The goal where it all began
My next encounter with them was four years later. The 1982-83 season was my first as a season ticket holder at Highbury and we reached the League Cup semi final, where only United stood between me and a trip to Wembley. The first leg at Highbury was one of my worst experiences watching football.
The London-based United fans, known as the Cockney Reds, smashed up the Underground on the way to the match and that was the first time I had really been aware of violence at football matches. Things did not improve once inside the ground either, as amid all the fighting United scored four times to all but end my Wembley dreams. I did not go to the second leg at Old Trafford a week later, but I heard it all kicked off again as they completed a 6-3 aggregate success.
The League Cup semi final programme from a night I'd rather forget.
As feat would have it we were drawn to face United in the FA Cup semi final later that same season. The match, at Villa park, was my first big away trip outside London and it was meant to be a day to remember. Well I would certainly remember it, but not for the right reasons. It had started well enough as a goal from Tony Woodcock, my idol at the time, gave us a half time lead and I can still remember dreaming of Wembley as they played Nick Hayward on the PA system during the interval.
But it did not last. Second half efforts from Norman Whiteside and Bryan 'man of the match' Robson killed my Wembley dreams once again, although it was events after the match that will live with me forever. My friend Steven and I, both 14 the time, were with a group of Arsenal fans making our way back to the New Street Station when we were chased by a gang of United nutters in Birmingham City Centre.
We somehow found ourselves in a multi-story car park where it all kicked off, and my companion and I were forced to hide behind parked cars as blood was being spilt all around us. You know that scene at the beginning of The Football Factory when it all kicks off outside the pub? Well it was almost exactly like that. Scary stuff for a 14 year old. I'm still not entirely sure how we got home in one piece, but once again United had ruined my big day.
The year of the green and blue away kit.
Two years later I was at an Arsenal v United game at Highbury, in February 1985, when news came through that the Cockney Reds were in the Clock End and trouble was imminent. I had grown up a lot in the period since that semi final in Birmingham, so when a big surge occurred mid-way through the first half, and I saw United fans punching out at everyone around them, I took great satisfaction in extracting a little revenge of my own.
'That's for Villa Park,' I said as my fist connected with one of the United fans.
While I am certainly not proud of it now it did feet good at the time, and in my defence I was an impressionable 16 year old! During this little scuffle United apparently scored a goal, but no one on the Clock End was aware of it, and in the days before mobile phones and scoreboards, we left the game thinking it had ended goalless. In fact when I was asked the score by a West Ham fan on the Underground on the way home I told him we had drawn 0-0. Imagine my surprise then when I watched the game on Match Of The Day later that evening and saw Gordon Strachen had scored to give United a 1-0 win...
Gordon Strachen - scored the goal that we missed!
The FA Cup threw us together again in February 1988, and again there was plenty of trouble on the Underground before the game. United fans are easily the worst I have encountered, as their attacks were always so random, picking on innocent people, and their violence seemed to be unconnected with football at all. Anyway, on this occasion we would come out on top both on and off the pitch.
The Arsenal boys were in no mood to take it anymore, and for the first time I could remember we actually got on top of them, while on the pitch things got even better. A crowd of over 50,000 saw an own goal from Mike Duxberry and a great header from Alan Smith give us a 2-0 half time lead, but Brian McClair pulled one back for United early in the second half. We looked set to hold on until the final minute when United won a (dubious) penalty, but McClair blasted the kick high into the North Bank and I have never celebrated a non-goal as much before or since. Again the phrase 'Thats for Villa Park' was rolling around my head as I was jumping about like a nutter!
Brian McClair - his misery brought so much joy.
The following April I made my first trip to Old Trafford for a vital league encounter. We were top of the table but had Liverpool breathing down our necks, and the papers that morning were full of pictures depicting Tony Adams as a donkey. In those days the away end at Old Trafford was a terrace behind the goal with United fans in the seats above, so we spent much of the match trying to avoid stuff being thrown down at us. Classy...
However it all appeared worth it when Adams headed home a corner right in front of us, and the celebrations were amazing. In short we all went absolutely mental! Watching the video back now is still a joy to behold as the Arsenal fans dance about behind the goal. Good times...
Unfortunately Adams then scored an own goal to make it 1-1, which led to the inevitable 'Eee Orr' chants from the United fans above us, and there was a rather tricky trip back to the station to negotiate as we again encountered the neanderthal element of the United support. Of course most of the United fans stayed on the train all the way back Euston, before getting their connection to Surrey or where ever it is they all live...
Tony Adams - scored at both ends.
The ill-feeling that seemed to exist between the fans had begun to spread to the players, as my next trip to Old Trafford, in October 1991, saw it all kick off on the pitch. The controversial nature of our goal - an Andres Limpar shot that may or may not have crossed the line - probably didn't help, but midway through the second half the United players started acting like their fans.
McClair was clearly intent on getting revenge on Nigel Winterburn for mocking him when he had missed that late penalty three years before - as he kicked him several times in back - and it all kicked off from there. It led to a mad atmosphere in the ground and an even madder trip back to the station, but on this occasion it appeared the players had acted worse than the fans. For us, of course, winning 1-0 certainly helped! The repercussions from the FA saw us deducted two points and United one, although it did not stop us winning the title again...
It all kicked off on the pitch this time.
So there you have it, part one of the reasons why I hate Manchester United. Coming up in part two will be United's first Premier League win at Highbury, Charity Shield fun in 1993, United fans in the Clock End in 1994, Overmars winning us the league in 1998, and another FA Cup semi classic in 1999, including the Ryan Giggs chest wig in all its glory! Not to be missed I'm sure you'll agree...