke fans to see Jimmy Greenhoff win the FA Cup and score freely for Tommy Docherty’s United after arriving at Old Trafford just before Christmas to team up with Stuart Pearson upfront.
Now United have a crisis , its transfer deadline day and all we’re seeing is squad players like Mame Diouff being shipped out and potentially the finest young English player of his generation ,Ravel Morrison being lined up for a move to West Ham. All politics aside , this is perhaps United’s most important home game of the season so far with a plethora of difficult fixtures ahead and the danger that Manchester City can pull away from us. Its not going to be pretty tonight , and given the way Arsenal’s players werec given carte blanche to kick and dangerously tackle United’s players at the Emirate’s , my big worry , the result aside , is that in a high impact game against Stoke City , one or two other United players will be limping off the pitch before the 90 minutes is up. Given Stoke City’s rather direct bombardment method of long throws , crosses and hoofs from the halfway line into our box , I’ll be very surprised in De Gea starts in nets for United tonight although in order to fulfill his potential he needs the games ( for the De Gea detractors , try and remember how ropey Schmeichel looked in his first six months at Old Trafford). We’re not the attractive glamorous side that we’ve been spoiled over the years with , and we’re not able to steam roller teams without our first choice 11, but it’s exciting and edge of the seat stuff even when the games are often of poor quality, like the olden days in fact , and I expect a hot tense and raucous atmosphere at Old Trafford tonight. Yes I have an inner doomlord , but its important that we believe and remember it may be only Stoke City , but for them it’s another Cup Final.
CHELSEA VERSUS MAN UNITED PREVIEW
I’ve always thought of Chelsea as something of a bogey team for United , even as a kid in the era of Best , Law and Charlton, they seemed to get the better of us . It’s like they always had the rub of the green. Even in that Champions league final in 2008 , they should have been dead and buried by half time , yet managed to end up winning a certain amount of sympathy for going out on penalties, although not from me. So what to say about this match, a bit difficult , because my mind is as empty as the Liverpool and Arsenal trophy cabinets at the moment. United have been playing some decent stuff recently but lacking a cutting edge. Against Stoke we dominated possession just as we did against Liverpool , but actual chances on goal were few and it took two penalties to beat them. Yes we were missing Rooney and Nani, but in some ways Nani’s absence has given Park the opportunity to once again display what a selfless hard working and creative player he can be and his willingness to run allowed Scholes the space and time on the ball to boss the midfield. If Rooney is back this Sunday I hope it will give United the impetus to steal all 3 points , but Chelsea games are always difficult and although we beat them at Old Trafford back in September hand on heart , I thought they were the better team but seemed to fluff chances and we relied on Ashley Young , Nani and Rooney on the break. Perhaps the game will have a similar pattern and result at Stamford Bridge, but for Chelsea this is a huge game. Their captain John Terry is under the spotlight again. He’s not the most popular chap in football , and in my opinion is probably the most over rated centre half I’ve ever seen. For years he’s been talked of in reverent tones by some as ‘world class’, and yet whenever I’ve watched him , I see a determined hard working and competitive defender who gives his all , but who isn’t actually that great a defender. For Chelsea fans who may be reading this , ask yourselves why you’ve never won the European Champions league and then think about Terry’s lack of defensive qualities, covered up in the past by partnerships with Gallas and then Carvalho, with either Essien or Makelele sweeping up just in front. John Terry as a central defender isn’t guilty like one time United centre half , Jaap Stam, of the flaw of getting drawn to the ball , he’s much worse and gets drawn to the man and against a quality centre forward has a habit of being found out. Yes he’s courageous and a shouter and organiser, and a lot of football fans watching the Chelsea versus United Champions League final in 2008 admired the way Terry bravely took Drogba’s place in the penalty shoot out ; that probably explains why he fell over in the penalty area with no opposition anywhere near him. JohnTerry went down in my estimation with all that crying nonsense afterwards too , as an England Captain , would Bobby Moore have done that after a game ; whatever happened to the stiff upper lip which serveed us as a nation in the dark days of World War 2 .
It’s going to be a tight game, but if United can score first and then threaten Chelsea on the break , I think we’ll win the game , if a little uncomfortably. So lets hope Rooney’s in the starting line-up , De Gea has a blinder , our back four don’t get the wobbles and Valencia , Park , Smalling and Carrick continue their fine form. If that happens I’m quietly confident we’ll get to witness the pathetic sight of a grown Man (John Terry) crying at the end leaving the Chelsea faithful spitting out their skinny lattes and choking on their ciabattas and wondering why their season is virtually over in February. My Prediction Chelsea 0 – United 2
NOW CHELSEA FANS , TAKE A LOOK AT WHAT YOU COULD’VE WON