Robin Yapp is the editor of The Memory Store. He sadly fell one step short of playing at Wembley in the Smiths Crisps Cup aged 11 but takes solace in later scoring at Stamford Bridge (against EastEnders) in a charity tournament. Here, he describes the first time he saw Manchester United play - in what happened to be Sir Alex Ferguson’s first game in charge.
Oxford United 2 Manchester United 0, November 8th 1986
I was eight the first time I saw Manchester United play in the flesh. It was my friend’s birthday and his dad and my dad took a few of us to Oxford United’s ramshackle Manor Ground.
We lived in a small town in Hampshire without a train station or high street, let alone a proper football team. Most boys supported a London team or the all-conquering reds – Liverpool.
A handful of us had chosen ‘Man U’ after coaxing by a new boy from up north, who was convinced they were ‘by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen’.
The club’s board didn’t share his belief. Two days before the Oxford game, with United 19th in the league, they sacked Ron Atkinson and replaced him with Alex Ferguson.
Much of what follows about the day of Ferguson’s first game was recorded for posterity in my school exercise book under the heading ‘Football Weekend’. Thus, I can report that after arriving in Oxford: “We played football on the green for a while and saw a drunk man talking to the floor.”
We got a bus to the stadium but missed the first 20 minutes. Oh well. Only 13,545 fans attended and I don’t suppose any suspected it would be a landmark day in football history.
John Aldridge’s penalty gave Oxford a half-time lead. But as fans traipsed through streams of urine running out of the gents’ onto the terraces to buy pies and Bovril, I remained “sertan [sic] Man-Utd would win”.
Even when Neil Slatter made it 2-0, I didn’t give up hope. But there was a problem: the new manager. He probably didn’t know as much about Man Utd as I did, having just arrived from Scotland. It finished 2-0. I had to put this Ferguson right.
“Man-Utd’s new manager didn’t put[Jesper] Olsen on early enough . . . and I think he’s a great little player,” I wrote with the self-assured wisdom of a lifelong armchair critic.
Oh, Jesper. Was Ferguson holding a grudge after your Denmark team topped the 1986 World Cup group his Scotland side finished bottom of?
The good thing about football is there’s always another game. My report ends: “Sunday morning we [Beaulieu Boys under-9s] won 8-2. I scored 2.”
Many games (and years) passed before Ferguson turned United into the world’s greatest team or something close to it – earning myself and countless southern reds the suddenly ubiquitous moniker of ‘gloryhunter’.
What luck that my first United match was also his first of 1,498 as manager. Not that it seemed like it at the time. We’d definitely have got a point if you’d brought Jesper on earlier, Sir Alex . . .