Wednesday, 27 October 2010

1959 - 1960 - My dad remembers

If United could ever be represented by just one man, for me that man would be John Harris. He was United's manager through the 60's and early 70's. He was a Scotsman who had played for Chelsea. He never got capped by Scotland, but his contemporaries had great respect for him. He captained the Chelsea side that won the championship in 1954-5 and was said to be able to land a football on a sixpence. He was a very quiet man, even by the standards of those times, but the United teams he turned out spoke for him.

John Harris

Harris took over United at the very end of the 1958-9 season. Up to then I had been to the Lane a few times with my dad, who worked for the local paper and was there for his job. I was very young and unfocused, so those games don't stick in my mind. 1959-60 was the first season I wanted to go and watch United as a supporter, and Harris was the new manager, and an unknown quantity.

I was only 9 years old, my mum didn't want me to go on my own and my dad had recently pissed off, so I was taken to my first few matches by a lad who lived just up the road from us. His name was Keith Dobson. I wonder how he's getting on. In advance of the season starting I'd been bought a woolly red & white hat, a red & white scarf, a red & white rosette, and I had one of those red & white wooden rattles that made a hell of a noise.

1959-1960 side

The first match of the season was at home to Derby County. It was a fine hot day, United won 2-1, and there was a lot of satisfaction in that because Derby had a reputation then for being a dirty team. People used to spit when they said "Derby".

I missed United's next home game, when they beat Hull 6-0, but was there to see them beat Liverpool 2-1. Graham Shaw got both goals from the penalty spot. I remember that I was stood in a part of the ground where supporters of both teams were mixed together and got on very well, no bother at all. Some of the Liverpool supporters were trying to make a few bob extra by offering Liverpool programmes for sale.

Graham Shaw

Up to then United were undefeated, but in the next home game we were beaten 2-1 by Sunderland. It was unbelievable because I'd never before seen United so outplayed. We weren't really in with a chance. A few days later, in a return match at Roker, they beat us 5-1.

At this time I was judged to be too small to go to away games, so I used to go to watch the reserves in the Central League when the first team was away. The next home game was against Bristol City. United won comfortably 5-2, Graham Shaw hit a penalty over the bar.

Next game was against Rotherham. United were 2-0 up but lost 3-2. Rotherham that year had one of their best ever seasons, and were in the top three for most of the season. Their goalkeeper was Roy Ironside. He had a great game and, as he was a friend of our family, I wasn't as upset by losing as I would have been against anybody else.

Next game was a mid-week game against Lucerne, who were doing a tour of Britain. Just after the war these tour matches were extremely popular, but by this time they had lost a lot of their interest. The crowd was only 8,000. I didn't care about that, though. I was still only 9, any United game was an attraction for me, and I had heard that the European sides were a class above us. When the teams came out and were kicking the ball around I was amazed at the ball skills of the Swiss. I thought we'd get thumped, but when the real game started we were better than them by some way, winning 5-1.

The next League match was against Aston Villa, who were clear favourites for being Division 2 champions that year. The only teams that were in it with them were Cardiff and Rotherham. United, after starting well, had dropped too many points. In the Villa game we did well to get a 1-1 draw. United's goal was scored by Doc Pace, one of United's greatest-ever players, who had been bought from Villa.

United's next home game was a County Cup match against Wednesday, and we won 3-1. I didn't get to that match and have regretted it ever since. The next match I was at was a Division 2 home game against Leyton Orient. The weather was bad and the pitch a mud bath. Leyton had a centre-forward called Tommy Johnston, who was rumoured to wear metal studs in his boots, and at one point in the game he went for a ball in United's six yard box. Our goalkeeper was the great Alan Hodgkinson. Hodgy was the best keeper I've ever seen for being able to get down on the ball to smother out danger. This took a lot of guts, but Hodgy never neshed it ever. This time he paid a price for it when Johnston's studs went slicing into his leg. Hodgy was stretchered off and Unitedites were all convinced that Johnston had done it deliberately. United were down to 10 men, and Dennis Shields went into the goal. He did a pretty good job, but United lost 2-0. Hodgy was out for weeks, and United's reserve keeper, Des Thomson, had a run in the first team.

Alan Hodgkinson

United's next home game was a fairly quiet 1-0 win over Ipswich, but in the very next game after that, away to Bristol Rovers, we lost another stalwart player. All season Billy Russell had been in fine form scoring 11 goals. In the game at Eastville he scored again and United were leading 2-0 when Russell's leg was broken. United lost the game 3-2 and with Hodgy and Russell both out United were struggling a bit.

The next home game was a 3-3 draw against Swansea. Swansea had a goalkeeper called King who had played for Wales, and he played well. The most memorable thing about the game was Cec Coldwell scoring a goal when hit a screamer from way out. Record books say 30 yards. Cec wasn't what you would call a prolific scorer, so he must have got a lot of satisfaction from it. The game after that was another home defeat, 1-0 at the hands of Stoke.

Going into Christmas, Unitedites looked at the season with great frustration. Although they had played some good football, they hadn't been consistent. They had lost points carelessly and the injuries to Hodgy and Bill Russell had been great set-backs. Russell was out for the rest of the season, but Hodgy returned, showing no ill-effects from his injury.

Cardiff were having a very good season, and had a strong team. It looked like, with Aston Villa, they had the two promotion places sowed up. United played them twice over Christmas. The first game was at Ninian Park on Boxing Day, and Cardiff won 2-0. The return game at the Lane was only two days later, and United won 2-1. Looking back, I'd say this was the turning point for United. The second half of the season was going to be a lot better than the first.

The first game of the New Year saw us beat Plymouth 4-0. What was to be significant was that two of these goals came from Doc Pace, the first goals he'd scored in the League since the home game against Villa in October. A return to form by United's highest scorer was a sign of things to come.

The next game was the 3rd round of the FA Cup and United beat Portsmouth 3-0, with Pace getting a couple more. The next home game was a Div 2 match against Charlton. Pace got both United's goals in a 2-0 win.

The next game was the FA Cup 4th Round, and United were drawn at home to Nottingham Forest who were the cup holders. United obviously weren't overawed by this, or the fact that they were up against Division 1 opponents. We won 3-0 and Pace got a hat-trick.

The next home game was a Division 2 game against Scunthorpe. United won 2-1, with Pace scoring again. After that was the FA Cup 5th Round game against Watford. United won again, thanks to Doc Pace getting all three of our goals. It wasn't an easy game, though. Even though Watford came from a lower division they played well and had deadly twin strikers in Dennis Uphill and Cliff Holton. Holton scored both Watford's goals, he was an old hand who'd played with Arsenal. Watford must have made an impression on John Harris because, not longer after, he signed Barry Hartle from them. The first of many players to play for United and Watford. These days I'm an occasional visitor to Saracens home games at Vicarage Road. Sharing the ground with Watford, their hospitality lounge has pictures of old Watford players in it and so many of them are also ex-United.

The very next week we played Aston Villa at Villa Park. Remember this is a season when Villa secured promotion to the First Division comfortably. On this occasion, United ran riot and won 3-1, Pace scoring a hat-trick for the second week running. Next in Division 2 was a home win over Lincoln, 3-2, with Pace scoring one of the goals.

This set the scene for the 6th Round FA Cup tie. This was at home against Sheffield Wednesday, and the city was in great excitement about it. Tickets were in great demand and hard to come by. Bramall Lane still had the cricket pitch then and a temporary extension was erected from the pavilion seating. I managed to get a ticket for this area and got to see the game. Wednesday at that time were in their first season back in Division 1 after getting promoted in 1958-9. To be fair, they had some good players. Ron Springett was an athletic goalkeeper, the full backs Johnson and Megson were steady and dependable. Right Half was Tom McInearney who was a class player. The other two half backs were Swan and Kay. Both were crude, Swan as a stopper, Kay in midfield. The forward line was very handy. Alan Finney and Bobby Craig were both very skilful players, while Wilkinson, Ellis, and Fantham were effective strikers.

Program for the Cup tie against Wednesday

On the day United were the best team by a long way. They had Wednesday pinned back in their own area for much of the game but Springett had one of his best ever games. Wednesday were obviously scared stiff of Doc Pace and Swan played a game not so much as sweeper but rather more like an ale-house bouncer. He played dirty and got away with it. Wednesday had two break-away attacks and Wilkinson scored from both of them. He took his chances well and we got stuffed. Bugger!

The rest of the season was a bit of an anti-climax. We were out of the Cup and had no chance of promotion. I missed the two home games against Brighton and Middlesbrough. I saw us draw 1-1 with Bristol Rovers and 0-0 with Portsmouth. Perhaps that last score says something. The team we had beaten easily in the Cup were able to hold us to a draw in the League. The season had gone flat. The last Division 2 game of the season we perked up a bit and beat Huddersfield 2-0. Then there was the County Cup Final against Rotherham and we won 2-1. Rotherham had just missed out on promotion, so maybe they felt a bit deflated. Also but both teams put on a really good show for the crowd. The County Cup was played for every year between United, Wednesday, Rotherham, Barnsley, and Doncaster. It ought to be revived.

In 1959-60 season United had played some great football, demonstrated that they had some class players, and only needed to be able to hit their peak earlier and hold it. Given that, we thought Promotion was a real prospect.

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