For a while the results were a bit up and down. We lost away to Plymouth, but beat Leyton Orient away 4-1. We lost to Stoke away, 0-2, but beat Huddesrfield away 1-0. Home form was more steady. We beat Huddersfield 3-1, Swansea 3-0, and Portsmouth 3-1. We were well on top in all these games. This seemed to work through to the away form when we beat Luton 4-1 and Ipswich 1-0. Meanwhile we carried on winning at home. We beat Lincoln 2-1, Scunthorpe 2-0, and Brighton 2-1. I was at all the home games, and we looked capable of beating anyone at the Lane. The Scunthorpe game was memorable for the foul weather, some of the worst conditions I've ever seen a match played under. The wing on the John Street side was a lake.
United's first game in the League Cup came at Bury, where we lost 1-3. This was a real surprise, but few people were bothered about that competition then. We lost 1-3 at Middlesbrough in the League, but that was always a tough fixture. We had a 5th November win against Leeds at the Lane, 3-2. It was a good game, there were a few fireworks in the crowd, and added interest was caused by Leeds having former United players like Ted Burgin and Colin Grainger playing for them. We followed this up by a 1-0 win at Southampton and we beat Rotherham 3-1 at the Lane. It looked like we were back to top form, but then things started to go wrong.
We lost 2-4 at Anfield. We knew Liverpool were a tough challenge, but this was followed by a home defeat from Bristol Rovers 2-3 when we'd been leading 2-0. Bristol Rovers were a bogey team for us in those days, but that didn't make us feel any better. United seemed to lose nerve. We lost at Derby, dropped a point at home to Norwich, and in back-to-back Christmas matches took only one point from 4 in two matches against Sunderland. On New Year's Eve we won away at Charlton 3-2 and, though we didn't know it at the time, we had turned the corner.
The New Year saw us get a sensational win away to First Division Everton in the FA Cup 3rd Round. Much cheered up, we won our next two home games 4-1, first against Leyton Orient, then against Stoke. Next we had a home game against Lincoln in the FA Cup 4th Round and were easy winners 3-1. It's from around this time I remember "Ilkley Moor bar t'at" being played over the loud speakers when United came out of the tunnel at the start of the game. That became the team song for years after.
Next we lost 0-3 at Swansea, but came back with a 2-1 win over Luton at the Lane. Then we had another FA Cup match against First Division opposition. We were at home to Blackburn, who had been beaten finalists the year before. We won 2-1 and morale soared. We won 5-0 away to Lincoln and got a point at Scunthorpe, and then we had our next FA Cup match, a 6th Round match away at Newcastle. I didn't get to this game, but we had a great 3-1 win, playing in Tangerine shirts, and Billy Russell scored a hat trick.
United were in the thick of the promotion battle, but Ipswich were leading the pack. They came to the Lane and beat us 3-1, and we never really looked like winning. The next match was a 0-0 draw at Brighton.
Perhaps this was Cup nerves, because we were in the Semi-Final of the FA Cup and drawn against Leicester. My brother-in-law was twelve years older than me, (still is, come to that), and he took me up to Leeds to see the Semi-Final. The ground was packed. Before the kick-off some Leicester supporters carried a mock coffin round the pitch with "Sheffield United" on the side. For us, an elderly gent dressed in red and white with a long red and white baton walked round the pitch escorted by two young lasses with United hats and scarves. The game was real end-to-end stuff, and both sides had goals disallowed. Doc Pace hit the ball into Leicester's net, but the ref ruled he had handled it first. Doc pointed to a mark on his shirt, to show he had chested the ball, but there was no change. Ever after, I cited this as evidence we had been robbed, but I heard that Doc, just before he died, admitted he had handled the ball.
Program for the semi final in Leeds
The game ended 0-0 and the replay was a few days later at Notts Forest's ground. We were at school, and the teacher let us listen to the second half commentary on the old school radio. This was 0-0 again. The third, and deciding, match was won by Leicester 0-2. They went on to lose in the Final to Spurs who were in their Double-winning year. We took comfort by saying we could concentrate on the promotion drive.
LEICESTER FOR WEMBLEY
Footage of the United vs Leicester match
Meanwhile, me and my brother-in-law had returned to Elland Road, and stood in almost the same spot where we had been for the first Semi-Final. This time, we had gone to watch United beat Leeds 2-1. United played superbly well, but the outstanding point was the debut of Len Allchurch. Len scored in this, his first game for United, and played a crucial role in the rest of the season. He cost us £12,500 from Swansea, and was one of the shrewdest buys ever made by John Harris, who was famous for shrewd buys.
United next drew 1-1 at home to Liverpool. It looked as though Ipswich were certain to go up, and United and Liverpool were battling for the remaining promotion place. Next, we beat Portsmouth 2-1 at Fratton Park, Allchurch getting one of the goals. Me and my brother-in-law next went to see United at Rotherham. We won 2-1, Len scored again, and we were looking good for promotion. Next, we got a home win against Southampton. Len scored both goals in a 2-1 win.
Wednesday, 19th April, we had a home game against Derby. We won 3-1, and this secured promotion for us. We were back in the First Division after five seasons. We had played some great football, we had got to the FA Cup Semi-Finals and beat three Division 1 teams on the way.
Two games were left before the end of the season. We lost 1-3 at Bristol Rovers, that old bogey team, but finished with a glorious 4-1 win at the Lane against Middlesbrough. Len Allchurch got one of the goals, making 6 League goals from 8 appearances. We had some great players in that team - Hodgkinson; Coldwell; Graham Shaw; Richardson; Joe Shaw; Summers; Doc Pace; Billy Russell; Ron Simpson; Billy Hodgson; and that great servant Cliff Mason played in 21 first class matches that season, but Unitedites who remember that season will, perhaps, think first of Len Allchurch.
1961 promotion side