Tommy Docherty at United 1972 – 1977

The Doc.

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. 

United, 1973.

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. 

Frank O’Farrell becomes 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.

Willie Morgan and Martin Buchan.

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.

The United legend, Brian Greenhoff.

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. 

Sammy McIlroy.

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.

Matt Busby welcomes The Doc to Old Trafford.

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.

Scotland coach.

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. 

Docherty on the training field.

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.

The Doc did his country proud as Scotland manager.

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. 

United’s Scottish contingent.

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. 

Lou Macari.

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.

Docherty with his assistant manager, Paddy Crerand.

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.

Bobby says bye bye to United, away v Chelsea, seen here with Matt Busby.

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. 

Welcome to Manchester Stewart Houston.

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.

Jim Holton.

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.

6ft 2, eyes of blue…

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.

Coppell, The Doc and Hill.

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.  

Willie Morgan.

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.  

The Lawman’s infamous goal.

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. 

Gerry Daly.

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. 

Gordon Hill.

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. 

Welcome to United, Steve…

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…

Maestro of the wing…

“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.”

Steve Coppell.

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.

Division Two Champions 1975.

“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.. 

Gordon Hill in that fantastic away kit.

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. 

Tracksuit anyone ?

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.

Stuart Pearson.

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. 

Jimmy Greenhoff.

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.

Jimmy and Brian, 1977.

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. 

Red Army.

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. 

David McCreery.

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. 

Docherty and Dave MacKay, charity match mid ’70’s.

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. 

Jim Holton with fans.

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. 

Steve Coppell, F.A. Cup seimifinal 1976.

“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. 

Upset for United, Wembley 1976.

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. 

Juventus v United, Turin 1976.

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.  

F,A,Cup final 1977.

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. 

Pearson scores for United, Wembley 1977.

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.

Victory over Liverpool meant The Red Devils had denied Liverpool the treble.

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.

United fans, Wembley 1977.

  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.

Manchester United, and The F.A. Youth Cup.

The Football Archive. Written By Richard Fenton.

An original Hallmarked Silver Plaque awarded to Shay Brennan of Manchester United after United Youth team beat West Bromwich Albion in the two legged finalin 1955.


As everyone knows Manchester United have such a rich history of youth football. It’s something that the club has prided itself upon, a long standing cornerstone of the Old Trafford club. Over time United’s reputation as a centre of youth footballing excellence became the envy of other football clubs around the world. Players such as Sir Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, Ryan Giggs, Eddie Colman, George Best, David Beckham and Gary Neville have all featured for United in the F.A. Youth Cup. With that in mind, it’s no surprise to learn that United have become the most successful club in the history of the Youth Cup. United’s proud record in the tournament is testament to the clubs youth coaches. The club has…

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Arsenal, From Dial Square to Copenhagen. A History…

Arsenal’s Victoria Concordia Crescit crest, 1949.


The team we know today as Arsenal Football Club, came into being in 1886.  The club was originally formed by the workers of the Royal Arsenal, based in Woolwich on the south bank of the river Thames.  Their first name was Dial Square, soon after they changed their name to Royal Arsenal.  Dial Square was a reference to the workshops at the centre of the Woolwich site, and in those days the boundary lines were a bit different. Back then they were in the county of Kent, today it’s south east London.  The main men back then who were responsible for the formation of the club were two gentlemen by the name John Humble and David Danskin.  Humble hailed from the north east, from County Durham to be exact.  He moved down to London to work at the Royal Arsenal in 1880. 

David Danskin.

An interesting fact about his departure from the north east to London was that he walked the entire way, a feat that made the newspapers of the day. Also, Humble was primarily responsible for the club turning into a professional organisation in 1891.  David Danskin came from in Fife in Scotland, he moved down to London to work at the Royal Arsenal in 1885.  Danskin was a keen footballer during his upbringing in Scotland, eventually playing at amateur level for local team Kirkcaldy Wanderers.  Once at the Royal Arsenal Danskin met other keen footballers, players that would be notable in the early history of Arsenal Football club such as Morris Bates and Fred Beardsley.  Danskin was very keen to get a football team together at the Royal Arsenal. The game in England was snowballing, becoming increasingly popular at all points of the compass.  It was Danskin who organized kitties to raise money for football equipment such as kit, etc, and it was Danskin who captained the Dial Square side during their very first match which was played against Eastern Wanderers; Dial Square won the game 6 – 0. 

John Humble.

As I’ve said the club turned professional in 1891, shortly after that milestone in the clubs history Danskin had the misfortune of failing to be reelected to serve on the club’s committee. It was an unfair and bitter pill to swallow for Danskin, after all that he had done for the club.  After severing all official ties with the club he went on to become involved in the setting up of the Royal Ordnance Factories football club, sadly they only lasted three years or so.  Despite his rough treatment from Royal Arsenal he continued to support them.  In later life he suffered from ill health, though he did live long enough to see the club flourish in the 1930’s. As the story goes he was sat up in his bed during a spell of feeling very off colour, to listen to the radio and support his team as Arsenal were competing in the F.A. Cup final of 1936. 

Woolwich Arsenal.

As far as home grounds are concerned Dial Square began playing their home fixtures at Plumstead Common in Greenwich in kit that was said to have been borrowed from Nottingham Forest. The fledgling team then moved into The Sportsman Ground.  However, due to substantial flooding of the Sportsman Ground in 1888 they moved to the nearby Manor Field. Shortly after that, the ground was named The Manor Ground.  In 1890 the club was on the move again this time to The Invicta Ground, which had a capacity of well over ten thousand.  Royal Arsenal’s eventual move into the professional game didn’t go down well with certain people.  As soon as they turned professional the club was handed a complete ban on entering competitions in the city of London, by the London Football Association.  The L.F.A. was established in 1882 and is still in business today, its main headquarters are in Fulham.  Pretty soon after the club was formed they began to win silverware, During the 1889 – 1890 season they won the Kent Senior Cup and the London Charity Cup. 

Plumstead Common, Greenwich.

In 1893 the club changed its name again, this time to Woolwich Arsenal.  It was around that time, that Arsenal became the first club from the south to enter Division Two. They were in the professional big time now, yet there was still quite a lot of opposition to the professional game.  In retaliation to the move into the professional game a few of the keen amateur Arsenal players went off to form a football team with the Royal Ordinance Factories, as already mentioned the team Danskin went on to assist with.  1913 was a very important year in the history of Arsenal, it was the year they moved into Highbury Stadium. There was to be another name change too. 

Woolwich Arsenal, 1895.

After moving into Highbury in Islington during the summer of 1913, the club removed Woolwich from its name. They were no longer in Woolwich, they were now a North London club. They were now called “The Arsenal”, the definite article becoming a part of the clubs name, it wouldn’t be until 1919 until they officially became “Arsenal”.  The early twentieth century was a period of improvement and progress for the club.  In 1899 the club appointed Lancastrian Henry Bradshaw as team manager, Bradshaw brought Arsenal’s first England international to the club, the goal keeper Jimmy Ashcroft.

Jimmy Ashcroft.

As any Arsenal fan will tell you Herbert Chapman is a giant in the history of Arsenal. A native of Rotherham, Chapman arrived at Arsenal in 1925. He would become giant of British football, not just of Arsenal. Before he arrived at Arsenal Chapman had won two Division titles, and the F.A. Cup as manager of Huddersfield in his native Yorkshire. Chapman’s positive impact was felt almost immediately at The Gunners, steering them to an F.A. Cup final in 1927. Sadly for Arsenal, that was the final which saw Cardiff City lift the F.A. Cup, the only welsh team to do so. Chapman’s first F.A. Cup triumph came in 1930, when The Gunners faced Chapman’s former club Huddersfield at Wembley Stadium. Thanks to two goals from Alex James and John Lambert, Arsenal lifted the F.A. Cup in front over ninety three thousand fans. Sadly, Chapman passed away early in 1934, aged only fifty five. A huge loss for Arsenal and British football. Incidentally, it was Herbert Chapman who decided it was time to put numbers on the back of the shirts, and it was Chapman who changed the kit colour scheme to include the white sleeves on the red home shirt.  The Arsenal shirt with the red body and white sleeves, is amongst the most recognizable in world football. A design classic that has endured over decades.

Herbert Chapman.


The home shirt from the ’81 – ’82 season is one of the most memorable in the clubs modern history. Just two colours, quite plain, nothing fancy.  Whilst pretty much every club in England at the time were sporting a vee – neck design on their shirts, the Gunners home shirt was a polar neck design. Even back then as a little kid, I remember thinking it looked quite old fashioned, like I’ve said everything other club were going for a more modern look to their shirts.  It was worn by some of the great players of Arsenal in the modern era like Alan Sunderland, David O’ Leary, Brian Talbot and Kenny Sansom.  At the time they were managed by Terry Neill who had played for the Gunners for eleven years, from 1959 to 1970.  The ’81 – ’82 season was the first season that Arsenal bore the name of a sponsor on their shirts.

Arsenal 1981 – 1982.

The Japan Victor Company, or J.V.C. as they’re better known, had the honour of being Arsenal’s first shirt sponsor.  That season they finished fifth in Division One, therefore qualifying for the following season’s U.E.F.A. Cup.  Due to a good season the previous year they had were in U.E.F.A. Cup for the 81 – 82 season, sadly for them they went out in the second round on goal difference to Belgian club F.A. Winterslag, interestingly Winterslag merged with Waterschei Thor in 1988 to form Racing Genk.  Arsenal had some good wins in Division One that season which included the 2 – 0 away win at eventual European Cup winners Aston Villa and the Gunners defeated Villa 4 – 3 at Highbury a little while later. 

March programme cover, Arsenal v Winterslag U.E.F.A. Cup 1981.

Surprisingly at the end of the ’83 – ’84 season, Arsenal failed to qualify for European competition.  Tony Woodcock finished that season as the Gunners top scorer with twenty three goals, but as the mid ’80’s approached the Highbury club were pretty much treading water.  That’s not to say they weren’t a decent side back then, because they were. The Gunners had a new team manager in Don Howe.  Howe was made caretaker boss after the sacking of Terry Neil during the Christmas of ’83, and he was named as permanent team manager at the end of that season.  Of course Howe was no stranger to Arsenal, he was a former player for the club who had played for Arsenal for a couple of seasons during the ’60’s. Also, he had been a very successful senior coach at Highbury after hanging up his boots.  Throughout his managerial career no matter which club he was at Howe liked to bring through the youth players into the clubs first team. Howe was manager of West Bromwich Albion when Bryan Robson emerged at The Hawthorns.  Now at Highbury, Howe brought in the young Tony Adams and David Rocastle. Adams and Rocastle would go on to be fantastic servants of Arsenal. 

Howe also brought Paul Mariner to Highbury during the February of ’84, and under Howe John Lukic’s career gained momentum.  Unfortunately for Gunners fans, they wouldn’t see Howe’s team lift any silverware.  Don Howe began his first full season in charge with a 1 – 1 home draw against Chelsea, the Gunners goal scored by Paul Mariner with Kerry Dixon finding the net for the west London club.  Arsenal’s first away game of that season involved a hundred and twenty five mile trip north to face Nottingham Forest, a home crowd of around 18,000 saw their team put Arsenal to the sword to the tune of two goals to nil.  Still looking for their first win of the season, Howe’s Gunners next game was away at Vicarage Road to face Watford. 

John Lukic.

The Arsenal fans had something to smile about finally as their team ran out 4 – 3 winners, a good away performance which included a couple of goals for Charlie Nicholas.  On the 4th of September Newcastle arrived at Highbury. The Geordie’s couldn’t have had a happy drive back to the north east, as they went down by two goals to nil. The Arsenal goals that day were scored by Viv Anderson and Brian Talbot.  Up next for The Gunners was a match at home, against Liverpool.  The Gunners turned in a very good performance recording a 3 – 1 win over their Merseyside opponents, their goals scored by Tony Woodcock with a brace from Brian Talbot. That victory over Liverpool put them top of the League for the first time in over a decade.  A week later the Arsenal team bus pulled up outside Portman Road, home of Ipswich Town.  It was a bit of a bad day at the office for Arsenal in Suffolk, as Ipswich ran out 2 – 1 winners. 

Viv Anderson.

That blip for Arsenal meant they were down to third in Division One. However, they were about to go on a five game winning streak which began at home against Stoke City.  The Potters were swept aside, the Gunners putting four goals past their opponents.  Arsenal’s goal scorers that day were Kenny Sansom, Paul Mariner and Tony Woodcock who scored a couple of which one was a penalty.  Next up was a good 2 – 1 away win against Coventry City, at Highfield Road.  Arsenal then beat Everton 1 – 0 at home before walloping Leicester City 4 – 1 at Filbert Street. A week later they beat Sunderland at home, 3 – 2.   

Kenny Sansom, before kick off against Australia, 1984.

Late October saw Arsenal looking like a team that could challenge for the title; they had reclaimed their place at the top of Division One.  However, a week after that win at home against Sunderland they travelled across London to Upton Park for a match with West Ham. A bad day at the office for the Gunners saw the Hammers run out 3 – 1 winners.  A few days later Arsenal travelled to Old Trafford, United took the points with a good 4 – 2 victory. After that defeat at Old Trafford, Arsenal slowly began to fall in Division One, by the end of January they were occupying fifth place after defeats at Carrow Road and White Hart Lane.  The F.A. Cup failed to bring any smiles to Highbury that season as they went out in the fourth round to York City. In the League Cup the Gunners underwent another humbling, as they were dispatched by Oxford United in the third round.  February was a mixed bag for the Gunners as they beat Liverpool 3 – 0 at Anfield, but in the very next game they lost 1 – 0 at home to Manchester United.  The end of ’84 – ’85 season saw Arsenal finish in seventh place in Division One. They were out of the usual European placings, but it would have made no difference had they finished top.  Following the European Cup final of 1985 between Liverpool and Juventus at the Heysel stadium in Belgium, English clubs were handed a lengthy ban in European Competition.  Following the violent behavior of many fans, thirty nine people lost their lives, not only that but around six hundred people suffered severe injury. 

The ’84 – ’85 season though ending in disappointment for the Gunners, was a season that offered optimism for the future. They had topped the league, played good football to put them there, and they had some class younger players coming to prominence in the first team.  They had suffered their fair share of injuries too, which surely played some part in their disappointing showing in the latter part of the 84 – 85 season.  So the Arsenal players had to go again in Division One.  Their first game of the 1985 – 1986 season was a big one, both for them and their opponents, Liverpool.  So, the 17th of August saw Arsenal travel the two hundred and ten miles to Anfield.  Two goals from Ronnie Whelan and Steve Nichol ensured the points went to the hosts. 

The Gunners were able to get their season back on track, when Southampton were the visitors to Highbury three days later. Despite Southampton’s David Armstrong scoring a couple for the Saints, it was Arsenal who were smiling at full time as they took all the points with a 3 – 2 victory. The Arsenal goals were scored by Stewart Robson, Tommy Caton and Tony Woodcock.  The Gunners next game in Division One after the win over Southampton was also at home; this time they would face Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United.  Just over 37,000 saw United win the game 2 – 1, Arsenal’s goal came courtesy of a penalty scored by Ian Allinson. United’s winning goals were scored by Mark Hughes and Paul McGrath.  After that Arsenal were off to Kenilworth Road for a meeting with Luton Town, the game finishing 2 – 2.   The Gunners then went on something of a run in Division One, winning games against Leicester City, Queens Park Rangers, Coventry City and Sheffield Wednesday.  Unfortunately their run of good form came to a halt when they visited Stamford Bridge, Chelsea claimed the points with a 2 – 1 win. 

Martin Keown.

That defeat in west London meant Arsenal dropped from third in the league to seventh.  Once again, the domestic cups would see the Gunners fall short.  In the F.A. Cup they fell in the fifth round, losing 3 – 0 to Luton Town at Kenilworth Road after a replay.  In the League Cup, another replay saw Arsenal bow out at the quarter final stage to Aston Villa.  The Gunners were only able to draw at Villa Park 1 – 1, yet despite being the favourites to advance to the semi’s with the replay at Highbury, it was Villa who progressed after a 2 – 1 victory.  December gave Arsenal fans reason to smile in the league.  Two consecutive victories against Liverpool at Highbury and then Manchester United at Old Trafford reminded people that Arsenal were a very decent outfit and had the ability to beat pretty much anyone.  Following that win at Old Trafford they beat Queens Park Rangers at home 3 – 1 thanks to goals from Tony Woodcock, Graham Rix and Charlie Nicholas.  Arsenal had a decent March on the balance of things, they went on another mini winning streak beating Aston Villa, Ipswich Town, West Ham and Coventry City. 

Tony Adams, 1986.

Graham’s Gunners.

The only fly in the ointment for The Gunners that March came late in the month, which saw them lose to north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur 1 – 0 at White Hart Lane. To make matters worse they then went down 2 – 0 at home to Watford.  March saw some upheaval for the Gunners of north London.  Late in March Don Howe handed in his resignation, replacing Don was George Graham who had impressed as team manager of fellow Londoners, Millwall.  It was down to George Graham that Millwall overcame the threat of relegation from the old Division Three, and over a short time win promotion to Division One.  Interestingly, the Arsenal board had their sights on Alex Ferguson; however Ferguson wasn’t interested moving south just yet, especially with the world cup coming up that summer, Ferguson would be leading Scotland to Mexico.  Arsenal would only go onto to win a further three games that season, it was another disappointing end to a season for the Gunners.  However, by the end of the ’85 – ’86 season Arsenal had a new manager who would instill a new fresh discipline into the Highbury club, things were about to improve for the Gunners.

George Graham is appointed Arsenal manager during the Spring of 1986.

So, for the 1986 – 1987 season Arsenal began a new campaign with a new manager installed.  George Graham had replaced Don Howe only a handful of months before in March.  Graham was charged with turning the under performing Gunners team into a side that won silverware.  The 1970’s had seen Arsenal win titles and other silverware and it was that winning mentality that the Arsenal board of directors wanted the club to return to, Don Howe’s Arsenal though far from a poor side never looked like likely candidates for the winners enclosure in the race for silverware.  Graham had impressed as team manager only about 6 miles or so away from Highbury at South Bermondsey club, Millwall.  Graham was named Millwall team boss during the Christmas of 1982.  In those four years that he was at the helm at Millwall he planted the seeds for The Lions that would eventually see them playing football in the English top flight only a few seasons later and along the way Graham took Millwall to glory in the Football League Group Cup. 

When Arsenal came calling Graham was not about to say no, he was an ex Arsenal player himself who had won not only the Division One title at Highbury but also the FA Cup in the same year, not only that but he also picked up a European Fairs Cup winners medal a year before in 1970 when Arsenal beat Belgian club Anderlecht 4 – 3 over two legs.  Yes, Graham had played for other clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester United, but his better days as a player were at Highbury, so for all intents and purposes when Graham agreed to manage Arsenal, he was going home.  When the ’87 – ’88 season began Arsenal’s first team squad was predominantly English with only a handful of none English players, such as the Scot Charlie Nicholas and Irishman Niall Quinn.  Graham’s Gunners began that season well with a 1 – 0 victory over Manchester United at home thanks to a Charlie Nicholas goal.  However their next two league games ended in defeat, losing 2 – 1 to Coventry City at Highfield Road and losing by the same score to Liverpool at Anfield.  Happily for Arsenal they were able to get their season back on track in their next game when they beat Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury 2 – 0, the goals coming courtesy of Niall Quinn and Tony Adams. 

Charlie Nicholas and George Graham, 1987.

Next up for the Gunners was a home derby match with Tottenham Hotspur, the game ended goalless. In fact their next two league games ended goalless, away at Luton Town and at home against Oxford United.  A week after that came Arsenal’s third defeat of the season, when they travelled north to Nottingham Forest. The Forest fans went home happy, after seeing their team record a 1 – 0 victory.  As October began the Gunners were to enjoy a run of victories, that would see them go from mid table to second in the league.  The 4th of October brought an away trip to Goodison Park to face Everton, the Gunners drove back back to London with a 1 – 0 victory.  A week later Watford were the visitors at Highbury. Two goals and a penalty from Perry Groves, Niall Quinn and Martin Hayes made sure the Gunners claimed all the points against The Hornets. 

Niall Quinn challenges Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall for the ball, 1987.

With team morale high the Gunners then travelled to the North East for a league meeting with Newcastle United, again Arsenal went home with the points thanks to a 2 – 1 victory. A week later Arsenal put Chelsea to the sword at home, winning the match 3 – 1.  November would also be a good month for the Gunners, they began that month with a 2 – 0 win away at Charlton Athletic.  West Ham temporarily put the brakes on the Arsenal winning streak when they held the Gunners at Highbury, the game finished goalless.   The 15th of November Arsenal were visiting The Dell, the Gunners made light work of Southampton. The Gunners hammered their opponents 4 – 0, the goals were scored by Perry Groves, Viv Anderson, Niall Quinn with a penalty again converted by  Martin Hayes.  That win at Southampton put them top of Division One.  As the Christmas of 1986 approached Arsenal were doing well in the league, top of Division One and looking like a good bet to lift the title in George Graham’s first full season.  In the League Cup, Arsenal were also looking very good.  That particular Cup campaign began with a 3 – 1 aggregate win against Huddersfield Town. After that in late October, came a  3 – 1 league victory over Manchester City at Highbury. In the fourth round of the League Cup, Charlton Athletic visited Highbury. Not surprisingly the Gunners booked their place in the next round, with a 2 – 0 victory.  Back in Division One after that fine win away at Southampton, Arsenal’s next fixture was a good 3 – 0 home victory against Manchester City.  The month of December in Division One brought a happy festive period for Gunners fans.  Their next two games brought seven goals for the Gunners as they beat Aston Villa away 4 – 0 and dispatched Queens Park Rangers at Highbury 3 – 1.  A 1 – 1 draw followed at Carrow Road against Norwich City. Thankfully for Arsenal, it was back to winning ways in the next match as they beat Luton Town 3 – 0 at Highbury, the goals coming from Martin Hayes, Niall Quinn and Tony Adams.  Another 1 – 1 draw away followed at Leicester City.

Martin Hayes.

However, Arsenal would end the year and began the new with a three games winning run, which began with two home wins which consisted of a 1 – 0 home win against Southampton then a 3 – 1 win against Wimbledon on New Year’s Day.  Arsenal’s second game of the New Year was 2 – 1 away win at Tottenham Hotspur.  Twelve days later Arsenal recorded a goalless draw at home against Coventry City, not really what they wanted going into their League Cup fifth round game against Nottingham Forest. No big deal, The Gunners beat Forest 2 – 0 which put them in the semifinal with neighbours Tottenham Hotspur.

Arsenal suffer defeat at Old Trafford.

Three days later the Gunners travelled north to face Manchester United, two goals by Gordon Strachan and Terry Gibson gave The Red Devils the points. They weren’t to know it, but that would be the last time that season that Arsenal would sit atop of Division One. After occupying top spot in Division One since the middle of October, the rest of season for Arsenal would be littered with disappointing results, therefore ruining any chance of the title.  Arsenals next game was the first leg of the League Cup semifinal with Tottenham Hotspur; Spurs surprised pretty much everyone when they took the game 1 – 0 courtesy of a Clive Allen goal.  Not to panic, Arsenal could remedy the situation at White Hart Lane three weeks later.  Arsenals next league game was against Sheffield Wednesday away at Hillsborough, the game ended all square 1 – 1.  Another away draw came next for the Gunners away at Oxford United. That February saw the wheels really begin to off Arsenal’s title challenge.  Following that disappointing goalless draw at Oxford in late February, Arsenal’s next six games went without a win. In fact they suffered five losses and a draw, those losing games were against Chelsea, Liverpool, Watford, Everton and West Ham. The draw came against Nottingham Forest with a goalless game at Highbury. 

Tony Adams.

For the remainder of the season the Gunners would lose a further three games. They would also win a further five games, but by now their title aspirations had long dwindled to nothing.  They finished the season in fourth place, a good improvement from the previous season but still very disappointing for them seeing as they were so dominant earlier that season.  However, George Graham’s first season in charge at Highbury was not about league title disappointment, it was about winning the League Cup.  So, following that narrow 1 – 0 home defeat to Spurs in the first leg of the League Cup semifinal, no one needed to remind the Gunners that they had some work to do to reach the final.  The second leg took place on the 1st of March at White Hart Lane.  It was Spurs who took the lead through Clive Allen, Spurs were 2 – 0 up in the tie and seemingly on their way to Wembley.  However, after half time Viv Anderson and Niall Quinn scored for Arsenal. The semifinal was all level at 2 – 2, that’s how the 2nd leg ended.  In those days away goals did not count double in draws, so another match would be needed to see who it would be going through to the final about a month later.  The venue for the replay was decided by a toss of a coin. Spurs won the toss so the replay would take place at White Hart Lane, only three days later.  As expected the game was a close one, half time came and it was goalless.  The first goal did not come until just after the hour mark, not surprisingly it was Clive Allen who found the Arsenal net.

Arsenal tackle neighbours Spurs in the League Cup semi final, 1987.

Spurs were ahead in the tie yet again.  Going into the last ten minutes of normal time it looked like Spurs had succeeded this time. It looked like it would the team from White Hart Lane who would be in the League Cup final, and not Arsenal.  Arsenal were not finished, with only minutes left Ian Allinson put the ball into the Spurs goal from close range. It would get even worse for Spurs, when in the 90th minute David Rocastle managed to shoot past goalie Ray Clemence. Arsenal were in the final, denying Spurs a day out at Wembley. It looked as though Spurs were going to do it, it looked as though Arsenals League Cup campaign would mirror their league campaign and fizzle out in the final stages. Happily for the Gunners, those two goals in the final moments of the replay were enough to send them to Wembley.  Even George thought Spurs had done enough to nick it…

“I thought we were out this time.  This equals anything I achieved as a player and I hope it’s just the start of a new era for this club.  When I took over this season I wanted to build a platform for success.  It’s happened quicker than expected.  I want this to be just the start. I’m so proud of my team.  I told you on Sunday not to under-estimate them and they’ve proved it again.  I didn’t expect to come back this time, but I wasn’t surprised.  We are very resilient and have that wonderful never-say-die attitude.  It’s incredible to think how they have responded to me so quickly.  I’m a new manager with a new system and they have accepted everything.” George Graham.

David Rocastle sends The Gunners to Wembley, 1987.

In the final Arsenal would meet Liverpool, the Merseyside club having got past Southampton in the other semifinal.  Both teams fielded strong teams and over 96,000 fans would witness a hard fought game of football.  It was Ian Rush who opened the scoring for Liverpool just after twenty minutes, but it didn’t stay like that for long. Only seven minutes later Charlie Nicholas had gained parity for the Gunners.  When the ref blew for half time, it was level at 1 – 1.  The second half was a mirror image of the first, neither team giving much away, both teams playing well in defence.  The winning goal didn’t come until the last few minutes of the game, and it was Charlie Nicholas again who netted for Arsenal. The Gunners managed to hold off the Merseyside club in the closing stages, to claim the League Cup.  It was George Graham’s first trophy as Arsenal manager. He had won silverware as an Arsenal player and now he had delivered silverware to Highbury as team manager of Arsenal Football Club. 

Viv Anderson with the Littlewoods League Cup, Wembley 1987.

Liverpool gained some measure of revenge in the opening game of the ’87 – ’88 season, when they defeated Arsenal at Highbury 2 – 1.  With the League Cup safely in the trophy cabinet and an improved finishing position in Division One, the Gunners had every right to feel good about the forthcoming challenges that the new season would bring.  So that opening day home defeat to Liverpool wasn’t what the Arsenal fans were looking for.  Arsenals second game of the new season was away to Manchester United, it finished 0 – 0.  Three days later, Queens Park Rangers would welcome the Gunners to Loftus Road. Sadly for the Gunners they went down 2 – 0, meaning they had only secured one point from nine.  Smiles were back on Arsenal faces at the final whistle in their next game, as they walloped Portsmouth 6 – 0. Alan Smith scored a hat trick that day with Paul Davis, David Rocastle and Tony Adams also getting on the score sheet.  Arsenal then drew 1 – 1 with Luton Town at Kenilworth Road.  Arsenal then rediscovered some of that excellent form from the early part of the previous season when they went on a ten game winning streak; actually they had surpassed themselves in all honesty.  Nottingham Forest, Wimbledon, West Ham, Charlton Athletic, Oxford United, Tottenham Hotspur, Derby County, Newcastle United, Chelsea and Norwich City all fell to Arsenal. 

Arsenal put six past Portsmouth, 1987.

During that run the Gunners scored twenty two goals and conceded only five, when they had beaten Newcastle United they were sitting once again on top of Division One.  That run came to end when they lost 1 – 0 at home to Southampton, the next game wasn’t what they wanted neither losing 2 – 0 away to Watford.  The 1987 – 1988 season was now beginning to mirror the previous season, Arsenal’s second half of the season saw them drop points to teams that they shouldn’t have been dropping points to.  During the Christmas games they lost at home to Nottingham Forest 2 – 0 and lost away to Wimbledon 3 – 1.  The January of 1988 saw the Gunners lose away 2 – 0 to Liverpool and in the very next league game they lost 2 – 1 at home to Manchester United.  Towards the end of the season they lost away at Southampton 4 – 2 and lost 1 – 0 at home to Watford.  The final game of the league campaign saw a decent away win at Goodison beating Everton 2 – 1.  Arsenal finished 6th in Division One.  Their F.A. Cup campaign finished at the 6th round stage losing 2 – 1 at home to Nottingham Forest. It was a similar story to what happened the previous season in the F.A. Cup when they went out at the 6th round stage courtesy of a home 3 – 1 defeat to Watford.  Arsenal continued to enjoy the League Cup that season as they once again reached the final, hot favourites to retain their trophy in the final against Luton Town.  However, no one had told Luton Town, the Hatters took the trophy from the Gunners with a 3 – 2 victory. 

The Gunners are beaten by Luton Town in the League Cup final, 1988.

As we all know the 1988 – 1989 season was to end in tragedy following the Hillsborough disaster, on the 15th of April 1989. For Arsenal, that season was to end in Division One title glory. As the ’88 – ’89 season began, there was one player in defence at Highbury who was really beginning to impress, Lee Dixon. With Viv Anderson being sold to Manchester United, Arsenal were in the market for defenders. Along with Steve Bould, Dixon was transferred from Stoke City during the January of 1988. Dixon was a superb defender, a world class right back who could be relied upon to play well in other positions on the pitch. Dixon is a Mancunian, born in 1964 he grew up a big Manchester City fan. His professional career began at Burnley in 1982, not as a defender but as a winger. He became known for his accurate crosses, his quick mind and his pace. After leaving Burnley, Dixon had spells at Chester City and Bury before joining The Potters in 1986, for a fee said to be around £50,000. It was in the lower leagues that Dixon switched to defence, and honed his skills as a right back. Now an Arsenal player, Dixon would go on to be the first name on the team sheet for the Gunners defence for more than a decade. Lee Dixon would go on to play in the best teams that Arsenal fans have ever seen.

Lee Dixon signs for The Gunners, 1988.

The early part of the ’88 – ’89 season saw Arsenal pick up silverware, in the form of The Football Centenary Trophy. This trophy was won via a five week mini tournament as part of the Football League celebrating a century of association football. The tournament consisted of the top eight teams of Division One of the previous season. In the final the Gunners met Manchester United at Villa Park, Arsenal won the match 2 – 1. It was around this time that the club said goodbye to a couple of popular players, Steve Williams and Kenny Sansom. The Gunners began that season at Plough Lane, they handed Wimbledon a 5 – 1 thrashing. That was a game which saw recent signing Alan Smith score a hat trick, Smith was another great signing by George Graham. The tall and pacey striker joined the Gunners from Leicester City early in 1987, like Dixon he would go on to win a clutch of trophies and winner’s medals whilst at Highbury.

Tony Adams seen here with Steve Bould and Paul Merson with the Centenary Trophy.

The second game of that season saw the Gunners at home against Aston Villa, surprising everyone the Midlands club took the points thanks to a 3 – 2 victory. On their way to winning the title, the Gunners were to lose six games that season. Along with Villa, we saw Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County, Coventry City and Nottingham Forest succeeded in taking all the points in encounters with the eventual champions. It was Derby County who did the double over the eventual champions that season, winning 2 – 1 at the Baseball Ground and by the same score at Highbury. That season The Gunners did the league double over their North London neighbours. The first meeting for Arsenal with Spurs was early in the season, on the 10th of September away at White Hart Lane. The final score was 3 – 2 in Arsenal’s favour, their goals scored by Nigel Winterburn, Brian Marwood and Alan Smith. The corresponding fixture later in the season at Highbury saw Arsenal boss the game, to win 2 – 0. Football fans were to be entertained with a compelling Division One that season, it was a season with a surprise or two. Norwich City came from no where really to surprise everyone with a great team performance, spending much of their league campaign at the top.

Nigel Winterburn.

Many people had them down for relegation that season, Norwich City had other ideas. After an impressive season, The Canaries would eventually finish in fourth, they also reached the semi final of the F.A. Cup that season. Nottingham Forest also had a very good campaign, they would finish the league in third place. Forest not only lifted the League Cup that season after a 3 – 1 victory over Luton Town at Wembley Stadium, they also won the now defunct Full Members Cup. Arsenal’s league meetings with Forest and Norwich would yield some interesting results. The points would be shared between Arsenal and Forest for that season. Early November saw the Gunners visit the City Ground for their league game with Forest. Thanks to goals from Alan Smith, Steve Bould, Tony Adams and Brian Marwood, Arsenal came away with all three points after an impressive 4 – 1 victory.

Martin Hayes seen here with Gary Crosby of Nottingham Forest, 1989.

Later that March Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest were at Highbury, Forest paid back the compliment winning 3 – 1. With Norwich, Arsenal took four points out of a possible six. On the 10th of December that season in front of just over twenty three thousand fans, Arsenal took a point from a goalless encounter with Norwich at Carrow Road. The Gunners would host Norwich towards the end of the season, on the 1st of May. That game saw Arsenal record their biggest win of the season, courtesy of a 5 – 0 victory.

Arsenal put five past Norwich, 1989.

Liverpool would never stray that far from the top of Division One that season, as current English champions they were keen to retain their title. Arsenal’s first meeting in Division One with the defending champions Liverpool was in early December. By now, the Gunners were regularly fielding a first eleven entirely made up of Englishmen. You could have made a good case for this all English Arsenal side being better than the then actual England team. It was an all English Arsenal team that faced Liverpool at Highbury that December, in the league. After an expected closely fought match the game ended in a 1 – 1 draw, the spoils shared between the teams. Arsenal’s corresponding fixture with Liverpool at Anfield would come on the final day of the league season, it’s a game that would go down in the history of Arsenal as one of the finest in the clubs history, but more on that game later…

Match programme cover when Liverpool came to Highbury, December 1988.

Not only would Arsenal do battle with Liverpool as far as the league was concerned, they would also have something of a ding dong toe to toe meeting with them in the League Cup that season as well. The Gunners were drawn away to Liverpool in the third round, David Rocastle found the net for Arsenal at Anfield, the match finished with a 1 – 1 scoreline. A further two replays would be needed to decide this third round League Cup tie. The first replay between the two teams took place a week later at Highbury, it finished goalless. A few days later the the two teams reconvened at Villa Park, this time Liverpool prevailed with a 2 – 1 victory over the Gunners. Liverpool were dumped out of the League Cup in the following round, hammered 4 – 1 at West Ham. Late March saw the Gunners go to Southampton and wallop the Saints 3 – 1, the Arsenal goals coming from Groves, Rocastle and Merson. Their next game was away at Manchester United, the Gunners had to settle for a point following a 1 – 1 draw. That away game at United was a strange one for Tony Adams. After putting his side one nil up in the 78th minute, Adams scored an own goal and therefore United’s equaliser seven minutes later. After the Old Trafford match, Arsenal had only seven games left of the their season.

Manchester United’s Guiliano Maiorana goes past Arsenal’s Paul Davis, left, and Lee Dixon. April 1989.

Of course, this was the season that witnessed the Hillsborough tragedy in Sheffield. The game was an F.A. Cup semi final, Liverpool’s opponents were Nottingham Forest. It was an atrocious disaster that saw 96 Liverpool fans lose their lives, the lives of many more such as family and friends changed forever. The rescheduling of matches in the wake of the Hillsborough tragedy meant Arsenal’s league match with Liverpool was pushed forward, by about a month. By around the middle of April and with only a handful of games remaining in the league, Arsenal had built a five point lead on Liverpool with the Merseyside club having a game in hand. Liverpool went on to win all their remaining games, they had one game of the season left which was the rearranged fixture with Arsenal at Anfield. With three games of the league season remaining, The Gunners welcomed Derby County to Highbury.

Derby County defeat The Gunners at Highbury.

As I mentioned earlier, The Rams did the league double over Arsenal that season. Derby County left Highbury that day with all the points thanks to a 2 – 1 victory, the Welsh striker Dean Saunders scoring both goals for the visitors. It must have looked to onlookers that The Gunners were determined to throw away any chance of the league title away. From a Highbury point of view, it turned out a great season for Arsenal. However, it could have easily turned to disappointment for The Gunners. It’s fair to say that they did drop points at places where they really should claimed all the points. The home match in the January of that season with Sheffield Wednesday which finished 1 – 1, and the game at Queens Park Rangers which ended goalless about a month later could have proved particularly expensive for the Highbury club.

Match programme cover from Arsenal’s trip to Loftus Road.

Title Winner’s!

On the 17th of May with two games left of the season in Division One, fellow London side Wimbledon arrived at Highbury. Like the home game against Sheffield Wednesday and like the match at Q.P.R., this home fixture with Wimbledon was one The Gunners should have won comfortably. The match finished in a 2 – 2 draw, again it was a careless two points dropped by Arsenal. Whilst The Gunners were dropping valuable points, Liverpool won their next two league games which were against West Ham United and Queens Park Rangers. Liverpool had been here before, experienced defending champions, with the know how to take them to another Division One title. They had only just won the F.A. Cup only days before, beating their Merseyside neighbours Everton 3 – 2. Liverpool were going for a league and cup double, and few people were betting against them. Going into the final league match of the season Liverpool had a three point lead at the top of Division One.

Match programme cover from the Wimbledon home game with saw The Gunners drop two points.

It looked as though The Gunners had spewed it, they would go to Anfield with a bit of a mountain to climb. So, Liverpool were top on seventy six points, Arsenal were in second on seventy three points. On paper it was as close as you could decently get with Liverpool winning twenty two and Arsenal twenty one. Both teams had drawn ten matches in the league, Liverpool’s goal difference was plus thirty nine, Arsenal plus thirty five. To remove the one hand Liverpool had on the Division One Championship trophy and claim the title as their own, Arsenal had to win by two clear goals. With the league statistics of the two teams so similar, the why’s and wherefore’s of Arsenal needing a 2 – 0 victory were complicated to say the least. I’ll save you the long winded explanation, the main jist was this… A 2 – 0 victory for The Gunners would be good enough for them to win the title on goals scored, because both Liverpool and Arsenal would have been tied on plus thirty seven goal difference. A 1 – 0 win for Arsenal wouldn’t have been enough, a 3 – 0 victory would have given Arsenal the title on goal difference.

Battle Royale, Anfield 1989.

Arsenal hadn’t won at Anfield in fifteen years, not since Bertie Mee’s Gunners recorded a 3 – 1 win during the November of 1974. That year was a good one for The Gunners at Anfield, late on during the previous season they had driven home with a 1 – 0 victory. Fifteen years later Arsenal were still waiting for that next league win at Anfield. So, on the evening of the 26th of May both Liverpool and Arsenal made their way out onto the Anfield turf. A surprisingly small crowd of just under forty three thousand to witness such a title play off was at Anfield that warm and pleasant evening. Liverpool’s team consisted of Bruce Grobbelaar in goal, with Gary Ablett, Alan Hansen, Steve Staunton and Steve Nichol in defence. In midfield they had Ray Houghton, Steve McMahon, Ronnie Whelan and John Barnes. Playing up front for Liverpool that night was John Aldridge and Ian Rush, so Liverpool were playing in the traditional 4 – 4 – 2 formation. George Graham’s Arsenal lined up with John Lukic in goal, David O’Leary, Nigel Winterburn, at right back was Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Tony Adams, David Rocastle, Kevin Richardson, Michael Thomas, Alan Smith and Paul Merson. Arsenal manager George Graham had endeavored to instill a sense of calm within his team, before the media he was eager to play down what many thought was a bridge too far for Arsenal.

“…So, there’s no reason why we can’t come up here and do really well. No one fancies us outside Highbury, so we can relax and enjoy the game and hopefully get the goals that we need. I keep reading the papers thinking it’s a waste of a journey coming up here. It’s a nice situation to be in really, because we can get out there and as long as we can keep a clean sheet for a long period of the game there’s always a good opportunity to score some goals…” George Graham, pre match interview.

The Arsenal wall, Anfield 1989.

The Gunner’s side was heavy in defensive ability actually deploying three centre backs. During the game the visitors would pack the midfield and often play with a lone striker. The odds weren’t in Arsenal’s favour that night at Anfield, neither was history. However, if there was any team around at that time that had the players to claim a 2 – 0 victory at Anfield, it was Arsenal. Understandably the media made a bit of a fuss over the fixture, the game was live on television at a time when live football on the box wasn’t anywhere near as regular as it is today. The first half ended goalless, both teams having trouble creating clear goal scoring chances. About thirty minutes into the game Liverpool had to replace Ian Rush, who sustained an injury. On came substitute Peter Beardsley. Despite not scoring themselves, Arsenal did well in limiting their opponents with chances to score, The Gunners were working hard. As they drank their half time cup of tea in the dressing room, the Liverpool team knew they were forty five minutes away from a league and cup double. However, Arsenal were not about to throw the towel in. Only a few minutes into the second half Arsenal found themselves 1 – 0 up. The Gunners were on the attack when they were awarded a free kick, about forty yards out from the Liverpool net. The resulting cross from Nigel Winterburn into the Liverpool penalty area found Alan Smith’s head. The most subtle of glancing headers enabled Smith to score his twenty fifth goal of the season. Smith’s goal changed the complexion of the game changed in an instant, it was game on. Both teams battled on in the second half, Liverpool began to see more of the ball but were unable to level things up in the match. With about fifteen minutes left of the game the score was still 1 – 0 in Arsenal’s favour. Following instructions from the bench, The Gunners switched to a more attacking 4 – 4 – 2 formation. Arsenal were now going for it, the defensive set up with which they started the game now discarded. When they weren’t having to defend Arsenal were throwing everything at Liverpool now, even sacrificing defender Steve Bould to bring on an extra striker in Perry Groves.

Ian Rush of Liverpool is challenged by Nigel Winterburn, Anfield 1989.

As I said earlier, the Liverpool players were experienced players and defending champions. However, in the final quarter of the game the home team were now playing by the seat of their pants. Everyone associated with Liverpool be they fans, players, manager or kitchen staff just wanted the final whistle. Both teams were visibly tiring as the second half was drawing to a close. With an Arsenal title winning victory on Anfield soil now a possibility certain Liverpool players took to using time delaying tactics, feigning injury, etc. With around twelve minutes left of the game the Liverpool right back Steve Nichol went to ground very easily in the Arsenal penalty area looking for a penalty, not surprisingly the referee wasn’t having any of it. An injury to Arsenal midfielder Kevin Richardson brought a stop to the play, the game was going into time added on. In those days there was no time added on indication for fans or people watching at home, there was no match official coming out to stand on the side line with a board with an illuminated number on it.

Tony Adams in action for Arsenal at Anfield, 1989.

How much time would the referee add on to the game? As far as the story goes, the Liverpool players thought they was only a minute left. With the time it took to treat Richardson’s injury taken into account, the truth was the ref would add on a bit more than a minute. With only moments left of the game, Arsenal went on to produce one of the finest moments in the clubs history. With the ball at the feet of John Barnes, a grateful John Lukic was able to claim the ball from the incoming Liverpool midfielder. Lukic then gave the ball to Lee Dixon who floated a great pass on to Alan Smith who passed the ball on to Michael Thomas about twelve yards out from the Liverpool eighteen yard box. With the ball at his feet Thomas ran with it, avoiding a challenge by a desperate Liverpool defence he put the ball past Grobbelaar. The Gunners had done it, it was 2 – 0. The host’s didn’t have much chance to respond after the restart, the ref blew for full time. Interesting to note that it was on Sir Matt Busby’s eightieth birthday, that Liverpool were denied the title. The title was Arsenal’s, the first time since 1971. Also interesting to note is that Liverpool legend Alan Hansen, would not have been handed a medal if his team had prevailed. Hansen had only played six league games that season for Liverpool, when you needed ten games under your belt to receive a medal.

Champions 1989.

Success In Europe.

Another great night in the history of Arsenal Football Club, occurred five years after that fantastic night at Anfield. Of course I am talking about the 1994 European Cup Winner’s Cup final in the Danish capital Copenhagen. The Gunner’s had qualified for the now defunct European tournament by defeating Sheffield Wednesday in the previous season’s F.A. Cup Final, albeit The Gunners did need a replay to lift the trophy. In the first round The Gunner’s were drawn against the Danish cup winner’s, Odense Boldklub. The first leg of the tie took place in Denmark, at the Odense Stadion. The Gunner’s recorded a 2 – 1 over in Denmark, the goals coming from Ian Wright and Paul Merson. The second leg at Highbury ended goalless, The Gunners were through to the second round. In the second round, Arsenal met Belgian club Standard Liège. This second round tie of the ’93 – ’94 European Cup Winner’s Cup would give Arsenal its record high score in European Football.

Standard Liège players not looking too happy about facing Arsenal in the European Cup Winner’s Cup, 1994.

For the first leg of the second round the Belgians travelled to Highbury, at the time Standard were managed by René Vandereycken, the well known former Belgian international. When the referee blew for full time the tie was effectively over as Arsenal had just put three into the Belgian’s net without reply, the goals coming from Paul Merson with Ian Wright with a couple. In the second leg in Liège, Arsenal ran riot winning the game 7 – 0, a record high score for them in European Football. Of course, Gooner’s will tell you that feat was equaled years later in 2007, when The Gunners put seven past Slavia Prague in the U.E.F.A. Champions League. That great second round win for Arsenal put them in the quarter final, awaiting them was Italian club Torino.

Arsenal away in Turin, 1994.

It was during early March of 1994 that The Gunners walked out at the Stadio Delle Alpi, the stadium Torino then shared with their more famous Turin neighbour Juventus. Arsenal did well in Turin, not conceding a goal. Torino gave Arsenal a much sterner test in that quarter final than the clubs The Gunners had met earlier in the tournament that season. The Torino team arrived at Highbury about two weeks later, still very much in the tie. It was a closely fought match, the Italians always looking to attack. Happily for The Gunners, just after the hour defender Tony Adams headed into the Torino net from close range following a cross into the Italian penalty area. In the semi final Arsenal faced French club, Paris Saint – Germain. The first leg took place later that month at the Parc Des Princes. Around forty eight thousand fans in the stadium saw The Gunners strike first, about ten minutes before half time. The goal was scored by Ian Wright, who was by now well on his way to proving himself an Arsenal Great. The Gunners left the Paris with a valuable away goal, yet they still had to get past a very good side in P.S.G. if they were to reach the final. There was some great players in that Parisian side back then. George Weah was at the club then, only a year later he would win the coveted Ballon d’Or. By the time his playing career had ended, Weah had won a host of individual awards as well as silverware in France, Italy and England. David Ginola was also at P.S.G., Ginola would go on to win the League cup with Tottenham Hotspur in 1999. The second leg produced an early goal, scored by Arsenal’s Kevin Campbell in the seventh minute. The Gunners were to keep the French side at bay, they were on their way to Copenhagen and the final of the European Cup Winner’s Cup! The only downside was they would be without Ian Wright who would miss the final due to suspension. In the final The Gunners met another Serie A side in the form of Parma. The Crusaders had earned their place in the final by defeating Benfica of Portugal in the other semifinal. Parma were defending champions in this tournament, they were looking to become the first side to retain the trophy. Not only did they win the E.C.W.C. the season before but they also lifted the Super cup too, beating fellow Serie A side A.C. Milan.

Arsenal fans in Parma, 1994.

That early to mid ’90’s Parma team were a class outfit, not surprisingly the players became much sought after by other clubs following their European success. In that Parma team was such players as Gianfranco Zola, Lorenzo Minotti and Faustino Asprilla. They were quite a sight at home in Italy and in Europe, a team that came from pretty much no where in their bright yellow shirts, writing themselves into the history books. Their purple patch was bright but brief, because as mentioned everyone wanted those players. The final of the European Cup Winner’s Cup for the ’93 – ’94 season took place on the 4th of May at the recently built Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, the first time the final had taken place in Denmark. Parma were then managed by Nevio Scala, the former Italian midfielder. Scala had enjoyed a long playing career, playing for many Italian clubs including A.C. Milan and Fiorentina. Nevio Scala would manage Parma for seven years, in the process becoming the clubs most successful manager.

Alan Smith scores for Arsenal in Copenhagen, 1994.

This was to be the first time the clubs had met in European competition, both teams an unknown quantity to each other. For the final George Graham once again sent out an all English Arsenal team. It consisted of David Seamen in goal, now long established as Arsenal’s first choice goalie and another example of a fine English goalkeeper. In defence was Lee Dixon, team captain Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn. In midfield Arsenal had Paul Davis, Ian Selley and Steve Morrow. Paul Merson, Kevin Campbell and Alan Smith would play up front. Nevio Scala’s Parma started the final with Luca Bucci in goal. In defence was Antonio Benarrivo, Alberto Di Chiara, Luigi Apolloni and Roberto Sensini. The Parma team captain Lorenzo Minotti would play as a sweeper between defence and midfield. As you would expect from an Italian team, Scala’s Parma was a team with a strong rear guard. With Minotti in there, they could easily switch to a five man defence! In midfield for Parma was Gabriele Pin, Thomas Brolin and Massimo Crippa, with Gianfranco Zola playing just behind lone striker Faustino Asprilla. Parma began the game the better team, within minutes giving Arsenal’s back four something to worry about, the Italian club by far the more relaxed in the early stages of the game. In the fourteenth minute the Swedish international Thomas Brolin hit the Arsenal post from about twelve yards out, Parma were outplaying The Gunners. Surprising everyone and against the run of play, Arsenal took the lead in the twentieth minute. Just outside the Parma eighteen yard box Alan Smith received the ball, from a wayward clearance from the Parma defence. Smith caught the ball sweet on the half volley, right into the Parma net, 1 – 0 Arsenal!

Alan Smith with the European Cup Winner’s Cup, Copenhagen 1994.

Parma continued to press The Gunners, Asprilla being particularly bothersome to the Arsenal defence. With about a quarter of an hour of the first half remaining Gianfranco Zola almost gained parity for his team, when his free kick from just outside the Arsenal area went very narrowly over the cross bar. When Václav Krondl the Czech referee blew for half time, The Gunners still had their lead. The second half wasn’t too dissimilar from the first. Seamen in the Arsenal goal was called upon to make decent saves, and the Parma forward line continued to squander good goal scoring chances. The referee blew for full time, The Gunners had won the 1993 – 1994 European Cup Winner’s Cup!

Bryan Robson, The Original Captain Marvel. A Tribute.

“This Sheffield United right back was kicking me in one game, giving me a few verbals and it affected me a bit.  I said to Robbo “That right back’s just said he’s going to break my legs”, Robbo said to me “Did he?  You come and play midfield, I’m going to play left wing for ten minutes”.  We swapped positions.  Robbo soon came back and said “Aye, you’re alright now, go back over.”  Problem solved!”.  Ryan Giggs.

“With this player you’re not taking a gamble, what you’re buying is pure gold”.  Ron Atkinson.


England’s lion.

Above are just two of the many quotes, describing the kind of player Bryan Robson was during his playing career, a midfield general who was the finest of his generation and an England captain unequaled.  Robson was born in 1957 in Chester – Le – Street in County Durham, to Brian and Maureen.  Chester – Le – Street is right in the northern part of Durham, only seven miles or so from Newcastle upon Tyne. 

Bryan Robson (holding the ball) in a Chester-Le-Street and Washington Boys under-14 team photo in 1971.

Robson was actually brought up in the village of Witton Gilbert, until he was around six years old. The family then moved fifteen minutes or so up the road, to Chester – Le – Street.  Bryan has an older sister and two brothers, Gary and Justin who were both football players themselves.  Gary would go on to play for West Bromwich Albion for eleven years, turning out for the Baggies from 1982 to 1993.  Interestingly, the late great England and Ipswich manager Sir Bobby Robson was born in Sacriston, a stone’s throw away from Witton Gilbert. 

Bryan’s younger brother Gary also turned out for The Baggies, spending over 12 years at the club.

As a boy Robson was a Newcastle United fan and his hero was Wyn Davies, the Welsh striker who spent five years at St James’s Park.  Incidentally, Davies would have a brief spell with Tommy Docherty’s Manchester United during the ’72 – ’73 season. Aged eleven years of age Robson began attending Birtley South Secondary Modern, shortly after he moved to the Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy. 

Wyn Davies, Bryan Robson was a fan.

The young Robson wasn’t just turning out for the school team, he was the team captain.  At this time he was also in playing for the Washington and District side, again as team captain.  As a youth Robson had trials with a few professional clubs including Sheffield Wednesday, and his boyhood team Newcastle United. However, it would be West Midlands club West Bromwich Albion who would secure the young Robson’s signature during the summer of 1972. 

The young Robson impressed at The Hawthorns.

Aged only fifteen years of age, Bryan Robson was now a West Bromwich Albion player, albeit as an apprentice earning five pounds a week, which would rise in his second year to eight pounds a week.  The team manager of West Bromwich Albion at the time was Don Howe, a former Baggies right back who played for the club for twelve years from 1952 to 1964.  Howe was from nearby Wolverhampton, only ten miles or so from West Bromwich.  Howe was a very decent right back, who would earn twenty three international caps with England. Unfortunately, his time as first team manager at The Hawthorns didn’t go as well as he would have liked. 

Not surprisingly the young Robson became a crowd favourite at The Hawthorns.

The West Bromwich Albion that the young Robson had just joined had seen some success in recent years. They had won the League Cup in 1966 beating West Ham; interestingly that ’66 League Cup final was the last time the League Cup final would be contested over two legs.  They had reached the final again the season after, but the red hot favourites were beaten by Division Three side Queens Park Rangers.  In 1968 Alan Ashman’s West Brom had lifted the FA Cup, beating Everton 1 – 0 in the final at Wembley Stadium, the winning goal scored by club legend Jeff Astle.  A season later they had shared the Staffordshire Senior Cup, with Stoke City. 

The Baggies win the cup ! 1968.

They reached the League Cup final once again in 1970, but were beaten by Manchester City. A year later they made the final of the now defunct Watney Cup, being narrowly beaten by Colchester United.  Don Howe had played a major role in Arsenal’s double success of 1971; he was the number two to the then Arsenal team manager Bertie Mee.  Don Howe was named as team manger of West Bromwich Albion during the summer of 1971, sadly though as I‘ve ready said his stay at The Hawthorns wasn’t a successful one.  At the end of the ’72 – ’73 season West Bromwich Albion finished bottom of the old First Division. 

Don Howe.

In those days only two teams were relegated from Division One, joining Albion in Division Two for the following season would be Crystal Palace. The board of directors at The Hawthorns kept faith with Don Howe, believing their manager was the best man to guide them back to the top flight. The following season West Brom finished in eighth place in Division Two. Any hopes of an immediate return to the top flight were dashed by poor form therefore poor results, which included a heavy home defeat to the tune of 4 – 0 to eventual Division Two champions Middlesbrough. Now in the second year of his apprenticeship Robson made his appearance for the Baggies that season in a reserve team game, away to Everton at Goodison Park.

West Bromwich Albion 1973 – 1974.


1974, Robson’s career well underway.

During the close season of 1974 Robson signed his first ever professional contract, a contract that was said to have included a two hundred and fifty pounds signing on fee, his weekly wage increasing to twenty eight pounds a week.  The summer of 1975 was a very good one for Bryan Robson’s career, still finding his feet in the professional game the fledgling professional was called up for the England Youth team for what was termed the Mini World Cup. 

1975, Robson was part of the English Under 18 squad that beat Finland’s Under 18’s 1 – 0 at the Stade de Suisse in Berne, a mini world cup style tournament.

He was in the squad as a defender, a centre half.  A midfielder by trade, his performances as a utility player at The Hawthorns did not go unnoticed.  It was a great summer for the eighteen year old Robson; the English team went on to win the tournament beating Finland in the final by a goal to nil. 

A young Robson at West Bromwich Albion, in between Tony Brown and John Osbourne.

Whilst at West Bromwich Albion, if the young and still inexperienced Robson needed influence and example of club loyalty and everything of that nature, he had joined the right club in Albion.  When Robson’s professional career was in its early days, the Baggies had three players in the team that can be genuinely be considered legends of the club of the modern era. 

Robson made the most of his football education at West Bromwich Albion.

Jeff Astle was still at The Hawthorns when Robson began there; Astle had scored the only goal of the game in the 1968 F.A. Cup final against Everton to give the Baggies their fifth F.A. Cup.  Astle was a hugely popular figure in English football back then, he continued to be so long after he hung his boots up. Astle was at Albion for ten years from 1964 to 1974, and was an integral part of that successful late ‘60’s period for the Baggies. 

Jeff Astle, 1973.

Len Cantello was another class act in the Baggies team, another great example for the young developing Robson.  Mancunian Cantello was at West Brom for eleven years, playing over 300 games for the club.  Cantello was a no nonsense hard tackling midfielder, pretty much exactly the same type of midfielder Robson would develop into.

Also in that West Brom side was Tony Brown.  Brown was born in Oldham but his family moved to the Wythenshawe area of Manchester when Tony was still a very young child.  Not surprisingly Tony grew up a Manchester United fan, his hero was Denis Law.  Like Cantello, Brown was a very capable midfielder who had a penchant for scoring great goals.  Tony Brown would go on to claim a couple of records as a West Bromwich Albion player.  He’s made the most appearances for the club, turning out for the Baggies in well over seven hundred games, and he is their all-time top goal scorer with nearly three hundred goals. 

Tony Brown.

So yes, the young Robson had some very great examples to draw upon in that West Bromwich Albion team of the mid 1970’s.  The Albion side of that time were now treading water, the following season they finished in sixth place in Division Two, their domestic cup campaigns that season were brief.

Going places !

They went out of the League Cup in the third round to Norwich City, and Carlisle United put them put them out of the FA Cup in the fourth round.  As West Brom endured some uncomfortable times, the young Robson was working hard at The Hawthorns.  Although now turning out for the reserves on a regular basis, he was still waiting for this call up to the West Brom first team.  1975 saw Don Howe part company with Albion, with only three games of the season remaining Howe was replaced by Brian Whitehouse. 

Brian Whitehouse, far right in the above pic, seen here visiting a young West Brom fan named Denis Homer, at home in Dudley, 1958.

Like Howe, Whitehouse was a former Albion player who finished his playing career with Leyton Orient, in the late 1960’s. It was Brian Whitehouse who gave the eighteen year old Robson his first senior game for the Baggies during an away match at York City, the Baggies winning the game 3 – 0. Robson scored his very first goal for Albion in the very next game versus Cardiff City, the Baggies winning 2 – 0. Robson was on a roll, in the final game of the season he found the net again against Nottingham Forest.

Robson seen here in action for The Baggies, against Manchester United.

Only weeks later Whitehouse was replaced by Johnny Giles, who arrived at The Hawthorns from Leeds United.  Giles was employed by the Baggies as player manager.  Giles would more often than not pick himself for the central midfield role, therefore curtailing game time opportunities for Robson although Robson would be used to an extent as a utility player playing in the defence by manager Giles.  Baggies fans were celebrating at the end of the ’75 – ’76 season as their club won promotion back into Division One, finishing in third place behind champions Sunderland and Bristol City in second place.  It was only down to goal difference that the Baggies finished in third place, they finished that season level on fifty three points with second placed Bristol City.  It was a close run thing though; Bolton Wanderers finishing in fourth that season only a point behind West Bromwich Albion.  So now, the young Bryan Robson was a First Division player for the first time in his career. 

West Bromwich Albion 1975 – 1976, promoted !

Things were looking up for the young Robson as not only was his club now in the English top flight, but as the new season gathered pace he was seeing more first team football.  It was while playing as that midfielder turned defender very early that season, that Robson underwent the first serious injury of his professional career.  During a match with Tottenham Hotspur, he broke his left leg. After a period of recuperation he made his comeback in a reserve game against Stoke City, unfortunately for him the same leg was re-fractured on the original break.  After getting over that set back Robson returned to first team football for the Baggies that Christmas, thankfully no more injuries occurred which enabled him to enjoy an unbroken run of games in the first team. 

Back in Division One, the Baggies were now a team to be reckoned with.

The March of 1977 was a great month for Robson; firstly he received another international call up for the recently established England Under 21 squad, and secondly he found the back of the net for Albion. Unfortunately for him, Albion put the kibosh on this as the club had an important league game against Manchester United at Old Trafford coming up and the club were once again battling for a European place.  That match at Old Trafford ended in a 2 – 2 draw, the young Robson scoring one of the goals against the club where he would become a legend of world football. Thirdly, it was during that month that Robson scored his first hat trick, against Ipswich Town, the Baggies winning 4 – 0.  

W.B.A. earn a draw at Old Trafford, Mar 1977, the young Robson one of the scorers for the Baggies.

It was around this time that Robson got his first international call up, for the England Under-23 squad.  However, bad luck would strike again as he sustained another injury during a game with Manchester City, this time it was a  broken ankle.  As far as the club were concerned it was a good first season back in the First Division, they finished in seventh place on forty five points, two points behind Manchester United. During the April of that season player manager Johnny Giles resigned, he would later return to The Hawthorns during the 1980’s.  Replacing Giles in the June of ’77 as team manager would be Ronnie Allen.  Allen was a former Baggies player, playing for them as a striker from 1950 to 1961.  He was sold to West Bromwich Albion by Port Vale, for a then record fee of twenty thousand pounds with Allen scoring on his debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers in a 1 – 1 draw.   Allen left his position at The Hawthorns only months later that Christmas, to take up the position of advisor for the Saudi Arabian national team.  In came John Wile to take the managerial reins for only a matter of days, in the January of 1978 West Bromwich Albion appointed Ron Atkinson as team manager.  Atkinson had impressed as manager of Cambridge United, taking them to promotion to Division Three as Division Four champions. 

In 1978 West Brom named Ron Atkinson as team manager, an extremely good working relationship with Bryan Robson was about to begin.

Atkinson had done sterling work at Cambridge United, with Scotsman John Docherty as his deputy. Docherty would replace Atkinson as Cambridge United manager, and would lead them to promotion again finishing as runners up to Wrexham.  One of Atkinson’s first tasks as Baggies manager was knocking holders Manchester United out of the F.A. Cup in the Fourth round. That cup tie finished 1 – 1 at Old Trafford, in the replay Albion won 3 – 2.  Now a first team regular, the young Robson showed his worth in that cup tie against the team he would go on to be a legend of and Atkinson was forced to have a rethink about his emerging midfielder…

A couple of pages from the match programme from Ron Atkinson’s first game in charge at West Bromwich Albion.

“I didn’t rate Robbo at first. All I could see was the permed hair that made him look like Kevin Keegan. At the time I thought that was all that they had in common. But I was wrong. I had to play him as centre half in an FA Cup replay early in 1978, ironically against United and he obliterated Joe Jordan. He was 19, and he was magnificent. A brain rocking revelation. He never looked back after that.”  Ron Atkinson.

Robson would go on to be a fantastic captain of England.

That season’s F.A. Cup threw up quite a few surprises, not least the Fourth round tie between Blyth Spartans of the Northern Premier League and Stoke City of Division Two. It was a cup tie which saw Blyth beat Stoke 3 – 2 at the Victoria Ground, therefore becoming the first non-league side to reach the Fifth round of the F.A. Cup in nearly thirty years. Incidentally, three days later Manchester United bought Scottish international Gordon McQueen from Leeds United, for a fee of around £495,000.  After a few seasons of managerial musical chairs and indifferent form following their return to the First Division, Atkinson’s arrival breathed new life into the West Midlands club.  Atkinson’s first signing for Albion was Brendan Batson, who Atkinson brought in from his old club Cambridge United.  That meant Batson was now playing alongside Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham, which meant the Baggies became the first team in British football to regularly field three black players. 

Baggies On Tour !

At the end of that season Albion finished in sixth place, not really an improvement in league position but they were playing better football and Robson was an important part of that improvement and it meant Robson and team mates had next seasons U.E.F.A. Cup to look forward to.  Their first U.E.F.A. Cup tie of the ’78 -’79 season was against Turkish side Galatasaray; the first leg took place at the Ali Sami Yen Stadium, the then home of Galatasaray.  It ended in smiles for the English team as they ran out 3 – 1 winners.  Robson scored his first goal in European football that night in Istanbul; it didn’t take him long, finding the Turkish goal in the sixth minute.  Laurie Cunningham provided the Baggies with their other two goals.  Back at The Hawthorns the Baggies carried on where they left off, winning by the same score 3 – 1.  

1978, Robson now a vital part of a very good West Brom side.

Once again Robson opened the scoring for Albion, this time in the thirty third minute. John Trewick and again Laurie Cunningham, also found the net.  West Bromwich Albion sailed into the next round on the back of an impressive 6 – 2 aggregate win.  In the next round the Baggies faced Portuguese team, Sporting Clube de Braga.  The first leg took place in Portugal.  No bother for the Baggies as they flew back home with a 2 – 0 victory, both goals scored by Cyrille Regis.  At The Hawthorns the Baggies won 1 – 0, courtesy of a Tony Brown goal.  That meant they were into the third round, and it was in the third round where the Baggies produced arguably their best ever result in European football.  They were drawn against Valencia of Spain, the first leg taking place in Spain. 

Ally Brown scores against Braga.

The Baggies earned themselves a creditable draw, the game finished 1 – 1. The Albion goal was scored by Laurie Cunningham in the 48th minute that leveled the game, Robson played beyond his years that night, gaining valuable experience for the years to come.  By now Robson was being touted a future England star, but his international call up would have to wait.  Back at The Hawthorns the Baggies ran out 2 – 0 winners, therefore eliminating one of the tournament favourites.  Unfortunately for West Bromwich Albion, their European adventure would come to an in the quarter final against Yugoslavia’s Red Star Belgrade, losing narrowly 2 – 1 on aggregate. 

The Baggies defeat Spanish club Valencia.

Domestically, the Baggies had their best season for some time, the developing Robson now a very valuable player for the club.  Albion began that 78 – 79 domestic season in fine form with a 2 – 1 home victory against Ipswich Town, they then went to Loftus Road and beat Queens Park Rangers by a goal to nil. In the next game they beat Bolton Wanderers, at The Hawthorns 4 – 0.  Robson scored his first goal of the season during a home draw with Norwich City, the game finishing 2 – 2.  Robson scored fourteen goals in all competitions that season, like I said West Bromwich Albion had a good season that year, they finished in third place only a point behind Nottingham Forest in second place with sixty points. 

Robbo standing strong against the Spanish giants, December 1978.

The Christmas fixtures for that season were extremely good for Robson and Albion, which began with a 3 – 0 away win at Wolverhampton Wanderers.  They then went to Highbury, returning home with a 2 – 1 victory. That game saw Robson get on the scoresheet, along with Ally Brown.  West Bromwich Albion then went to Old Trafford, for a meeting with Dave Sexton’s Manchester United. 

A young Robson drums a beat at a charity event, in Sandwell 1979.

The last match of the year for both teams saw the two side’s field strong sides.  United’s starting eleven consisted of Bailey in goal with Brian Greenhoff, Stewart Houston, Gordon McQueen, Martin Buchan, Steve Coppell, Sammy McIlroy, Jimmy Greenhoff, David McCreery, Andy Ritchie and Mickey Thomas.  Albion lined up with Tony Godden, Derek Statham, Brendan Batson, Tony Brown, John Wile, Ally Robertson, Robbo, Len Cantello, Cyrille Regis, Ally Brown and Laurie Cunningham. 

Atkinson’s West Brom side give United a spanking, Old Trafford December 1978.

It was a match full of incident and goals, both teams having chances to score. United were even awarded an indirect free kick inside the Baggies eighteen yard box, both teams seeing the funny side as they enacted a mock rugby scrum before the free kick was taken.  It was United who took the lead, when the much missed Old Trafford legend Brian Greenhoff hit a superb ball into the Baggies net, following a Sammy McIlroy corner.  Another footballing legend made it one each not long after. A pass into the United goal via a cleverly dummied ball by Laurie Cunningham enabled Tony Brown to level the game, Robson being the first to congratulate Brown.  The Baggies made it 2 – 1 in their favour following another piece of clever football, on the edge of the United eighteen yard box that allowed Len Cantello to fire in a great shot past Gary Bailey. 

Tony Brown opens the scoring for Albion, Old Trafford December 1978.

United gained parity thanks to Gordon McQueen, when the big Scot scored from a header after Stewart Houston had floated a ball into the Albion goal area.  United then took the lead when Sammy McIlroy dribbled his way into the Albion box, before slotting the ball past Tony Godden in the Baggies net, 3 – 2 United.  It was Robson who could have equalized for Albion after being put through on goal by Tony Brown with an inch perfect pass, luckily for United Bailey made the save.  The Baggies leveled the game when Tony Brown, having a great game for his team, poked the ball into the United net from only yards out.  That’s how it finished in the first half, the fans of both teams being treated to a forty five minute goalfest.  West Brom took the two points with a couple of goals in the final fifteen minutes of the second half. Laurie Cunningham made it 4 – 3 to the Baggies with a well placed shot past Bailey.  Cyrille Regis made it 5 – 3 for Albion with only moments left of the game, slotting into the net via a good pass from Ally Brown. 

England’s finest.

It finished United 3 West Bromwich Albion 5, despite the loss the United fans had to admit they had seen a great game of football.  After that impressive win Robson would go on to score a further four goals that season, twelve goals in all competitions.  The following February, Robson made his Under 21 debut in a 1 – 0 win over Wales.  A few months later in June he made his debut for the England B team in a game against Austria, Robson scoring the only goal of the game.  Domestically, the season after was a bit of a disappointment for the Baggies finishing mid table. 

Bryan Robson, England star. 1980.

Despite this drop in form for Albion, Robson had been heavily touted for a full international debut, and this he achieved in the February of 1980 against The Republic of Ireland at Wembley Stadium, England running out 2 – 0 winners.  Robbo would have to wait until his thirteenth international to claim his first goal for England.  Unfortunately for England, Robson’s debut goal came in a 2 – 1 defeat to Norway.  It was the match that is famous for the post match words of Norwegian commentator, Bjørge Lillelien.  “Maggie Thatcher, blah blah blah, your boys took a hell of a beating…”, well that game saw Robson’s first full international goal for England. 

As the 1980’s began Bryan Robson began to assert himself in England’s midfield.


During the summer of 1981, Ron Atkinson left West Bromwich Albion to become the manager of Manchester United. The Red Devils enjoyed an impressive end to the ’80 – ’81 season winning their last seven games, which included a 2 – 1 win over Albion. Despite this, the writing was on the wall for United manager Dave Sexton.  Sexton had been manager at Old Trafford for four seasons and had still to bring any silverware to the club.  Yes, there had been near misses such as runners up in an F.A. Cup final and a runners up place the season before in the First Division, only finishing two points behind champions Liverpool.  However, the board of directors at United were ready for new hands on the managerial reins and to be honest, so were the fans.  The first couple of players Atkinson brought to Old Trafford was Remi Moses and Bryan Robson, and the latter was about to begin his journey with the world’s biggest and best supported club. Bryan Robson would go on to become a true legend of club and country.  Of course, the day that Robson sat at that table on the Old Trafford pitch before the Wolves game to sign his contract flanked by Atkinson and Edwards, has been well documented.

Here’s to the future !

To have Robson sign his United contract on the pitch, was actually the idea of the then club chairman Martin Edwards. It was an idea designed to convey the message to the fans and the rest of the football world that after the disappointing days under Sexton, United were now committed to bringing back eye catching exciting football to Old Trafford.  After his success with Albion that saw him take them to their best finish in Division One, the acquisition of Atkinson was a good move by United. With a new dynamic manager on board, and spending enough money to make the best young player around the most expensive player in British football, Manchester United were certainly making a concerted commitment for the future. 

Robson and United, a marriage made in heaven.

Robson cost United a million and a half, with hindsight it was a drop in the ocean for what he gave to United, the bargain of the century. Robson made his debut for United in a League Cup game, unfortunately United were beaten by Tottenham Hotspur.  He made his league debut for United in the Manchester derby, a game that ended goalless; incidentally that game against City was the first time Robson wore the number seven shirt for the Red Devils.  As the ’80 – ’81 season began at Old Trafford there was a renewed sense of purpose at the club, Robson’s arrival pleased the fans no end, they were fully aware what a great player he was at Albion. Robson wanted to go to United as soon as he knew United were interested in him.

“Money wasn’t my main motivation. I simply wanted to be a winner.” Bryan Robson.

“As soon as I took the job, I wanted Robson. When I was at Albion he’d put in a transfer request, slipped a letter in my office when he’d come back from being away with England. So I called him in and he said, “Well United are after me.” “My reply to him was ‘I tell you now for nothing, the only way you’ll go to Man United is if I go there before you!’ The day I got the United job Robbo was out in Switzerland with the England team, and he’s on the ‘phone: “Gaffer, remember what you said?” Talk about managers tapping players up – he was tapping me!” Ron Atkinson.

Bryan Robson and Frank Stapleton in action for United v Sunderland, March 1982.

Bryan Robson scored his first goal for United during a 5 – 1 demolition of Sunderland at the then home of the Mackems, Roker Park.  As the season wore on, United’s new midfield general showed time and time again why United had made him the most expensive player in British football.  Excellent performances on the pitch at Old Trafford and during away games in the Division One were to make him an England regular, England’s number seven for years to come.  In the run up to the 1982 World Cup in Spain Robson found the net for England numerous times, including scoring a couple in a victory over Finland.  Ron Greenwood was now the England team manager, and like Atkinson at Old Trafford, Robson was the first name on Greenwood’s England team sheets.  A rejuvenated United finished that season in third place, the club was now playing that cavalier attacking football that they had gained a reputation for under Busby. Robson was one of the main reasons for that, combative and strong with a cast-iron will to win.  If the United team was made of Robson’s, goalie, defenders etc., they would have won the league by Christmas every season, as well as winning the World Cup, Grand National and Wimbledon. Simple as that really. 

Soon after his arrival at Old Trafford, Robson quickly drew praise from the media.

The last couple of games of the season saw Robson score in both, a great way to sign off for the season.  The penultimate match of United’s season was away at Robson’s former club, West Bromwich Albion. The Red Devils took the points with a convincing 3 – 0 win. Joining Robson on the score sheet that day, was Garry Birtles and Steve Coppell.  The final game of the season was at home to Richie Barker’s Stoke City. Robson and Big Norman Whiteside gave United a 2 – 0 home win.  Robson enjoyed a great first season with United. No silverware yet, but United were playing better football the old United way.

United Captain.

Under Atkinson, a very good team was emerging with new players such as Frank Stapleton and Norman Whiteside and a new captain in Bryan Robson.  Atkinson made a good start as United boss, however he did make the odd strange decision, such as the decision not to re-sign Gordon Hill for United when he had the chance.  With the ’81 – ’82 season over, Robson had the 1982 World Cup in Spain to look forward too, not to mention European football with United when the new season began.  England played their final qualifying game for the World Cup the previous November, a 1 – 0 victory over group winners Hungary at Wembley Stadium.   

England book their place at World Cup 82 with a 1 – 0 win over Hungary, Wembley Stadium 1981. Goalscorer Paul Mariner is seen here being congratulated by Bryan Robson with United teammate Steve Coppell. Phil Neal, and Terry McDermott are also pictured.

England qualified as runners up, level on points with Hungary. It was a group that saw the Magyars qualify as group winners, courtesy of goal difference.  In Spain, England were based in the northern city of Bilbao, there they would play their group games at the San Mamés Stadium, the home of Athletic Club of Bilbao.  Ron Greenwood’s England team were drawn into Group 4 alongside France, Kuwait, and Czechoslovakia.  England’s opening game with France, was all about Bryan Robson.  Mick Mills of Ipswich Town was the England captain for that world cup, Robson would see the captain’s armband shortly after, but for now he was on the pitch as a midfielder, alongside United teammates Steve Coppell and Ray Wilkins.

Bryan Robson of The Three Lions.

Wearing the number sixteen shirt,  Robson didn’t wait long to announce himself on the international stage. Just twenty-seven seconds into the game up pops Robson to put England one-nil up.  That goal by Robson had United written all over it. As soon as the game kicked off Ray Wilkins found Steve Coppell on the right with a long pass. After a French challenge, the ball went out for an England throw-in. Coppell threw the ball into the French eighteen-yard box, the ball was flicked on which found Robson only yards out. United’s record transfer player blasted the ball into the French goal, 1 – 0 England in less than thirty seconds. 

Bryan Robson, record breaker ! World Cup 1982.

Robson’s world cup record for scoring the fastest goal in a world cup game would stand for twenty years. In 2002 Hakan Şükür of Turkey took the record scoring in ten seconds against South Korea.  Just over twenty minutes later the French leveled the game.  About twenty minutes into the second half Robson made it 2 – 1 for England, with a skillful header following a cross into the French area by Trevor Francis.  England made sure of the win with a Paul Mariner goal about six minutes from time, England winning 3 – 1. England won the group, winning all three of their games which meant they would progress into the second round group stage, into Group B with West Germany and host nation Spain.  England drew 0 – 0 with both nations, West Germany beat Spain 2 – 1 so they progressed into the semifinals.  England were going home, knocked out of the tournament despite being unbeaten in the tournament.  

Robson writes himself into the history books v France, World Cup 82.

Once back at Old Trafford for the beginning of the new season, Atkinson made Robson club captain. The Red Devils had a decent start that season, the opening game had finished in a 3 – 0 victory for United over Birmingham City, the goals coming from Kevin Moran, Steve Coppell and Frank Stapleton.  Robson now wearing the captain’s armband, scored his first goal of the season in the next game. It was away to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest, the game ending in another 3 – 0 win for United. Joining the captain on the score sheet that day was the late great Ray Wilkins, and the young Norman Whiteside recently brought into the first team from the youth set up. United it seemed were motoring along, very nicely. 

First time on the international stage Robson impressed everyone.

There was a buzz about Old Trafford back then, the club had a young and dynamic captain, quickly proving himself the best midfielder in the game with a manager that was outwardly positive and extrovert. The team was full of class players such as Norman Whiteside, the finest youngster in world football who had broken records at the recent world cup in Spain.  However, the United team back then wasn’t immune from the occasional disappointing result, and that’s what happened after the victory at the City Ground.  United went to The Hawthorns, to Robson’s former club West Bromwich Albion. Despite Robson scoring again for United, the Red Devils were beaten 3 – 1.  The following game was Everton at home, this time United put a shift in and won the game 2 – 1, Robson scoring again with young Whiteside getting the other.  Unfortunately, United’s European exploits that season would come to an end before they could really get started. 

Bryan Robson scores in Valencia, U.E.F.A. Cup 29th September 1982.

With hindsight, the old adage of close but no cigar would be the story of United’s European endeavors during the 1980’s.  That season United went out to Spain’s Valencia in the first round of the U.E.F.A. Cup.  It was a narrow loss, after drawing 0 – 0 at Old Trafford United lost 2 – 1 in Spain.  United’s scorer in Spain? Yep. Bryan Robson.  However, that disappointing introduction to cup football for that season for Robson and United would soon be forgotten as United began to gain a reputation as the best cup side in the land.  Robson’s career and reputation as a world-class midfielder and leader on the pitch was snowballing.  Only days after England had been knocked out of the world cup in Spain that summer, Bobby Robson the then Ipswich manager was made the new England manager.  It was the late great Sir Bobby Robson who made Bryan Robson England captain. Robson’s first match as England captain occurred that November.  A European Championship qualifying match against Greece in Salonika, saw Captain Robson’s England run out 3 – 0 winners. 

Manchester United 1982 – 1983 Squad.

At United that season Bryan Robson would lead United to third in the league, and two cup finals.  After defeating Bournemouth, Bradford City, Southampton, Nottingham Forest, and Arsenal in the two-legged semifinal, United found themselves in the first League Cup final in the club’s history.  They would face Liverpool in the final at Wembley Stadium.  Unfortunately for Robson and United, he had sustained an injury in the semifinal against Arsenal. Robson had actually torn his ligaments in his ankle.  In Robson’s absence, Ray Wilkins wore the captain’s armband in that final.  The Shankill Skinhead Norman Whiteside opened the scoring for United early in the game in the twelfth minute, Liverpool didn’t equalise until late in the game. The final went into extra time and it was Liverpool who nicked it courtesy of a Ronnie Whelan goal.  Liverpool saw a lot of luck in that final, the biggest slice of luck they had was seeing Robbo having to sit this final out. 

Without Robson United suffer League Cup final disappointment, Wembley 1983.

During his playing career Bryan Robson lined up against Liverpool many a time and many a time he bossed the midfield, getting the better of the Liverpool midfield.  The F.A. Cup of that season was to prove no different for United and Robson.  In the third round of that season’s F.A. Cup United faced West Ham at Old Trafford, a cup tie proving no bother for United as they ran out winning 2 – 0.  The fourth round brought a game with Luton Town away at Kenilworth Road, again United emerged the winners to the tune of 2 – 0.  In round five Derby County were the opposition, United travelled to Derby’s Racecourse Ground, they left with a 1 – 0 win the goal scored by Norman Whiteside. In Round Six United faced Everton at home, Frank Stapleton’s goal giving United a narrow 1 – 0 win.   United were now in the semifinal. Facing them at Villa Park would be Arsenal, the same team they faced and beaten a couple of months previous in the semi of the League Cup.  Robson had by now recovered from those torn ankle ligaments and was ready to lead his team to victory at Villa Park.

Arsenal actually had the audacity to take the lead, a goal by Tony Woodcock putting the London club ahead in the thirty sixth minute.  The Gunners may have taken the lead but it was against the run of the game.  Aided and abetted by Norman Whiteside, Robson was running the midfield. Those strong runs from the middle of the park giving Arsenal much to think about.  When the ref blew for half time, Arsenal were still leading by a goal to nil.  Well, we all know what happened, United came roaring back to win the game 2 – 1.  If you had read the magazine articles about that semifinal back in 1983, you would have found out that in the dressing room at half time being a goal to nil down Ron Atkinson and the United players had taken the decision to go for it in the second half.  United had been the better team in the first half and they knew it but they found themselves a goal down, feeling a tad hard done by they decided to do something about it.  The second half began like the first half had, with United on the front foot. 

Not surprisingly, only four minutes into the second half United gain parity with Arsenal.  After a neat ball from Ashley Grimes Robson got the ball and went past Brian Talbot like he wasn’t there, Robson then fired a great shot into the Arsenal goal, United were level.  As the second half wore on United were gradually turning the screw on their London opponents.  With about twenty minutes left of the game United made sure of another Wembley appearance, when Big Norm rocketed a shot into the Arsenal goal.  United Great Arthur Albiston was the architect when he put the ball into the path of Norman Whiteside. With the ball bouncing Whiteside hit a beautiful volley, past the Arsenal goalkeeper.  Arsenal made an effort to get themselves back into the game, but it was no use, United were bossing the game.  Even an injured Kevin Moran having to be stretched off wasn’t enough to put the Red Devils off their game. 

When the ref blew for full-time United became the first team in English football history becoming the first team to get into the finals of both domestic cup finals in the same season.  This match was another example of Bryan Robson taking the bull by the horns.  After having to go through the disappointment of missing the League Cup final through injury, he wasn’t about to miss out on another final and with him being on the pitch he was able to do something about it. Robson bossed the midfield from start to finish in the F.A. Cup semifinal at Villa Park.

“It was probably my favourite away ground to play at. I enjoyed the big pitch, it was almost always in good condition and I liked the fact that it was a proper traditional football ground. Tony Woodcock had put Arsenal 1-0 up, but then just after half-time I managed to get the equaliser, it was a great moment.  To have won the semi-final and be on the way to Wembley was fantastic.” Bryan Robson.

She wore a scarlet ribbon in the merry month of May…

Atkinson’s United would face Brighton & Hove Albion, in the final at Wembley Stadium. The south coast team had beaten Sheffield Wednesday in the other semifinal at Highbury in London, but United were the favourites to lift the cup.  The final was penciled in for the twenty first of May. Injuries had been kind to both managers, Ron Atkinson and Jimmy Melia could pick from a fully fit squad.  With both teams playing a 4 4 2 system it was Brighton who gave United something to think about early in the game.  Brighton had reached the F.A. Cup Final on the back of a disappointing domestic season in the Division One. Despite making the first F.A. Cup final in the clubs history, they were relegated to Division Two along with Manchester City and Swansea City. However, the Seagulls weren’t going to go down with a fight, they could yet end the season with a smile and put some serious silverware on the mantelpiece for the first time in their history.  Luckily, Robson came out of that semi victory over Arsenal without injury. The way he had put himself about on the pitch at Villa Park and emerge unscathed, was a victory in itself. 

Bryan Robson of United (shakes hands with Tony Grealish of Brighton before the F.A. Cup Final, Wembley Stadium 21st May 1983.

A hundred thousand fans greeted the teams as they emerged from the tunnel and made their way onto the hallowed turf of Wembley Stadium.  Of course it was final that would need a replay. The first game was an edge of the seat affair, the south coast team playing above themselves.  Indeed, it was Brighton who took the lead courtesy of a Gordon Smith goal.  United wouldn’t draw level until ten minutes into the second half, thanks to a goal from Frank Stapleton.  United took the lead in the seventy second minute when Ray Wilkins scored a beauty from the edge of the Brighton eighteen yard box. Brighton weren’t finished, equalizing with only three minutes to go. Brighton could have won it in the final moments of the match, had Gary Bailey not been on his game. 

The late great Ray Wilkins, scorer of a truly beautiful goal, in the 1983 F.A. Cup final.

The replay was five days later, and this time United rolled up their sleeves and made sure of another cup win with a commanding display, not least from team captain Bryan Robson.  It was Robson himself who opened the scoring in the replay, after about twenty-five minutes into the game. Five minutes later Norman Whiteside scored to make it 2 – 0, in United’s favour.  With only moments left of the first half remaining, Robson found the net again to make it 3 – 0 for The Red Devils.  About halfway into the second half, Dutch ace Arnold Mühren scored from the penalty spot to make it game, set and match to the Red Devils.  Bryan Robson lifted his first trophy as United captain, there would be more to come. 

The 1983 F.A. Cup, Robson’s first trophy with United.

It was a fitting end to the season for United and Robson, their best finish to a domestic league campaign for years and a F.A. Cup win with a record score line for an F.A. Cup final.  That summer United met Liverpool again in the Charity Shield, this time United had Robson on the pitch, fit and ready to face Liverpool.  The game finished 2 – 0 to United, Robbo scoring both goals, Liverpool were beaten again. You can’t help thinking the League Cup final of only a few months before would have turned out differently had Robbo been fit and on the pitch.

Bryan Robson, scourge of the scousers.

Twelve games into the new season of ’83 – ’84 and United had won eight, lost three and drawn one, Robson at that point had scored three goals.  United were unable to sustain a serious challenge for the title, eventually finishing that season in fourth place.  The F.A. Cup holders relinquished their hold on the trophy after an embarrassing defeat in the third round, against lower league team Bournemouth. Their interest in the League Cup would end in the fourth round, following defeat to Oxford United.  Because of that F.A. Cup win the season before, United were entered into the European Cup Winners Cup for the following season.  Although United would fail to reach the final that season, once again Bryan Robson would once again prove his worth to United, providing another example of the kind of player he was in the red shirt of Manchester United.  United’s first-round opponents were Czech side Dukla Prague, the first leg at Old Trafford ended in a 1 – 1 draw, Ray Wilkins scoring for United. Over in Prague at Dukla’s Juliska stadium United came away with a hard-earned 2 – 2 draw, the goals scored by Robbo and Frank Stapleton. So United were through to the second round via the away goals rule. 

Not quite a Dukla Prague away kit, but a Dukla Prague away Programme, United in Czechoslovakia.

Another eastern European side awaited the Red Devils in round two, in the form of Spartak Varna of Bulgaria.  United had an easier time against Spartak. The first leg was away, taking place in the Black Sea city. United won the game 2 – 1, Robson once again finding the net, along with Glaswegian Arthur Graham.  Back at Old Trafford, the Bulgarians were put to the sword courtesy of a couple of goals from Frank Stapleton, United winning the tie on aggregate 4 – 1.  United were in the quarter-final. Facing them would be Spanish giants Barcelona, a side which featured Diego Maradona and Marcos Alonso.  The first leg took place in the Nou Campe, Barcelona won the game 2 – 0.

United left Barcelona with it all to do.

On paper that 2 – 0 victory looked quite comfortable for the Spanish team, but in truth that’s not the case.  It was a close game, neither team looked as though they were going to run away with it. Barcelona had class players on the pitch, but so did United. The Spanish club only took the lead courtesy of a mistake from United defender Graeme Hogg, who was unfortunate enough to score an own goal.  1 – 0 became 2 – 0 in the last moments of the match, when Juan Carlos Rojo found the United net.  The Red Devils could think themselves hard done by, although they now faced something of a mountain to climb to reach the semifinal of the European Cup Winner’s Cup. 

A couple of weeks later Barcelona arrived at Old Trafford, the Spanish team confident they were only ninety minutes away from a European semifinal.  Atkinson had told his team to forget about the undeserving disappointment of a fortnight before and concentrate on winning the game at Old Trafford, hoping it would be enough to see them through.  As the Italian referee blew for the game to commence the terraces of Old Trafford were rocking.  In those days Old Trafford was a much more compact ground to how it is today. A few days after my sixteenth birthday myself along with 58,000 other fans in the ground that night made sure this game would go down in the history as one of the great nights of Manchester United. 

Robson delivers for United, v Barcelona 1984.

Of course United had to take the game to their Spanish opponents, and that’s exactly what they did.  Robson put United ahead with little more than twenty minutes gone, a diving header only yards from the Barcelona goal line but there was no denying Robson that night, as the ball hit the onion bag Old Trafford exploded with noise and cheers.  Robson made it 2 – 0 a few minutes into the second half, again putting the ball in the Barcelona goal from not very far out.  It was 2 – 2 on aggregate, and to be honest the Spanish side were on the ropes, Maradona and his famous skills nowhere to be seen.  Only a couple of minutes or so after Robson making 2 – 0, Frank Stapleton made it 3 – 0. The Old Trafford crowd was going ballistic, the Spanish team had no idea what had hit them.  In the semifinal, United met Juventus of Italy.  As I said earlier, that United side had a few close but no cigar moments. They were narrowly defeated by the Italian team, 3 – 2 on aggregate. Juventus would go on to lift the trophy after beating Portuguese team Porto in the final in Basel, Switzerland. 

Red Army, Turin, 1984.

About a year later another excellent performance from Robson happened in the F.A. Cup semifinal of the ’84 – ’85 season.  United had reached the semifinal of that season’s F.A. Cup after defeating Bournemouth, Coventry City, Blackburn Rovers and West Ham and awaiting them in the semifinal were arch-rivals Liverpool, managed then by Joe Fagan.  The game took place at Everton’s Goodison Park, supposedly a neutral venue but the Liverpool fans could have been forgiven for having a wry smile at the choice of neutral venue given it was only a short distance from Anfield.  That day United took to the field with Gary Bailey in goal, the outfield players were John Gidman, Arthur Albiston, Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath, Graeme Hogg, Robson, Gordon Strachan, Mark Hughes, Frank Stapleton and Jesper Olson.

Robson in action in the first semi final, one of many battle royales with Liverpool.

Liverpool had many of their best players of the modern era on the pitch to face United, including Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen.  As you would have expected this was a close game, both teams had the odd chance but that was all, by half time it was still goalless.  As the second half got underway Robson was beginning to claim control of the midfield area of the pitch, Liverpool’s Kevin MacDonald and Ronnie Whelan having the huge job of containing Robson and Norman Whiteside.  With about twenty minutes left of the game, Robson did what he did best by putting the ball in the net against a fierce rival.  United had earned a corner, Gordon Strachan took it and put a low cross into the Liverpool area, it was bit of a scramble yet Robson was able to get hold of it and from close distance fired in a shot that actually ricocheted into the Liverpool off Mark Hughes ankle, either way United were in the lead.  With about three minutes left of normal time Ronnie Whelan scored a fantastic goal to level the game, extra time would be needed.    

Robson was ever his combative self against Liverpool in the F.A. Cup semi final replay.

In extra time it was United who struck first, following a goal from the Republic of Ireland international Frank Stapleton. The ball needed a small deflection to beat Bruce Grobbelaar in the Liverpool net, but it was no more than United deserved. They had been the better side as the game progressed, mainly down to Robson in midfield.  However, Lady Luck was really smiling upon Liverpool that day as they managed to get another equaliser, this time it was Paul Walsh who scored for Liverpool with only seconds of extra time remaining. It finished 2 – 2 at Goodison Park, a replay was needed to decide who was going through to the final at Wembley Stadium. 

Robson leads his team to another cup final.

The replay took place at Maine Road, the then home of Manchester City.  It was Liverpool who drew first blood with about five minutes left of the first half, the goal occurring during a goalmouth scramble.  Depending on who you listen to, it was either John Wark who scored or it was Paul McGrath who was unfortunate enough to score an own goal. Either way, come half time Liverpool were in the lead.  The second half was only moments old when Robson once again, made his presence known.  Winning possession of the ball in the middle of the pitch, he took the ball and ran with it, and ran, and ran, and ran.  He was about twenty-five yards out when he let a thunderous shot go. It went flying past Grobbelaar into the goal, it was a superb solo effort, one goal defining what Bryan Robson was all about. It was a brilliant goal by the United and England captain. 

More F.A. Cup joy for Bryan Robson.

So, it was game on.  About ten minutes later Mark Hughes made it 2 – 1 in United’s favour. The shot from Sparky, like Robson’s,  taken from outside of the Liverpool eighteen yard box.  It was a night when Robson took the game by the scruff of the neck. It was a vastly improved performance in the second half, orchestrated by Robson. It sent United through to another F.A. Cup final. Well, United were through to face another Merseyside club, Everton.  As we know United lifted the cup thanks to a goal from the Shankill Skinhead himself, Norman Whiteside.  Robson was a potent weapon for United against Liverpool and Everton back in the 1980’s, nine times out of ten Robson would often win the battle’s in the middle of the park.

Robson salutes the delighted Red Army, Wembley Stadium 1985.



As the ’80’s drew to an end United would see a change in manager, Alex Ferguson would travel south of the border from Aberdeen, taking over from Ron Atkinson in 1986.  The United of the late 1980’s were a team in major transition.  Ferguson was brought in to bring the title back to Old Trafford, of course Fergie succeeded big time in that task.  Players would leave the club and new players would come in in those transitory years, one name that would remain on the team sheet was Bryan Robson.  Another F.A. Cup final for United arrived at the end of the ’89 – ’90 season, giving Ferguson his first trophy as United boss and it gave Robson his third F.A. Cup final victory as United captain.  For the ’90 – ’91 season U.E.F.A. lifted the ban on English clubs in European competition, the ban initially brought about by the behaviour of  Liverpool fans during the European Cup final of 1985. 

1990 F.A. Cup success.

Robson would at last get his hands on a European trophy, as United captain that season.  The season of ’90 – ’91 was one of improvement for Manchester United.  As soon as he arrived at Old Trafford, Ferguson got to work turning the club around. Ferguson rejuvenated the club’s youth set up, and brought in change within United that enabled them to challenge for major honours for years to come.  In the January of that season, Robson was awarded an O.B.E. for his services to football, a much deserved award.  Ferguson had come in for some fierce criticism during his early days as United manager, as the years continued those seeds sown by the Scotsman began to bear fruit.  As far as the league was concerned, United were now recording finishing positions towards the top of the table, no longer a mid-table club. 

Champion ! No one deserved it more than Robson.

There had been many changes for United in those days but one constant was Bryan Robson, from his position as manager off the pitch Ferguson was guiding the club towards better days. Robson was doing the guiding on the pitch.  After lifting the F.A. Cup the season before United got to Wembley once again, this time in the League Cup final.  Unfortunately, they lost out to Sheffield Wednesday, however United had bigger fish to fry.  In that seasons European Cup Winner’s Cup United had won victories over Pécsi Munkás of Hungary, Welsh Club Wrexham, Montpelier of France, and Legia Warsaw. Therefore they had earned a place in the final to take place in Rotterdam against Barcelona of Spain. 

A European Trophy on the mantelpiece.

Once again Robson came out on top against the Catalan side, United winning the game 2 – 1.  After – match celebrations saw Robson lift the cup, United had won its first European Trophy since the late 1960’s.  A couple of years later Robson finally got his hands a league title medal when United won the inaugural Premier League, he picked up another a year later.  Robson was a superb captain for club and country, as captain of the world’s biggest club Robson won two Premier League winner’s medals, three F.A. Cups, a League Cup, three Charity Shield’s,  a European Cup Winner’s Cup and a U.E.F.A. Super Cup. 

Victory in Europe !

When Robson hung his boots up he went into management with Middlesbrough, winning the Football League Division One at the end of the ’94 – ’95 season. He then took The Smoggies into the most successful period in the club’s history.  Robson now works as a Global Ambassador for Manchester United, is there a better candidate for such a job?.  Bryan Robson without doubt is the greatest United captain of the last forty years, hands down, no question about it. 

Another trophy to shine.

Manchester United, and The F.A. Youth Cup.

An original Hallmarked Silver Plaque awarded to Shay Brennan of Manchester United after United Youth team beat West Bromwich Albion in the two legged final in 1955.


As everyone knows Manchester United have such a rich history of youth football.  It’s something that the club has prided itself upon, a long standing cornerstone of the Old Trafford club.  Over time United’s reputation as a centre of youth footballing excellence became the envy of other football clubs around the world.  Players such as Sir Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, Ryan Giggs, Eddie Colman, George Best, David Beckham and Gary Neville have all featured for United in the F.A. Youth Cup. With that in mind, it’s no surprise to learn that United have become the most successful club in the history of the Youth Cup.  United’s proud record in the tournament is testament to the clubs youth coaches.  The club has had many skilled coaches but there are two names that come to mind, namely Jimmy Murphy and Eric Harrison.  Jimmy Murphy was born in 1910 in Ton Pentre, South Wales.  During the 1930’s he turned out for West Bromwich Albion more than two hundred times and won fifteen international caps for Wales.  Murphy’s playing career came to an end just as the Second World War was beginning.  After the war Sir Matt Busby’s first act as United team boss was to bring Jimmy Murphy to Manchester United.  An important and somewhat fortuitous moment in United’s history occurred during the war involving Murphy and Busby. 

Jimmy Murphy, 1953.

As history tells us, Murphy was giving a football talk to a group of people that consisted mostly of young soldiers, also in that audience was Matt Busby. Busby was so impressed by Murphy’s skills, that he acquired his services the first chance he got.  Murphy was named Chief Coach at Old Trafford in 1946, many years of success lay ahead for the Welshman.  Later in his career Murphy would lead Wales to the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. That feat of Murphy’s still remains the last time Wales qualified for a World Cup.  His great talent as a coach together with his strong loyalty to the club ensured Jimmy Murphy would become a legend of Manchester United and British football.  Of course everyone has heard of the Busby Babes, Murphy was vitally important in the development of those young players at United.  The term “Busby Babes” was originally coined by Manchester Evening News journalist Frank Nicklin.  Nicklin came up with the term after Busby handed eighteen year old Jackie Blanchflower and twenty two year old Roger Byrne first team debuts in the Division One match, against Liverpool on the 24th of November 1951. By all account Busby wasn’t that impressed by the moniker, he preferred “Red Devils” but no one can deny that “Busby Babes” encapsulated everything about the team, it’s a term that harks back to such an emotionally charged chapter in the history of Manchester United.  Jimmy Murphy was Matt’s number two who threw himself into the task of building United a youth set up that would be the envy of the world, and how he succeeded!

Jimmy Murphy and Matt Busby, a partnership unequaled.

“When I arrived down here I went to see Jimmy Murphy. Both Matt and Jimmy were at stages in their careers where they had time to offer me advice. Jimmy was still scouting for the club and I went and had lunch with him and he expressed this great desire to see youth coming back into the club. He was a very emotional man, a great servant to the club, and I would have liked to have listened to him more over the years” Sir Alex Ferguson.

Busby and Murphy became great friends, together they would heal a football club and take it to new heights.

“If it hadn’t been for Jimmy, there wouldn’t have been a Manchester United. It was a pleasure knowing him because he had a passion for the game – he liked me because I got stuck in! He was a lovely man.” Nobby Stiles.

A young Nobby Stiles.

“I was scared to death when he signed me, if you didn’t listen he would crucify you! He knew everything about everybody at the club; it was all in his head. Jimmy and Matt complemented each other; you couldn’t have one without the other.” Albert Scanlon.

Albert Scanlon, originally from Hulme, Manchester.

“I know those lads better than anyone. I found them. I nurtured them. I was there with them every morning, noon and night, piss and rain and gales and snow. They let me mold their lives from the ground up. They repaid me; they repaid this club with their skill, their passion and now their lives. It’s not about honouring their memory. It’s about showing who we are to the world. Showing we’ll not be bowed by tragedy. Because how we are in the future will be founded on how we behave today.” Jimmy Murphy.

Jimmy Murphy, giving the benefit of his wisdom to a group of United players.

Eric Harrison is another legendary youth team coach of Old Trafford.  Harrison’s time with United started in 1981 when Ron Atkinson brought him into the United fold to work as the youth team manager.  Harrison got to work, and it wasn’t long before another United youth player was thrust into the limelight in the full team.  Norman Whiteside was on his way to becoming a United Great of the modern era.  The Shankill Skinhead would go on to serve United and Northern Ireland extremely well, making records and collecting silverware. 

Eric Harrison, made for United.

When Big Ron was sacked in 1986 in came Ferguson to usher in a glorious era in the clubs history. Ferguson kept Harrison on as youth team manager obviously impressed with the Yorkshireman’s work at Old Trafford.  Eric Harrison was a vital and integral part of the rise of “Fergie’s Fledglings” during the early to mid-1990’s.  No one needs reminding of that fantastic time in the clubs history when Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs announced themselves to the world of football.  Like Jimmy Murphy, Eric Harrison was an excellent servant of Manchester United.

Eric Harrison played a huge part in the success in the group of players that became known as Fergie’s Fledglings.

The F.A. Youth Cup began at a time when England was still recovering from the Second World War, thankfully rationing was about to come to end but it was still a country in recovery.   To be honest, the concept and formation of the F.A. Youth Cup tournament was a bit of a slow burner, it wasn’t something that happened overnight.  During the first few months following the end of the war, the English F.A. decided to organise a youth tournament for the county football associations up and down the country.  Basically, the idea was to revitalize the game for those players not yet senior enough to play full professional football; the F.A. didn’t stop there as they also organized youth team internationals into a regular occurrence in the football calendar.  It was Sir Joe Richards who initially put forward the idea for an F.A. Youth Cup, a new and innovative step forward for English football. 

United’s youth team, early ’50’s, the best around.

Apparently not many clubs were impressed with the idea, however the FA were and quickly put the idea into practice.  The FA Youth Cup was born.  The inaugural season for the FA Youth Cup was the 1952 – 1953 season.  The United first team set an example for the Youth team by starting the new 52 – 53 season as Division One champions.  The previous season Sir Matt Busby’s United had finished top of Division One with fifty seven points, four more than Tottenham Hotspur who finished as runners up.  No pressure then for the youth side!  The first few years of the FA Youth Cup belonged to United’s youth team; they won the first five Youth Cups on the bounce.  Many of United’s youth team players of the early 1950’s would go on to prove themselves not just United Greats but also legends of world football.

1952 – 1953.

Jimmy Murphy’s young United side of the 1950’s was the best youth team in the country and they were eager to lift the first FA Youth Cup.  They did this in impressive style when they made light work of their opponents over the two legs of the final.  The lambs to the slaughter were the youth side of Wolverhampton Wanderers who were then managed by Stan Cullis.  Cullis was a Wolves man through and through having played for the club for over a decade and would continue his long association to Wolves in a managers role for many years.  Stan Cullis was a great servant to the Molineux side; the club has since honoured him by commissioning a statue of Cullis that today takes pride of place outside of Molineux.  The youth team sheet of Manchester United during the early 1950’s was a roll call of United legends. 

Eddie Colman, a flower of Manchester.

When the 1952 – 1953 season began Eddie Colman from Salford was fifteen years old, he had joined the club straight from school.  Someone else who was fifteen old like Colman was Duncan Edwards, a wing half from Dudley in the West Midlands.  Joe Mercer who was the then England youth coach (who went on to manage Manchester City) urged Busby to sign the young Duncan Edwards, Edwards duly signing for United during the June of 1952.  Also in the team were David Pegg and Billy Whelan.  Pegg was from Doncaster in South Yorkshire, he joined the club as a fifteen year old in 1950.  Pegg was an impressive winger, or outside left as the position was known in those days.  Eighteen year old Billy Whelan hailed from Dublin in the Republic of Ireland; he had joined United from Dublin club, Home Farm.  Billy came from a footballing family, his brother John played in Dublin for both Drumcondra and Shamrock Rovers.  The team captain was a player by the name of Ron Cope. 

David Pegg.

Cope was a centre half from Crewe; he would be with United for ten years eventually being sold to Luton Town in 1961.  United’s youth team goalkeeper was Gordon Clayton from Staffordshire.  Also in there was Noel McFarlane, a young forward from Bray in County Wicklow.  Another local boy in the team was the young forward Albert Scanlon, a seventeen year old from Hulme.  I think it’s fair to say that Albert Scanlon is one of those United players of the past that doesn’t get anywhere near as much praise and recognition as he should.  Scanlon arrived at United in 1950, he signed professional terms in ’52 and would go on to win silverware with the club and he would also go on to become a Munich survivor in 1958.  Still in his teens and a junior player Scanlon had the ability and skill to make fools of more experienced professionals.  Indeed, there was one particular practice match during a training session at United and in that practice match, the young talented Scanlon was up against United’s first team defender who was also an England international.  The former United defender and the then United coach Bert Whalley happily said to Scanlon…

“You’re doing well, young Albert. You had Bill in two minds; he didn’t know whether to kick you over the stand or into the dressing room.” Bert Whalley, United Coach.

Bert Whalley.

The defensive partnership consisted of Paddy Kennedy from Dublin and Bryce Fulton from Ayrshire in Scotland.  Mancunian Eddie Lewis completed the forward line up; the young centre forward would only be at Old Trafford until 1955 when he was duly sold to Preston North End.  So getting back to the two-legged final, as mentioned earlier Jimmy Murphy’s young reds were to play Stan Cullis’s Wolverhampton Wanderers youth team with the first leg taking place at Old Trafford in the early May of 1953.  Well over 20,000 fans saw Murphy’s United rip Wolves apart with a scintillating performance.  United got to work as soon as the match had started when eighteen year old Noel McFarlane put the Red Devils in front in the third minute of the match. 

On their way to cup glory the young red taking care of business against Barnsley, Old Trafford 1953.

It didn’t take long for Wolves to draw level which they did a couple of minutes later through striker Harry Smith, after that though it was all United.  Barely had Clayton in the United goal retrieved the ball from his net when Edward Lewis put United back in front, 2 – 1 United.  The crowd had seen three goals in six minutes, however, ten minutes after Lewis’s goal up popped David Pegg to make it 3 – 1 in United’s favour. 

Eddie Lewis.

The second half saw United continue in similar vein, with the second half barely three minutes McFarlane scored his second of the game to make it 4 – 1 United and about ten minutes later Edward Lewis scored his second of the game to make it 5 – 1, sadly for Wolves though the rout was not yet over.  

In the final twenty minutes of the first leg, United added another two goals to their tally through Albert Scanlon and Billy Whelan.  Five days later the two teams reconvened at Molineux before a crowd of just over 14,000.  The second leg was much more of a contest, it finished 2 – 2, both goals for the home side came from Harry Smith; United’s goals came from Edward Lewis and Billy Whelan.  That meant United claimed the first ever FA Youth Cup 9 – 3 on aggregate. 

Match programme cover, United hosting Everton in the 4th round.
Media reaction to the success of United’s youth team, 1953.

1953 – 1954

For the new season, Jimmy Murphy brought some new faces into the United youth team.  One of these new faces was goalkeeper Tony Hawksworth.  The eighteen years old Hawksworth was a Yorkshireman from the steel city of Sheffield, the talented goalie would go on to represent England at schoolboy and youth level.  Another new addition to the youth team was Bobby Harrop originally from Margate in Kent who was centre back who was also very useful in the midfield position.  Other new faces included Alan Rhodes and Ivan Beswick in defence, another recent addition to the youth set up was Wilf McGuinness.  Mancunian McGuinness arrived at Old Trafford early in 1953 as a talented fifteen year old wing half, as talented as he was I dare say few people thought McGuinness would go on to serve United in the loyal and passionate manner that he has over the many years since 1953. 

Wilf McGuinness.

Another new face on that team and someone who signed for United at the time as McGuinness was a fifteen year old by the name of Bobby Charlton.  After the end of the war, Joe Armstrong replaced Louis Rocca as United’s chief scout; Joe is credited for unearthing Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton, quite the find I am sure you would agree.  Charlton was turning out for the East Northumberland Schools football team when he was spotted by Armstrong, roughly a year later the highly talented Charlton would sign professional terms with Manchester United. 

Bobby Charlton.

Duncan Edwards was still in the side, emerging not just as one of the best young players around but quite likely the very best.  The final of the FA Youth Cup for the following season saw both United and Wolves reach the final yet again, the Midlands team eager for revenge for the drubbing they received the year before at the hands of Murphy’s young United team.  Once again the final took place at the end of the season in May and once again Old Trafford would host the first leg of the FA Youth Cup final.  This time Wolves made much more of a go at it, Cullis’s young side refusing to be the whipping boys that they were the year before. 

Duncan Edwards.

A crowd of over 18,000 saw the two youth teams grind out a 4 – 4 draw, it must have been some match for the fans.  Duncan Edwards opened the scoring for the Red Devils only to see Joe Bonson of Wolves score to gain parity for the young Midlands side.  Bonson was a very competent striker scoring goals everywhere his career took him, after leaving Wolves he went to play for Cardiff City, Doncaster Rovers and Scunthorpe to name three.  Not long after Bonson had scored the equalizer, Bonson’s team mate Jimmy Murray scored to out Wolves 2 – 1 ahead, after turning professional Murray would score nearly two hundred goals for Wolves over eight seasons, he then went on to Manchester City.  Wolves were on a bit of roll in the match and things got better for them when Bobby Mason made it 3 – 1 for his side.  Step forward the young man who would be United’s star man in the FA Youth Cup final of 1954, David Pegg. 

Pegg had taken over as club captain from Ron Cope and in this particular FA Youth Cup final as team captain David Pegg, the young outside left from Doncaster, played his part perfectly.  Pegg’s first major task in this game was to score the penalty that brought United back into the game, it was 3 – 2, the Wolves youth side determined to take a lead into the second leg at their place.   Sadly for them Duncan Edwards had other ideas scoring to made it 3 – 3.  Wolves thought they had won the first leg after John Fallon had made it 4 – 3 to the visitors, however up popped team captain David Pegg again to score the leveler for United.  That’s how the first leg finished, 4 – 4.

The fans didn’t have to wait long for the second leg; it was penciled in for three days after the Old Trafford encounter.  The Wolves fans must have thought revenge was most definitely on as over 28,000 fans were at Molineux for the second leg of the final, an increase of 10,000 from the previous year’s second leg of the final.   It was a close match, but as mentioned team captain Pegg was the man who led United over the finish line with the only goal of the game to go with his brace in the first leg, United retained the FA Youth Cup with a 5 – 4 aggregate score, Jimmy’s boys were the toast of Youth football.  

1954 – 1955

By now Jimmy Murphy was well into his stride with the youth set up, a well-oiled and trophy winning youth team fashioned in the way Matt Busby had envisioned, Busby’s hunch that Murphy was the right man to lead young United forward more than justified.  For the following season Jimmy Murphy once again brought new faces into United’s youth team, in came defenders Alan Rhodes and John Queenan.  Also making their first appearances that season in United’s youth team was Peter Jones a defender a local boy from Manchester and striker Terry Beckett. 

Terry Beckett.

Another new face in defence was Shay Brennan another, a Mancunian like Beckett.  Despite being born in Manchester Brennan would go on to play international football for the Republic of Ireland, Brennan would also go on to win two league titles with United not forgetting the European Cup and a couple of Charity Shields.  Joining Brennan up front was another addition to the team, Dennis Fidler.  Fidler was from nearby Stockport; sadly Fidler’s stay at United would be relatively short lived as he was transferred to Manchester City in 1956.    The first leg at Old Trafford took place in late April. 

Shay Brennan.

A crowd of almost 17,000 saw the young Baggies side brushed, aside as United ran out 4 – 1 winners.  Goals from Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards with a brace from team captain Eddie Colman made sure United were firm favourites to retain the F.A. Youth Cup, therefore winning it three times on the bounce. Barry Hughes was the scorer of West Brom’s consolation goal.  As I’ve said, the United youth team were winning silverware on a regular basis and there was a strong confidence within the team, their dominance in the F.A. Youth Cup was testament to the excellent work Jimmy Murphy was doing with the United youth team. 

Eddie Colman receives the 1955 F.A. Youth Cup.

I wonder if Jimmy realised back then that he was actually developing and molding players that would become not only legends of Manchester United and British football, but genuine legends of world football.  The second leg of the F.A. Youth cup at The Hawthorns, was a formality.  There was only going to be one winner, United romped home 3 – 0 winners.  So United lifted their third F.A. Youth Cup, the trophy yet to leave Old Trafford since its introduction into English football.   

“The toughest match that season was against Barnsley, but once we beat them I was really confident we would go on and win the Youth Cup. After the first leg of the final against West Brom and being 4-1 up I knew we would win it. There was no way they were going to score four goals against us. I remember running down the eighteen-yard line on the right wing and I just hit the ball across the ’keeper from an acute angle and the ball just flew past him into the corner of the net. I scored the first goal and it was all over really.” Terry Beckett.

It was around this time that Duncan Edwards was playing in the United first team, the young gifted left sided player from Dudley leaving Busby in no doubt about his maturity and ability.  If you read the books, read the interviews of people who knew him and played with him it becomes obvious that Edwards was the best player around.  

“When he first came to Old Trafford I tried to find fault with Duncan, but I couldn’t find one. He was never really a boy, in football terms. He was always a man.”  Sir Matt Busby.

“He was more than a great player – sometimes he seemed like some bright light in the sky. He was a giant, and even today his loss is the hardest thing to bear.”  Sir Bobby Charlton.

“He was the greatest player I ever seen.”  Terry Venables.

 “You can keep all your Best’s, Pele’s and Maradona’s, Duncan Edwards was the greatest of them all.”  Tommy Docherty.

“When I used to hear Muhammed Ali proclaim to the world he was the greatest I used to smile. You see, the greatest of them all was an English footballer named Duncan Edwards.”  Jimmy Murphy. 

A couple of pages from the 1955 F.A. Youth Cup match programme.

1955 – 1956

A new season and once again Jimmy Murphy brought in a new batch of young players into the youth set up at Manchester United.  Dubliner Joe Carolan was a left sided defender and was brought into the Old Trafford from Irish club Home Farm, Joe wouldn’t be the last player United would recruit from Home Farm.  Carolan would go on to play over sixty times for the United first team before being sold to south coast side Brighton & Hove Albion in 1960. 

Reg Holland.

Reg Holland from Sutton – In – Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, was a young defender who could also play well in midfield.  Also new in the side for that season was Kenny Morgans from Swansea, who played in the outside right position (right winger).  Morgans signed straight from school during the summer of 1955.  Morgan’s stay at Old Trafford would be somewhat brief, leaving for his home town club Swansea City in 1961.  Mark Pearson was from nearby Ridgeway in Derbyshire, Pearson was an inside forward (playing just behind the centre forwards).  Mark Pearson was the original “Pancho”, nicknamed so because of his Mexican style sideburns. 

Mark Pearson.

Of course much later United would have another “Pancho” in the side, this time it was the superb striker Stuart Pearson who was given the nickname in honour of Mark.  The young Pearson would be at Old Trafford until the mid-sixties when he was sold to Sheffield Wednesday for a fee of just under £20,000.  Striker Alex Dawson was from Aberdeen, he would go onto to play in United’s 1957 Division One title winning team.  Dawson would go on to be sold to Preston North End in the early 1960’s where he would feature for them in the 1964 FA Cup final, sadly for Preston they went down to 3 – 2 to Ron Greenwood’s West Ham.  The Preston Fans would certainly take to him giving him the nickname “The Black Prince of Deepdale”. 

The Red Devils made it look easy against The Magpies, on their way to the final.

As in previous seasons despite Murphy bringing in a few new faces into the United youth set up, towards the end of the 55 – 56 season, United’s young players had reached another FA Youth Cup final.  This time they would be playing Chesterfield in the two legged final.  The two teams walked out onto the Old Trafford pitch on the evening of Monday 30th April before a crowd of almost 25,000, could Murphy’s young United team retain the trophy they had held since its inception?  With hindsight United retained the trophy in the first 30 minutes of the first leg of the final.  The young Irishman Joe Carolan put United 1 – 0 up in the tenth minute, around seven minutes later Mark Pearson had made it 2 – 0 in United’s favour, on the thirty minute mark the nineteen year old Charlton had made it 3 – 0. 

Joe Carolan.

The Chesterfield team must have gone in at half time wondering what had hit them.  Interestingly, who was the Chesterfield goalkeeper? It was a young Gordon Banks.  Of course, the young Charlton and Banks would go on to win the world cup together with England a decade later.  Despite that one sided first half the Derbyshire team got themselves back in the game after scoring a couple of goals without reply in the second half, their goals coming from Jim Mellors and Peter Ledger.  The second leg of the final was played about a week later at The Recreation Ground, Chesterfield, the young Chesterfield team had everything to play for after coming back from three goals down to answer with a couple of their own in the first leg. 

The first half was goalless, it wasn’t until half way through the second half that the 16,000 crowd saw a goal and it came from the boot of Keith Havenhand, the Chesterfield striker.  Chesterfield were now on level terms with Murphy’s team.  However it wasn’t to be for Chesterfield against a young but experienced Manchester United.  United grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat when Dennis Fidler scored in the last minute of the game to make it 1 – 1 on the night, therefore giving United a 4 – 3 victory on aggregate.   It was left to team captain Eddie Colman to lift the trophy.  By now Bobby Charlton was well on his way to proving himself a world class footballer, Bobby would have many ups and downs with Manchester United but one thing is for sure he proved himself a superb servant of Manchester United and England which is still the case to this very day.

Bobby Charlton would serve United like no other player would, from the youth team to an England international, he remains the greatest player England ever produced.

“Charlton, as we all know, covered the whole pitch. Played on the left, on the right, in the middle. He never stopped running and he had a very powerful shot and scored a lot of great goals.  I have many more good than bad memories from my career, but some of the bad memories come from when I crossed paths with Bobby Charlton. It was Bobby Charlton who spoiled my day in the World Cup semi-final of 1966 and later the European Cup final of ’68, but I’ve forgiven him and we are still good friends now. He’s a real English gentleman.”  Eusebio.

“If he was in the centre of the field and coming through, and if he was 30 yards from goal, I knew that he was going to have a shot. And I knew that if he got it on target, and the goalkeeper saved it, the chances of him holding it cleanly was very rare. Therefore, as soon as I saw him line up for a shot, I would be in on the goalkeeper. So I got a lot of my goals from Bobby, really.”  Denis Law.

“To score that many goals from midfield is just a remarkable achievement. He was a great player, capable of a brilliant shot but also a brilliant player to have in the team. He was a clever player, won so much and will go down as one of the all-time greats in world football.”  Sir Geoff Hurst.

“He had a grace, and a change of pace, and a strike of lightning. Both change of pace, and from his boots; the power in his shooting was immense.”  Terry Venables.

“What a pleasure to play alongside. I don’t think I’ve even seen anybody who could beat players as easily as him, myself included. I often used my pace, but Bobby made it look effortless. And once he got within 30 yards of goal, he was lethal with either foot. Because he played a lot on the left, many people assume he was a natural left-footer, but I don’t think he was. He was just so good with both feet.”  George Best.

“He was a naturally gifted player, and was two-footed as well, one of the most two-footed players you’ve ever seen. He could go either side, shoot with either foot.”  Sir Geoff Hurst.

“This is a man who survived the Munich air disaster in 1958, won the World Cup in 1966, the European Cup in 1968 and played a key role in the appointment of Alex Ferguson as Old Trafford manager in 1986.  He’s history in the flesh is Bobby Charlton. He’s our greatest living football man.”  Jimmy Greaves.

1956 – 1957

For the ’56 – ’57 season Jimmy Murphy once again ushered in new talent into the United youth team.  Old Trafford was buzzing, United had just lifted the Division One title and they had won it in fine style by finishing a huge eleven points in front of second placed Blackpool.  The average age of the new champions was just twenty two, the youth policy put into place at the club by Busby and Murphy was now paying handsome dividends.  The new talent that was brought into the youth team?      Harold Bratt was a local lad from Salford, a defender by trade who would go on to play to play for Doncaster Rovers.  Reg Hunter was a striker from Colwyn Bay in Wales, after leaving United he would return to Wales to play football for Bangor City and Wrexham.  Another new face in the team was Nobby Lawton from Newton Heath in Manchester.  Lawton would eventually sign professional terms with United in 1960; he would be at Old Trafford until 1963 when he was sold to Preston North End.  Other new additions to the youth team were defenders Barry Smith and Ray Maddison, midfielder Bob English and goalkeeper David Gaskell.  Gaskell was originally from Orrell in Wigan, Lancashire.  

Harold Bratt.

Gaskell was signed the year before from Orrell St. Luke’s; he would go on to sign professionally for United shortly after impressing in the youth set up.  His first appearance for the United first team was the Charity Shield match of 1956 at the age of sixteen years and nineteen days, when United beat their very bitter neighbours City 1 – 0 at Maine Road, United’s winning goal scored by Dennis Viollet.  Gaskell finished his playing career playing in South Africa for Arcadia Shepherds.  Once again Jimmy Murphy’s young United side made the final of the FA Cup Youth for the 56 – 57 season, this time United would be lining up against Bill Robinson’s West Ham.  During his playing career Robinson was a respected striker who turned for Sunderland, Charlton Athletic and West Ham. 

David Gaskill.

The first leg of the final was to be contested at Upton Park, home of the Hammers.  Interestingly, playing in the midfield of that West Ham youth side was John Lyall who would go on to take them to two FA Cup final victories as manager and a third place finish in the old Division One in 1986 which remains West Hams highest placed finish in the English top flight.  Well, in front of a crowd of 15,000 at Upton Park West Ham certainly gave United a game. 

Alex Dawson opened the scoring for United in the 26th minute, however the West Ham forward John Cartwright equalized for his team about twelve minutes later.  Halftime came, it was all square.  Recent addition to the team Nobby Lawton put United 2 – 1 up about seven minutes into the second half and about four minutes after that recent name in the team Reg Hunter made it 3 – 1 in United’s favour.  About ten minutes later West Ham got themselves back in the tie when George Fenn converted a penalty for the Hammers.  That’s how the game finished 3 – 2 to United.  It was decent away result for Jimmy Murphy’s team but there was still a job to do at Old Trafford in the second leg.  About a week later a crowd of almost 16,000 saw United put West Ham to the sword with ease.  With a goal from Kenny Morgans and with Mark Pearson and Alex Dawson scoring a couple each United romped to victory 5 – 0.   Jimmy Murphy’s young lions had won by an aggregate score of 8 – 2, United had lifted the FA Youth Cup five times out of five. 

Kenny Morgans with the F.A. Youth Cup, 1957.

As everyone knows less than a year after that FA Youth Cup victory over West Ham the Munich Tragedy would decimate a football team.  Over twenty people would lose their lives in that horrendous chapter in the history of Manchester United, eight of those fatalities were players.  David Pegg, Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Liam Whelan, Mark Jones and Duncan Edwards, Edwards would lose his fight for life at the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich.  The gut wrenching feeling of loss was immense; millions of people were in mourning with some people even asking if United as a club could survive such a devastating catastrophe.  Whilst Matt Busby was thankfully recuperating in his hospital bed in Munich, it was down to Jimmy Murphy to keep the ship afloat in Manchester.  Murphy hadn’t travelled with the United team to Belgrade, he had stayed in Britain in his other job as Wales national team manager.  At the same time United were playing Red Star Belgrade in Yugoslavia, Wales had a World Cup qualifying match against Israel penciled in.  Murphy travelled to Munich where he was told by Matt Busby to keep the red flag flying, Murphy did exactly that with strength and determination. 

Jimmy Murphy, an architect and coach.

“Matt Busby fired Manchester United with the challenge of winning back horizons that had been so cruelly withdrawn, but it was Jimmy Murphy who kept the club on the road after Munich. It was Murphy who held the line against any submission to disaster. It was Murphy who reminded us of what we had been, and what we could be again.”  Nobby Stiles.

Murphy had it all to do, he had to find players to fill the team, youth players were brought in and even Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest got in touch with the offer to loan players to United.  Jimmy had to act fast as United had an FA Cup match on the horizon against Sheffield Wednesday only a matter of days away.  Murphy got in touch with Aston Villa regarding the purchase of Stan Crowther.  The then Villa team boss Eric Houghton spoke to Crowther about the move to United however Crowther told his manager he was happy at Villa. 

Stan Crowther signs for United.

Despite this Houghton asked Crowther to go with him to watch United play Sheffield Wednesday and Crowther agreed to go.  On their journey to the game Houghton turned round to Crowther and said to him that he really should help United and sign for them, Crowther replied he hasn’t brought his boots but Houghton told him that he had brought Crowther’s boots.  Both Houghton and Crowther met Jimmy Murphy at the hotel that the United team were staying at and a fee of £22,000 was agreed, Crowther signed for United with less than an hour to go before kick-off.  United beat Wednesday 3 – 0 with goals from Shay Brennan and Alex Dawson, the emotion and the will of the crowd made sure United were not going to lose that day. 

“It must have been a terrible time for Jimmy and everyone at the club after the crash.  It needed someone who, though feeling the heartbreak of the situation, could still keep his head and keep the job going. Jimmy was that man.”  Sir Matt Busby.

United would reach Wembley that year for the cup final, an enormously impressive feat considering; however they would ultimately lose to Bolton Wanderers.  The scorer of one of the goals that beat Sheffield Wednesday in that 5th round tie Alex Dawson spoke to The Daily Record a few years ago of that extremely difficult time in United’s history. 

“When I heard the tragic news I thought I had better ring my mum because she would have expected me to be on the plane.  I used to go on those trips and had a passport and visa all ready but the boss just told me I wasn’t going this time.  I had already been on two or three trips just to break me in.  Chief coach Bert Whalley said to me, ‘There will be another one for you,’ but I wouldn’t have wanted it in those circumstances.  I know now how lucky I was to be left in Manchester. The omens were on my side.  I was at the ground playing snooker with Kenny Morgans when a boy came in and nearly broke the door down.  The boy said, ‘Haven’t you heard? The lads have been in a crash’.  There was a man putting the flag at half-mast because one of the directors had died before that.  We told him to wait.  We thought straight away of Duncan, Roger and the rest of the lads.  I just couldn’t believe it.  We couldn’t say anything.  We were absolutely in shock.  It was unbelievable.  I thought it can’t be right.  You are hoping it can’t be right.  But of course we knew it was right once we switched the news on.  We were all so close and Duncan was also a good friend to me before the accident.  We were all friends and you could speak to any of them.  They never looked down on you.  They couldn’t do enough for you.  Jimmy Murphy was marvellous with the youngsters.  He picked the team around Bill and Harry and said, ‘We are going out there and we are going to play and win for those lads who died’.  He said, ‘I know you will do it.  We will show them what this club is all about and those lads were all about’.  Jimmy was absolutely marvellous.  His team talks were inspirational.  We did it and we took it from there.  The crowd were marvellous.  There were 60,000 inside and 60,000 outside and that really got us going.  The reserves played the same day with a load of juniors playing and both United teams won by the same score which was incredible.  In the dressing room I remember thinking, ‘Come on, let’s just get out there’.  This was my chance to repay those boys.  I remember going down the tunnel to this amazing roar and it made me shiver.  I thought, ‘This is it, this is where the new Manchester United begins’.  Jimmy got us to the Final which was a great tribute to the team.  United would have been a major force in Europe if it hadn’t been for the disaster.  Real Madrid were a good side at that time but United were going to overtake them.  The players were just coming into their prime.  Duncan was such a good player; there is no doubt about that.  He was a wonderful fellow as well as a real gentleman.  I will never, ever forget him because he died on my birthday, February 21, and before that he was the one who really helped me settle in.”  Alex Dawson.

Alex Dawson.

The phrase “unsung hero” could have been invented for Alex Dawson.  Of course during that period of United’s history the club had many unsung heroes but for me Dawson is an obvious example, young men being asked to dig deep and produce not just on the pitch but off it too.  Ron Cope is another one, as was Mark Pearson.  United’s next league game after Munich was a home game against Nottingham Forest, three days after the 5th round FA Cup win against Sheffield Wednesday.  As you can understand the Old Trafford crowd for behind the team, with an endless supply of passion and love for Manchester United.  The game ended in a 1 – 1 draw, however the press were full of praise for the young players of Manchester United, the team showing a rare strength under adversity.

“It was the performance of two young men, Cope at centre-half and the 17-year-old Pearson at inside-left that left us rubbing our eyes in astonishment. Their maturity, polish and skill left one wondering what other magic is hidden away in Old Trafford.”  The Times.

1963 – 1964

After that victory in 1957 United would taste success again in the FA Youth Cup until 1964.  The beginning of the 1963 – 1964 season for United was one the club could forward to with confidence.  Its first team had lifted the FA Cup at Wembley at the end of the previous season by beating Leicester City 3 – 1, the Red Devils goals coming from Denis Law and a couple from David Herd.   

United wins its first trophy since the Munich disaster, the F.A. Cup in 1963, the youth team would emulate the first team a season later.

It was United’s first senior trophy since the Munich disaster, Busby’s rebuilding of the club was at last paying dividends and it wasn’t about to stop there as United would become THE team of the 1960’s.  Jimmy Murphy was still in charge of the youth team and Bobby Noble was captain of the youth team.  Noble, a defender, was another local lad from nearby Reddish in Stockport, he had signed for United as a youth in 1961 and he would be at United until 1970.  He would win himself a Division One title winner’s medal in 1967 however he was involved in a car crash before the club were crowned champions that season; happily Noble would recover from that crash but was unable to continue his career in football retiring from the game to go into the printing industry. 

Bobby Noble.

Jimmy Rimmer was in goal, a native of Southport in Lancashire, he signed for the club on youth terms in 1963, a very recent addition to the side he proved himself a very competent goalie.  Jimmy would be at the club until 1974 when he was sold to Arsenal.  Jimmy would pick up a European Cup winners medal with United but his glory days were not over after he left Old Trafford.  He would pick up a clutch of silverware with Aston Villa in the early 1980’s including a Division One title winner’s medal and a European Cup winner’s medal. 

Jimmy Rimmer, seen here in 1971, would spend the first nine years of his professional career at Old Trafford. Jimmy would go on to win a European Cup winner’s medal with United. Later in his career, Rimmer would repeat the European Cup winning feat with Aston Villa. Whilst at Villa Park Rimmer would also pick up a Division One title, a Charity Shield and a European Super Cup winner’s medal.

Other new faces in the team were Alan Duff in defence and David Farrar and Peter McBride in midfield.  Another new face in midfield was the Scot John Fitzpatrick from Aberdeen.  Fitzpatrick is noted for being United’s first ever substitute when subs were first introduced into the game during the 1965 – 1966 season coming on for Denis Law during a heavy 5 – 1 defeat at White Hart Lane.  Striker Albert Kinsey was also in there, originally from Liverpool he would only be at United for three years before being sold to Welsh club Wrexham.  Another new face was local lad John Aston, a left winger who signed for United on youth terms in 1962.  Aston would be Old Trafford until 1972 when he was sold to Bedfordshire club Luton Town.  Another Liverpool born player in the youth team was Willie Anderson.  Winger Anderson signed for United on youth terms in 1962 and would be at United until 1967, despite failing to hold down a regular place at United he would go onto to win medals with a number of clubs including Aston Villa and Portland Timbers in the N.A.S.L.. 

David Sadler signed for United as a seventeen year old from Maidstone United in 1963; he would prove himself an extremely valued member of the United team as he was able to play in various positions on the pitch.  As we know Sadler would go on to prove himself a United Great.  Last but certainly not least was George Best, a player who needs no introduction whatsoever.  George was discovered by the highly respected United scout Bob Bishop (many years later Bishop would also discover Norman Whiteside), Best had been overlooked by his local club in Belfast Glentoran but Bishop could something special in the slightly built Best.  Of course George would go on to be one of the greatest players the game of football had ever seen.  Amongst other things George would go on to win the European Cup with United, as well as being remembered as one third of the United Trinity.  George was a one off, a favourite with the ladies, a man who every other man wanted to be.  Yes he had his faults like we all do but George was such a special footballer. 

George Best, 1964.

“Boss, I think I’ve found you a genius.” Bob Bishop to Matt Busby on discovering George Best.

“He could control the ball with his left foot, his right foot; it was not a great problem to him. He could turn on a six-pence. He had unbelievable vision, he could tell everything that was happening around him, he knew exactly where people were, and that gave him all the time that he needed to actually express him.” Sir Bobby Charlton.

“I think if you talk about the best players in Europe, you talk about five or six and if you talk about his qualities he’d always be in there. It was a short career but if you go back to the basic qualities he was exceptional.” Johan Cruyff.

“He was the finest player I ever played with or against. I treasure my memories of him even though on occasions he made me look rather foolish.” Pat Jennings.

“The great football critics said that because of his technical skill, he was like a Brazilian athlete who danced the samba with the ball at his feet. George Best, until today is a footballer without comparison and his technical skills will never be forgotten.” Pele.

Swindon Town take on United in the F.A.Youth Cup Final, 1st Leg 1964.

United’s opponents in the final of the 1963 – 1964 season was Wiltshire club Swindon Town.  The first leg took place at Swindon’s County Ground, the game finished in a 1 – 1 draw.  It was Swindon who took the lead on the half hour mark courtesy of a goal from Don Rogers; United equalized about half way through the second half thanks to goal from the Belfast Boy, George Best.  The second leg at Old Trafford took place only a matter of days after the first leg.  The second leg is notable for David Sadler’s hat trick with John Aston scoring United’s fourth goal.  Bruce Walker scored the Wiltshire club’s consolation goal, United had another youth cup thanks to a 5 – 2 aggregate score line. 

United thump Swindon Town 4 – 1 (5-2 on agg), May 1964 at Old Trafford. George Best seen here, shoots wide in the 2nd leg of the FA Youth Cup Final.

1991 – 1992

The FA Youth Cup final of ’92 was a repeat of the 1990 FA Cup final, United versus Crystal Palace.  A couple of years previous Alex Ferguson’s United had won its first trophy after defeating Palace after a replay thanks to a Lee Martin goal, Eric Harrison’s United youth team hoped to emulate that cup triumph.  As I mentioned at the beginning Harrison arrived at United from Merseyside club Everton during the managership of Ron Atkinson.  When Big Ron was replaced with Ferguson in 1986, the new United manager made a point of keeping Harrison in the fold, Fergie obviously saw something in Harrison.  However Ferguson wasn’t entirely happy with the youth system and he wasn’t entirely happy with the scouting system at Old Trafford, improvements had to be made.   

United’s youth team, 1992.

The fact that Ferguson wanted fast improvement led Harrison to make his own condition, which was United had to vastly improve its scouting network, if United did then Harrison claimed he could give Ferguson more youth players from which to bring into the first team.  It would take time, but as the 1990’s got underway it was about to pay off good style, Fergie’s Fledglings were about to make their entrance.  In that 1992 FA Youth Cup side were certain players that would go on to enjoy fantastic careers in the first team at United. 

David Beckham would go on to be a global superstar, back in 1992 he was just another hopeful youth player. Here he is in action for United’s ‘A’ team against Everton’s ‘A’ team at The Cliff on 8th February 1992, United won 4 – 0.

In goal was Kevin Pilkington, from Hitchin in Hertfordshire.  Pilkington arrived at Old Trafford in 1990, after being seen playing for Lincolnshire club Harrowby United.  In defence was John O’ Kane, George Switzer, Chris Casper and team captain Gary Neville.  Neville joined the club in 1991 and would go on to play a major part in United’s dominance of English football, winning trophy after trophy at home and in Europe.  During and after his playing career Neville has always been a very popular figure with United fans, outspoken and to the point. 

Gary Neville, United captain.

“Fantastically consistent for club and country, he played a hell of a lot of games for both.  He could play wing back, or drop in as one of your three central defenders.”  Stuart Pearce.

“He didn’t mind getting forward but he enjoyed defending and was very good at it. He was also good at getting balls into the box and he liked to attack, but because of his fitness and agility he could get up and down the line. He was a very good defender and an organiser.”  Alan Shearer.

“Gary was the best English right-back of his generation. He is an example to any young professional; hard-working, loyal and intelligent. As a United fan born and bred, his fantastic career at Old Trafford has cemented his place in the affection of the club’s supporters everywhere.”  Sir Alex Ferguson. 

“Young players nowadays should look back at the way that he played the game, not just in terms of his defending but the way he overlapped and attacked.”  Rio Ferdinand.

In the midfield were Robbie Savage, Ben Thornley, Nicky Butt and David Beckham.  Like Gary Neville, Nicky Butt would go on to establish himself as a United legend.  Butt would go on to play nearly three hundred games for United winning six Premiership winner’s medals, three F.A. Cups, Champions League winner’s medal and an Intercontinental Cup winner’s medal (World Club Cup).  Not only that but he would win himself thirty nine international caps with England.  David Beckham was also in there, like Butt and Neville he would go on to become a United regular in the first team and becoming a football icon to many.  Last but not least were Simon Davies in midfield and Colin McKee up front. 

Nicky Butt, seen here with Eric Harrison.

The first leg of the 1992 FA Youth Cup final was played at Selhurst Park, the Croydon home of Crystal Palace.  On the whole it was fairly comfortable victory for Harrison’s young United side.  It was Nicky Butt who opened the scoring, about a quarter of an hour into the first half and on the half hour mark David Beckham made it 2 – 0.  Seemingly on their way to a good 2 – 0 first leg away win United found themselves pegged back with about four minutes of the match remaining when Stuart McCall found the United net for Palace, it was 2 – 1, however Nicky Butt scored his second of the game with only moments of the game remaining to restore United’s two goal cushion.  The final score at Selhurst Park was 3 – 1 to United. 

Kick Off Old Trafford, 1992.

For the second leg United brought in Ryan Giggs who had already tasted first team football at Old Trafford.  Before a crowd of over 14,000 the visitors gave a decent account of themselves charged with the task of having to come back from a first leg 3 – 1 score line.  Indeed it was Palace who took the lead in the first minute of the game thanks to a goal from Andrew McPherson.  United wouldn’t draw level until the half hour mark when Ben Thornley found the Palace net.  Midfielder Simon Davies put United 2 – 1 in front about five minutes into the second half, however about ten minutes later up popped Stuart McCall again to gain parity on the night for Palace.  Thankfully for United a few minutes later Colin McKee found the Palace goal to make it 3 – 2 to United.  United had won another FA Youth Cup, the score 6 – 3 on aggregate.

With victory over Crystal Palace, United’s Class of ’92 claim the 1992 F.A. Youth Cup. Above, the players are back row left to right Ben Thornley, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville, Simon Davies, Chris Casper, Kevin Pilkington, Keith Gillespie; front row left right John O’Kane, Robbie Savage, George Switzer, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Colin McKee.

1994 – 1995

Three years after that victory over Crystal Palace United found themselves in another F.A. Youth Cup final, this time they would contest the final against Des Bulpin’s young Tottenham Hotspur side.  The United youth team of 1995 looked totally different to the one of 1992.  In goal was Paul Gibson from Sheffield, in defence was team captain Phil Neville (brother to Gary), Ronnie Wallwork a local lad from Newton Heath, Ashley Westwood from Shropshire and Michael Clegg, another locally born player from Ashton under Lyne.  In midfield was Daniel Hall, Neil Mustoe of Gloucester, Terry Cooke from Marston Green near Solihull in the Midlands and Phil Mulryne from Belfast.  Playing up front was David Johnson from Kingston Jamaica and Dessie Baker from Dublin. 

United youth team player Ronnie Wallwork, seen here in action against Blackpool ‘B’ team at Littleton Road, 14th January 1995. United won 2 – 0.

United had another Neville as team captain, this time it was Phil, two years Gary’s junior.  At United Phil would go on to win six Premiership winner’s medals, three FA Cup medals, three Community Shields as well as the Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup in 1999.  In 1994 he was awarded the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year.  In his youth Phil loved cricket as well as football and he was on the books of Lancashire Cricket club as a youth player.  Phil is noted for being the team captain of the England under-15 cricket team and he is also noted for being the youngest player to play for Lancashire’s second eleven at the age of fifteen. 

Phil Neville, like his brother Gary, would prove to be an excellent servant for Manchester United.

So, the first leg of the 1995 FA Youth Cup was played in early May at White Hart Lane.  At the final whistle it was Spurs who were the happier side as they would be taking a 2 – 1 score line to Old Trafford.  Simon Wormull opened the scoring in the game in the 7th minute and the North London team went 2 – 0 in front when Rory Allen found the United net.  With five minutes of the game left it down to Terry Cooke to score for United, the final score was 2 – 1 in Tottenham’s favour.     I was sat in the crowd of over 20,000 greeted the two teams walked out at Old Trafford a few days later. 

The two teams take to the pitch.

It was close game, there was nothing between the two teams, when half time came the fans had yet to see a goal.  The second half was a mirror image of the first, as the game was entering its closing stages it looked as though Spurs were going to claim the cup; with two minutes to go it was still goalless.  We thought that was it, it wasn’t a nice feeling knowing that we were about to watch another team win a trophy against United at Old Trafford.  However, I like to think past Youth players of United were “up there” watching United willing them on, the likes of Duncan Edwards, David Pegg and Eddie Colman et al urging United to score a goal that would see the game go into extra game, and that’s what exactly happened, young Terry Cooke slotting the ball past Simon Brown in the Spurs net to make it United 1 Spurs 0 in the last minute of the game.  The crowd who had been busy all night singing United songs went ballistic.  To say it was a bit of relief seeing Cooke’s goal go in is a bit of an understatement to be honest. 

Extra time came and went without goals; both teams would be facing a penalty shoot-out.  I wasn’t that confident to be sure, we had seen the first team bow out of the UEFA Cup on penalties to Torpedo Moscow two years before; I couldn’t get that out of my head to be honest.  It was Spurs who would take the first spot kick; Neale Fenn converted cleanly, next up stepped United team captain Phil Neville who missed.  Thankfully Spurs missed their second penalty so were still in it, kind of.  United midfielder Neil Mustoe converted for United to make it 1 – 1.  Both teams had scored their next penalties, when it was the turn of Stephen Carr, the Spurs defender, to take his penalty, thankfully for United Gibson saved it.  That meant it was still 2 – 2 on penalties.  Baker and Cooke converted their penalties for United; Kevin Maher converted for Spurs, that meant United had won the penalty shoot-out 4 – 3.  All United’s young players played well that night but the person who could take the most credit for United’s latest FA Youth Cup triumph was the team coach, Eric Harrison.  Harrison gave United everything he had as youth team coach, he had ushered in the class of ’92 giving United a clutch of young players who soon go on to prove themselves world class.  It wouldn’t be an easy ride for Harrison’s young players, there were times when Harrison had to be a strict disciplinarian.

1995 F.A. Youth Cup winners, Manchester United.

“They were all frightened of me, they had to be.  I had to make them scared. In the first team they were going to have to cope with Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane. Anyway, I’m ashamed to say I’ve always been a very, very bad loser and I did sometimes give them the hairdryer treatment. Occasionally I had to apologise.  One Saturday morning my wife came and watched us train before going shopping. ‘You’re a disgrace,’ she said. ‘The way you treat those kids.’ I had to explain there was method in the madness and, if I wasn’t like that, it was going to be very, very difficult when they began playing for Sir Alex and found themselves on the wrong side of him. They needed mental courage.”  Eric Harrison.

“Youth coaching is 10% about kicks up the backsides and 90% about arms round the shoulders.  You have to let boys use their imaginations and relax. You can’t play good football if you’re tense – but you can be relaxed and hard-working.  We worked hard on team play. Some youth coaches don’t do it but I was preparing them for Manchester United’s first team and they needed to learn football wasn’t all about glory on the ball.  The group became so close and had such strong telepathy Sir Alex and I decided to keep them together playing Under-18 football for an extra year. We wanted to really bond them and eventually they went virtually straight into the first team having played very few reserve games.  They had unbelievable desire, fed off each other’s energy and were all totally dedicated. Not one of them ever got into trouble with drink, drugs or anything. To get such magnificent players together at the same time was incredible. Coaching them was fantastically exciting.”  Eric Harrison.

“I was a big believer in talking to young players one to one, telling them how incredibly talented they were and letting them know if they were going to play for the first team.  It was a massive motivation.  I’ll always remember asking Paul Scholes how he was doing and, typical Paul, he gave me a one-word reply: ‘Alright.’ I said, ‘You’re doing more than alright, you’re going to play for the first team.’ The look on his face was amazing. Just seeing it light up was like winning the lottery.”  Eric Harrison.

 2002 – 2003

United’s next FA Youth Cup triumph was in 2003.  Brian McClair had replaced the retiring Eric Harrison as team manager of the United Youth team.  Two years previous McClair had guided the United reserve team to the Premier Reserve League trophy so he was already used to winning silverware as a manager with United junior teams.  McClair first arrived at United as a highly respected striker in 1987 as part of Alex Ferguson’s rebuilding of Manchester United.  He was purchased from Glasgow Celtic for a fee of £850,000, it was money extremely well spent as McClair did not disappoint.  In his first season McClair went on to score twenty four goals therefore becoming the first United player since George Best to score over twenty goals in a season. 

United line up before the 2003 F.A. Youth Cup Final.

During his time playing for United McClair picked up four Premier League winner’s medals, three F.A. Cup winner’s medals, a League Cup winner’s medal, a European Cup Winner’s Cup winner’s medal, a Super Cup winner’s medal as well as five Charity Shield winner’s medals.  So with that in mind you could say United’s youth team were in very good hands.  United’s opponents in the 2003 F.A. Youth Cup final was east coast side Middlesbrough, their youth team managed by former Boro midfielder Mark Proctor.  Understandably, United’s youth team had changed somewhat. 

The team show the trophy to the fans.

In goal was Luke Steele from Peterborough, in defence was Lee Sims, Lee Lawrence a local boy from Salford, Phil Bardsley also of Salford and Paul McShane from County Wicklow of the Irish Republic.  In Midfield was  team captain David Jones from Southport, Chris Eagles from Hertfordshire, Kieran Richardson from London and Ben Collett from nearby Bury.  Up front was Sylvan Ebanks Blake from Cambridge, and Eddie Johnson from Chester.  The first leg took place in mid April at Boro’s Riverside Stadium in front of over 8,000 fans.  When the ref blew his whistle for the start of the game it didn’t take long for United to get into their stride, in fact it was United who drew first blood in the fourth minute, when Kieran Richardson put the ball in the Boro net. 

A team United, following in the foot steps of legends.

That’s how it stayed right up until the final moments of the match; everyone thought United would be taking a narrow lead back to Old Trafford.  However United weren’t quite finished, with only seconds to go Ben Collett scored for United to make it 2 – 0.  The second at Old Trafford took place ten days later with over 14,000 fans expecting to see another United victory in the F.A. Youth Cup.  The second leg finished in a 1 – 1 draw, Eddie Johnson scoring for the Red Devils about fifteen minutes into the first half and Gary Liddle equalised for Boro with about ten minutes of the game remaining.   So United had once lifted the F.A. Youth Cup, a tournament they had dominated since day one.

Trophy Lift !!!

2010 – 2011

United’s youth team made the final of the 2011 final of F.A. Youth Cup thanks to an impressive victory in the semi-final, over Chelsea’s youth team.  The first leg of the semi-final was at Stamford Bridge which saw the home side scrape a narrow 3 – 2 win, however the second leg at Old Trafford saw the young west London steam rolled by their opponents to the tune of 4 – 0. Awaiting United in the two legged final was the youth team of Sheffield United, a team that included a certain Harry Maguire!  The first leg was played at Bramall Lane on the 17th of May.  Nearly 30,000 fans were at the west Yorkshire ground, most of them hoping to see the home team take a lead to Old Trafford. 

The young United side took the lead in the fourteenth minute courtesy of Jesse Lingard, the home team drew level in the closing moments of the first half when Callum McFadzean gained parity for the home side.  In the second half it was United who took the lead in the 70th minute thanks to goal from Stockport born Will Keane, however the home team were not to be outdone and only three minutes later Jordan Slew, a local boy from nearby Gleadless, made it 2 – 2 and that’s how the game finished, all nicely poised for the return leg in Manchester.  The second leg was played about a week later, 23,000 fans inside Old Trafford hoping to see United win another F.A. Youth Cup. 

The home leg of the final for United, the fans looking forward to the game.

The Old Trafford crowd had to wait until he thirty-seventh minute to see United get going thanks to a goal from Ravel Morrison.  Right on half time Will Keane made it 2 – 0 in United’s favour thanks to a converted penalty kick, Sheffield United had it all to do.  Roughly half way through the second half Ravel Morrison got his second of the game, it was 3 – 0 United were strolling to another F.A. Youth Cup. 

Joe Ironside got the visitors on the score sheet about three minutes after Morrison’s second but it was all to no avail. To rub salt into the wounds Will Keane got his second of the game with less than ten minutes of the game left.  United lifted their tenth F.A. Youth Cup by an aggregate score of 6 – 3. 

Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison pose with the 2011 FA Youth Cup.

United’s history in the F.A. Youth Cup is something for all United fans to treasure; it’s a tournament that has given rise to many of the legendary names of Manchester United.  Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs are just a few of names to bring glory to United in the FA Youth Cup.  It’s a story of triumph over adversity, it’s a story about great leadership and great players, it’s a story never to be beaten.

Tom Thorpe, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard.

United’s First Flying Dutchman, Arnold Mühren.

Arnold Muhren, Wembley 1983.

Arnold Mühren arrived at United in the August of ’82, a regular in the Dutch national team, an experienced and well respected midfielder who had won major silverware.  He was born Arnold Johannes Hyacinthus Mühren, in Volendam, northern Netherlands in 1951.  Indeed, it was for his home town, a place known for its fishing and tradition of cloth weaving that Arnold began his playing career, at F.C. Volendam in 1970.  Arnold was only at Volendam a year before he moved to the academy of Ajax Amsterdam.

A young Arnold Mühren at Ajax of Amsterdam 1972 – 1973.

It was a fantastic move for the young Dutchman, fantastic for his football education.  It was great for the Mühren family too, Arnold’s older brother Gerrie, a great midfielder himself who would go on to be a legend of Ajax, was a big star for the Amsterdam club.  In the early to mid ‘70’s, Arnold played over 60 times for Ajax, scoring 16 goals.  The Ajax team of 1971 was full of world class players, they were about to dominate Europe.  The young Mühren faced tough competition for a place in the team.  Johan Neeskens, Arie Haan, Johan Cruyff and Arnold’s elder brother Gerrie were the regular core of the Ajax midfield in those days. 

Arnold, with his older brother Gerrie on the front cover of a Dutch magazine, 1974.

However, Mühren quickly proved himself a talented midfielder with great passing skills, something that would over time, become his trademark.  The young Mühren was at Ajax at a very special time for the club, in only his second season with Ajax, they became only the second team in Europe to do “The Treble”, winning its own domestic league (Eredivisie), the domestic cup (KNVB Cup) and the European Cup.  In his first stint with Ajax, Arnold left with a European Cup winners medal and a World Club Cup title, as well as domestic honours. 

A Young Mühren in 1972.

In ’74 he was on the move, making the 100 mile trip to F.C Twente of Enschede.  At F.C. Twente, Mühren was to see more of first team football, notching up 108 appearances and scoring 39 goals, impressive for a midfielder.  1975 saw him pick up a UEFA Cup runners up medal.  F.C. Twente, despite a very impressive performance against Juventus in the two legged semifinal, went crashing down 5 – 1 on aggregate to Borussia Mönchengladbach in the two legged final. 

Arnold Mühren seen here in action for Twente Enschede in the Eredivisie.

Happier times were ahead for Arnold Mühren and F.C. Twente, in 1977 Twente won the KNVB Cup, another winner’s medal for Mühren’s growing collection.  As I’m sure you’re aware, the ‘70’s was a memorable time for Dutch football, its national team was getting to World Cup finals, and its domestic teams were doing well in Europe.  Many Dutch players were household names; in world football the Dutch were widely admired.  In 1978 Arnold made his full international debut for The Netherlands in a friendly against Tunisia, the Dutch running out 4 – 0 winners in North Africa. Despite the disappointment of not making the ‘78 World Cup squad for The Netherlands, Mühren’s career was going well.

Not long after that full international debut in Tunisia, Arnold Mühren came to the attention of the late, great Sir Bobby Robson, the then Ipswich Town manager.  Sir Bobby bought him for £150,000, Muhren was an Ipswich player.  Sir Bobby was building a very good Ipswich side; they had just beaten Arsenal at Wembley in the F.A. Cup final. Arnold was at Ipswich Town for four years, making over 160 appearances for the Tractor Boys.  He had some very good times at Portman Road, the crowning achievement being the lifting of the 1981 UEFA Cup, beating Dutch side AZ Alkmaar.  Ron Atkinson brought Mühren to United in the summer of 1982.  

Arnie the Red.

Now playing for the world’s biggest club, Arnold’s trophy winning days would continue.  He made his league debut against Birmingham City, enjoying a 3 – 0 home win.  In his first full season with United, the midfield maestro would visit Wembley three times for finals.  The first didn’t go too well, losing in the League Cup final, or The Milk Cup as it was then.  The FA Cup final of that year would bring his first winners medal in English domestic football.  The Cup Final of ‘83 would go to a replay, the first game ending 2 – 2.  United made sure they lifted the trophy with a comprehensive 4 – 0 win in the replay, Arnold getting on the score sheet with a penalty in the second half.  Arnold would help United reach another F.A. Cup final two years later, but he wouldn’t play in that particular Wembley final.

Arnold Mühren picks up another winner’s medal, this time with United in the F.A. Cup in 1983
Another trophy for Arnold with United, the 1983 Charity Shield.

During his three years with United, Arnold appeared 70 times, scoring 13 goals, making many a fantastic pass.  United would have to wait for the emergence of Paul Scholes, to have a midfielder with such a high degree of passing accuracy and vision.  In the summer of 1985, Mühren returned to The Netherlands, resigning for Ajax.  In 1987 and still at Ajax, Arnold joined that exclusive group of players that have claimed all three of U.E.F.A.’s European club trophies, the European Cup, the UEFA Cup and the European Cup Winners Cup.  The last Ajax side Arnold was a part of was the world’s best side, won Europe’s and the world’s top honours and was full of the great names of the ‘70’s.  The next Ajax team Arnold would turn out for wasn’t far behind at all.

The Return !

The Ajax of the mid ‘80’s boasted some of the best players of the modern era.  Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard and Marco Van Basten were a part of that exciting Ajax team.  Aged 35 years of age, Arnold would return to Ajax and in his first season win another KNVB Cup, Ajax qualifying for next seasons European Cup Winners Cup.  They went on to win it, beating Locomotive Leipzig in the final, Mühren raising the trophy as team captain at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.  Football trophies are often a magnet for truly great players, no matter what team they are at, Arnold Mühren was one of those players. 

1987, Another major European winner’s medal for Arnold, as Dutch giants Ajax defeat Lokomotive Leipzig in Athens.

Towards the end of the ‘80’s Arnold was nearing the end of his playing career, but he wasn’t quite finished with the silverware.   A year after he had won yet another European trophy with Ajax, Mühren was in the Dutch squad for the 1988 European Championships, hosted by The Netherlands’s closest footballing rival, West Germany.  Despite losing their first game to the Soviet Union, the Dutch strolled to the final, on their way making short work of England with a Marco van Basten hat trick, United and England captain Bryan Robson getting a consolation goal.  In the semifinal in Hamburg, they met their arch rivals and tournament hosts, West Germany. 

The silverware keeps on coming !!!

The Germans were leading 1 – 0 with only 16 minutes left, cruising to the final.  To the dismay of the Germans, the Dutch were awarded a penalty in the 74th minute, Ronald Koeman converting from the spot.  With only two minutes left, Marco Van Basten scored for The Netherlands, 1 – 2 in favour of the men in orange, that’s how it finished.  In the final they would face the Soviet Union, the only team to have beaten them that tournament.  Lightening wouldn’t strike twice, the Dutch ran out 2 – 0 winners, and rightly so too.  Rinus Michels’s Netherlands were clearly the standout team of the ’88 European Championship.  Arnold would go on playing for another year before hanging his boots up 1989. 

Orange Legend.

Norwich City, A Brief History…

Norwich City Football Club were founded during the summer of 1902 at the White Lion Street café “The Criterion”, during a meeting hosted by Robert Webster and Joseph Cowper-Nutchey. The building still exists in Norwich city centre, the last time I checked it was a men’s clothing shop. As well as being school teachers, both Webster and Cowper-Nutchey were keen sportsmen and had played football for Norwich CEYMS F.C. Norwich CEYMS were founded in 1888 in Swardeston, about four miles south of Norwich. The CEYMS stands for Church of England Young Men’s Society and I’m happy to say the club’s still going, playing its football today in the Anglian Combination Premier Division. Webster would go on to become the clubs first chairman, and for playing his part in the founding of Norwich City, Joseph Cowper-Nutchey was made an inaugural member of the Norwich City Hall of Fame.

Robert Webster and Joseph Cowper – -Nutchey

Playing in blue and white shirts City played their first ever game in the Norfolk & Suffolk League, three months or so after their founding against Essex team Harwich & Parkeston. The game being played at Newmarket Road, Norwich City’s first home ground. 1905 saw Norwich City elected to the Southern League, and playing in front of increasingly larger crowds the club began looking for a new home, a bigger home. As everyone knows the clubs nickname is The Canaries but the clubs first nickname was The Citizens, how the club came to be known as The Canaries is an interesting one. About three years after the club was founded the then chairman, Wilfrid Lawson Burgess, decided the club needed an overhaul in national identity within the game.

The Chairman was a keen breeder of canaries, so what to do? Norwich changed their team colours to yellow and green, the new nickname? The Canaries. The club emblem of the yellow canary was added to the shirts around 1922. In 1908 they moved to a new address at Rosary Road and in keeping with the clubs new identity the ground was named The Nest, which by all accounts was a disused chalk pit. After a number of years playing at The Nest the club built their present home, Carrow Road, it was opened for business in the summer of 1935. Norwich City’s new stadium derived its name from the street that surrounds it on three of its four sides; the remaining boundary is the River Wensum. The name of Carrow pertains to the old Carrow Abbey that at one time stood by the Wensum.

City’s first Canary crest, 1922

The Canaries regained their Division One status for the second time in eight years at the end of the 1981 – 1982 season, when they finished third in Division Two behind champions Luton Town and runners up Watford.  Team manager Ken Brown hadn’t been in the job long, he had taken over from John Bond late in 1980 when Bond agreed to go and manage Manchester City.  Norwich have never had a particular great trophy winning record, however the Canaries were chirping loudly in 1985 when Ken Brown lead his side to League Cup glory courtesy of a 1 – 0 win over Sunderland, although I hasten to add Norwich’s victory needed an own goal from Sunderland defender Gordon Chisholm. Sadly for City, at the end of that season they found themselves once again in Division Two, a relegated team.  It was only the second trophy in the clubs history, the first being the lifting of the same trophy back in 1962 when Ron Ashman held aloft the League Cup with a comfortable 4 – 0 aggregate win over Rochdale, the triumphant Norwich City manager back then was Willie Reid, a native of Glasgow. 

As mentioned the Norwich City of the early ’80’s had garnered for themselves a reputation of something of a yo-yo team. Managed by Ron Saunders the 1971 – 1972 season saw Norwich City claim the Division Two title, therefore reaching the First Division for the first time in the clubs history. John Bond succeeded Saunders in 1973, after impressing as manager of south coast club Bournemouth.  The future looked bright for Norwich City, a side on the up after reaching the top flight for the first time in their history lead by a successful manager in John Bond. However their stay in the top flight didn’t last long as they were relegated back to Division Two at the end of the ’73 – ’74 season along with Manchester United and Southampton.  Happily though, like United, the Canaries bounced back to Division One at the first time of asking.

That first season back in Division One was all about consolidation for the Canaries, something they easily achieved when they finished in tenth place in Division One.  John Bond took Norwich City to a couple of League Cup finals during the 1970’s, the first time was in ’73 where they lost 1 – 0 to Tottenham Hotspur, Ralph Coates scoring the only goal of the final for the north London club. A couple of years later Norwich were back at Wembley again for another League Cup final, unfortunately for them they lost again this time to Aston Villa by the same score line, Villa were then managed by the man Bond succeeded in the Carrow Road hot seat, Ron Saunders.  As far as the league was concerned the Canaries were finishing in mid table positions.

Duncan Forbes, Canary team captain in two League Cup Finals during the ’70’s, sadly for him they lost both finals.

As the 1980’s began it looked as though Norwich had got to grips with Division One, no longer a team that were constantly fighting relegation battles. The club itself was never the richest or the best supported, it was never seen as a “glamour” club, however by the turn of the ‘80’s it looked as though the Canaries had finally mastered the art of staying in the English top flight.  So John Bond was off to Manchester City and Ken Brown took the reins at Carrow Road.  However, despite a new well respected manager and despite the fact that the Canaries had now become a regular fixture in Division One, Norwich City found themselves relegated once more at the end of 1980 – 1981 season, joining them in Division Two would be Leicester City and Crystal Palace.  So as mentioned right at the beginning, at the end of the 1981 – 1982 season under Ken Brown the Canaries once again strode back into Division One after a short spell in Division Two. 

So, Norwich had once again managed to get themselves back up to Division One under manager Ken Brown. Norwich City didn’t start the ’82 – ’83 season that well. The opening game saw a 2 – 1 home defeat to Manchester City. Their next two games were away to Arsenal and Swansea, the Canaries earned a decent point at Highbury following a 1 – 1 draw with the Gunners, unfortunately their next game at Swansea’s Vetch Field saw Norwich easily brushed aside to the tune of 4 – 0, Bob Latchford getting himself a hat trick for John Toshack’s team. Ken Brown’s team made up for heavy defeat in their next game at home to Birmingham City. Just under 14,000 saw the Canaries wallop the Brummies 5 – 1, the Canary goals coming from Mark Barham with a couple each from Martin O’ Neill and Keith Bertschin. The Canaries would go on to record another thirteen wins that season in a twenty two team division they lost sixteen and drew twelve, it meant that they would finish in fourteenth place on fifty four points. As mentioned another League Cup final victory was only a couple of years off, bringing smiles and cheers from fans not too used to smiles and cheers. As the years would progress the club would see further relegation and promotion, interestingly the club would see a new face on the board of directors at Carrow Road, that person who used to make cakes on Swap Shop, come on you Canary fans! Where are you?!!!!

Aston Villa, A Brief History…

Aston Villa are one of those clubs that in modern times at least, have never really been given the credit they deserve.  Whilst never being the most fashionable of clubs they have often had their hands on the top trophies both at home and in Europe. 

Work proceeds at Villa’s new ground.

Villa or The Villains as they are often known were formed back in 1874, and like many other British clubs, the clergy had a hand in their formation. 

Jack Hughes, ringed in red was one of the founders of Aston Villa.

In Villa’s case it was the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel in Handsworth.  Like Sheffield Wednesday, the club was formed as a result of a cricket club looking for something to do during the winter months.   Handsworth is a town just outside of Birmingham city centre and it was there that Frederick Matthews, William Scattergood, Jack Hughes and Walter Price (Price being the co-founder who would go on to be the first ever team captain of Aston Villa), founded Aston Villa Football Club in the March of 1874. 

Villa Cross Wesleyan Church, Handsworth.

Villa’s first home ground was Aston Park; the club played their home fixtures there until 1876.  The clubs first game was played against the rugby team of St Mary’s Church of Aston Brook, interestingly the game would only take place on the condition that the second half of the match would be played as a rugby match!  In 1876 the club moved to Wellington Road in Perry Barr, Villa were there until 1897. 

Aston Villa, F.A. Cup winners for the season 1894 – 1895.

Facilities for fans had to be built only after Villa had moved in to the ground, as initially there was nowhere for fans to watch the matches.  The players didn’t have it easy either, they had to use a nearby blacksmiths shed as a dressing room.  Eventually as time went on a grandstand was added to Wellington Road, as well as two pavilions.  The first trophy Villa would put on their mantelpiece was the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1880.  The then Aston Villa captain was George Ramsey who played for the club for eight years from 1874 to 1882.  Ramsey was more than just a player for the Birmingham club; he was a driving force for Aston Villa during the clubs early years. 

Villa’s double winning side, 1897.

Ramsey was a native of Glasgow, born in 1855.  He arrived in Birmingham in 1871 as a sixteen year old to work as a clerk in a brass foundry, Birmingham then a thriving industrial metropolis.  Ramsey began playing for the club upon its founding; he was their star man who would go on to gain a reputation as an excellent footballer. 

George Ramsey.

It was Ramsey who put forward the idea that Villa move to Wellington Road and together with John Linsay put it to the Villa board that the club should begin to charge admission to matches.  It was a decision the club would not regret.  Ramsey would be a Villa man for many years, eventually working as Aston Villa’s team manager and club secretary.  Once he hung his boots up in 1882 he remained in the role of club secretary, a position he held for forty two years until 1926. 

Aston Villa, with Sunderland, at Newcastle Road, 9th September 1893.

It was under Ramsey’s guidance that Villa would enjoy their most successful years as a football club.  Ramsey would steer Aston Villa to six league titles and six FA Cups, a record second only to Sir Alex Ferguson’s record at Manchester United.  Even then Ramsey wasn’t finished.  Now aged seventy one years of age he retired as club secretary taking on the role of vice president and honorary advisor to Aston Villa Football Club.  Archie Hunter is another important name in the history of Aston Villa.  Archie was another Scot, hailing from a place by the name of Joppa in south Ayrshire.  Archie Hunter holds the distinction of being the first Aston Villa captain to hold aloft the FA Cup, doing so in 1887.  Hunter signed for Villa in 1878; he had previously turned out for Third Lanark and Ayr Thistle.  Once in England he became a household name, like Ramsey a gifted footballer.  Hunter almost never turned up at Aston Villa; he had originally traveled south of the border to sign for Calthorpe Football Club, however Hunter would have second thoughts…

“Aston Villa to me was a club that had come rapidly to the fore and I was asked to become a member of it. I hesitated for some time, but at last my friend told me that a “brother Scot,” Mr. George Ramsay, was the Villa captain and that decided me. Mr. Ramsay was a Glasgow man and had exerted himself very considerably to bring the Villa team into the front rank.” Archie Hunter.

Archie Hunter.

As I’ve already mentioned Archie Hunter was the first Villa captain to lift the FA Cup, that’s not the only distinction he holds, Hunter is also the first player to score in every round of the FA Cup.

“Archie Hunter was a prince of dribblers. It was not an unusual performance of his to start at the half way mark, and dribble through the whole of the opposing team! He would not lose the ball until he had literally dribbled it between the posts.” Association Football And The Men Who Made It. 1906.

Aston Villa 1887 F.A. Cup Winner’s, Frank Coulton, James Warner, Fred Dawson, Joe Simmonds y Albert Allen; Richmond Davis, Albert Brown, Archie Hunter, Howard Vaughton y Dennis Hodgetts; Harry Yates y John Burton .

In 1897 Aston Villa moved to their present home of Villa Park, it’s interesting to note that there is no official listing of the name Villa Park, it’s a name given to the ground by the fans back in those days.  Its actual name is Aston Lower Ground.  It was in that year that the club won its first double of the league title and the FA Cup, becoming the second club to do the double, the first club being Preston North End about a decade previously.  As the twentieth century began Villa tasted FA Cup glory for the fourth time during the 1904 – 1905 season, beating Newcastle United 2 – 0 in the final which was held at Crystal Palace before a crowd of over a hundred thousand people, both goals scored by “Happy” Harry Hampton also known as “The Wellington Whirlwind”. 

Harry Hampton scores in the 1905 FA Cup final.

Another important name in the history of Aston Villa is William McGregor, another Scot who moved south of the border to leave a lasting impression on English football.  It’s McGregor who can be credited with the formation of the football league, it was his idea and vision that today sees English football playing in the divisional format that we take for granted. 

William McGregor.

As we know Villa’s colours are claret and blue.  Of course they aren’t the only club to play in that colour scheme, but Villa were the first to adopt these colours as their official club colours.  The first Villa kits consisted of claret and blue horizontal stripes with white shorts and blue socks.  As the years went on they would change into black and white horizontal striped shirts, even full black shirts with a motif of a lion of the front.  The inclusion of the lion on the shirts is a Scottish influence; it’s actually the lion from the Scottish coat of arms.  William McGregor had to travel up to Scotland to purchase new lion motifs after the original motifs faded in the wash, upon his return the sister of George Ramsey was charged with task of sewing them on the shirts.  It was an eye catching design, bold and different to say the least.  Talking year’s later, Villa player Charles Johnstone spoke of the incident…

The Scottish heraldic lion was a strong influence on the Villa team crest.

“Our lion had no chance with the washing lady! He became pale and anemic so Mac (William McGregor) was deputed to send to Scotland for thirteen lions on shields proper, which could be attached and detached at will….When they were duly attached you could hardly see the man for the lion – we were each as self-conscious as a bride in a wedding dress. We went on the field but the gorgeous lion got us down. We had a most awful whacking and the lion was relegated to the club notepaper and flags.”

As the years went on Aston Villa would experiment with different designs for their football kits, one such design was a piebald design which was sensibly dropped and didn’t last long.  They finally decided to keep the claret and blue colour scheme of their first kit in 1887, apart from the seven or so years from 1901 to 1908 when they played in a red shirt and white shorts.  Another league title was won during the 1909 – 1910 season, Villa finishing in first place with fifty three points, five points ahead of Liverpool, with Blackburn Rovers in third, Newcastle in forth and Manchester United in fifth place.   The club wouldn’t see another piece of silverware until the 1919 – 1920 season when they lifted their sixth FA Cup. 

Aston Villa F.A. Cup winner’s 1920.

The years after that cup win saw something of a steady drop in form for the club; however the 1930 – 1931 season saw Villa play some great football and hit the heights of years gone by to some extent when they finished runners up to Arsenal.  There was no silverware for Villa to speak of but they did make the record books when they scored a hundred and twenty eight goals that season, a record they still hold to this day. 

Tom “Pongo” Waring, one of Villa’s stars from 1928 to 1935.

Another feather in Villa’s cap came during the 1960 – 1961 season when they became the first team to lift the Football League Cup.  They were then managed by Joe Mercer who had been at the club since 1958 being brought in from Sheffield United.  As mentioned the 60 – 61 season was the beginning for one of the best known of footballs cup competitions, the fledgling cup tournament wasn’t without its problems and detractors but its endured to be an attractive tournament that’s thrown up some great games and quite a few surprises.  In its inaugural season Villa had beaten Huddersfield Town, Preston North End, Plymouth Argyle, Wrexham and Burnley to earn themselves a place in the final, to played against Yorkshire’s Rotherham United.  For the first few League Cup finals the final would be contested over two legs.  Villa emerged victorious in the first final after a 3 – 2 aggregate win over their Yorkshire opponents. 

Villa overcame Rotherham to win the first League Cup in 1961.

Villa would go on to win the competition a further four times.  Aston Villa’s finest hour came at the start of the 1980’s.  They were then managed by Ron Saunders.  It’s fair to say that Saunders has been Villa’s greatest ever manager, a manager who guided the club to its finest victories.  He was made Villa team manager in 1974 after impressing as manager of Norwich City.  He took Norwich to the Division Two title and promotion to Division One for the first time in the clubs history at the end of the 1971 – 1972 season.  The following season he steered them to the League Cup final, unfortunately for them they were beaten in the final by Tottenham Hotspur. 

Ron Saunders.

When Saunders was appointed Villa team boss the club was languishing in Division Two, in his first season at the helm Saunders guided them back to Division One, when they finished runners up to Manchester United in Division Two.  Saunders also took them to another League Cup Final victory when they beat Norwich City 1 – 0 , the winning Villa goal scored by Ray Graydon who incidentally would soon go to play his football in the North American Soccer League with Washington Diplomats.  Another League Cup final beckoned two years later. 

Ron Saunders and the League Cup, 1975.

This time they faced Gordon Lee’s Everton in the final.  It was a hard fought cup win for Villa; it went to a second replay.  The first final at Wembley Stadium finished goalless.  A week later the teams reconvened at Sheffield Wednesdays home ground, Hillsborough, it finished 1 – 1.  Villa could count themselves lucky as their goal was an own goal which was scored by the luckless Everton defender Roger Kenyon.  A second replay would be needed; it took place about a month later at Manchester United’s Old Trafford Stadium.  This time Villa made sure with a 3 – 2 victory in extra time, their goals courtesy of Brian Little who scored himself a couple and Chris Nicholl.  It was great game to watch for the neutral, end to end stuff with both teams going for it.  At the end of the 1979 – 1980 season Villa finished in seventh place, they were a decent team, no strangers to lifting silverware but no one could have guessed that this Villa team was about to grab the football world by the scruff of the neck and record some impressive results. 

More League Cup glory for Villa in 1977, at the expense of Everton.

The season after it was all about Aston Villa and Ipswich Town.  Villa began well with a 2 – 1 away win at Leeds United, they would go on to record impressive wins at Goodison Park, the City Ground and at The Dell.  At home they dispatched Liverpool, Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton, that season quickly turned into a  two horse title race between Villa and Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town.  It was Villa who came out on top.  Despite a last game of the season 2 – 0 defeat at Arsenal Ron Saunder’s Aston Villa finished with sixty points, four points ahead of Ipswich to claim the Division One title.   That meant Villa would be England’s entrant into the following seasons European Cup.  After victories over Valur of Iceland, Dinamo Berlin of East Germany and Dynamo Kiev of Ukraine the Midlands side found themselves in the semifinal, facing them was Anderlecht of Belgium.  Villa won through 1 – 0 on aggregate thanks to a goal from Tony Morley at Villa Park, in Belgium the game finished goalless.  Awaiting them in the final were West German giants Bayern Munich. 

Dennis Mortimer of Aston Villa, English champions 1981.

It was Bayern who were the hot favourites, captained by German football legend Paul Breitner, the match to take place in Holland at Feyenoord’s De Kuip Stadium.   However Villa were going to have to do it without Ron Saunders who had resigned from his position at the quarter final stage following a disagreement with the Villa board of directors.  In came the number two to Saunders, Tony Barton, to take the managerial reins.  The first half was close.  It was a half that flowed in troughs and peaks, from end to end action to quite a pedestrian game.  That being said the final had an interesting start. 

Peter Withe.

The Villa goalie Jimmy Rimmer had to be replaced after only about ten minutes when the unlucky Rimmer sustained a shoulder injury, on came Nigel Spink who would have the game of his life.  It was Villa who drew first blood about half way through the second half when Peter With scored from close range following a pass from Tony Morley.  To be honest, as the second half wore on Villa were being outplayed by their German opponents, Bayern were turning the screw.  Bayern actually put the ball into the Villa net but the goal was deemed off side. 

Villa take on Bayern Munich of Germany, in the European Cup final 1982.

The young Villa side hung on to the final whistle, the European Cup was theirs.  Aston Villa’s European exploits were not yet over, as a few months later they went on to lift the Super Cup after beating Barcelona 3 – 1 on aggregate.  As the 1980’s progressed Villa would see their chances to achieve silverware dwindle somewhat.  The 1985 – 1986 season saw them reach the semifinal of the League Cup; sadly they were beaten by eventual winners Oxford United.  Villa’s FA Cup aspirations ended in the fourth round with defeat to Millwall.  At least the Villa fans could take pride in their kit. 

Villa are European champions, 1982.

That mid ’80’s kit the team wore was one the best they ever had in recent times, a kit that consisted of a claret shirt with blue stripes around the sleeves.  The sponsor was Mita, a company that manufactured document copiers.  They finished the ’85 – ’86 season in sixteenth place with forty four points, only three points away from relegation.  It got worse for Villa the season after when they finished bottom of the old First Division.  Happier times were ahead for Aston Villa as they won promotion back to Division One at the first time of asking after they finished in second place to Millwall in Division Two.

Queens Park Rangers, A Brief History…

Loftus Road Stadium. South Africa Road. London. W12 7PJ.  That’s the address of Queen Park Rangers, the football club residing in Shepherds Bush, in West London. It’s situated about 4 miles north of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge and about 5 miles south of Wembley stadium.  Q.P.R. was founded in the late 19th century when the existing teams of St Judes and Christchurch Rangers merged in 1882. 

Queens Park Rangers, 1886.

One of the more interesting facts about the early days of Q.P.R. is that they established the record of having the most home grounds in British football history, playing their home fixtures at over twenty football venues, of course it’s a record they still hold today. 

St Jude’s.

It wasn’t long after the formation of the club that they became an all professional club, doing so only a few years after.  The Q.P.R. kit is one of the most recognisable in world football, the shirt with the blue and white horizontal stripes or hoops which have long since been associated with the Loftus Road club.  The first time that the players of Q.P.R. ran out onto the pitch in the blue and white horizontal striped shirt was at the beginning of the 1926 – 1927 season.  Before that the club colours of Queen Park Rangers were horizontal green and white stripes, think Glasgow Celtic and you ain’t far away. 

John Musslewhite captained the Q.P.R. from 1896-1899.

From the moment they were first established as a football club, Rangers would become something of a nomadic club.  The clubs first recorded home venue was Welford’s Fields, the club was only there for a couple years, after that they were on their travels, Brondesbury, Kensal Green and Kilburn Cricket Ground being only three of the venues that Queens Park Rangers would call home amongst many.  They first moved into Loftus Road in 1917 as the ground they were using for home fixtures back then, at Park Royal North West London, was acquisitioned by the military, the end of the First World War was still a good year or so away.  In a bid to raise attendances at home games Q.P.R. made the decision to move to nearby White City at the start of the 1931 – 1932 season.  It wouldn’t be until after the Second World War, in 1948, that the club bought the ownership rights to the ground. 

Loftus Road, mid 1980’s.

With respect to Rangers, its haul of major honours down the years hasn’t been the greatest.  Having said that though, it wasn’t long after the clubs formation that it began to claim silverware, winning the West London Observer Cup three times on the bounce in 1892, 1893 and 1894. A year later in 1895, they won the London Cup and entered the FA Cup for the first time. As the 20th century got underway the London club would achieve further success in the Western League, a minor league still going today. Q.P.R. also finished runners up to Manchester United in the 1909 Charity Shield.   So yes, not a brilliant record of cup wins down the years by any means, however there is one entry into the record books that the club can be rightfully proud of.  The ’66 – ’67 season was an excellent one for Q.P.R., winning the Division 3 title at a canter.  The final standings for that season in the Third Division had Q.P.R. finishing as champions with 67 points, a full 12 points ahead of Middlesbrough in second place on 55 points. 

Division 3 Champions.

That season they only lost 5 games in a 46 game league campaign, scoring over a hundred goals and conceding only 38, almost half what Middlesbrough conceded. So it’s fair to say they romped home to the Division 3 title.  They also romped to the League Cup Final that season.  Following wins over Colchester United, Aldershot, Swansea City (then known as Swansea Town). Leicester City and Carlisle United, Q.P.R. found themselves in the semifinal against Division Two side Birmingham City.  The 1st leg of the semifinal took place at St Andrews, the team from Shepherd’s Bush brushed their opponents aside with ease, winning 4 – 1.  A month later Q.P.R. welcomed Birmingham to West London. The game took off where the 1st leg finished, Q.P.R. again winning easily 3 – 1.  So with a 7 – 2 aggregate victory Rangers were in the League Cup final, for the very first time in its history. 

League Cup winner’s, 1967.

The 1967 League Cup final would also make history, from now on the final would be contested over the one game, at Wembley Stadium.  Before then, teams reaching the League Cup final had to contest the final over two games.  Q.P.R.’s opponents in the final was West Bromwich Albion. The midlands team were the holders of the League Cup, beating West Ham United over two games a year before.  The final was played, as mentioned at Wembley Stadium on the 4th of March, Jimmy Hagan’s West Bromwich Albion being the hot favourites to retain the trophy. 

Thanks to the goals of Morgan, Marsh and Lazerus, the Hoops claim the League Cup, 1967.

The Q.P.R. manager at the time was one of the great names in the history of Queens Park Rangers, Alec Stock.  Stock was a Somerset man, born in 1917 in Peasedown St John. He was once on the books of Q.P.R. as a player, making 30 appearances for the club as a forward.  However, he made his name in football as a manager when he became the player manager of Yeovil Town in 1946, leading the tiny club to the 5th round of the FA Cup in 1949. 

Alec Stock.

Good experience for Stock, experience he would later put to good use with Queens Park Rangers.  Alec became the club manager of Q.P.R. in 1959, a position he would hold for 9 years.  Under Alec Stock Q.P.R. would have quite a successful time in the 1960’s.  One of the highlights of Alec Stock’s managerial career was leading out his Q.P.R. side out at Wembley Stadium to take on West Bromwich Albion in that League Cup final of 1967.  Like I said, the Baggies were most people’s favourites to retain their trophy they lifted the year before.  No surprises then that with little over half an hour into the game West Brom were 2 – 0 up, seemingly on their way to another cup final victory, both their goals scored by Yorkshireman Clive Clark.  In the second half the fans of the soon to be Third Division champions were in dreamland as they saw their side come from 2 goals down to win the game 3 – 2, the goals scored by Rodney Marsh, Roger Morris and Mark Lazarus, sending the Q.P.R. fans into ecstasy. 

That record I mentioned earlier?  Q.P.R. became the first team from the Third Division to lift the League Cup, history would repeat itself a couple of years later when Swindon Town of the Third Division beat First Division Arsenal in the final of the League Cup.  Alec Stock would lead Q.P.R. to promotion again the following season, reaching the First Division for the first time in their history.  Just before I go on to talk about other matters Q.P.R., did you ever see that comedy sketch show from the 1990’s, The Fast Show?  Well, you know that character that Paul Whitehouse used to do, Ron Manager, jumpers for goalposts, hmmmm, isn’t it? Well, that character was actually based on Alec Stock.

Ron Manager from The Fast Show, based on Alec Stock.

The Hoops would again come to prominence during the ’75 – ’76 season when they narrowly missed out on the First Division title. They finished only a point behind Liverpool, it’s still the Londoners best ever finish in the English top flight.  In 1980, former Q.P.R. player Terry Venables took over the managerial reins at Loftus Road. Whilst still in Division Two, Venables would take the club to the F.A. Cup final in ’82 for the first time in their history.

Terry Venables football card.

They lost narrowly to First Division side Tottenham Hotspur, after a replay.  It was a bitter sweet ending for Q.P.R. that season, disappointment in the FA Cup final was lessened thanks to a domestic campaign that yielded promotion back to Division One.  Venables was team boss at Q.P.R. for four years. In ’84 he left for Spain to manage Barcelona, he was replaced by Alan Mullery.  Mullery’s time at Loftus Road was short but full of interesting incident, not least when he took them into Europe.  In Venables final season at the helm at Loftus Road, the club had finished in 5th place in Division One, so that meant they would be entered into the following seasons U.E.F.A. Cup tournament.

Q.P.R. suffer F.A. Cup final heartbreak at Wembley Stadium, 1982.

In the first round they faced Knattspyrnufélag Reykjavíkur of Iceland.  It was a walk in the park for the Hoops, winning the 1st leg away in Iceland 3 – 0 and 4 – 0 at Loftus Road.  In the second round they were drawn against Partizan Belgrade of Yugoslavia, the first leg taking place on the 24th of October at Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium.  Why Highbury? You might well ask.  Well, it was because U.E.F.A. had deemed Q.P.R.’s astro turf pitch unsuitable for a U.E.F.A. Cup match, or any serious European fixture for that matter.  So therefore, the Q.P.R. team bus traveled the 9 miles to Arsenal’s then home stadium Highbury for their European home tie.  It was an interesting game, full of goals and a sending off.  Q.P.R. took the lead over their Yugoslav opponents in the 12th minute courtesy of a goal by John Gregory.

Gary Bannister v Partizan Belgrade.

Partizan equalised a minute later with a goal by Nikica Klinčarski, just over ten minutes later the Black-Whites took the lead with a goal from Dragan Mance.  After that it was all Q.P.R., as fate would have it Partizan’s turn to be on the receiving end of a quick equalizer when Wayne Fereday put the ball in the Partizan goal to make it 2 – 2.   Just before half time Simon Stainrod made it 3 – 2 in Q.P.R.’s favour.  The Hoops would score another 3 goals that night, Gary Bannister scored two and Warren Neil also found the Partizan net. Unfortunately for Neil, about 25 minutes later he would be red carded for a reckless tackle, with the game finishing 6 – 2 it looked as though the Loftus Road club were sailing into the 3rd round. 

Partizan Belgrade 4-0 QPR.

About a fortnight later Rangers flew to Belgrade for their 2nd leg match with Partizan, the West London club were about to undergo one of their most disappointing games in their history.  All Q.P.R. had to do was play a disciplined game and not do anything silly.  Sadly for The Hoops that night, Partizan played an excellent game in Belgrade.  Dragon Mance, fresh from scoring in London opened the scoring in the 5th minute to put his team 1 – 0 up. Another goal before half time by Dragan Kaličanin gave Partizan reason to believe they might actually pull this tie out of the fire. With another couple of goals from Miodrag Ješić they did indeed achieve the near impossible, it was Partizan’s night.  The game ended 6 – 6 on aggregate, the Yugoslavs through on the away goals rule.

Simon Stainrod of Q.P.R. is challenged by Vermezovic of Partizan Belgrade, Highbury Stadium.

About 6 months on from taking the manager’s job at Loftus Road, Alan Mullery was sacked.  In came former Q.P.R. defender Jim Sibley, a local man from nearby Uxbridge in the role as caretaker manager.  Sibley was in charge of first team matters for about 12 months, replacing him was Jim Smith brought in from Oxford United.  The ’85 – ’86 season would see Q.P.R. return to Wembley for another League Cup final, this time against Oxford United.  For that season Q.P.R. retained Guinness as their shirt sponsor. 

Disappointment for Rangers in Belgrade, 1984.

Unfortunately for the Loftus Road club, that impressive run of form that would see them to another League Cup final, could not be replicated in their domestic campaign in the First Division.  They would finish that season mid table, in 13th.  The season began well enough for them with a 1 – 0 home victory, against Ipswich Town.  It was a season that saw Q.P.R. unable to string a series of wins together, “yoyo – ing” from victory to defeat.  However, they did record an impressive home win against eventual First Division title winner’s, Liverpool. Liverpool would again taste defeat against Rangers later on in the season.  The period from late November to the New Year saw Q.P.R. go on a losing streak of 5 games, starting with a 2 – 0 home defeat to Coventry City.  Later in the season they would enjoy a 1 – 0 home win against Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United. At the end of the season they recorded an impressive away win at Filbert Street, beating Leicester City 4 – 1.   After wins in the League Cup against Hull City, Watford, Nottingham Forest and Chelsea, Q.P.R. found themselves in the two legged semifinal against Liverpool. 

Ray Wilkins.

The first leg took place at Loftus Road.  In front of just over 15,000 fans, Rangers came away the winners thanks to a solitary goal scored by Terry Fenwick.  The second leg played at Anfield was an unusual game to say the least, it was a semifinal that saw Liverpool score two own goals in front of their own fans, the Hoops didn’t have to score, their opponents did all the work for them.  Gary Gillespie and Ronnie Whelan scored an own goal each to give QPR a 3 – 1 aggregate win, the team from Loftus Road were once again going to Wembley.  Awaiting them in the League Cup final was Oxford United, managed by Maurice Evans.  The match was played on the 20th of April in front of over 90,000 fans, unfortunately for QPR, it wasn’t to be their day.  Oxford won the game 3 – 0 with goals from Trevor Hebbard, Ray Houghton and Jeremy Charles, therefore giving Oxford United its first and as yet only major trophy.  

Ray Wilkins and Andy Sinton.

Nottingham Forest, A Brief History…

The club known as “The Tricky Trees” were first formed in 1865, therefore making them one of the oldest football clubs in the world.  The founding of the club came about when a group of Bandy players in Nottingham decided to form a football club; by the way Bandy is similar to hockey and is primarily played on ice.  It was a venture first put forward by a gentleman by the name of J.S.Scrimshaw, the initial meeting took place at the Clifton Arms on Shakespeare Street, which is only a couple of miles or so north from where Forest’s stadium the City Ground, is today.  Of course, there is more than one football club in the city of Nottingham.  Those bandy players surely must have been influenced by what they had seen at Notts County, the world’s oldest football club, formed in 1862.  These were the earliest days of association football in England, the formation of the football league was still more than twenty years in the future, however the game was quickly growing in popularity and football clubs were to be founded left, right and centre for years to come. 

Nottingham Forest, late 1880’s.

So, along with Mr Scrimshaw the history books tell us the founding members of Nottingham Forest Football Club were J.Tomlinson, W.I. Hussey, C.F. Daft, J. Milford, W. Brown, T.G. Howitt, J.G. Richardson, T. Gamble, W.P. Brown, W.R. Lymberry, W.H. Revis, A. Barks, J.H. Rastall and R.P. Hawkesley.  Forest’s colours are red and white, yes?  Well, the particular shade of red of the Forest home shirt is known as “Garibaldi red”.  During that meeting at the Clifton Arms it was decided to purchase twelve red caps, Garibaldi red to be exact, the clubs colour had been decided.  It was named “Garibaldi red” due to the Italian freedom fighters that were known as the red shirts, they were extremely popular in England during the latter part of the 19th century.  Forest played their first ever game on Thursday 22nd March 1866, at the Forest Recreation Ground against city neighbours Notts County, the match ended 0 – 0. 

Advertisement for Charles Daft’s cricket company, Daft became a founder of Nottingham Forest.

About three weeks later the two teams played each other again, and again the final score was 0 – 0.   1889 saw Forest join the short lived Football Alliance. The Football Alliance would only run for three seasons, and happily for Forest they managed to finish the final season of the Alliance as champions. Over a twenty two game season Forest finished top with thirty three points, two points ahead of Newton Heath L.Y.R., the team that would soon become Manchester United.  During the clubs early days they played their home fixtures at quite a few venues, they began at the Racecourse Ground then moving to the Castle Ground around 1879.   Those years between 1873 and 1885 they played their home fixtures at the Parkside Ground, Trent Bridge and The Gregory Ground.  During 1890 and up until 1895, Forest’s home games were played at The Town Ground.  It was in 1898 that they moved into The City Ground after raising £3,000 for the move.  Following that season the Football Alliance was merged with the Football League, the League itself only established a few years before in 1888.

Cup winner’s, 1898.

In the minor upheaval of the Football League Forest were joined in the First Division by Newton Heath L.Y.R, and The Wednesday. The rest of the teams which included Sheffield United and Northwich Victoria, went into Division Two.  Forest had proved a point to a large extent in winning the Football Alliance as their initial application to join the Football League in 1888, was declined.  That wasn’t the only reason that Forest could feel justified in joining the big boys in the Football League. As a club they were a generous outfit, always willing to help out other clubs.  Nottingham Forest is the reason that the predominant colour of the Liverpool and Arsenal home shirt is red.  In 1886 when Woolwich Arsenal was being founded Forest sent them a load of football shirts, from their own kit locker so to speak.  A few years later, they did the same for Liverpool. When Brighton & Hove Albion was being established Forest helped them acquire land for the south coast team’s first pitch. 

The 1897 – 1898 season was a significant one for Forest, it was the season that they won their first F.A. Cup.  They had come close before, they had reached the semifinal on no less than four times previously.  Forest arrived for the cup final at Crystal Palace after wins over Grimsby Town, Gainsborough Trinity, West Bromwich Albion and a semifinal victory over Southampton.  Harry Haslam’s Forest side needed a replay to get past Southampton and claim a place in the final.  The first semifinal was played at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, the game finished 1 – 1, the replay was played five days later at Crystal Palace in London, the final score was 2 – 0 in Forest’s favour.  The final took place at the same venue on Saturday the 16th of April. Forests opponents that day were Derby County, a club that would have a strong rivalry with Forest for decades to come.  Forest took the lead in the final about twenty minutes into the game, thanks to a goal from Arthur Capes.  About eleven minutes later Derby gained parity, courtesy of a goal from Stephen Bloomer.  With half time only minutes away, Capes scored another for Forest.  With only four minutes left of the final John McPherson made it 3 – 1 to Forest, the cup belonged to Nottingham Forest.  It was the Forest team captain Frank Forman, a former Derby County player himself, who raised the cup in front of over 60,000 fans.

Arthur Capes.

Forest have a number of firsts in its history, in 1874 they were the first team to wear shin guards.  In 1878 their game against Sheffield Norfolk was the first time in British football where the referee used a whistle for the first time.  Sam Weller Widdowson is a stand out figure from the history of Nottingham Forest.  Sam was quite the sportsman, he played county cricket for Nottinghamshire and football for Forest.  He was born in Hucknall, south west Nottinghamshire, in 1851.  Widdowson represented his county at international level in football too, and it was Sam who invented shin guards. It was Widdowson who came up with the much used “classical” formation of the day. This formation consisted of two full backs, a three man midfield and five forwards.  It was a formation that caught on and endured for decades, the much used 4 – 4 – 2 formation of today didn’t emerge until the early 1960’s succeeding Widdowson’s “classical” formation.  As mentioned earlier, Forest moved into the brand new City Ground in 1878. The city of Nottingham had been granted city status in 1897, so calling it the City Ground made sense, a fitting name for the stadium. 

Sam Weller Widdowson.

When you hear the name Nottingham Forest, one name springs to mind immediately. Brian Clough.  Clough was more than just a football manager.  He was a force of nature, a great leader and as outspoken as it’s humanly possible to be.  Of course it goes without saying you can’t talk about Forest’s glory days without talking about Peter Taylor, not as much of a number two but as a sidekick in all things football.  Whilst Clough was born and raised in Middlesbrough, Taylor was a Nottingham boy through and through. Taylor was a bit of journeyman during his twenty one year playing career. Peter Taylor played for Forest, Coventry City, Middlesbrough, Port Vale and Burton Albion. Aged 37 Taylor first got together with Clough, at Hartlepool United in Division Four in 1965.  Taylor had impressed at Burton Albion, leading them to the Southern League Cup in 1964.  A year later Clough brought Taylor to Hartlepool and British footballs greatest double act was in place, Clough and Taylor together were about to go on a fantastic football adventure.

The one and only, Brian Clough.

After Hartlepool United, Clough and Taylor would manage Brighton & Hove Albion and Derby County.  Their time at Derby County can be seen in the film “The Damned United”.  Although Clough and Taylor had a somewhat strained relationship with the Derby County chairman Sam Longson, they managed to guide Derby County to the Division Two championship in 1969. Eventually, the Division One title would follow three years later.  Clough and Taylor rebuilt Derby from the ground up acquiring some class players along the way such as John O’ Hare, John McGovern and Roy McFarland.  As I’ve said, Clough and Taylor’s relationship with Derby Chairman Sam Longson was often a strained one.  They would often incur the anger of Longson by signing players without Longson knowing anything about it, like they did when they bought David Nish from Leicester City during the summer of 1972.  Not that all the strong words and ill feeling in the Derby board room really mattered, Clough and Taylor were winning games, winning titles and keeping the Derby fans very happy, they were having a laugh!  However, the controversy would go on for a bit longer for Clough and Taylor. 

Clough and Taylor, a very successful management team.

In 1973 Clough’s outspokenness got him into trouble during the semifinal of the European Cup against Italy’s Juventus, who were then managed by Cestmir Vycpalek.  Derby lost the semifinal on aggregate 3 – 1, but the score line isn’t even half the story of that semifinal. Clough accused the Italian team of cheating labeling them “cheating bastards” and to be fair, Clough had a point.   There were smoking guns galore to back up Clough’s claims such as dubious refereeing decisions during the game, Juventus players barracking the ref. The Juventus players were even accused of accompanying Clough to his dressing room. There was also the very dubious bookings of Derby County players that left a bad taste in the mouth for Clough, Taylor and the Derby fans.  During the latter half of 1973 both Clough and Taylor resigned from their positions at Derby County, they were at the end of their tether having to deal with a hostile boardroom that had feeling like they were managing the club with both arms tied behind their backs. 

Derby County take on Juventus in Turin, 1973.

“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.”  Brian Clough.

“If we had stayed, Derby County would have won the European Cup long before Nottingham Forest and would still be among the premier clubs of England.  They are back in the Second Division today because a few interfering directors imagined they could run the show.”   Peter Taylor, speaking in 1980.

“Derby was the wild making of Brian Clough.  He went there a young and urgent manager who had done impressive work deep in his own little corner of the world at Hartlepool.  He left surrounded by fascination and great celebrity: abrasive, infuriating, but plugged, immovably, into a vein of the nation.”  James Lawton, Journalist.

After leaving Derby, Clough and Taylor had a brief spell at Brighton & Hove Albion.  After a year on the south coast Clough was installed as the new team manager of Leeds United whilst Taylor remained at Brighton.  It was a well-documented bumpy ride for Clough at Leeds with a mutinous dressing room filled with disgruntled players.  Clough was only at Leeds for forty four days.  With hindsight Cloughie shouldn’t have been bothered, he was about to build a brilliant legacy at Nottingham Forest.  Clough was named Forest manager on the 6th of January 1975, and about eighteen months later he was joined at the City Ground by Peter Taylor.  When Clough took over Forest they were a mid table Division Two club going nowhere, however when Clough and Taylor got to work it didn’t take long for the magic to take hold.  Only two years into the job, Clough took the struggling Forest to a third place finish at the end of the 1976 – 1977 season, guaranteeing promotion to Division One.  1977 saw Forest lift the Anglo Scottish cup following a 5 – 1 victory over Leyton Orient. 

John McGovern with the Anglo Scottish Cup, 1977.

The Anglo Scottish Cup was a short lived cup tournament consisting of English and Scottish teams; it ran from 1975 to 1981.  The following season Forest romped to the title with four games to spare, the 1977 – 1978 season was all about Nottingham Forest.  Not only did they win the Division One title but they also won the League Cup, beating Liverpool after a replay at Old Trafford thanks to a well struck penalty by Scottish international John Robertson.  Clough and Taylor were working their special kind of magic again, Clough was all about the dressing room and training pitch, Taylor was the master scout cherry picking some absolute superb players to come and play for Nottingham Forest, just as he has done at Derby County. Those players brought in by Clough and Taylor include some of the best players in the modern history of Nottingham Forest, some of those players would go on to manage clubs themselves later in their careers, such as Frank Clark and Martin O’ Neil.

English champions, 1978.

Clough brought in Peter Shilton from Stoke City, for a fee said to be around £250,000. Shilton would spend well over a decade as England goalkeeper.  David Needham was brought in from Queens Park Rangers for a fee of £140,000, Needham began his professional career at Notts County; he would only play a few games for Q.P.R. before being snapped up by Forest.  Larry Lloyd was transferred from Coventry City for £60,000.  John McGovern was one of Clough’s first buys at Forest.  McGovern had been a Clough player since the early days at Hartlepool and was with Clough at Derby and the stormy days at Elland Road.  McGovern was a player well trusted by Clough; John McGovern would prove an excellent club captain and servant to Forest.  Another player brought in by Clough early doors was Frank Clark; years later Clark would later take the Forest hot seat himself. 

David Needham.

Garry Birtles was acquired from Long Eaton United in 1976, Birtles would score many goals for Forest. However, he would later be transferred to Manchester United, a move that would prove very disappointing for all concerned.  Archie Gemmell was brought in from Derby County for a fee of around £25,000.  During the February of 1979 broke the British transfer record when they spent a million quid on Trevor Francis of Birmingham City who at the time was on loan in America’s N.A.S.L. at Detroit Express.  Of course there were players already at Forest before Clough arrived that would do their manager proud at the City Ground, such as Ian Bowyer, Martin O’ Neil, Tony Woodcock and John Robertson.  The trophies continued to arrive in the Forest cabinet.  They picked up the 1978 Charity shield after hammering F.A. Cup winners Ipswich Town 5 – 0.  Sadly for Forest they failed to retain the Division One title the following year, eventually finishing as runners up to Liverpool although Forest did manage to go through the season unbeaten at home as they had done the season before. 

Garry Birtles.

The ’78 – ’79 season delivered to Forest their first European Cup, now at Forest for four years the Clough football train was well and truly steaming ahead.  In the first round Forest swept aside European Cup holders Liverpool 2 – 0 on aggregate, thanks to goals from Garry Birtles and Colin Barret.  In the second round they hammered A.E.K. Athens 7 – 2 on aggregate.  That meant they had earned themselves a place in the quarter finals and a meeting with Swiss champions Grasshoppers of Zürich.  Once again Forest were in no mood to mess about.  Their place in the semi’s was virtually rubber stamped after the first leg following a 4 – 1 demolition of the Swiss Champions at the City Ground. That game saw Birtles, Gemmell, Lloyd and Robertson getting themselves on the score sheet.  A fortnight later, a 1 – 1 draw in Switzerland meant Forest progressed in fine style.  Awaiting them in the semifinal was FC Köln of West Germany who were then managed by Hennes Weisweiler, a former Köln player himself.

Kenny Burns.

“The ugliest player I ever signed was Kenny Burns.”  Brian Clough.

The Germans would give Forest much more of a game.  The first leg for Forest was played at home, the game finished 3 – 3.  It was in fact Köln who drew first blood in the first leg at the City Ground, thanks to a goal from Belgian Roger van Gool.  About a quarter of an hour later Dieter Müller made it 2 – 0 to the West German side, giving the Forest something to worry about.  Thankfully for Forest fans, eight minutes later Garry Birtles pulled one back for the home side and a few minutes into the second half Ian Bowyer gained parity for Forest, it was 2 – 2.  Ten minutes after Bowyer had drew Forest level. John Robertson made it 3 – 2, things were looking much better for the home team, but with only five minutes left of the match Japanese midfielder Yasuhiko Okudera popped up with a goal to make it 3 – 3 on the night. 

European Cup Semi Final 1st Leg match at the City Ground. Archie Gemmill on the ball, April 1979.

With three away goals the bookies were making FC Köln the favourites to make the final.  However, Forest had other ideas.  The game over in West Germany was just as closely fought as it was in Nottingham. There was only one goal in it, thankfully it came in Nottingham Forest’s favour courtesy of an Ian Bowyer in the 65th minute.  Forest were in the European Cup final.  In the final they would meet Swedish champions, Malmö.  The final was played at Munich’s Olympic Stadium, in front of over 57,000 fans.  It was a close game, not the best final I’ve ever seen but thankfully for Forest they won the game.. They won the final thanks to a single headed goal, from only yards out by record buy Trevor Francis getting on the end of a John Robertson cross.  Forest’s European exploits were not over, back in those days the winners were automatically entered into the competition for the following season. 

European glory for Forest, Munich 1979.

So there was another major trophy on the Forest mantelpiece, to go with the League Cup they had retained by defeating Southampton 3 – 2 at Wembley a couple of months before.  That European Cup win meant they would contest the Super Cup; they met the European Cup Winners Cup winners Barcelona of Spain.  Back in those days the Super Cup was contested over two legs, the first leg took place at the City Ground with Forest just nicking game thanks to a single goal from Charlie George, who was actually at Forest on loan from Southampton. 

League Cup final, 1979, Forest beat Southampton.

A week later the two teams reconvened at the Nou Campe, the final score 1 – 1, the Super Cup belonged to Nottingham Forest.  The following season Forest retained the European Cup.  After victories against Östers I.F. of Sweden, Argeș Pitești of Romania, Dynamo Berlin of East Germany and a semifinal win against Ajax Amsterdam, they were once again the European Cup final.

Kevin Keegan of Hamburg takes on Martin O’ Neil of Nottingham Forest, Madrid 1980.

This time they faced S.V. Hamburg of West Germany.  Again it was a low scoring final after a match that saw both teams go having plenty of chances on their opponent’s goals.  However it was Forest who lifted the cup after John Robertson put a well struck shot into the Hamburg net from just outside the eighteen yard box.  Unfortunately for Forest they were quickly dumped out of the following seasons European Cup in the first round by Bulgaria’s C.S.K.A. Sofia, losing 1 – 0 at home and by the same score in Sofia. 

Forest retain the European Cup in Madrid, 1980.

“The revolution took place on the field, that’s where it all happens, not in board rooms, always on the field.  With good players signed, with average players playing better than they thought they could play and a little bit of management came into it.”  Brian Clough.

1982 saw Forest become the only British side to lift the Trofeo Colombino Cup following victory over Mexico’s Club América, it was minor European trophy win, they wouldn’t pick up another trophy until 1988 when they won the Football League Centenary Tournament when they beat Sheffield Wednesday in the final albeit needing penalties to do so.  Before retiring in 1993, Clough would deliver another two League Cups to the City Ground, as well as a couple of Full Members Cups. 

Brian Clough with the European Cup.

Forest fans won’t thank me for reminding them but the early 1980’s saw the exodus of that great side Clough and Taylor had assembled at the City Ground.  Archie Gemmell had already left for Birmingham City a couple of years before, Martin O Neil was about to leave for Norwich City, Larry Lloyd was sold to Wigan Athletic, John McGovern would soon to be sold to Bolton Wanderers, Frank Clark was about to hang his boots up for good. John Robertson would soon be sold to Derby County, although he would return to the City Ground in 1985. Tony Woodcock was about to be sold to FC Köln and Ian Bowyer was also soon to leave for Sunderland in 1981. 

“He should guide Posh in the direction of a singing coach because she’s nowhere near as good at her job as her husband.”   Brian Clough offering advice to David Beckham.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day. But I wasn’t on that particular job.”  Brian Clough.

The ’80 – ’81 season didn’t begin well for Forest after a 2 – 0 defeat at White Hart Lane.  Happily they recorded a 2 – 1 win at home over Birmingham City, thanks to goals from Garry Birtles and Raimondo Ponte.  Early on that season they enjoyed a great home victory over Stoke City, the final score 5 – 0.  Just over a fortnight later they handed out another 5 – 0 drubbing to Leicester City.   It was a season of ups and downs for Forest. They would record some satisfying home wins in the league but silverware would elude them.  Forest would finish that season in 7th place, two points ahead of Manchester United and one place behind Southampton purely on goal difference. Like I said, they didn’t see any silverware that season; they bowed out of the F.A. Cup at the quarter final stage after defeat to Ipswich Town.  In the League Cup they lost to Watford in the last sixteen.