Chris Turner is probably more memorable to football fans for his two spells at hometown club Sheffield Wednesday rather than the three seasons he spent in a United shirt, but he proved himself to be a more than capable goalkeeper in the years of transition between Ron Atkinson and Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.
Turner signed for the club in the summer of 1985 initially to provide cover for Gary Bailey: “It was the end of the 1984/85 season and my contract was up at Sunderland. I was sitting at home one day and there’d been several clubs reported in the press as interested in signing me, but I hadn’t heard anything.
“I said to my wife that I might stay another season at Sunderland which wouldn’t have bothered me because I enjoyed my time there. Within 30 seconds of me finishing that sentence the phone rang and it was Martin Edwards inviting me to Old Trafford the next day to talk about signing for Manchester United which I did in July 1985.”
Chris had to wait a while to make his debut, United began the season with Gary Bailey in net and won their first ten league games, sparking hopes of the club winning its first title since 1967.
He finally got his chance in December 1985, keeping goal against Aston Villa at Villa Park. Clayton Blackmore, Gordon Strachan and Mark Hughes got the goals that day as United ran out 3-1 winners: “The team went on a run of ten straight wins at the start of the season and Gary Bailey was in goal at that time so I had virtually nothing to do.
“It was total football, absolutely fantastic and the first defeat came at Sheffield Wednesday where we lost 1-0. Then Gary picked up a calf strain in training one week and I made my debut at Aston Villa where we won 3-1. I’d played a couple of games in pre-season but actually running out at Villa Park in front of 40,000 people playing for Manchester United was unbelievable.
“Andy Gray was playing for Villa, they had a good side in those days. To win was fantastic and it’s up there with everything else I did in the game.”
Chris became a regular fixture in the first team for the rest of the season but United’s title push faltered and they eventually finished fourth with Liverpool being crowned champions once again: “We had a good side under Ron Atkinson and we were out in front. It was a great chance for the team to win the league for the first time in nearly 20 years but it got thrown away in the end.
“Liverpool were a great team, they tended not to have great starts but got stronger as the season went on and that’s basically what happened. We certainly had injuries and I know for a fact that Bryan Robson and Gordon Strachan were missing for long periods and they were big losses to the team.”
Of his relationship with Ron Atkinson, Chris describes the man he later linked up with at Sheffield Wednesday as ‘one of the best’: “I had 18 months playing under Ron at United and 18 months playing for Sir Alex Ferguson. Ron was a players manager and they all loved playing for him because he made some of them what they were. He was high profile but could handle the pressure and he was a great manager to play for.”
United began the 1986/87 season poorly and Atkinson was sacked at the beginning of November. His successor was a man from Scotland called Alex Ferguson who had had great success with Aberdeen, Chris talks of his relationship with the great man and describes the atmosphere in the early days of his regime at Old Trafford: “I got on very well with Alex, when he came we’d had a bad start to the season and Ron had left. Ferguson came with high credentials from Scotland where he had taken on Celtic and Rangers and beaten them.
“He found it difficult in the early days because he had inherited a squad of players who’d been used to working for a previous manager. His philosophy was different and the project began then really. He changed the mentality of the players and their habits off the pitch by raising standards.
“I think Alex went through a high number of players in those early years without any real success but he was given time and that’s what all managers need. Those first couple of years were tough times, some bad performances and defeats but also allied with some good ones. In my last season in 1987/88 we finished second in the league and that year ironically Liverpool had a good start and never fell away.”
Chris left Old Trafford that summer after making 79 appearances. He returned to boyhood club Sheffield Wednesday where he was part of the side that beat United 1-0 in the 1991 League Cup final: “I’m proud to have played for one of the greatest clubs in the world, the reason I left was that I wanted to play first team football even though United offered me another deal.
“I wanted to play every Saturday afternoon because I was heading towards my thirties. Alex wanted to bring one of his old goalkeepers down which managers often do so he bought Jim Leighton and I went back to Sheffield Wednesday.
“We won the League Cup in 1991 which is the highlight of my career with Wednesday being my hometown club and we beat one of the best teams in the world in a cup final. Ferguson came and shook me by the hand straight after the final whistle which is typical of him. I’ve been to dinners years and years later and he would always come and find me to have a chat. I speak very highly of the man.”
Following the end of his playing days Chris had a spell in management with several clubs including his beloved Sheffield Wednesday. He is now the Chief Executive at Chesterfield where he has helped to bring success to a club that is surrounded by perhaps more established rivals: “I’ve been here for four years and we’ve had three and a half years of success. This year we lost our manager to Portsmouth which left a big hole to fill and we’ve lost some key players because they wanted to go and play in the Championship.
“We’ve had an up and down start so far this year but in the four years I’ve been here we’ve been to two Wembley finals and won the League Two title so it’s been good.”