Just like the Premiership it’s getting tight at the top. A few weeks ago we thought it was all over. But it’s not now. Which reminds me. Is it 1968 all over again? You may not remember, so I’ll give you some help.
Going into the last game of the season the title was being fought out between the two Manchester clubs. They had the same number of points, but City had a better goal average (which was how it was done in those days). United had been leading the table with only a few games remaining, but then a surprise 6-3 away loss to West Brom allowed City to close the gap and overtake their neighbours on goal average. City were away at Newcastle while United were at home to Sunderland. Obviously United had to get a better result than City to retain the title they had won the previous year, but hopes were high. Newcastle had been very strong at home while Sunderland had flirted with the relegation places. But the Gods were not smiling on Busby 10 years after Munich and United couldn’t win their third title in four years. City beat Newcastle 3-2 and Sunderland inflicted a 2-1 defeat on United (and I was there with my Dad with the intentions of seeing our team lift the trophy again. I remember the feeling well as it was the first time I had suffered a major disappointment. It would not be the last!). Is it in the stars to happen again?
But the coincidences don’t stop there. A few days later, a English team took a slender 1-0 lead to Spain in the semi-final of the European Cup against what was generally regarded as the best team in the world. In spite of their lead from the first leg, the English team were given little chance of keeping out the mighty attacking prowess of the Spaniards. This view seemed to be confirmed when before long they were already two goals down. But a huge fight back and rear guard action saw them score two of their own keep a clean sheet and earn a draw to book their place in the final against a much more fancied opposition. I’m sure you know what happened next and as they say “the rest is history”.
On a personal note, and I don’t recall why, but on the same night as United were playing Real Madrid, Liverpool still had to play Stoke in their final game of the season. Due to United’s failure against Sunderland the previous Saturday, Liverpool just needed a point to deny United second place on goal average. As crazy as it sounds, my Dad and I and two friends went to the Victoria Ground to support Stoke against Bill Shankly’s team who had won the title two years earlier and two years prior to that. Against the odds, Stoke won 2-1. We came out of the ground delighted, found the car and turned on the radio. Due to the time difference, it was only half-time at the Santiago Bernabéu. United were 3-1 down. The mood changed. But driving home, listening to the commentary on the radio the morose atmosphere in the car was lifted to one of euphoria as first David Sadler and then Bill Foulkes (the two centre halves!) both scored late in the game. It was fitting that Bill Foulkes scored the final goal as he was one of the two survivors of Munich playing in the team that night. The other, Bobby Charlton, would go on to play an even bigger part in the greatest night of all, two weeks later. The ghosts of Munich had perhaps been exercised. It was certainly a cathartic moment for Foulkes, Charlton and especially Busby. And we all knew it. Even me, though I hadn’t even been born on the night of the crash. Through a friend of a friend of a friend, my Dad had managed to secure a ticket for the final at Wembley, One ticket. Just one. For him. I was left at home to watch the game on our tiny 14” black and white TV. He was at Wembley to witness in person the greatest night of all. And I wasn’t. My Dad is still alive and I love him to bits but I’ve never forgiven him. And he knows it. It comes up in our conversations quite often, actually.
Some people wonder why we’re so crazy about football. Well, for me, I live in the hope that one day, before I pass on, I’ll be able to re-live just once, the emotions of that unbelievable two and a half weeks in May 1968. The 12 Premiership titles of the Ferguson era? No. The drama of Moscow in 2008? Not even close. Nou Camp in 1999? It was good, but no. But one day. One day…
Colin Freeman is an actuary who has the further misfortune of supporting Manchester United.
He bears this double affliction with great fortitude.
- Mancini fears United spirit (skysports.com)
- A city united in fervour: why the neighbours will be noisier than ever | Jamie Jackson (guardian.co.uk)
- Mancini fears title race could end this weekend (dawn.com)
- Premier League Prepares for Photo Finish, Manchester United and Manchester City Go Head to Head (nesn.com)
- James Lawton: As Charlton did after Munich, Bolton must play on – to honour Fabrice (independent.co.uk)
- Man City Sunderland Odds : Mancini to use Carlos Tevez for Premiership run in (footybunker.com)
- United won’t be afraid to attack City on Manchester’s big night (fourfourtwo.com)
- Entering The Final Stretch (highburyheart.wordpress.com)
- A season like no other in Manchester (bbc.co.uk)
- Sunderland vs Manchester City: Preview, Live Stream, Start Time and More (bleacherreport.com)