Not many players go on to enjoy greater success after leaving Manchester United but Jimmy Rimmer is one of the few exceptions to the rule, winning a league title, a European Cup and an England cap all after leaving Old Trafford in 1974.
Jimmy was at United from a young age and was part of the side that won the FA Youth Cup in 1964, a time he has some fond memories of with several other players who went on to make the grade: “We won the youth cup in my first year as an apprentice and six or seven of us from that team went on to play first team football and become internationals. George Best, David Sadler, Brian Kidd and Bobbly Noble before he had his accident. John Fitzpatrick and John Aston were in the team as well.”
Jimmy’s first team debut came four years after the youth cup triumph on the 15th April 1968 in a First Division fixture against Fulham at Old Trafford. Bobby Charlton, George Best and John Aston got the goals as United ran out 3-0 winners: “It felt great, obviously I’d been at the club a long time but was still only young. Alex Stepney had been injured in a game at Southampton and Sir Matt told me that I’d be playing in the game on Easter Monday.
“There was 64,000 people there and another 10,000 locked outside because we were going for the league title. I didn’t have a lot to do, there were a few crosses and I think I only made one save because we dominated Fulham. I was just so happy that I didn’t concede a goal on my debut.”
Just weeks later Jimmy was on the bench at Wembley as United beat Benfica 4-1 to become the first English team to win the European Cup ten years after the Munich Air Disaster, picking up a winners medal as a non-playing sub. He describes that night as emotional and talks about how he was pleased to be so close to the action: “It was unbelievable, especially for the manager. The team played really well and John Aston had an outstanding game.
“They brought in substitute goalkeepers because they kept getting injured as we had less protection in those days and I was sub right the way through the competition. Even just to be on the bench at my age was an achievement because we had quite a few good keepers at the time.”
Of the man who gave him his chance in the first team, Jimmy has a lot of respect for Sir Matt Busby and the way he treated the young players coming into the first team: “He was the figurehead, he was the boss but he treated you like a man. You knew not to do silly things because if you did that with Sir Matt you were going upstairs for a chat in the office, he’d find out everything about you.
“He used to say that Manchester is a big place but people talk a lot, if you went out with Bestie or anybody else he’d know where you’d been and what you’d done. That’s what he used to say to the young players to make sure we didn’t get carried away.”
Being of a similar age to George Best and part of the same youth team, Jimmy got to know the United legend well and describes his memories of him and what he was like as a person: “He was absolutely brilliant. George was a couple of years older than I was but we played in the youth team together and I have no bad words to say about him.
“Obviously he had his problems but I don’t like talking about that. As a person and as a friend – brilliant. As a footballer he was out of this world, what a player. I never played against him but I was over the moon to be playing with him. Off the pitch he was very quiet but he’d do anything for you.”
Jimmy eventually left the club for Arsenal in 1974 after making 46 appearances. He had served as understudy to Alex Stepney for several years but fell out of favour with manager Tommy Docherty. He later went on to play for Aston Villa where he was part of their European Cup winning side in 1982 before rounding off his career at Swansea City and a brief spell at Luton Town.
“Sir Matt Busby wanted to keep me but Tommy Docherty didn’t fancy me and he was the manager. He signed Paddy Roche so I went to another big club, Arsenal. I always say that I played for the biggest club in the north, the biggest club in the south, the biggest club in Birmingham and the biggest club in Wales.
“If I’d have spent another couple of years in the reserves and filling in for Alex I might not have achieved what I did after I left. Tommy Docherty later admitted he’d made a mistake by letting me go but it’s down to the opinion of the manager at the time, that’s football.”
Of the current United side, Jimmy gives his opinion on the goalkeeping situation at Old Trafford and asserts that it will take time for the team to gel together: “The goalkeeper De Gea has been outstanding but if he’s going to be sold he’s going to be sold. Victor Valdes is a good goalkeeper, you don’t play for Barcelona if you’re not good and Sir Matt Busby used to say to us that United don’t sign bad players.
“The manager is still looking at some players and he’ll have his own ideas. Manchester United don’t expect to finish fourth they expect to be either first or second but it hasn’t happened this year. He’s got money to spend and if he spends it right he’ll have everything in place in a year or two.”
In keeping with Retro United’s recent Best XI theme Jimmy picks his team from the players he played with at the club, here’s what he came up with: Stepney, Fitzpatrick, Sadler/Holton, Stiles, Dunne, Crerand, Giles, Charlton, Morgan, Best and Law.