UNITED’S UNTOLD CUP STORIES (original unedited author’s version)
Manchester United’s 129-year relationship with what they’re still calling The World’s Greatest Knockout Competition has been a decidedly chequered, but undeniably passionate affair. Memories of the reds’ numerous journeys to Wembley (and elsewhere) flow freely, whether from the finals themselves (see Cantona’s winner in ’96, Macari and Greenhoff’s inadvertent double act in ’77, Whiteside’s curler in ’85) or the route thereto (Any advance on Giggsy’s semi-final wondergoal and chest rug celebration in ’99?). But there have been plenty of lesser-known stories that surround the reds’ history in this competition. You’ve probably got a few of your own, of course, but we’ve collected a few that might not have caught your attention before.
Manchester United – Perennial Cup rebels
When the club reluctantly withdrew from the FA Cup in the 1999-2000 season in order to take part in FIFA’s World Club Challenge in Brazil, at the insistence of the government and the FA, they were widely criticised.
Yet 2000 wasn’t the first time United had withdrawn from the competition. They actually did so after the first season they entered it, as Newton Heath LYR in 1886. The Heathens were taking part in their first major national competition, and the players could perhaps have done with reading the small print of the rules. Because when the final whistle blew after a hard fought 2-2 draw away to Fleetwood Town in Round One, they were dismayed to find that the referee was asking them to play 30 minutes’ extra time. Newton Heath’s captain Jack Powell refused – probably assuming that if they stood firm, the match would be replayed at their North Road home ground, with a nice big gate to boot. If he was gambling, though, it backfired, as the Heathens were disqualified from the competition and Fleetwood were awarded the tie. In protest, the club refused to take part in the competition for the next two seasons.
Even when the renamed Manchester United finally won the trophy, in 1909, they managed to fall foul of the authorities. In celebration, the players had a duplicate made of the famous trophy, planning to present it to their chairman, John Henry Davies. However, the FA reacted furiously, insisting that the trophy should be unique, and the club were forced to hand over the fake Cup to avoid confusion. The ‘real’ trophy, it turned out, was already a replica anyway, as it had replaced the original cup that had been stolen from a Birmingham shoe shop in 1895. So just to be double sure that there weren’t any more hooky FA Cups floating around, the FA commissioned a brand new trophy, a reproduction of which is still in use today.
Of course, the FA should have known that United were a club full of wrong ‘uns and not to be trusted. That summer, the entire Cup-winning side were temporarily banned from playing, after refusing to relinquish their membership of the new AFPA players’ union. But ‘Outcasts FC’ stood firm, and the governing body eventually backed down. It was a precursor for the PFA, which would do much to help players earn ever-higher wages. So next time the United team get a bonus for a good Cup win, they can thank those brave renegades from 1909.
Name. On. The. Trophy.
Even Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted that United have owed a modest debt to lady luck for some of their most impressive achievements.
That’s surely true of most Cup winners making their way through a knockout tournament where one bad day at the office can mean an early exit.
Thankfully, United’s winners from 1909 managed such a dismal performance and still lived to fight another day. That was when Ernest Mangnall’s men played away at Burnley in the FA Cup quarter-final, and were 1-0 down with only a quarter of an hour remaining. However, a sudden snowstorm rendered the pitch markings invisible in weather that the Weekly Dispatch described as “conditions of a most rigorous character”. Referee Herbert Bamlett decided to abandon the game, and four days later, United won the replay 3-2. Bamlett, meanwhile, would later go on to manage United. Coincidence? Why of course…
74 years later, United would go the extra mile to ensure a helping pair of gloves from lady luck. After the 1983 Final ended in a 2-2 draw with Brighton at Wembley – partly thanks to a superb point blank save from keeper Gary Bailey to deny Gordon Smith at the death – the South African was given a lock and key with a white ribbon on by his father, who had also been a top goalkeeper and flew in for the replay. “They’re big into witchcraft over there,” he later explained, “and he had seen goalkeepers use a lock and key.”
He was skeptical, but did as dad suggested, and in the replay he ‘locked’ the goal before he played in it, then ‘unlocked’ it at half-time so United could score in the same goal in the second half, and did the same in the opposite goal when he took up his position in front of it. United duly won 4-0, and the next two times he played at Wembley, against Liverpool in the Charity Shield the following August, and against Everton in the 1985 Cup Final, he also kept clean sheets, with the help of that lock and key.
You can call it luck, of course, or just positive mental attitude. When Alex Ferguson’s job was supposedly on the line, back in January 1990, few people believed United would not only beat Nottingham Forest at their place in the third round. But one man did bet a handsome sum at 16-1 for United to not just beat Forest, but go on to win the trophy – Alex Ferguson himself.
“My optimism had more to do with instinct than logic,” he later recalled, “since half our first-choice team missed the game because of injury. Webb, Robson, Ince, Donaghy, Wallace and Sharpe were all sitting in the stands… Yet something told me we could win.”
Mark Robins’ famous strike did the job that night, and four months later Fergie won his first United trophy… along with a handsome payout from the bookies.
Rarities and one-offs
Another United goalkeeper can boast of a less enviable, and barely less unlikely Cup feat. When keeping goal for United against Barnsley in 1938, United’s Irish custodian Tommy Breen managed to touch a long throw-in into his own net. It remains the only time a goal has been scored in this way in the history of the competition.
An even stranger rarity from a United Cup game is still in existence, but you might have to remortgage your house to get your hands on it. That’s because it’s the match day programme for the third round replay against third division Plymouth Argyle in January 1974. That wouldn’t be remarkable ordinarily, but for the fact that United defeated Plymouth 1-0 at Old Trafford at the first time of asking, so no replay and no programme were required. Argyle had taken the precaution of printing up a programme for the replay in advance, as the government’s ‘Three Day Week’ measures had strictly conserved electricity use during the coal strike. The few copies still in existence are highly prized on the memorabilia market.
Yet rarer than all those was something achieved by Peter Schmeichel. United were trailing 1-0 in a fourth round FA Cup tie against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park when the great Dane went up for a corner in stoppage time, as was his wont. At first the corner was headed out, but Schmeichel gambled and stayed close to the six-yard box. The ball was headed back into the fray, bounced up invitingly and Schmeichel thumped a spectacular bicycle kick into the net.
Except… the Wimbledon defence had pushed out and caught him offside. And that made him the only keeper ever to have been caught offside in the history of the English game and quite possibly the world. Not to mention depriving him of what would surely have been another unique feat – I mean, goalkeepers’ goals are rare enough, but can anyone recall a goalkeeper ever scoring, legally or otherwise, with an overhead kick?
The best laid plans can go awry amid the hoopla of Cup Final day. Several United players found that to their cost in 1983, when the team coach wasn’t big enough to accommodate the BBC film crew recording the journey to Wembley, so several red stars had to quickly hire a minicab and travel to the Twin Towers that way.
It’s not as if media attention in the Cup Final was a new thing, either – when United recorded their first FA Cup win in 1909, a touch of showbiz was already creeping in. United boss Ernest Mangnall invited top music hall comedian George Robey to present the players with their brand new change strip for the final, and after their 1-0 win over Bristol City at Crystal Palace, the great man invited them to appear with him on stage at 9pm that evening at the Pavilion Music Hall in London’s West End, along with the Cup.
However, United captain Charlie Roberts and a handful of team-mates ended up meeting some friends from Manchester in a restaurant across town after the game, and after enjoying several light ales, they lost track of time, until at quarter to 9, Roberts suddenly remembered their appointment with Robey. One frantic Hansom cab journey later, he and Cup goalscoring hero Sandy Turnbull made it to the Pavilion Theatre with the Cup and a couple of other reds in tow. “Where are the rest of you?” asked Robey. Roberts explained that he couldn’t possibly find them all in time for them to all appear on stage, so Robey suggested “go and get somebody to make up the team”. The United Captain duly roped in a bunch of his Mancunian pals from the nearby Trocadero, and the ‘English Cup winners strode proudly onto stage, including in their number a poultry dealer, a publican, a builder and a greengrocer, including, in Roberts’ words, “two or three men of aldermanic proportions”.
The crowd were none the wiser, and cheered the Cup winners to the rafters. And unlike Karl Power nearly a century later, United had fielded half a team of chubby impostors without anyone noticing.
When Puskas came to shove…
United have endured plenty of near misses in the Cup over the years. And naturally, a particularly chaotic period for the club came after its worst tragedy, when Jimmy Murphy and his colleagues tried to cobble together a team to play for United after the horror of Munich had wiped out much of the first team squad and injured several others. They were helped by a wave of sympathy, which extended to the FA, who lifted the rules prohibiting players appearing for two separate clubs in different rounds of the Cup (hence Stan Crowther’s unique feat of playing for Aston Villa and United in the same season’s competition), and also spread abroad, leading to offers from foreign players to turn out for the reds. Among them were three members of the Hungarian national team. Although then known as the Mighty Magyars and the toast of world football, the revolution in their home country had led several of them to defect, including the brilliant Ferenc Puskas. Alas, since he spoke no English, along with the FA’s restrictions on foreign players, plus his likely wages demands (he later earned over 10 times that of the best-paid United player at Real Madrid) meant Murphy’s wish to snap him up came to nothing.
1948 – UNITED’S GREATEST EVER CUP WIN?
In the usual league of memorable red Wembley triumphs, it’s mentioned pretty rarely. Yet United’s first post-war trophy was arguably won in as impressive a style as any in the club’s history.
After a 6-4 win at Aston Villa in the third round, Johnny Carey, Jack Rowley, Stan Pearson, Charlie Mitten et al beat reigning champions Liverpool 3-0, Charlton 2-0, Preston 4-1 and Derby 3-1 in the semi-final. Remarkably, all of those opponents were from the top flight, and all were played away from Old Trafford – even the ‘home’ games, as OT was being rebuilt after the wartime bombing, and the reds’ temporary home at Maine Road wasn’t available for the first three rounds as they clashed with City’s own cup fixtures. So Liverpool were beaten at Goodison Park, Charlton at Huddersfield, and after a return to Maine Road for the Preston game, a semi-final at the neutral venue of Hillsborough held no fears, and United progressed to Wembley for what turned out to be one of <the> great FA Cup Finals. The Blackpool side of Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen were beaten 4-2 despite United trailing 2-1 with 21 minutes left. And that made it an impressive 22 goals in six rounds for the 1948 Cup winners, bagging Matt Busby’s first trophy and crowning his first great side. For all the achievements of the reds’ other Cup-winning sides, have any of them won it in more style?
THEIR CUP WAS EMPTY….
Any list of Reds’ Cup winners features plenty of iconic names. But likewise, you could fill a useful side with United players who never lifted the big silver jug. Such as:
1 Edwin Van Der Sar
2 Patrice Evra
3 Jim Holton
4 Nobby Stiles
5 Rio Ferdinand,
6 Nemanja Vidic
7 George Best
8 Remi Moses
9 Joe Jordan
10 Wayne Rooney
11 Willie Morgan
Subs: Harry Gregg, Dennis Viollet, Brian Kidd, David Sadler