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Fluminese and Big Ron’s last swan song

Submitted by on May 12, 2013 – 1:37 pmNo Comment


As people eulogised this week about Alex Ferguson and his accomplishments at Manchester United, I delved into my ticket stub box like the sad get I am.

One stub jumped out at me and paints a picture of how dire things were at United before Fergie took the reigns in November 1986.

Many speak of Ron Atkinson’s last trophy being the FA Cup he won against Everton in 1985 thanks to Norman Whiteside’s famous curler. But I seem to remember, as an eight-year-old, seeing the reds lift a trophy at Old Trafford, presented by a member of the royal family in the summer of 1986. I have slept and put chemicals into my system that may have induced momentary lapses in reality since that age, but with a bit of further digging I think I may be correct.

Some geek or other will no doubt make me look daft, but it doesn’t really matter because it is my memory and it is one of the things I have thought a lot about during this strange week in the life of Manchester United Football Club.

On Wednesday, August 6, 1986, United played an international side of renowned and beat them on penalties to claim the Prince of Wales’ Trust Trophy. I think it was 4-3 on penalties and McGrath got the vital spot kick, but as I say, I may be making it up. The match definitely happened as I have the stub to prove it.

Why on earth my dad bought pre-booked tickets for what was effectively a pre-season friendly is beyond me, but I seem to remember him having some mates who regularly sorted us with tickets in K Stand for next to nothing.

Twas a summers’ night and I felt like we’d won the World Cup. It was the first time I saw a United captain lift a trophy, live, and it was as important to my eight-year-old self as watching us win every single major trophy, became in my teens and beyond.

I seem to remember Fluminese being a last-minute replacement for Flamengo, who United were meant to play originally. Zico et al were expected and that is maybe why we got a ticket rather than paid on the gate. I have no idea why Flamenco didn’t show.

Anyway, for some reason it fell through and so another Brazilian side was required. It appears that Fluminese did us a big favour by agreeing to play. I have the programme somewhere, with that cartoon strip ‘Thick and thin’, where they displayed borderline xenophobia in the name of ‘humour’. I can’t find it to quote from it exactly but there was a gag about Socrates smoking, I seem to recall.

The price of a seat in K Stand that night was £4.30, which was full adult price as they didn’t do kids concessions then. I suspect I may have been smuggled in anyway as I only have one stub and I was quite religious about keeping them in those days. Plus I was a tiny eight-year-old, as I am now a tiny 35-year-old.

At the time it was no doubt a momentous occasion, or so it felt, such was the reds’ woeful position in English football. United had thrown away a good lead to finish fourth in the league the season before after winning the first 10 games. We had just had Mexico 86 and Robbo was injured again. But in my head, we were ace and Peter Davenport was dynamite. We all know now that he wasn’t, but as an eight-year-old, I knew no better. Frank Stapleton was still playing at the age of 50-odd and the following season we finished sub-midtable.

Looking back, United were a mess. That following season, Atkinson was sacked and Ferguson took over. I also have the stub from Big Ron’s last home game – the league cup match against Southampton – the replay of which saw us battered at The Dell and Atko consigned to United’s history books. It got worse too, with Ferguson floundering for a couple of years, save for the second-placed finish in 1987-88, which was watched by the lowest home average attendance for some time due to the dullness of the fair on the pitch. Not only were United in a poor state, but English football was too.

Football has changed a great deal since August 1986 and Ferguson has been at the forefront of that. We must hold on to our memories, for some of us they are all we have.

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