Former United man Jim McCalliog looks back on the year he spent at Old Trafford and gives his opinion on the current side.
Jim joined the club in March 1974 as manager Tommy Docherty looked to breathe life into a United side that was desperately battling against relegation from the old First Division: “It came all of sudden because it was just before the old transfer deadline in March and United were really struggling.
“I was going to join Aston Villa from Wolves and I’d already spoken to the manager there but the problem was I didn’t want to go down to a club in the Second Division so I wanted to give it a bit of time to see if anyone else came in. On the day of the transfer deadline I went into Molineux and spoke to the manager and he said Manchester United had enquired about me.
“I decided that I wanted to join United who were hanging on in the First Division. I had nearly gone there when I was 20 in 1967, United had won the league that year but it fell through and I stayed at Sheffield Wednesday. But this time it happened and I went to Manchester United and fulfilled another dream.”
Initially, signing McCalliog looked to be a masterstroke by Tommy Docherty, between 30th March and 20th April 1974 United won four and drew two of their games with Jim bagging four goals in the process. But their form fell away and the team lost their last three games, confirming their demotion from the top flight: “I scored quite a few goals in a short space of time and it looked like we were going to stay up but unfortunately in the end we went down.
“It was bittersweet in a way because it was a dream to play for Manchester United but a shame that they were struggling a bit at the time. I scored some important goals which gave us a bit of hope but it just wasn’t to be. I don’t think it was ever to be expected that United would go down.”
Of the man who brought him to Old Trafford, Jim already knew Tommy Docherty from their time at Chelsea: “Tommy Docherty signed me for Chelsea when I was a young player, he’d also tried to get me before that when I was 15 and played for Scotland schoolboys against England at Ibrox but I went to Leeds instead where it didn’t work out.
“I got on well with him and did well with him at Chelsea, when I signed with him for United the deal was done in about five minutes, obviously we didn’t have agents then so I did all my own negotiating. I think the best description of him is probably hot and cold, sometimes he was ok with certain people and other times he wasn’t but my problem when I left Manchester United wasn’t Tommy Docherty it was his assistant manager Tommy Cavanagh.”
Jim featured regularly in the first half of United’s season in Division Two in 1974/75 where the Red Devils thrilled crowds across the country with their attacking style of football on their way to securing the league title and promotion back to the First Division.
But by that time McCalliog had already departed for Southampton, playing his last game in a 1-0 defeat to Bristol City at Old Trafford in early February. He made 38 appearances for United, scoring seven goals and later went onto to play for Chicago Sting and Norwegian side Lyn before rounding off his career at Lincoln City. He won five caps for Scotland where he now runs a bed and breakfast.
“The problem with Tommy Cavanagh wasn’t going away and the manager was sticking by his staff. I suppose I could have stayed there and played in the reserves but I didn’t want to do that. United sent me a Second Division winners medal because I’d played enough games, there wasn’t a big tremendous fallout or anything like that and I didn’t have a problem with Tommy Docherty.”
In the end, McCalliog came back to haunt United by setting up Bobby Stokes’s winner for Southampton against his old employers a year later in the 1976 FA Cup final. Some would see this as having the last laugh but Jim doesn’t see it like that: “I loved playing for Manchester United, absolutely loved it. We had some good players who gave it their all when we were fighting to stay in the First Division.
“I’ll always treasure my time at United, it’s a shame I didn’t sign for them when I was 20 but it didn’t work out. That’s life, it doesn’t always work out the way you think it will. It would have been unbelievable, I’d played with Denis Law for Scotland at Wembley against England, I got to know George Best well and I had great respect for Paddy Crerand, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles. When United won the cup in 1963 beating Leicester City I was supporting them so it would have been great to go and play there with those players.”
Jim still follows United and gives his opinion on the situation at the club over the last couple of years: “I think Sir Alex Ferguson left at the right time, things needed changing and he would have had to let a lot of people go who had been very loyal to him.
“I didn’t like the move for David Moyes and how he brought his staff from Everton into Manchester United. They weren’t going to impress anybody because Everton and David Moyes never won anything. I think he should have kept things the way they were and built towards being the top guy at Manchester United rather than bringing his own people in who weren’t good enough.
“I think his record has been as good as Van Gaal’s this season, the only difference being that Van Gaal got the team into the top four which I’m absolutely delighted about. I’m looking forward to the Champions League next season but I still think he needs to bring a few more players in. I think if De Gea does leave he’ll be a very difficult man to replace because for the past two years he’s hid a lot of faults in the team, he’s been absolutely brilliant.
“Credit to the United crowd, although he might go when he came off the pitch against Arsenal they rose up and made him feel welcome and I thought that was fantastic.
“It’ll be interesting to see if Ryan Giggs gets a chance if Louis Van Gaal doesn’t quite do it. Obviously Van Gaal has done it before, you have to respect that and we’ll have to wait and see. It’ll be exciting that’s for sure.”
Jim featured in Manchester United’s season in Division Two. The book ’74/75′ on the season, with Tommy Docherty, is available in hardback and on Kindle.