George Graham was integral to both teams
Red Devils vs Red Angels
I could very easily have been a Manchester United supporter if it hadn’t been for the famous Swindon Town defeat of Arsenal in the 1969 League Cup. Watching a team dominate, keep trying despite half of them recovering from flu, I felt sorry for them and wanted them to win. I became a Gooner that day. And I was on my own. Most people in Ireland were Man Utd and my older brother Joe certainly was. My dad was more of a GAA fan and brought us to many games but from that moment on Arsenal were my biggest sporting love. I was lucky for them as trophies followed in quick succession. As soon as I followed them, they became a big team again.
A toothless Nobby Stiles celebrates The European Cup in 1968
Strangely enough Man Utd went into decline after their fabled win over Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final. It can only be put down to one factor in my opinion, Matt Busby, the extraordinary creator of the Manchester United legend retired shortly after the Benfica win, probably because the stress of doing everything there was very draining. He had to control everything, wages, transfers, finances, the ground, in those days managers had far more to do with far less staff. So Arsenal went up, United went down.
We sent them down
This was reflected on the pitch in our games with them as we drew and lost in 1969-70 but hammered them 4-0 and 3-1 in our magnificent double year 1970-71. The amazing thing was, virtually all of their superstars were still there, George Best, Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and the rest but they were a mediocre team, finishing 8th both seasons. We went from 12th to 1st and I definitely believed I had handed Arsenal the lucky gene. We were back, we were Arsenal, and we were winners.
Matt Busby - the genius behind Manchester United
For United, relegation was the next step in 1973-74. And who started them off on that journey? You guessed it, we beat them 3-0 on their first game of the season. George Graham had switched to them but made no difference. Their huge stars had gone but they still had big names such as Willie Morgan, Sammy McIlroy, Martin Buchan and Lou Macari who helped them go down. They did manage a point off us in the return but that was the start of them being beaten by us in a significant fashion in my era. It seemed impossible for such a team to go down but they had finished 18th out of 22 the year before and then the Arsenal destroy them in their first match. It clobbered the belief out of them.
The richest, most glamorous club in the world go down
It was their last relegation and truly they were the biggest side I had ever seen relegated on the pitch, not by a ban like Juventus, for example. They were the richest club in the world, fans everywhere, glamour stars of which the greatest was the unbelievable Georgie Best, the best player I have ever seen, but he was unable to cope with fame. Watch the Youtubes to see things you have never seen before, he could do everything, all while getting kicked unmercifully. I believe that Matt Busby going meant the last chance for Bestie also went. He protected him.
George best - the most exciting footballer I have ever seen
Busby was their Herbert Chapman. He made them the greatest in England. He believed, as did Chapman, in European competition.
Early connections between two greats
They had 2 great managers in my era, Busby and Ferguson, and we had 2, Graham and Wenger. Later on we will get to them as they are integral to the story. But let us take a trip down memory lane first to give you an idea of the connections between 2 of the greatest clubs in England and certainly the biggest rivals in my time.
Newton Heath and Woolwich Arsenal played out their rivalry in the 2nd division for many years. In 1898 we played an extraordinary 3 matches all finishing 5-1 with them winning only the middle one. In 1906 we both met in Division one for the first time and they won 1-0 with the wonderfully named Alexander Leek Brown Downie scoring the goal. They had become Manchester United and we were still Woolwich Arsenal.
They have the edge
They have the edge on us in wins, 100 to our 86 and 50 drawn. They have more trophies as you all know with only the FA cup being our lead. They are close though with 12 to our 13. Let’s hope a great spell is on the way for us with the Arteta young guns and we climb closer to them. Their 3 Champions league could be a target although it certainly doesn’t look possible from this viewpoint. We need to improve to catch up with them. A miraculous ten years would do nicely.
Cup winners courtesy of Liam Brady
I want to mention another time and a match that will always stick in my memory. Arsenal vs Man Utd in 1979, the FA cup final. It was yet another time when we proved their nemesis. We had all the Irish players with Liam Brady being the finest. He played superb, we were 2 goals up on 86 minutes and they were ready to go home crying. But Gordon McQueen lashed in a header and then Sammy McIlroy scored a peach and we were on the floor like Tyson Fury, eyes rolling back in our heads just like him, unconscious. Somehow Brady, Rix and Sunderland crawled up off the Wembley floor, decided we were Arsenal, we give nightmares to Man Utd, not the other way round, and scored a goal that gave me the highest level of delight I had up to the point as an Arsenal supporter. From strolling around the ring, giving Utd an odd clatter around the head to show our superiority, to being hit by a sucker punch that sent us down burst like a sack of spuds, to gathering all our pieces together and showing we were champions, it was the greatest single match I had experienced to that point. 10 years later I was to experience another fantastic moment against Liverpool but I have covered that before. This time we climbed the Wembley stairs as giants and Man Utd? It must have been sickening because if it had gone to extra time all the belief and momentum was with them. Brady gave us that little bit extra to make us win within that tiny crazy moment that was left of injury time.
Alan Sunderland destroyed the ecstatic Man Utd fans
Next week I will go up to the modern era, George Graham, Arsene Wenger, and the manager who was scheduled to come to us before George Graham, Alex Ferguson. The most unbelievable rivalry, the ups and downs, the earth shattering defeats, and the joyous wins.