Wednesday, 27 October 2010

1961 - 1963 - My dad remembers

I was watching United from the time I was a small boy in the 1950’s, during which time they had been in the old Division 2. In 1960-61 I saw them promoted, and I was looking forward to seeing them in the First Division.

1961 - 1962 side

The first match of the new season was Wolves at Bramall Lane. Wolves had just enjoyed a spell of dominance, winning the League in 1957-8 and 1958-9, and the FA Cup in 1959-60 when they were also runners-up in the League. We beat them 2-1. Doc Pace and Billy Hodgson scored for us and I felt we were going to have a good season.

After that we had two away games, getting a hard-won point in a 1-1 draw at Cardiff but losing 2-0 at Notts Forest. Our next home game was against Cardiff. It was held on a Monday evening, but it was a hot, bright sunny day. Sometime before the game someone near me in the crowd started to peel an orange and you could taste it for yards around. Everybody was licking their lips at the thought of it. The game itself was a hard one. United were on top but Cardiff were always dangerous. United were kept out by Cardiff’s goalkeeper, Graham Vearncombe, who had played for Wales. Eventually, Len Allchurch got the ball wide on the left and looped a marvellous shot over the keeper’s head into the far corner. We won 1-0.

The next game was at home to Aston Villa. We were never really in the game and lost 0-2. I remember Derek Dougan playing for Villa. He was rough and tough and caused problems in the 6-yard box. I had the feeling they could score any time they wanted.

Things were better in the next game. We had a home game against Tottenham and drew 1-1. I was proud that we had held our own against the team that had done the League and Cup double the previous season. They were good, but we matched them.

The following game was a heavy defeat, 1-6 against Chelsea away, followed by a 1-1 draw in the League Cup against Fulham.

On 16th Sept we were at home to Wednesday. My previous experience of a derby game was seeing us lose 0-2 in the Cup in 1960, when Wednesday were very lucky to win. I was worried that they might get lucky again. No worries! We had the best of it but couldn’t score. Right in the last minute Doc Pace got the winning goal for us.

The next match was a big let-down. We lost at home 1-4 to West Ham, and I have never seen United so outplayed at home. We were wiped out and I took it very bad. I was 11 years old and my language was so bad I was warned about it.

The next home game we beat Fulham 4-0 in a League Cup replay, and we then had a 2-1 win at Blackburn in the League.

The next game I saw was the match against Newcastle in the next round of the League Cup. We drew 2-2. One thing I remember about this game was that we had Len Allchurch in our team and his brother Ivor was in the Newcastle team. When the ball went out they would take some time to have a chat. We won the replay 2-0.

In the League we lost 1-4 at Leicester, then beat Ipswich 2-1 at home. Next up was a midweek friendly match against Eintracht Frankfurt. They had been the losing finalists in the previous year’s European Cup Final against Real Madrid. That was said to be one of the best matches ever. I was convinced there would be a massive crowd, so I went along early and got there before the ground was even open. I was wrong about the crowd. Only 19,000 turned up, but United played really well and won 3-1.

In the League we lost 0-1 at Everton and then drew at home to Fulham 2-2. I remember seeing Johnny Haynes in that game. He was a great player, and I judge him the best London footballer I have ever seen. Then we lost 0-2 at Bolton and followed with a 3-1 home win against Manchester City. One of their players obliged by scoring an own goal.

We then beat Portsmouth 1-0 in the League Cup but lost 1-3 at West Brom. I didn’t see that game, but all the reports said that Hodgkinson had a great game. We then beat Birmingham at home 3-1, but lost the following game 2-4 at Burnley.

At this point United were in the relegation area, which seemed odd because we had played some good football. The match against Burnley was a turning point. After that we went on an unbeaten run that took us up the table.

The first step was a 2-1 home win against Arsenal. I remember that there was a bit of snow and ice lying about. Some Arsenal guy was walking round the pitch before the game holding up a board. He was wearing a red tail coat and a top hat. I picked up some ice to throw at him but when he got closer I could read that the board said “Arsenal welcomes Sheffield United back into the First Division”, so I dropped the ice because I thought he was ok after all. We followed this with a 1-0 win over Wolves away in the next match.

We had two home games over Christmas. We beat Notts Forest 2-0, then beat Blackpool 2-1. The Notts Forest game saw the new floodlights in use for the first time. Shortly after this, in the hurricane that hit Sheffield in February, one of the pylons was blown down.

In the New Year we played Bury in the 3rd Round of the Cup. It took us three games to get past them. In the first replay at Bramall Lane I remember seeing Doc Pace go up for a cross in the middle of a bunch of players. A fist came out, I didn’t see whose, and laid out poor old Doc. The ref didn’t see it.

In the League we drew 0-0 at Aston Villa followed by a very good 3-1 win over Chelsea at the Lane. We got through the next round of the Cup with a 3-1 win at Peterborough.

Our next game was at Hillsborough, where I stood on Wednesday’s famous uncovered Kop. What I remember best from this match was Doc Pace’s second goal in our 2-1 win. The Wednesday were pushing forward but lost the ball. A United player hit it forward and Doc chased it and got it. He was onside with nobody to stop him but Ron Springett. Doc kept his head, Springett came way out to close him down, and Doc lifted the ball over his head. It was a beautifully judged lob and it was obviously a goal from the moment it left his boot. To rub it in, it took a long time to get into the goal, almost in slow motion. There was nothing Wednesday could do about it. Springett was stranded and there was nobody else anywhere near it.

We drew 0-0 at Blackpool in the League Cup, and a got a 2-1 win at West Ham in the League. Then we won a home game against Norwich, 3-1, in the Fifth Round of the Cup. Then we had a 0-0 draw at home to Blackburn, got a very good 3-1 win against Leicester at the Lane, then lost 0-4 at Ipswich, ending our unbeaten run.

The next match was at home to Burnley in the Sixth Round of the FA Cup. Almost straight from the kick off we lost Gerry Summers to a bad injury. He stayed on the pitch afterwards, but could hardly move. He was only an onlooker. This was before substitutes. Sometimes you can only appreciate a good player when you see what things are like when he’s not there. This was a big loss to us, and showed how much Gerry meant to us. We eventually lost 1-0 to a fluke goal. A Burnley player hit the ball very hard, but it was going wide of our goal by a mile. It hit the Burnley centre-forward, Ray Pointer, on the head and deflected in to our goal. He didn’t know what had hit him, but it put us out of the Cup for that year.


Another aspect of this game was the crowd, which was so large it has only been estimated at a massive 57,000. I was on the Bramall Lane end in the old “Jubilee Suits Me” shed. We could see people climbing on to the roof of the Kop and some of the fencing at the front of the Kop collapsed, with many people injured. I remember seeing the St John’s staff rushing to the incident. Two blokes went to hospital. One of them got a visit from United players and a signed team shirt. The other guy only got a ten bob postal order from some Liverpool supporters.

Soon after this we were also knocked out of the League Cup when we lost the Fifth Round Replay to Blackpool 0-2 at the Lane. I couldn’t believe how poor we were that night. The team just didn’t look interested, and Blackpool had some very good goalkeepers at that time, West and Waiters, who were in rivalry to see who got the first team place. I think West eventually went to Everton.

Meanwhile the League campaign went on. We had a home draw 1-1 against Everton, lost 2-5 away to Fulham, then beat Bolton 3-1 at the Lane. At this time we were capable of beating anybody on a good day. The Bolton team that day had two players I particularly remember. One was their goalkeeper Eddie Hopkinson. When Alan Hodgkinson was England’s keeper in the mid-1950’s, Hopkinson was the bloke who was picked to replace him. I didn’t believe there was a better keeper anywhere than Hodgy, but I must admit that Hopkinson was bloody good that day. The other player was a winger called Brian Pilkington, who had played for England while he was with Burnley. He was their biggest threat, and caused lots of trouble for us on the right wing. So, you see, we were beating good teams, not rubbish.

The following games were a bit routine – drew 1-1 at Manchester City; won 4-2 at Blackpool; drew 1-1 at home to West Brom; drew 3-3 at Tottenham (must have been a good game, but I didn’t see it), and lost 0-3 at Birmingham.

The next game was one to remember. We beat Burnley 2-0 at the Lane, which was some consolation for the Cup knock-out. It wasn’t just the win but the manner of it. The pitch was a mud bath. United’s Scottish inside-forward, Billy Hodgson, was a real warrior. He got stuck into Burnley and turned them inside-out. He got one goal and Ron Simpson got the other through a penalty. At the end of the game Billy was entirely covered in mud. He looked like a slime monster, but we loved him. Another aspect of the game I remember was how our left back Graham Shaw totally wrapped up Burnley’s international winger John Connelly. Connelly was rated quite high, but Graham made him look a fool. By the end of the match, Graham was pushing forward and Connelly was having to drop back to stop him, reversing the roles. Connelly couldn’t even do that, and eventually resorted to a rugby tackle to stop Graham!

This was Easter and on the Monday I travelled to Old Trafford to see us play at Manchester United. We had just moved house to Woodseats, and I travelled to the match with some lads from the area I had just moved in to. We travelled by train from the old Victoria Station. We got to the game very early and took up position on the Stretford End, which didn’t have the reputation it got later. The only record they played before the match started was “Theme from Dr Kildare” over and over again. Doc Pace scored for us and we won 1-0. In the return game the following day we lost 2-3, throwing away a game we had in the bag at one point.

The final League match of the season was a 0-2 defeat at Arsenal, but we finished fifth that season, and we were well pleased with that. The icing on the cake was another win over Wednesday, this time 3-2 in the Final of the County Cup.

The matches from the 1962-63 season don’t have any vivid memories for me. Our home win over Tottenham was a good one. Manchester United turned up for a punch-up, not a football match. Setters and Stiles should have been in a kick-boxing team, not a football team. Snow started falling on Boxing Day, and it stayed until Easter. The football fixtures were thrown into chaos and many matches were postponed. I remember seeing a friendly match against Stoke at the Lane, with Stanley Matthews playing for Stoke.

With no football to watch I had to find other things to do. I was 12 going on 13. I palled up with three other lads from the school I was attending, and we used to meet on Saturday afternoons, go round the record shops and coffee bars, and talk about things like girls, which hadn’t featured much until then. We used to go to each others’ houses, play records, and talk about girls again. I was enjoying it. When the thaw came and football returned, I was doing something else. I didn’t go back to the Lane for another two years.

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