Red Missed: How Stewart Houston and Gordon Hill Made Me Angry and Depressed
United’s FA Cup tie with Wolves last weekend and Auntie’s ‘flashback’ (Rio Ferdinand?), reminded me to finally get around to posting a few of my own memories, originally prompted by George Best’s sad demise in November.
George had quit United long before I can first remember watching them. But Best remained an important part of my United life - the school chant was “Georgie Best, Superstar, He walks like a woman and he wears a bra!” - and Dad would always remind me that whatever “my” United did they were never as good as Best, Law an Charlton and the rest of Busby’s Babes.
I can see what he meant, now! And he did concede that watching Cantona, Kanchelskis and Giggs at their peak was probably just as exciting.
Anyway, 1974-5 season was my first, when United were in the old League Division Two. I didn’t understand the significance of the different divisions then, just enjoyed the BBC’s and Yorkshire TV’s occasional match coverage when we took on the regional challengers of the time - the big guns of York City, Rotherham United, Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday, if my memory serves me.
That year we won the D2 title and returned to the top division.
We then got to three out of the next four Cup Finals (when that meant something), winning just once (but against Treble-chasing Liverpool).
Six years after we had won the European Cup with Best, Law, Charlton and the rest we had teams comprising (as I remember them):
1 Alex Stepney, then Paddy Roche, then Gary Bailey
2 Alex Forsyth, then Jimmy Nichol
3 Stuart Houston, then Arthur Albiston (who popped up on Five Live recently)
4 Gerry Daly, then Brian Greenhof, then Sammy McIlroy
5 Brian Greenhoff, then Gordon McQueen
6 Martin Buchan (c)
7 Steve Coppell
8 Sammy McIlroy, then Jimmy Greenhoff
9 Stuart Pearson, then Joe Jordan
10 Lou Macari
11 Gordon Hill, then Mickey Thomas
12 David McCreery, then Ashley Grimes
Stepney was a legend, the last of Sir Matt’s European Champions. Bailey was talented - I remember a couple of full-stretch diving saves he made in the 5-3 home defeat by West Brom….Houston was the first person I’d ever heard tell someone else to fuck off. That he did it in response to baiting from a total stranger on the terraces was even more startling to me then.
Ever since I always had a sense that Houston was quite evil. I’m sure he isn’t! It reminds me, too, of the televised live England game when Ray Wilkins told the (Uruguyan?) ball boy to “give me the fucking ball”. Not to mention when Eric jumped into the crowd feet first!
McIlroy was ‘the last of the Busby Babes’ (probably also ‘the new George Best’), but never quite managed to live up to it, despite being a great servant to the club. I was really sad when he had to leave not long after Bryan Robson and Remi Moses arrived a few years later. Not long before he moved on he scored a fantastic solo goal against Wolves.
Buchan was the ever-dependable rock and heartbeat of the team. Scored a couple of last minute
equalisers, drives from outside the penalty area, one at home to Everton?
Coppell had an economics degree apparently. Probably would make a good manager one day…. Career cut short by injury.
Pearson was an up-and-at-them, no fear, old-fashioned centre forward, replaced by Joe Jordan, an up-and-at-them, no fear, old-fashioned centre forward with no front teeth. Wonderful!
Macari was the mischief-maker-in-chief, apparently ran a chip shop outside the ground and provided the role model for free-scoring (Celtic) strikers to sign for United, dry up and move back into midfield….
Gordon Hill’s demise was a source of childhood grief for me, which even now I find difficult to understand. Lee Sharpe followed suit more recently. Thomas was a cheeky-chappy, work-hard, play-hard type with silly hair.
McCreery was our not-so-supersub and Grimes was never a United player, surely?
Which brings me back to the current team/squad. Who are the Ashley Grimeses of today? Van der Sar looks a bit like Paddy Roche, but so did Roy Carroll. We need a world class keeper, still.
Gary Neville will be looking forward to the Liverpool rematch in the Cup, no doubt!
Wes Brown might still come through as genuine class, but realistically he’s always going to be a squaddie. Same applies to Mikael Silvestre. Gabriel Heinze has been missed and I expect he will partner Rio in central defence next season, that’s if Patrice Evra comes through at left back.
Then there’s Vidic, O’Shea, Richardson, Bardsley….
Who will replace Roy Keane? That’s probably the wrong question. Football’s a team game and the best teams don’t rely on one player, but on individuals gelling as units within the team. United at their best could win without Keane (and his central midfield ‘unit’ partner Scholes, as they did in Barcelona) or Cantona or Beckham.
As a TV-highlights-and-live-radio-only kind of fan I’ve seen and heard Alan Smith, Darren Fletcher, John O’Shea all do well in there. Let’s hope Scholesy can return and even that Giggsy is allowed to play out his last years through the middle.
Out wide we have Ronaldo, Park, Solskjaer and Richardson - we need reinforements there, too.
Up front we look strong with Rooney, Ruud, Saha (when fit) and Rossi, although there’s always room for improvement.
What’s our first XI look like now? I don’t think Sir Alex knows, which is half the problem. Mine, assuming everyone is injury-free:
1 Howard - may as well give him his second chance, now
2 Neville - no brainer (the choice, not Gary)
3 Heinze (leave him at full back for now)
4 O’Shea (I’d like to see him given a run in the ‘holding’ role)
5 Ferdinand (with O’Shea holding the defensive cover in midfield this would free up Rio to be more adventurous)
6 Brown (he’s fit, playing well, give him a run)
7 Ronaldo (just stick with him)
8 Rooney (start him wide left, but let him play wherever he sees fit like Eric did)
9 Saha (start as central striker)
10 Van Nistelrooy
11 Giggs (central midfield role, playmaker, can swap with Rooney and Saha
12 Scholes (back up for Wayne or swap with Saha or Ruud for a less gung-ho approach!)
2nd XI:Did I miss anyone?
1 Van der Sar