Ready, Steady, Go!

With the big kick off fast approaching, the first thing I notice is how wide a difference in times for that kick off actually is nowadays. Being a 3pm on a Saturday man, 12.45 or 5.30 on the Saturday, 1.30 or 4pm on the Sunday and even 8pm on Monday nights is how it is now. Indeed, Manchester United this week go at 12.45pm Saturday, whilst only a couple of seasons back it was 8pm on the Monday at Goodison Park Everton!

If you win the opener everything is going to be rosy, lose and the world falls in. Or does it? Remember when we went to Villa Park with a bunch of kids (who don’t win you anything according to Alan Hansen) got beat 3-1 and go onto win everything over the next few seasons? Or the time Michael Knighton came juggling his balls and nearly bought out Martin Edwards and we beat Arsenal 4-1 and the title seemed around the corner? Or the first match of the new Premiership in 1992 when we lost 2-1 at Sheffield United which did not seem promising, but certainly was!

The actual first match of a season I saw was 1958 against Chelsea when Bobby Charlton got a hat trick in a 5-2 victory, the second season on the trot that a United player had scored a first day hat trick as Liam (Billy) Whelan had done so at Leicester City in 1957.
The first time I saw Manchester United play away on the opening day of the season was in 1959 at The Hawthorns, home of West Bromwich Albion. Taking a line from my good friend Pete Molyneux and his brilliant book “Ta Ra Fergie” my dad and I went by the local Salford coach firm Fieldsends. As Pete points out in his book, the drivers were more used to going to Blackpool, Southport or Scarborough than the homes of football clubs and many a time they got lost! This time they got us there nearly on time and although we lost 3-2 to a decent Albion side, you could start to feel that the club was getting back on a stabilising level.

West Bromwich Albion for some reason seemed to be the first opponents for a lot of seasons. They were the first visitors to Old Trafford in 1962, 1964 and 1966, each season a memorable one for Manchester United as it turned out. In 1962, we welcomed the blond bombshell, the King himself, Denis Law for his league debut. He quickly was on the score sheet and, indeed, we were 2-0 up inside ten minutes. Albion though came back and got a 2-2 draw, but it seemed we had got a special player to bring back the glory days. Denis did help do that this season as we won the FA Cup but nearly had relegation as well!

The winning of that cup was an important milestone and by the time West Bromwich came again for the first match of the season in 1964 we were ready to really fly. The cover of that programme had an artist’s impression of how the new cantilever stand would look, then under construction for the World Cup in 1966. Incidentally, that was the first cantilever stand to have private boxes in this country and the second cantilever after Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough. A same score of 2-2 left you wondering which way the season would pan out, but inspired by Law, Charlton and Best a brilliant United side won the league and nearly a treble as they lost in replays in both semi finals of the FA Cup to Leeds, and Inter Cities Fairs Cup (now Europa League) to Ferencvaros of Hungary.

With the World Cup just gone, West Bromwich Albion arrived at Old Trafford for another first fixture of the season in 1966. By then of course, the cantilever was fully open and they were jumping off the newish seats as United won 5-3 on the way to another league title as Matt Busby had seemingly got a side around him that could won the European Cup finally, which they duly did in 1968 thanks to this title win.
1971 was interesting as it was actually the third home game of the season against Ipswich Town before the team appeared at Old Trafford, having been ordered to play away due to crowd disturbances so it was matches at Anfield against Arsenal and Stoke City’s Victoria Ground for the visit of West Bromwich Albion which actually started the home season

In 1972 the opening of the new ‘K’ stand was a big bonus for me as I finally got a season ticket, having watched United since 1954, although not in my own name then. The first match was again against Ipswich Town and instead of swaying about in the United Road paddock or behind either goal, you had peoples knees in the back, elbows in the side but a decent view .You were also starting to meet people you became mates even though you did not know much about them and only saw them every two weeks or so sat with you watching Manchester United.

This season sees the first match of the season being also the first game for a new manager. So, what will Saturday 16th August 2014 bring? I feel a 3-1 victory and LVG going spare as Swansea get a late consolation!

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