Bryan Robson and Kenny Dalglish back in 1985 for Manchester United vs. Liverpool
Guest Author: Luzhniki2008
When the football fixtures are announced each Summer the first matches that I always look for on these lists are when we will play Liverpool at home and away. These, for me, have always been our biggest matches of the season, regardless of either side’s league position or form. As a child, in the mid 1980s, Liverpool were by far the most successful side of the time, winning numerous League titles, Domestic Cups, Charity Shields and European Cups, though not the Intercontinental Cup.
Living in the Manchester South area at this time, Manchester United were the closest league side to me. However, with Liverpool’s success, I found that at school a lot of my classmates were Liverpool fans, although not really match going fans, unlike most of my United supporting friends. There were also some Everton fans, possibly due to the great side they had in the mid 1980s and a few City fans too, probably due to family reasons. There was never any doubt which team I would support, it was always going to be United, for family reasons, the style of football we played, especially in Cup ties and the big one off matches and also because my all time football hero Bryan Robson played for us. It was in those big matches where United would normally be at their best, especially against Liverpool (between 1982-83 and 1987-88 Seasons United only lost 1 match against Liverpool, the 1983 Milk Cup Final helped by a poor refereeing performance by George Courteney on the day). However, in the League, United never had the consistency and would finish in 3rd or 4th position under manager Ron Atkinson, behind Liverpool and usually Everton.
In the mid 1980s football matches saw a lot of violence in the crowds and from 1985 onwards English sides were banned from Europe too. As a result, I was only allowed to go to matches regularly from when I was 8 years old in 1986. This was not the best timing in terms of the football as United blew a huge lead in the 1985-86 league season, seeing Liverpool win the Domestic Double for the 1st time, with United finishing a distant 4th place and knocked out of the FA Cup. I can still remember hearing loud chants of ‘Are you watching Manchester?’ being sung by both the Liverpool and Everton fans as I watched on TV the 1986 FA Cup Final and FA Charity Shield matches at Wembley played by those sides.
The 1986-87 Season started really badly for United manager Ron Atkinson and United found themselves near the bottom of the table. By the beginning of November this had cost manager Ron Atkinson his job, as he was replaced by manager Alex Ferguson. Things improved a bit that season under Ferguson as United moved up to mid table in the League but were knocked out in the FA Cup 4th Round by Coventry City, after we beat Man City in the 3rd Round. The matches against Liverpool in 1986-87 though, were the stand out matches of the season. I made my 1st trip to Anfield in December 1986 for United’s match there. To this day I can still remember the atmosphere, the noise and the huge rivalry and hatred between the 2 sets of fans. I had already been to my 1st Manchester Derby, at Maine Road, a few months earlier, but this Liverpool vs United match was on a different level. As with most matches in the 1980s against Liverpool, league form went out of the window and United won 1-0 with a Norman Whiteside winner. This was to be United’s only league away win of the season as well! The return match at Old Trafford in Easter was just as impressive to me. I had already been to the FA Cup 3rd Round Manchester Derby at Old Trafford that season, which was impressive, but again it was to be Liverpool which the fans would be even more up for. The crowd noise and chanting were brilliant that day too. United again won this match 1-0, this time with a Peter Davenport winner. A frustrating season, but at least we’d taken all 6 points off our biggest rivals Liverpool that season. Having taken a lot of stick off my Liverpool supporting classmates that season for United’s poor form, I enjoyed going back into school after those 2 matches against them.
Season 1987-88 would see an improvement for United, who improved in the League to finish 2nd, although we would be knocked out of the Domestic Cups by Oxford United and Arsenal. Liverpool were dominant in the League however and were always going to win the League. It was only a shock upset by Wimbledon in the 1988 FA Cup Final that stopped them winning a 2nd Domestic Double. The 2 matches against Liverpool would be great matches and real battles though. The 1st one was a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford. The return match at Anfield was the stand out match of the season for me. This was my 2nd visit to Anfield and what a match! Early on in the match United found themselves 2-0 up against them, but things changed and into the 2nd half were 3-2 down and only had 10 men after Colin Gibson’s sending off. To this day, I still see Norman Whiteside’s appearance on the pitch as a 2nd half substitute as the turning point in the game. Whiteside was soon involved in the action, taking care of Steve McMahon with a tough tackle, to say the least, on him. The tackle would that night see a huge rant from Jimmy Hill about Whiteside on Match of the Day, which provided huge amusement for us. Thanks to Whiteside, United got an equaliser with Gordon Strachan scoring in front of the Kop to give us a 3-3 Draw there. Liverpool vs Man Utd games were always tough physical battles on the pitch, and often in the crowds too, and this game, especially summed this up.
The 1988-89 Season was a highly frustrating one for United fans as Alex Ferguson set about his rebuilding process of the club. We were back to being a mid table side again like 1986-87 and were knocked out of both Cup Competitions. Early on in the season we suffered our 1st defeat to Liverpool since the 1983 Milk Cup Final and the 1st in the League since 1982, as we lost 1-0 at Anfield, thanks to a Jan Molby penalty. The return match at Old Trafford on New Year’s Day 1989 was the 1 standout match of the season though. Again, form went out of the window, with United defeating Liverpool 3-1 with their performance of the season in front of an amazing Old Trafford atmosphere. I’ll especially always remember the celebrations for Russell Beardsmore’s 3rd goal in that match too. Liverpool went on to win the FA Cup that year and narrowly missed out on a Domestic Double. I can remember celebrating as I watched on TV as Michael Thomas scored an injury time 2nd goal at Anfield to deny Liverpool the League title by a single goal and another Domestic Double in the last match of the season. My celebrations, and I’m sure those of other United fans at the time, were nothing to do with any affinity with Arsenal and all to do with our huge rivalry with Liverpool. We did not have much to shout about in 1989 but seeing Liverpool lose the League in the last minute of the season like that gave us some enjoyment.
The 1989-90 season didn’t start well and by the end of the year United were in the bottom half of the League and out of the League Cup. In the 1st Manchester United home programme of the 1990s, there was even an article saying good riddance to the 1980s. In early 1990, I doubt any United fan at the time would have predicted the success United would go on to have in the 1990s, compared to Liverpool’s decline in this decade too. Although United had clearly outshone Liverpool in our matches against them in the 1980s, they had far outshone us with all the titles and trophies they won during that decade. Throughout that time, Liverpool were the team we wanted to beat more than any other and this continues to this day for the majority of United supporters. You only need to see the United fans’ and players’ reactions, especially Gary Neville, at full time in 2007 when John O’Shea got that late winner at Anfield, to understand this.