With United kicking off their FA Cup campaign this weekend, club legend Alex Stepney shares his memories of the 1977 final triumph.
“If you’d of asked me, when I was a kid kicking a ball about on the streets of London. What my main ambition would be if I became a professional footballer, straight away I would have said to play at Wembley and win the FA Cup.”
Stepney won more than most in his career, joining United in the summer of 1966 he won the league title in his first season with the club. European Cup glory and an England cap followed a year later before United fell into decline and were eventually relegated in 1974.
But by 1977, Tommy Docherty had built a young exciting side that had achieved promotion back to the First Division at the first time of asking. Alex had come very close to fulfilling his ambition the year before when United had reached the 1976 FA Cup final only to be upset by Southampton but Docherty’s side made it back to Wembley the following year, to face Liverpool in the final.
The 1977 FA Cup final was more than just a meeting of two footballing rivals, Liverpool were at the height of their powers and were going for the treble and United were underdogs heading into the game: “Looking back, we had to stop Liverpool from winning the treble, which is a bit of a sore point with a lot of their supporters who I meet.
“We were a good team, I was probably our oldest player but I had two very young full-backs in Arthur Albiston and Jimmy Nicholl who were only 18 or 19 and had come into the team. I thought Martin Buchan was a great player and him and Brian Greenhoff were our centre-halves.
“We knew how to hold them and defend against them. We were a good defensive team and all it needed was for something special up front and we had that.”
All three goals in the game were scored in a five minute period during the second half. Stuart Pearson gave United the lead when he was put through on goal and fired a hard shot past Ray Clemence, Jimmy Case equalised for Liverpool two minutes later before an effort from Lou Macari deflected in off Jimmy Greenhoff to give United the win.
An FA Cup winner’s medal was the crowning glory for Stepney’s career and he has fond memories of that day: “It was fantastic to win that FA Cup, alright we had a little bit of luck with our second goal but so did Southampton when they beat us the year before. All that matters is what happens on the day and it was great for the club.”
Tommy Docherty was famously sacked just weeks after his cup final victory when news of his affair with the wife of the club’s physio became public. The question remains about how good that United team could have been and what they would have won if the Doc had remained in charge. Alex does his best to answer the question: “We’ll never know that, we were riding high and when you think about it, we’d won the Second Division in 1975, finished third in our first season back in the First Division and reached the cup final. Then the following year we’d won the FA Cup so there were winners in the team.
“We knew how the manager wanted us to play but unfortunately what happened happened and then you get a new manager who comes in with a different outlook because all managers have different ways of training, coaching and how they want things to be done.
“I think that team could have done as good as, if not better but we’ll never know will we.”