Man United Blog brings you the ninth part of its look at MU History, covering the period 1980-1989.
Manchester United made a poor start to the 1980’s. In January 1980, Tottenham knocked them out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle. In early March, Dave Sexton’s side was thrashed 6-0 at Ipswich Town. However, Sexton and his team refused to acknowledge any vultures that might have circled overhead Ė instead they recovered to win eight of their last ten league games, and finish just two points behind Liverpool in the title race.
United produced another blistering finish at the end of the following season, 1980/81, when they won their last seven league games in a row. This time, however, they could only finish eighth in the table Ė a position which the club’s board could not tolerate. Sexton was sacked on 30 April 1981, after four seasons in the hotseat. Sextonís replacement Ron Atkinson brought in Mick Brown as assistant manager and Eric Harrison as youth coach. But it was his on-the-field acquisitions that really excited the fans. He broke the British transfer record to recruit Bryan Robson from his old club West Bromwich Albion for £1.5m and he spent around a third of that again to add another ex-Albion man, Remi Moses, to the United squad.
In midfield the new arrivals wonderfully complemented the finesse of Ray Wilkins, the ball-playing England star. But still there was something missing. United needed a forward who could match the strike rate of Ian Rush at Liverpool, who again won the Championship in 1982, 1983 and 1984. Atkinsonís men were never far behind, finishing third or fourth in every season of his reign. But they were never that close either.
The domestic cups offered United their best chances of silverware, and in 1983, they reached Wembley in both competitions. Liverpool beat them 2-1 after extra-time to win the Milk (League) Cup, while little-fancied Brighton and Hove Albion provided the opposition in the FA Cup final. Big Ronís Reds were expected to stroll it against the Seagulls, but instead they found Brighton to be a tough nut to crack and the showpiece match finished 2-2. In fact, the underdogs would surely have won the Cup, had United goalkeeper Gary Bailey not blocked Gordon Smithís shot in the last minute of extra-time.
The nation braced itself for a televised repeat five days later, but this time, Brighton could not match United who stormed to a 4-0 replay win with goals from Robson (2), Arnold Muhren and Norman Whiteside. Whitesideís habit of rising to the big occasion was never more gratefully received than in 1985, when he curled in the only goal of the FA Cup Final to beat Everton 1-0. United had earlier been reduced to ten men by the dismissal of Kevin Moran, who formed a great defensive partnership in the 1980ís with Paul McGrath. It was Atkinsonís second FA Cup success in three seasons, but eighteen months later he became the fourth successive United boss to be sacked, for his inability to break Merseysideís monopoly of the League Championship. Not even ten straight wins at the start of 1985/86 could lead him to the Holy Grail.
In November 1986, Manchester United at last appointed a proven winner. As Aberdeen manager, Alex Ferguson had claimed every prize that Scotland had to offer, not to mention the added bonus of the European Cup Winners Cup when his team defied overwhelming odds to beat Real Madrid! Fergie clearly had the talent for the job, but he also needed time to turn United round. The club remained patient as the Reds finished eleventh in 1986/87 and again in 1988/89. After all, the season in between, 1987/88, had offered encouraging signs as United finished second to Liverpool by winning eight and drawing two of their last ten games. The promise of that season, and some of the signings he had made, would soon be fulfilled by Mr Ferguson.
This period on Manchester United football club is covered in some excellent books which you can find at The Ji Sung-Park Online Shop. You can also but some wonderful memorabilia through one of our sponsors: Kitbag