Tag Archives: united

A Child’s Claim To Fame


When the editor asked me to note down any recollections I had of United vs Barcelona in March 1984, I was shocked with the realisation that we were approaching the 30th anniversary of the game. THIRTY YEARS. Wow, where the fuck has that gone?

On reflection, 1984 was pretty miserable. My Dad’s work was sporadic at the time which meant there was very little spare cash floating about. Consequently, I was on free school dinners, rocking 4 stripe trainers off the market and riding round a purple Raleigh Chopper instead of the much-coveted Adidas Grand Slam and Mongoose BMX’s that my friends were enjoying. The news had stopped talking about imminent nuclear war and riots and was instead concerned with Torvill & Dean and the plight of the miners. Lionel Ritchie was Number 1 in the charts. None of this really registered with me to be honest, it was only background noise because I still had United to look forward to.

The Old Trafford of my childhood was nothing like the gigantic shrine to commercialism that stands in its place today. Back then, it was just a football ground that had barely changed in decades. If I had to sum up 1980’s OT in two words, they would probably be ‘faded glamour’. Paint peeling off rusty girders, cracked panes of glass, the stenches of chip fat, rancid burgers, bleach and perpetual under achievement – it was as grim as it was intoxicating.

United were doing pretty well by March, however. Unbeaten in 16 league games, we went top of the table 4 days prior to the Barca game after smashing Arsenal 4-0 at Old Trafford – a game notable for scores of people brandishing clipboards around the turnstiles, collecting signatures imploring the club not to sell Bryan Robson. It seems a quaint idea now, somewhat naive… but that’s how important Robbo was at the time. A figurehead, a leader, a genuine colossus – the sort of midfielder who comes along once in a generation. It was perhaps fitting then, that those United fans doing their best to persuade player and club to resist suitors from abroad, were rewarded days later with a performance that was probably the finest of his career.

Despite United possessing a genuine world class talent in Robson, Barcelona boasted an even greater star themselves in the shape of Diego Maradona – and just having the chance to see him in the flesh was a major event in itself. Back then there was no Champions League or televised football on the scale there is today – indeed I’d listened to the 1st leg, 2-0 reverse on the radio. The only time Maradona had ever really been seen was during the ’82 World Cup where he’d been largely anonymous and marked out of the tournament. Despite being this enigmatic, almost mythical figure, he was still generally considered to be the greatest player in the world – although he wouldn’t go on to prove that until the tournament in Mexico, 2 years later.

I’d been going to United for a couple of years by 1984 and had attended both previous European games that season, vs Dukla Prague (soon to be immortalised after being namechecked by legendary 80’s scouse pop-ironists Half Man Half Biscuit) and the never-again-to-be-heard-of Spartak Varna of Bulgaria. This was all very exciting in itself due to European football being all exotic and unknown and that, but drawing Barcelona in the QF was proper next level shit. It seemed about as big as it was ever gonna get.

After sweating on whether or not I’d actually get a ticket – my Dad was often lax in buying the requisite two programmes per game for the tokens – there was much relief when he confirmed it was all sorted. I had a ticket in my hand: Stretford Groundside Junior, for the scarcely credible by today’s standards sum of £1.20.


Although we always paid into the Stretford End (a season ticket or LMTB wasn’t a necessity back then), we never watched the game there because being sub-5ft and weighing about 5 stone at the time, I’d probably have been trampled to death. Instead we had a regular arrangement going with the old boy on the gate, who was paid £1 per game to let us through to the seats upstairs in E-Stand. Not that we ever sat down, our spec was right behind the goal at the top – stood up against the handrail.

That handrail was the bane of my life for a couple of years, since its height was exactly level with my line of sight. This meant I had two options: either I could watch the game on tiptoes with my chin resting on top or more comfortably, with my brow resting on the bar whilst peering underneath. As a result, I’d usually leave the match sporting a horizontal indent on my forehead that would remain visible for the next couple of hours.

The game, as has been recounted many times since that night, was absolutely incredible. I’ve been at pretty much every big match in the intervening 30 years and nothing, perhaps only the white noise madness of that five minutes in the Nou Camp in ’99, comes close to the atmosphere generated. As a kid, I just recall being absolutely ecstatic to have experienced it first-hand and almost overwhelmed with happiness and relief following the final whistle. Before writing this I watched the 10 minute highlights clip on YouTube again and it genuinely makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

It’s the 3rd goal that does it. Wilkins picking the ball up in his own half and wheeling his arm, signalling for everyone to bomb forward. Robson clips a glorious ball out wide that’s met by Arthur Albiston and by the time his cross enters the box, the Stretford End are already celebrating the goal. Just listen to it, it’s mad. The cross comes in and the strangulated “YESSSSSSSS…” starts whilst the ball is still in the air. Whiteside heads it back across the penalty area and then Stapleton buries it. Bedlam. The cheering starts about 3 seconds before the ball hits the net.


It was Robson’s night. Footage shows him absolutely exhausted at the end as he’s chaired off the pitch by hoards of cavorting wedge haircuts in stonewashed denim and Pringle jumpers. He staggers up the tunnel and is first gripped by Ron Atkinson, then looks in dire need of oxygen as he’s interviewed by Elton Welsby. Sadly, and typically for the era, our campaign fell to pieces after that. Arnold Muhren never kicked another ball that season, Robson was crucially injured for the 2nd leg of the Juventus semi and United limped home in the league, scoring only 8 goals and winning twice in our final 10 games. At least Robbo stayed though, with the board deciding to cash in on Ray Wilkins instead.

Despite being present as a 10 year old kid, I was fully aware of the night’s significance as it just felt absolutely huge in comparison to any game I’d attended previously. To this day, my Dad still describes it as “the best ever” and he’s been going to the match since the early 60’s – so that will do for me too. “Barcelona, Real Madrid, they will make a gallant bid, but United are the greatest team of all.” Damn right.

It was, quite simply, the greatest of the great Old Trafford nights.

Copyright Red News – March 2014


Demon Days

The recent derby was a textbook example of how completely and utterly miserable football can make us feel on occasion. A vintage case of go home, go to bed early, media blackout for 5 days and everything can just fuck the fucking fuck off. So due to having nothing positive to say about anything at present, this month’s column has been abandoned and we’ll instead acknowledge our current woes by wallowing in the 10 most depressing results of the last 30 years. I’ve thought long and hard about this selection – I considered putting in games from yesteryear but decided to keep it personal by only selecting games/results experienced myself. So tough shit, Bobby Stokes – you missed the cut.

Note: Some may baulk at the non-inclusion of, say, for instance, the Champions League final defeats to Barca. I’ve tried to keep it real and opted for games that triggered genuine doom. Of course I was gutted losing to Barca but it was no great surprise and there was no great mental hangover afterwards… these are the results that proved difficult to shake for weeks and months, not just a couple of days as was the case post Rome/Wembley.

Liverpool (Wembley) League Cup Final – (1-2) March 1983


I wasn’t at this game, instead I listened to it on Radio 2 live radio commentary in my Gran’s front room – it was played at 3pm on a Saturday so wasn’t even on telly. All started very well with Norman’s opener before the Scousers equalised near the end and then won it via Ronnie Whelan’s curler in extra-time. I call still recall the sense of rage and injustice at the description of Grobbelaar’s outrageous assault on McQueen… unsurprisingly not punished due to the referee being George Courtney – not the last time we’d suffer at his hands. I cried after this. Tears. Proper tears.

Nottingham Forest (H) FA Cup QF – (0-1) March 1989

forest programme

This one gets the nod just ahead of McClair’s penalty miss at Arsenal that saw us dumped out of the FA Cup in the 5th round a year previously – heartbreaking at the time because it happened in the one season when McClair never missed. Again I wasn’t present and instead listened to this on the BBC world service as I was stuck in Northern Germany somewhere on a school exchange. It was horrendous. The family I stayed with had a massive Alsatian that crapped in my room and for tea we had cabbage and sausages every night. Another refereeing injustice here as well. Brian Hill he was called. Shithead.

Manchester City (A) – (1-5) September 1989


Early-season giddiness stemming from the acquisitions of Webb, Pallister and Ince, the proposed Knighton takeover and the opening day thrashing of Arsenal had been well and truly obliterated following 3 successive defeats which left United down in 16th place by mid-September. Nevertheless, we’d spanked Millwall 5-1 the week before so there was some grounds for optimism as we headed to Maine Road – City were below us having only won one game all season. What followed was as baffling as it was depressing. United missed numerous chances and despite being on the defensive for much of the game, the 5 chances City had all went in. Mercifully, it was the last thing they had to celebrate for the next 2 decades.

Liverpool (A) – (0-2) April 1992

anfield 92

I recall queuing for 7 hours one Sunday morning to get a ticket for this. What had all season long promised to be a title winning party instead turned out to be a truly harrowing afternoon. In reality, all Liverpool did was confirm the inevitable with Leeds having stumbled past Sheffield United earlier in the day. A sequence of 3 miserable results in just 5 days had already killed off United’s hopes – a draw at Luton, the bank holiday Monday defeat at home to Forest and then Kenny Brown’s goal at West Ham. It was official, we really would never win the league.

West Ham United (A) – (1-1) May 1995

west ham

This was another killer. It began as a case of ‘more hope than expectation’ but as the afternoon developed there was the gradual realisation that Blackburn were indeed in the process of bottling it and a winner at Upton Park would give a United a 3rd successive title. Following McClair’s timely equaliser and despite over half an hour of bombardment of the West Ham penalty area, it just wouldn’t fucking go in. A timid showing in the FA Cup final a week later merely heightened the gloom

Fenerbahce (H) Champs League Group Stage – (0-1) October 1996

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

This one hurt. Really hurt. The end of a the 50 year unbeaten home record in Europe and we lost it to Fenerbahce… who were absolutely shite and could barely believe their luck. United were on a shocking run at the time (we’d just lost 5-0 at Newcastle and 6-3 at Southampton) but there’s no way we should have lost this game – it just seemed so careless. A 50 year unbeaten home record surrendered to Fenerbahce of all people. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juve, Milan, Ajax… that would be understandable – not like losing to this rabble. Big sulk after this one.

Borussia Dortmund (H) Champs League SF – (0-1) April 1997


Having scraped through the group stages following Eric and Schmeichels’ masterclass in Vienna and then battered Porto… arguably the best team left in the tournament other than Juventus – only Dortmund stood between United and a place in the final. It really looked like it was on too, especially after coming away from the 1st leg in Germany unlucky to have suffered a single goal defeat. The overriding (admittedly naive) feeling was they were very beatable and would crumble under pressure at OT. Sadly, as we were to experience numerous times in subsequent years, it’s rarely that simple. Despite battering Dortmund and creating countless chances, they scored early and somehow kept United at bay. What’s worse, the then imperious Juventus suffered a rare off-day in the final and the unfancied Germans beat them easily.

Manchester City (H) – (1-2) February 2008


The 50th anniversary of Munich game, an occasion everyone connected with the club had been looking forward to for months. An opportunity to provide a fitting tribute to those who lost their lives in the crash, given even more of an emotional charge due to the fact City would be providing the opposition. It was sure to be a day to remember and as anticipated, there was one team that seemed overcome with the sense of occasion that day. Unfortunately it was United.

Manchester City (H) – (1-6) October 2011


I saw what was happening here and fled the scene with 10 minutes to go, just after Fletcher had made it 3-1. Unfortunately it soon got worse. Much worse. After getting out of a cab on Deansgate, a mate and I took refuge in the Cornerhouse bar as it seemed the safest bet not to contain anything or anybody football-related. We then drank in abject silence whilst I mentally debated the best way of getting home without seeing any blues – a tricky prospect when you live in Stockport. An absolutely sickening day, but still doesn’t compare with what we’d experience at the end of the season.

Sunderland (A) – (1-0) May 2012


Or more to the point, Manchester City vs Queens Park Rangers (3-2) May 2012. The most recent and still the most painful. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever get over the gut-wrenching feeling of that last 5 minutes. Ever. Not being dramatic, either – I genuinely mean it. As much as anything it’s the knowledge we were *that* close to inflicting on them something that would have eclipsed all the previous cock-ups that have littered their history – them losing the league from that position would have topped the lot. They had scarves printed already, out on sale in the open on Market Street the week previously. How wonderful would it have been to have got hold of one of them? The fuckers would have never lived it down. There’s all that, plus the certain knowledge that no matter how long we carry on ‘doing’ football, we’ll never be able to inflict the same amount of pain on them. Sorry, but it’s true.


Copyright Red News – October 2013


Speak Like A Child


My son celebrated his 9th birthday recently, so has now reached the age I was when I became wholly consumed by football. In 1982, prior to starting watching United, I don’t recall having any interests at all other than perhaps, Star Wars. There were no older siblings in our house, so I had little idea about any of the things that would eventually become my main passions in life, and which I’d spend my teens and twenties in rigorous pursuit of – music, clothes, films, books, pop culture…that all came a while later. First there was football.

I was a proper little spod aged 9. Not particularly academic, or sporty or popular (this hasn’t changed much in the intervening 30 years, to be fair) – on reflection I was probably crying out for something (anything) to be interested in. The appeal for me? Everything about it. The sense of identity that comes from belonging to a cause, the culture, the history, the endless statistics…I sucked it all up like a sponge. Football came along at just the right time as before then, I don’t recall my brain having anything else to think about.

My son however, doesn’t appear to have such a void in his life. To me, he appears very well adjusted and content. Guitar lessons, computers, swimming, PS3, reading, Lego, a million DVDs and TV channels at his disposal…his brain is constantly occupied. Consequently then, like most kids these days, he doesn’t understand the concept of boredom – his life is just a succession of activities and entertainment. To him, I’ve realised, football is just another ‘thing’.

From time to time though, usually when the iPad is on charge and due to frustration at his sudden inability to commandeer the TV remote, he’ll settle down to watch the reds. The recent Spurs game was one such occasion, mainly due to the fact he seemed thrilled that the match was going ahead in blizzard conditions. For no reason other than I thought it might provide some amusement, I decided (without his knowledge) to note down his observations. Enjoy…

Pre Match: Wayne Rooney is out? At least we’ve got Van Persie…

Kick off: Alex Ferguson looks freezing.

4.02 This game could have got cancelled if it got too icy.

4.04 Van Persie is really good, isn’t he?

4.06 Is this game in Manchester? I wish it would snow here.

4.07 I don’t get why they have signs telling us non-important stuff.

4.08 (Jones loses possession) Oh now you’ve ruined it!

4.11 One of the worst things in football is they just kick it into the crowd. They should just pass it to someone nearby in loads of space.

4.13 What place is Tottenham?

4.14 City used to be really rubbish, didn’t they?

4.15 (Snow coming down) They are getting soaked!

4.18 I think Tottenham are actually doing kinda good. United aren’t doing good…they are just doing a slappy-fight.

4.19 I think United are cold.

4.20 (Spurs player clattered by Jones) He fell over on his own. That’s cheating!

4.21 (Carrick booked) You can’t give him a yellow card, that was an accident!

4.25 (Van Persie goal) Oh yeah, put your tongue out! COME ON!

4.26 So this is Tottenhans stadium, right? Where it says the score at the top, the one on the left means it’s their stadium.

4.27 I think United’s goalie is dehydrated. He should eat some snow.

4.28 Van Persie is snotty.

4.29 Evra just killed that Tottenham player.

4.30 (Evra down injured and slo-mo reply of goal shown) OH YEAH, stick your bloody tongue out!

4.31 (Lloris goal kick) Yes! Nice kick!

4.33 (Spurs free kick) Whaaaaaaaat?!

4.36 (Welbeck muscled off ball by Walker) You little lady!

4.38 Ferguson looks like he has warmed up now.

4.39 Tottenham are cheating. They fall over a lot.

4.40 (Scramble in penalty area) That was like pinball and the defenders were flippers. Crazy.

4.41 That was handball and he let him off. This referee isn’t fair. Let United have this ball!

4.42 (Evra booked) He did that roll himself. This isn’t fair. One more foul and that’s a red card.

4.43 Two Tottenham players were just having a cuddle!

4.45 (United corner) Come on, be a goal!

4.46 United are just too good for Tottenham. This will be 2-0, this game.

HT: That was quality that goal. You could see that defender jumping and he was like, WOOOOOAH! … Is this the 1st United game this year?… Where is Wayne Rooney? … What’s for tea? … Why are they playing Christmas songs?

2nd Half begins…

5.04 (Carrick concedes corner) Good defence there, mate.

5.05 Corners are sometimes terrifying.

5.07 (De Gea saves) That was nice, it hit his toe.

5.10 I don’t want Tottenham to score.

5.12 (Spurs fail in penalty appeal) Why are they cheering?

5.14 United aren’t doing well at all.

5.15 Come on United, you’re not bothering.

5.16 Look at Rooney, he looks bored…he’s having a chat with his girlfriend.

5.17 This is just not United’s day.

5.18 United are doing absolutely and utterly rubbish.

5.19 Did you see that? THEY ARE THROWING SNOWBALLS!

5.20 (Rooney comes on as sub) ROOONEH! Yes! Come on Roons!

5.22 (Lloris clears) That was rubbish! Right into the crowd.

5.24 (Spurs free kick) Please don’t score. Thank you.

5.27 I think Spurs are gonna score.

5.28 (Welbeck down injured) Haha! I think he’s been hit in the nuggets.

5.29 (Ref’s assistant on screen) I don’t get what the flag people do.

5.30 (Dawson nicks ball off Van Persie) Tsk! He came out of nowhere.

5.31 (Welbeck offside) He could have got that, so lazy!

5.34 (Last ditch Ferdinand challenge on Defoe) Thank you, Rio!

5.35 (Evra cross cut out before reaches Welbeck) United need more players when that happens.

5.44 It’s chucking it down. There is snow everywhere.

5.45 United really could win this! 1 more minute…well actually 4 minutes cos they add on 3 minutes.

5.46 Told you, 3 minutes!

5.47 Nice header…and another header. I would be surprised if someone did 5 headers in a row.

5.48 Tottenham are starting to go nuts…if Tottenham lose this, will they be out of the league?

5.49 (Spurs goal) You have GOT to be kidding. I can’t believe this!

Final whistle: OH BLOODY HELL! Can we turn over now, please?

Copyright Red News – February 2013