After “Big” Ron Atkinson had secured United’s first piece of silverware for six years in the spring of 1983, it looked like United were set to finally challenge Liverpool for the first division title.
A promising start to the 1983-84 campaign gave hope to many that finally, after 17 years United could be crowned kings of England. Even an inglorious exit in the Milk Cup to third division Oxford United failed to dampen the spirits as we headed into the festive period.
January would see the start of our defence of the FA Cup won convincingly at the second attempt against Brighton on a wonderful Thursday night the previous May. Atkinson’s men had been drawn away to another third division side Bournemouth then managed by a young and upcoming manager Harry Redknapp. Even the most pessimistic of Reds surely believed that lightening couldn’t strike twice as this was the FA Cup after all, not the mickey mouse tournament dreamt up by Alan Hardaker.
The United team that day lined up like this:
Bailey; Hogg, Duxbury, Albiston; Moses, Robson, Muhren, Wilkins; Whiteside, Stapleton Graham.
Graeme Hogg was making his debut for the club having joined straight from school in July 1983, on the bench was Lou Macari who would sadly make his final appearance for United before his ill-fated move into management at Swindon Town. As always, the lower league surroundings proved to be hopelessly inadequate, unable to cope with the Red invasion that harked back to the season spent in division two only ten years earlier.
The opening 45 minutes gave cause for concern for United, the holders seemed edgy as the third division strugglers started to believe that a third round giant killing could be on the cards. Redknapp, in his first managerial role, had told his players prior to kick-off that big Ron’s boys were sat in the dressing room watching the racing rather than focusing on their opponents. Whether true or not, the psychological mind games looked to be working and the south coast side was on top at the break.
Arthur Albiston was certainly concerned and years later, in an interview with Jim White in The Telegraph confessed that “It was one of those games you could just sense was going to go wrong,” adding that “we just never got going. Our attitude wasn’t bad. Ron had pointed out the pitfalls of going to a small ground and playing lower league opposition”.
Albiston failed to appear for the second-half as Macari pulled on a United shirt for the last time. Atkinson’s troops looked to rally themselves and Arthur Graham came close to giving the holders the advantage on 55 minutes but it was to be another Graham, Milton, who gave the home side a shock lead just five minutes later. Two minutes later and the match was effectively over as United failed to deal with a free-kick and Bournemouth striker Ian Thompson pounced to make back page headlines the following day.
With just a minute left on the clock and with United fans occupying all sides of the ground, fighting broke out behind the Bournemouth goal and the game was held up for five minutes as police forced supporters back onto the terrace. The holders had been dumped out of the FA Cup on a truly forgettable day and as we all know, it wouldn’t be the last time that one of Redknapp’s teams would break our hearts in this competition.
By Steve Mitchell. Follow him on Twitter.