In 1975 Admiral took over the design of the iconic Manchester United shirt. They continued until 1980, where Adidas attained the honour. But, for 5 years that striped collar and cuff ensemble was synonymous with the sexy fleet-footed wingers and the free flowing football that stole my heart and ensured I supported the Red Devils to this day. In that time Manchester United stormed the F.A.Cup, with 3 appearances in 5 years in the treasured Wembley final showpiece. This is where I learned football could cause heartbreak and where they were about to make a 9 yr old boy cry! Me… Moi…. I……
This team was characterised by the wonderful Steve Coppell. More than just functional, he was a winger who would roam the midfield and forward third with a fantastic right foot. It delivered Beckhamesque crosses well before the term was concocted! These crosses fed prolific goal scorers like Pearson, Greenhoff, Macari and Big Joe Jordan. He was bought from Tranmere for a meagre £65,000, but soon he’d assisted United in returning to the first Division and from there, terrorised defences until his untimely demise at the hand of a Hungarian Hatchet-man. Although he didn’t finish for a further 2 years the tackle was a death knell for his career and he eventually retired only 28yrs old.
Sexton’s United had fought beyond a strong Spurs side which included a peerless Glen Hoddle and then overcame the much vaunted Bob Paisley’s Liverpool side following a replay at Goodison Park; a side containing Clemence, Dalglish, Souness and Hughes et al. An iconic game in itself saw Jimmy Greenhoff score a stooping header from wee Mickey Thomas’ delicate cross.
The BeeGee’s were at number 1 on Top of the Pops and Parma Violets were the sweet of choice as the Final unfurled, and not the diluted, diminished, faded F.A.Cup final of today. Oh No! Only the finalists played at Wembley – the Wembley of the symbolic ‘Twin Towers’. The whole Saturday was taken over by F.A.Cup final fever. Where as a 9 yr old boy I sat glued to our black and white TV: that’s the picture not the telly colour! Where we’d change channels by having to move from our perches and turn the dial. Mind you we only had three channels so it wasn’t difficult! Then came the game that cemented my love for this team, the ‘Five Minute Final’ in 1979. The F.A.Cup Final, in which United were pitted against the much fancied Arsenal, containing such great names as Stapleton, O’Leary, Talbot, as well as the imperious Liam Brady and the immense Pat Jennings.
The final itself was a torment for the United faithful as Arsenal reached half-time with a 2-0 lead. As the match played out, and I contemplated my embittered return to the school playground and expected slating by my glory hunting Liverpool following peers, I suddenly discovered that miracles can occur in football. The roller-coaster ride exploded into life as United pulled one back, then another. My shriek was jubilant as the twinkled toed Sammy McIlroy, ‘last of the Busby-babes’, slalomed his way through the Arsenal defence to score one of the best Cup Final goals to grace the centrepiece. Only United could win this. They looked the stronger.
A mounting certainty of expectation swept over every United fan. This was it! Err………. Then a minute later that Damned Gary Bailey™ failed to cut out a Grahame Rix cross and the curly mopped Alan Sunderland scored the winner. 3-2. We’d lost! We’d gone from Euphoria to bitterness in the blink of an eye, breaking this 9yr olds heart. As the final whistle sounded I came to learn the true emotions that football generates; Its Highs and Lows, the torments and triumph. That’s the true miracle of football, the emotions it emboldens us all with. How it unites the crowd to transport our spirits to soar with our heroes in their victories’ or console ourselves with gritted determination of their honourable defeats.