The early 1970’s wasn’t a particular successful time for United. Only a couple of years or so after their European Cup victory over Benfica at Wembley Stadium, they were on a bit of a downward spiral. Certain players were coming to the end of their careers, and others were having problems outside of football. During the close season of 1969, after twenty four years in the job Busby resigned as team manger of Manchester United. In came the then reserve team manager Wilf McGuinness, the former United midfielder and still the only Mancunian to have managed United. In his first season McGuinness didn’t do badly as team manager. United got to the semifinals of the League and F.A. Cup and they finished eighth in Division One, an improvement of three places from the previous season. A decent start for the new manager, sadly though it would end sooner rather than later for Wilf McGuinness.
The new season came; twenty three games in and United had only claimed five wins in Division One. After only eighteen months in the job during the Christmas of 1970, McGuinness was replaced by Busby who returned as interim manager until the end of the season. Interestingly, there was even speculation that Scottish legend Jock Stein would be United’s new manager.
However, during the summer of 1971 the former Republic of Ireland international and the then Leicester City manager Frank O’Farrell was offered the manager’s job at Old Trafford, O’Farrell duly accepted. Unfortunately Frank would fare no better than McGuinness, the team even went out of both domestic cup competitions quite early. Also United lost at home in the Manchester Derby in front of their biggest home crowd of the season.
It wasn’t all bad though, George Best was still scoring. He finished United’s top scorer in the league with eighteen goals, with twenty six goals in all competitions. Also, attendances had increased from the previous season despite the poor challenge for silverware. As far as the kit went for the ’71 – ’72 season, United had opted for a yellow and blue third choice away strip.
The shirt was yellow with blue collar and cuffs. The shorts were blue, the socks yellow. Interestingly, United would wear a collar on their shirt for the first time since 1955. Whilst I’m on the subject, it was Umbro who had been supplying United with kit since the mid ’50’s. The shirt would have the classic vee shaped neck design used by many teams back then, even in Europe and further afield. The third choice kit was worn six times in its debut season, twice at Southampton, twice at Stoke City and once at Sheffield United and Arsenal.
To be fair to Frank O’Farrell, he did sign two players who would go on to be adored by the United faithful, the late great Brian Greenhoff and a player who would go on to become one of the great captains of Manchester United, Martin Buchan. Again United finished in eighth place, they were treading water at best and unrecognizable from the team of only a few years before.
United began the ’72 – ’73 season with O’Farrell still in charge. When Christmas arrived, United had only won five in the league. O’Farrell’s United had also lost away to Liverpool and Manchester City. After a home defeat to Stoke City and being on the wrong end of a 5 – 0 thrashing away to Crystal Palace, the United board had seen enough. O’Farrell was sacked a week before Christmas. Enter Tommy Docherty.
The Doc had been the manager of the Scottish national side for about a year, when he agreed to take the reins at Old Trafford. By the time Docherty arrived at The Theatre of Dreams he was already an experienced manager, and was known to be something of a motivator. The likable Scotsman began his managerial career at Chelsea, then went on to Rotherham, Queens Park Rangers, Aston Villa and Portuguese club Porto, before taking over the Scotland side in 1971.
Oh yes, one little interesting piece of football general knowledge for you, it was Docherty who was responsible for Chelsea’s all blue home kit. Before Docherty took over at Chelsea the West London club played at home in white shorts, on The Doc’s orders they changed from white to the blue that we know today. Docherty’s Chelsea would challenge often for silverware, but in his six years at Chelsea he was only to win the one trophy, the League Cup in 1965. Tommy Docherty was also responsible for giving a young Terry Venables his start in first team football.
It was his motivational talents and his willingness to give young footballers the chance to prove themselves, that drew Docherty to the attention of Manchester United. Like I mentioned earlier, there were players at United who were getting close to the end of their playing careers. The United Directors now bolstered by Sir Matt, were looking to Docherty to bring back the old United ethos of attacking entertaining football with a measure of emerging youth thrown in.
It was time to rebuild the team. Less than a week after the sacking of Frank O’Farrell, Tommy Docherty was installed as the new team manager of United. So The Red Devils were to undergo yet more upheaval, with its third manager in four years. It was a testing time for the club. As Jimmy Osmond was claiming the U.K. Christmas number one with his “Long Haired Lover from Liverpool” shite, Docherty was taking charge of his first game as United manager on the 23rd of December at home against Leeds, it ended in a 1 – 1 draw. The only other game United had that Christmas was on Boxing Day away to Brian Clough’s Derby County, they lost 3 – 1.
The new year came with a new acquisition, a player who would go on to prove himself a United Great, the one and only Lou Macari. Macari came to prominence playing for Glasgow Celtic, he was at Parkhead for six years from 1967. He was a highly respected midfielder with an eye for goal. There’s a nice little story attached to Macari’s transfer to United. By early January ’73 Liverpool were speaking to Celtic about a possible transfer, with Lou going to Anfield. The talks advanced to a stage where Liverpool invited Lou down to see a game at Anfield, he accepted the invitation. The game was against United, and it was there that Macari bumped into fellow Scot and former Celtic player and United star Paddy Crerand.
At the time Crerand was Docherty’s assistant manager. Crerand and Macari got chatting, it transpired that Macari was yet to put pen to paper for Liverpool. Crerand knew Docherty was looking for new, class midfielders. Do you fancy coming to United instead, Lou? And that was it, Macari wasn’t about to say no to Manchester United. Celtic sold him to United for £200,000. Docherty would bring in yet more exciting talent, players that would go on to be remembered decades later by fans worldwide.
Although United avoided relegation, the ’72 – ’73 season ended poorly. They finished in eighteenth position, only three wins and draw away from relegation. However, Docherty would go on to be given something what many think O’Farrell and McGuinness were denied. Time. The end of ’72 – ’73 season was tinged with sadness as Bobby Charlton left Old Trafford. Charlton went on to play for Preston North End, the team he would later manage. Charlton finally hung his boots up 1976. As we know he would go on to earn a knighthood, as well as being voted England’s greatest player.
The ’73 – ’74 season, as we all know was to end in relegation, but by the beginning of that season Docherty was already laying the foundations for what would become a team that would be known for fast, free flowing, attacking cavalier style football. A few of the European Cup winning heroes were still with United. In goal was Alex Stepney; Brian Kidd was still with United, as was George Best. Best would play his last game for United that season.
Although The Red Devils could still boast world famous names, The King Denis Law had left for City. Macari wasn’t the only new face, defender and fellow Scot Stewart Houston joined from Brentford. Houston would go on to be a reliable left back for United and Scotland. United had a fresh look about them. Other new arrivals included the much missed Big Jim Holton, who had his own catchy song that went “Six foot two, eyes of blue, Big Jim Holton’s after you!” The United squad was packed with household names.
Before the ink on the Macari contract was dry, Docherty had the cheque book out again. This time the manager brought in a twenty one year old Scottish defender by the name of Jim Holton, United paid Division 3 club Shrewsbury Town, £80,000. The Doc was first made aware of the young centre back when he was still manager of Scotland. Shrewsbury Town sent a letter to Park Gardens, home of the Scottish Football Association regarding Holton. The Shropshire club knew Holton was a great candidate for the Scottish under 21 team. Docherty was intrigued enough to travel to Gay Meadow to watch Holton, the manager left impressed with what he saw. So, once in charge of United, Docherty sent scouts down to Shrewsbury to check up on the emerging defender. The scout’s report that came back more or less said we have to have this defender. Of course, Holton eventually signed for United on or around the 10th of January 1973. The club had signed the best centre back in Britain.
“I was pretty raw when I joined United and I was pitched right in at the deep end. Every match was a battle and we were fighting for our lives. It was for those reasons that I got the reputation of being a dirty player. That’s something that I have never been. I’m a big fella and I play the game with total commitment. I play hard, but I am not dirty.” Jim Holton.
The 22 year old Holton made his United debut on the 20th of January at Old Trafford against West Ham, the final score was 2 – 2. The young defender wouldn’t have to wait long for his first United goal, scoring in a 1 – 1 draw at Coventry City, just two weeks after signing. Holton was now wearing the number 5 shirt, previously worn by David Sadler. Jim Holton went on to become a huge crowd favourite at Old Trafford, the fans loved him for his strong and physical displays, many thought him overly physical but Holton was never a dirty player. During the spring of that year, Holton was picked by Scotland manager Willie Ormond therefore earning his first full international cap against Wales.
“He loved the 6 foot 2 eyes of blue chant. I kept saying to him “God, they absolutely love you, Jim. So he decided to make up a song for me and burst into a chorus of “5 foot 10, eyes of green, Micky Martin’s on the scene.” Mick Martin.
Seeing as we’re talking of great Scottish players, the world class winger Willie Morgan was still turning out for United. Yet despite the established stars and fresh faces, United were to have a miserable season. United’s top scorer of that ’73 – ’74 season was a title jointly held by Sammy Mcilroy and Lou Macari, both only netting half a dozen times. A crowd of over 60,000, the largest home crowd of that season would see United lose to Leeds 0 – 2. United’s cup endeavors would be short lived too. But despite things not going for them, they were still the best supported team in the country.
Going into the final stages of that season, Docherty’s United were being drawn into a relegation battle. The United fans had reason to feel hopeful of escaping relegation when the team started a run of good results, starting in late March. With wins against Chelsea, Norwich City, Newcastle and Everton, coupled with a draws against Burnley and Southampton. It looked like United might retain their Division One status. Alas, it wasn’t to be. United lost to Everton at Goodison Park, not only that but results elsewhere were going against them.
As you are well aware, this is the bit where a lot of people like to get wrong. There are those fans of rival clubs that like to remind us that it was former United player and club legend Denis Law, that relegated United with his back flick whilst playing for City in that penultimate game of that season. It is indeed incorrect. As I said before, results elsewhere weren’t going United’s way. Chelsea, West Ham and Birmingham City all avoided the relegation zone by a single point. United lost their final game of the season against Stoke City. The Reds were relegated along with Southampton and Norwich. United finished four points behind Southampton, had United put ten past City that day they still would have been relegated. United finished in twenty first place, thirty two points from forty two games. So United were down, but that season saw the acquisition of a player who would soon show his worth and go on to be a true United great. Stuart “Pancho” Pearson was acquired from Hull City for £200,000. Pancho would have quite a time at Old Trafford.
Despite the relegation Docherty remained at the helm, the correct move by the board. It was the first time that United had seen Division Two football since 1938. That single season in Division Two under Docherty would see United still claim the bragging rights for highest home attendances, they might have been relegated but they were still the best supported team in the country. Away matches would differ slightly. United visiting the away grounds of other Division Two teams, would regularly see themselves playing in front of crowds less than 20,000. The first game of the season was away to Orient, United started well winning 2 – 0 with goals from Houston and Morgan. United hit the ground running, and that was the way they would carry on. United’s first home game of the season was against Londoners Millwall. United swept them aside, thrashing them 4 – 0. Gerry Daly, the popular Republic of Ireland international scored a hat trick during that game, and Pearson bagged one for himself.
By the middle of November United had lost two, drawn two and won the rest. They were building a momentum that would take them to the title. Docherty flashed the cash again and brought in yet another player who would go on to be seen as a true United great by millions of United fans, “Merlin” himself Gordon Hill. The twenty one year old midfielder from Sunbury on Thames was bought from Millwall, via N.A.S.L. team Chicago Sting. Have United ever spent a better seventy grand? No. United were also doing well in the League Cup. When Christmas arrived, United had just beaten Middlesbrough in the League Cup, a Round five tie. That game went to a replay at Old Trafford, United winning 3 – 0 the goals from Pearson, Macari and Mcilroy.
The Red Devils had a fair Christmas that season, winning two and losing one. As 1975 began, United were looking favourites for the Division Two title, and instant promotion. Docherty’s team were now playing the kind of football that the United of the mid ’70’s became known for, quick, attacking football with a bit of a swagger. The only downer for United that new year was the F.A. Cup defeat, in the 3rd Round to Walsall.
Steve Coppell arrived at United in early 1975, from Tranmere Rovers for £60,000. The affable Liverpudlian made his full debut for United at the beginning of March of 1975, coming on as a sub for Willie Morgan in a 4 – 0 hammering of Cardiff City at Old Trafford. As a player Coppell was a great worker, a great runner with a very good football brain. A world class winger who would shine on the international stage for England. It was at United that Coppell soon gained the reputation for being a particularly fit runner and winger. Indeed, Coppell set a club record with two hundred and six consecutive league appearances from 1977 to 1981. Coppell loved his time at Old Trafford, a scouser that came to love United. Describing his debut for United Coppell said…
“Signing for United was beyond a fairy tale. And despite winning trophies, that day was my highlight as a United player. My heart was jumping out of my chest and I’ve never had another experience like it. I wasn’t running; I was floating across the grass. Words do not do the experience justice; it was a drug like euphoric trance. I’ve had a few operations, and it was like that little pleasant stage after the anaesthetic. Only multiplied by a hundred.”
It was United’s title that season, they racked up a long run of impressive results. The Red Devils lost five all season in a twenty two team league, losing at home the once to Bristol City. United’s closest rival for the Division Two title that season was Ron Saunders’s Aston Villa. The Villains finished three points behind United in second, with Norwich in third . United would be promoted back to Division One as Champions of Division Two, along with retaining their the title of the best supported team in Britain.
“They are wonderfully entertaining little boys, Tommy Docherty is sitting on a goldmine.” Bill Shankly.
The ’75 – ’76 season saw the introduction of my favourite ever United away shirt. The first of United’s away shirts produced by Admiral consisted of a white shirt with three black stripes down the left hand side, with the club badge sitting on top of those black stripes, to the right was the Admiral logo in white. The rest of the kit consisted of black shorts with a red and white stripe down each side and white socks with red trim. Going back to the shirt, the collar and shirt sleeves were, adorned with a bold red stripe. It looked the muts nuts. This largely white away kit was to last 5 seasons, although throughout the late ‘70’s it would see a subtle change here and there, such as a positional change to the club badge on the shirt, the colour of the Admiral logo and that added fourth stripe..
The disagreement with Adidas occurred as a result of Admiral using three stripes on the United away shirt for the 1975 – 76 season. Legal advice was sought by Admiral (and Adidas), the upshot being that a straight line cannot be construed as a trade mark, that meant Admiral were at liberty to continue using the three stripes on the United shirt. Whilst the legal action was going on, the two sportswear companies tried to come to an amicable trade off. For a while Admiral added that fourth stripe; however it would only be worn a few times, games including Arsenal and Liverpool being two examples. However, like I said the decision went in Admirals favour so they returned to using just three stripes, its welcome return was in the February of 1976 for an away game at Aston Villa. United first wore this new white away kit, with changed black socks, during a game at the Victoria Ground to play Stoke City, on the 30th August 1975. United came away with the points courtesy of an own goal scored by Alan Dodd. During that time, United could be seen away wearing matching white shorts.
With the added black shorts and socks, that kit, for me, is the best away kit United have had in modern times. The all black kit of the mid ‘90’s coming a close second. It was a bit of an odd start for United that season, their first two games were away. No matter, United began with two away wins, at Wolves and Birmingham, two apiece for Macari at Wolves and Mcilroy at Birmingham City.
United’s first home game of the season back in Division One was against Sheffield United. In front of well over 55,000 at Old Trafford, the Blades were cut to shreds, 2 goals by Pancho Pearson and one each for Daly and Mcilroy with an own goal by visitors resulted in a great first game back for United. They lost seven games that season, all away. Old Trafford, as I mentioned earlier, had become a fortress. Pancho would become our top scorer in the league with 13 goals, Lou was top scorer in all competitions with 15. United’s interest in the League Cup was over by November, with a 4th Round defeat at neighbours City. Docherty’s young United side were doing well in the league, but with hindsight it’s easy to see that United’s away form cost them any chance of winning the league. Playing at home wasn’t the problem.
In those days, The Red Devils were full of players that are today recognized by fans as United greats of the modern era. Lou Macari, Gordon Hill, Martin Buchan, Alex Stepney, Stuart Pearson, Steve Coppell, Brian Greenhoff and his brother, Jimmy. I’ve still got vague memories of Jimmy’s arrival at United in the November of ’76. He was acquired from Stoke City for £120,000, he was an experienced forward who had won plenty of silverware. With Leeds, Jimmy won the Division Two Championship, the League Cup and the Inter City Fairs Cup in Europe. With Stoke, he won the League Cup again and the Watney Cup. That vague memory was seeing Jimmy on the back of the Manchester Evening News with Brian, with the headline that went something along the lines of it’ll be a great Christmas in the Greenhoff household, now that the brothers are playing for the same team, or something to that effect.
Going into that second half of the season, United were easily a match for anyone in the league. In reality though, United were clearly unable to quickly replace the likes of Best, Law and Charlton to name just 3, to turn United back into European Topdogs. Having said that though, by the mid ’70’s Docherty’s United as I mentioned before, had plenty of admirers.
It was the best United side since those very successful days of the 1960’s. Personally speaking, at that time I was still someway off from becoming an Old Trafford regular, but I was still made aware of the fact how well they were doing. United were very often on the television, and I was just about old enough to read the back pages of the press were covered in United. Old Trafford was rocking, too. United’s long standing reputation as the best supported team in Britain continued under Docherty. Every match was a cauldron of chant, song and wondrous cacophony. The atmosphere at Old Trafford was superb.
While I remember, I want to mention David McCreery. McCreery was with United for five years, from 1974 to 1979. He only played eighty odd games for The Red Devils, scoring only seven goals. He was a great midfielder who was also known to be a great utility player. McCreery had a rare talent, he could play anywhere. He actually played in every position for United except goalkeeper. Fair enough, he wasn’t the biggest star at United then, but was typical as to the reason why many of Docherty’s United players became club greats back then.
The Irishman ran his heart out for United, an attacking midfielder with great skill with a great rapport with the fans. If you ask me, when it comes to deciding who is a United great (or any club great for that matter), it’s not really about the trophy’s a certain player can put on the table, yeah it helps, but there’s more to it than that. McCreery played with passion, got stuck in and was a very skillful player, the United fans loved him for that. The Goalie Stepney was already a club legend, but the likes of Macari, Hill, Pearson, Coppell, the Greenhoffs, Buchan became idolized by the fans too. They were great United players not because of silverware, but because they fought so hard for the United cause.
They were great players who recognized and responded to the fans. That kind of trait was a common factor that ran through the team. Even players like McCreery, who should of played many more times than he actually did, and who deserved more of a chance in the side had that kind of class. The late, great Jim Holton was in that bracket too. The ’75 – ’76 season was United’s best in a while, and home crowds were on the increase. The biggest home crowd of the season saw United beat Everton, 2 – 1, late in the season. As mentioned earlier crowd size had increased for The Red Devils. United’s average home attendance grew to just over fifty three thousand, an increase of just under five thousand on the previous season.
The Division One title continued to be out of United’s reach, paying the price for disappointing away form. Despite that though Docherty’s team had a great first season back in Division One. They finished third, their highest finish for a number of years. Not only that, they went through the season unbeaten at home, they also qualified for next seasons U.E.F.A. Cup. It was a happy end to the league campaign, the last game of the season saw United beat neighbours City 2 – 0, Hill and Sammy Mcilroy scoring. The ’75 – ’76 F.A. Cup gave The Doc’s United an opportunity to shine. In the third round they dispatched Oxford United 2 – 1, another home tie in the fourth round United beat Peterborough 3 – 1. Wins against Leicester City and Wolves found United in a semifinal at Hillsborough, against Derby County.
“This is the first time the Cup Final has been decided at Hillsborough.”
Tommy Docherty, 1976.
Derby were a very decent team back then, United would have to roll their sleeves up. Fifty five thousand fans that day saw Gordon Hill come up with couple of well struck long range shots. Gordon Hill’s love for a good shot put United in their first F.A. Cup final for well over a decade. United’s opponents on that May Day Saturday at Wembley, was Southampton. The Saints had finished the season in sixth place in Division Two, United were strong favourites. It finished in a shock 1 – 0 win for Lawrie McMenemy’s Southampton. Bobby Stokes scored late in the game, the goal looking offside but the Ref deemed Buchan was just playing him on, or that’s what it seemed. Southampton had the luck that day. Only minutes after the whistle had blown for full time, The Doc publicly announced United would be back the following year to win it. So, United finished the season empty handed. However, with their best league placing in ages and F.A. Cup runners up credit under their belt, United had good reason for optimism for the future.
A buoyant United began the ’76 – ’77 season with a 2 – 2 draw against Birmingham City, after that they went on an unbeaten run until a 4 – 0 away defeat to West Bromwich Albion in mid-October. Docherty’s United side faltered early in that seasons U.E.F.A. Cup. After an impressive first round victory over Dutch giants Ajax, United went out in the second round to Italy’s Juventus. Against the Turin club United won the first leg 1- 0 at home, but it wasn’t enough to take to Italy, they went out losing 3 – 0. United’s League Cup campaign that season would end in early December, Everton put three past a below par United at Old Trafford. A dip in form for The Reds up to Christmas saw five defeats in the league. However, the Christmas and New Year’s schedule would yield better results. A 4 – 0 home win against Everton, a 2 – 0 New Year’s Day home victory over Aston Villa saw United heading into 1977 in good form. However, a further seven defeats in Division One saw United finish in sixth place on forty seven points. But this was United, and The Doc had a promise to keep.
That seasons F.A. Cup campaign began with a third round 1 – 0 home win to Walsall, Gordon Hill getting the only goal. After a fourth round victory over Queens Park Rangers, United were able to gain revenge for last season’s F.A. Cup final defeat. The fifth round saw United drawn against Southampton. After a 2 – 2 draw at The Dell, The Red Devils managed to prevail in the replay thanks to couple of goals from Jimmy Greenhoff, David Peach scoring the consolation goal for The Saints. United were two games from another F.A. Cup final. In the sixth round United beat Aston Villa at home, goals courtesy of Macari and Houston. United were in their second F.A. Cup semifinal in just over a year. It ended in the same way as the year before, with a victory for Manchester United.
They were through to a consecutive F.A. Cup final, this time The Doc’s United side would face arch rivals, Liverpool. Liverpool were at the beginning of their spell of dominance in the English game. Bob Paisley’s Liverpool were the best team in the country. Before 99,000 fans, Tommy once again led out his United team beneath its twin towers, onto the Wembley turf. United’s starting eleven that day was Stepney in goal, with a back four of Jimmy Nicholl, Brian Greenhoff, Arthur Albiston and team captain, Martin Buchan. In midfield was Sammy Mcilroy, Jimmy Greenhoff, Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill. The front two for United that day, Lou Macari and Stuart Pearson. David McCreery was United’s lone sub.
The first half ended goalless, there wasn’t much between the teams, Liverpool perhaps just shading the first half. Early in the second half, the final was won and lost. United drew first blood when Stuart Pearson got hold of a great pass from midfield, scoring with a great shot past Ray Clemence. However, we all know United don’t things the easy way. They allowed Liverpool to equalize only two minutes later with a Jimmy Case goal.
The final had woken up. Two minutes after Case’s goal, United wiped the smile from Liverpool’s face. Jimmy Greenhoff scored for United with a deflection from a Lou Macari effort on goal, it was Lou’s goal as much as Jimmy’s, but it didn’t matter. United were ahead, the proper red half of Wembley going mental with joy. With three goals in about five minutes, the 1977 F.A. Cup final was certainly one for the history books. Scottish captain Martin Buchan received the trophy, joyous scenes followed.
United players celebrating wearing United hats and scarves waving to the many thousands of victorious United fans. United ended the season F.A. Cup winners, a victory that would earn them a place in the following seasons European Cup Winners Cup. Docherty had succeeded in building young and vibrant United team, he built a team good enough to win silverware. However, for Man United fans and for Tommy, it was to come to a swift end after the F.A. Cup win at Wembley.
Not long after the dust had settled on United’s Cup win, the club had sacked The Doc. Docherty was having an affair with the wife of the team Physio, Laurie Brown. It’s a well-documented chapter of United’s modern history, it isn’t football related and I don’t feel comfortable writing about it, what I can say is that Tommy was replaced by Dave Sexton, the same Dave Sexton that replaced him at Chelsea years before. Docherty was a great manager for United, exactly the type of team boss that was needed by a United that was going downhill after the great days of the ‘60’s. Docherty’s United teams enhanced United’s reputation as a fast, free flowing, attacking team. Tommy did the United tradition proud, he lifted the team putting the club back on its feet.