As the world and his wife knows, United are extremely popular in the States, the most popular non-American sports team hands down. It’s hardly surprising though, the story of Manchester United since the clubs humble beginnings in the latter part of the 19th century is the greatest story in world sport. It’s a story of deeply felt emotion, with plenty of highs and lows, tragedy and rebirth.
The American’s, and fans in Canada also, “get” United, they understand the attraction of the Old Trafford club, and millions of North Americans have took the club to their hearts. Furthermore, United’s history puts the histories of America’s Gridiron and baseball teams well and truly in the shade, so it’s no surprise why so many North Americans have fell in love with Manchester United. It’s also no surprise that United have their own extremely popular and well established American fan club, and North American United fans are all over social media, fans that are well educated on the history of the club with an excellent understanding and knowledge of the club.
I was born and raised in central Manchester, but now I live in America and am married to a beautiful American lady by the name of April. April often tells me of when she growing up, all the kids at school knew about Manchester United, and as she puts it, all the “cool kids” wanted to up sticks and move to Manchester, it was the place to be and United was THE team that they looked up to the most outside of their home country. Here we are now, just past half way through 2015 and although that game with the silly helmets and baseball are more popular than association football, North America can’t get enough of the English game, especially the Red Devils. United are never off American television, they really aren’t.
United’s Premier League games and European games are always broadcast live on either Fox or NBC, United’s summer tour games are also broadcast live, it doesn’t matter where they are, Asia or North America, they’re live on the telly.
We have seen in very recent years just what an impact Manchester United have on North American fans. Let’s go back four years to 2011, we saw the United players being surrounded outside hotels and training grounds by United fans wanting autographs on shirts, books, even body parts!
On that tour United’s first game was against Major League Soccer team New England revolution of Massachusetts, United running out comfortable 4 – 1 winners in front of over 50,000 adoring fans, the goals coming courtesy of Michael Owen, Ji Sung Park and a couple from Federico Macheda who is now at Cardiff City. After that easy win, it was off to Seattle on the west coast to face Washington States only MLS side, Seattle Sounders.
The watching crowd witnessed a rout as United ran out 7 – 0 winners, the gulf in class very obvious, United’s goals that day came from Gabriel Obertan, Michael Owen, Mame Biram Diouf (now at Stoke City), Ji Sung Park and a hat trick from Wayne Rooney. Three days later it was on to Chicago where United met Chicago Fire, not surprisingly the Red Devils ran out 3 – 1 winners, Rooney, Nani and Rafael getting on the score sheet.
After that United went on to record victories over an MLS All Star team winning 4 – 0, and a pleasing 2 – 1 victory over Spanish giants Barcelona and a romping 6 – 0 win against New York Cosmos. It was hugely successful American tour for United.
More recently, last year in fact, United were once again in the United States. Their first game was in late July against Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl. The Galaxy suffered the same fate as Seattle Sounders three years before, being on the wrong end of a 7 – 0 mauling in front of nearly 90,000 fans. That day Danny Welbeck got himself a goal, and Wayne Rooney, the young Lancashire lad Reece James and Ashley Young each getting themselves a brace. Oddly enough, LA Galaxy were the only American team that United would play on that tour.
Following the Galaxy game, United faced AS Roma. No bother, United emerged 3 – 2 winners at the Sports Authority Field in Denver, Colorado. Our goals that day were supplied by Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney, who scored two. A few days later the Red Devils faced Italian club, Inter Milan in Maryland. The match ended 0 – 0 in normal time, however United won the penalty shoot-out 5 – 3.
After that was the big one, the match against Real Madrid at Michigan Stadium. You’ll remember that game, I’m sure. It broke records, over 109,000 turned out to witness that game, United bullied Real, winning 3 – 1, United’s goals coming from Ashley Young who scored a couple and Javier Hernandez. You’ll also might remember those “photoshopped” photographs coming out of Spain, the photographs altered to make it look as though there were more Real white shirts in the crowd than there actually was, funny for us, embarrassing for Real Madrid. That day in the stadium, United fans outnumbered the Real Madrid fans by something like eight to one. The final in America for that pre-season was against United’s biggest rivals, Liverpool at the Sun Life stadium in Miami. Liverpool actually took the lead via a penalty, netted by Gerrard, who surprisingly stayed on his feet to put his team 1 – 0 up. Happily though, reality came biting back for the Anfield club as Rooney, Lingard and Mata scored for United therefore giving United a 3 – 1 victory.
The very first time that Manchester United travelled across the Atlantic to North America for a series of friendly games was in fact back in 1950, when the late and very great Sir Matt Busby who had had only been team boss for about five years, led his team west for quite a busy tour schedule.
The Manchester United chairman back then was a gentleman by the name of James Gibson, a man very worthy of mentioning, a man United fans need to know about. Mr. Gibson was a local lad, born and raised in Salford. As a young boy he was living a short distance from the United stadium, yep, he grew up in the shadow of Old Trafford.
Gibson made his money in the textile industry. He came Manchester United chairman in 1931, at a time in British history that was known as The Great Depression and Gibson injected quite a lot of much needed money into United. Gibson was a very forward thinking man, he was all for United treading new ground and was very supportive of Busby, who like Gibson, thought travelling to foreign climes with the team could only be a good idea.
Those United fans that are really into the club’s history will tell you Sir Matt, even in those early days, was a champion of youth. Busby brought in eighteen year old Ray Wood from Darlington. Interestingly, many years later Ray would return to America to manage Los Angeles Wolves in the late 1960’s. Wood was goalkeeper from Hebburn in Durham. He began his playing career at Newcastle United, and as fate would have it, he made his United debut in the early December of 1949 against Newcastle, it ended in a 1 – 1 draw, United’s goal scored by Charlie Mitten.
Charlie was at United for four years and it wasn’t long after he scored that goal against Newcastle that he would be sold to Columbian side Independiente Santa Fe of Bogota. So, as you can see, football all those years ago was a very global sport, players had no qualms to move to far flung places to work in football.
So, it’s 1950 and Sir Matt and his United team were off to North America for the very first time, in that travelling squad of seventeen were quite a few memorable names from the history of Manchester United. Our top scorer that season before United left for North America, was Jack Rowley, Jack scored twenty three goals in all competitions.
He joined United in 1937 from Bournemouth, then known as Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic. Rowley was a very good striker, Jack was a member of the 1948 FA Cup winning team, Sir Matts first trophy, in fact Jack bagged a couple of goals in that 4 – 2 victory over Blackpool at Wembley Stadium. Also on the boat to America was Mancunian goalkeeper Jack Crompton.
Crompton was at United for eleven years, a superb servant of Manchester United and much loved figure right up until his passing at the grand old age of ninety one, Jack was often seen on MUTV, very astute with intelligent comments about the modern game, a gentleman of the game; thanks Jack, rest in peace.
Also in that squad was Welshman Jack Warner, as was Allenby Chilton and team Captain Johnny Carey. Johnny was from Dublin and was one of those rare players to represent both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Carey joined United from St James Gate, a club founded in 1902 that was one of the founding members of the League of Ireland. Happily they are still in business, currently playing their football in the Leinster Senior League.
It was Canada where United made their debut appearance in North America, in the city of Toronto at the Canadian National Exhibition stadium. It took place on the 10th of May against the National League All Stars, in front of a crowd of just over 12,000. The team that took to the pitch? Crompton, Ball, Warner, Carey, Chilton, Delaney, Mitten, Cockburn, Downey, Rowley and the great Stan Pearson.
Stan was another local lad, being born and raised in Salford, he scored a hundred and twenty seven goals in just over three hundred games for the Red Devils. He was at United for seven years, and like Jack Rowley, he scored in the 1948 FA Cup final win for United. Stan was quite the prolific goal scorer. After leaving United in 1954, he moved to Bury where he found the net fifty six times in a hundred and twenty appearances for The Shakers. United romped home against the National All Stars, winning 5 – 0, the goals coming from Rowley, Pearson, Cockburn and Scotsman John Downie got himself a couple. Downie hadn’t been at United long, only a year or so, at the time he was United’s record transfer, being purchased from Bradford Park Avenue for £18,000. Four days later it was off to Randalls Island Manhatten, New York for a meeting with a New York All Stars team, United winning easily 9 – 2.
A few days later it was off to Falls River, Massachusetts, to play at New England. It was a closer game this one, United winning 2 – 0. Like I mentioned it was a long inaugural North American tour for the Red Devils, they played a further nine games whilst they were there. Arguably the most interesting of those remaining games were the ones against Jönköpings Södra IF of Sweden and Beşiktaş J.K. of Turkey. The first of those games with European competition took place on the 9th of June and was against Jönköpings Södra IF at the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, New York. The Polo Grounds were in fact three stadiums, they were used for both baseball and American football, they were closed in 1963.
A crowd of around 16,000 saw United win the game 4 – 0 with the goals coming from Tommy Bogan, Stan Pearson and two from Charlie Mitten, another meeting with then Swedish club would take place eleven days later. The meeting with the Turkish club Beşiktaş J.K. took place in Kearny, New Jersey, only two days after that first meeting with the Swedish club. Sir Matt sent out a team consisting of Crompton, Aston, Carey, Warner, Cockburn, Chilton, Downie, Pearson, Delaney, Mitten and Rowley. United won the game 2 -0 in front of a crowd of 10,000, the goals coming from Jack Rowley and local boy Henry Cockburn, Henry was from Ashton Under Lyne.
That second meeting with Jönköpings Södra IF? It ended in a rare defeat for the Red Devils, the Swedish club ran out 3 – 1 winners in Chicago. Over all the Red Devils played a total of twelve games, scoring forty seven goals and conceding twenty goals. It was a hugely successful first excursion for United to North America, and it wouldn’t be long before they returned.
And return they did, Sir Matt taking his team back to North America two years later in 1952. It would turn out to be another busy tour, this time playing eleven games.
Their first port of call this time was the city of Philadelphia on the 11th of May for a meeting with the Philadelphia All Stars at Lighthouse Park, a small crowd of only 5,000 saw United triumph 4 – 0, the goals coming from Frank Clempson, Roger Byrne and two from Jack Rowley. Only two days later, United found themselves in Montreal in Canada, for a game with Montreal All Stars, a crowd of around six and half thousand saw United cruise to victory with a 10 – 0 victory. Hat tricks all round really as Jack Rowley, Frank Clempson and John Downie all bagged three each with Harry McShane also getting himself on the score sheet.
After that, the United players were in for a bit of treat as they had a few days off, not playing again until the 18th of May. They returned to Randalls Island, New York for a fixture against an American League XI, a crowd of just over 7,000 saw United record a comfortable win, 5 – 1, the goals courtesy of Frank Clempson with two, John Downie, Jack Rowley and Johnny Bery.
Three days later they were back in Fall River in Massachusetts once again for a match with Fall River All Stars, the Red Devils eased to victory with an 11 – 1 win, Jack Rowley in fine form scoring seven, John Downie scored a hat trick, the other goal an own goal. Four days later United faced some decent opposition in the form of German club VFB Stuttgart. It was all smiles for United as they ran out 5 – 2 winners with goals coming from Rowley with a couple, Clempson, Downie and Byrne.
United’s next stop was Chicago to face a Chicago All Star XI, a crowd of just over 3,500 saw United run out 6 – 1 winners. On June 1st United met Mexican side Atlas, a team they had met before, Roger Byrne and Stan Pearson. A week later they met up with Atlas again in Los Angeles, a close game saw United record a 4 – 3 win with Stan Pearson scoring a hat trick, Roger Byrne scoring the other. The 12th of that June saw United take to the pitch for a game in Detroit against Toronto Ulster United.
A crowd of around 10,000 at the University of Detroit stadium witnessed a 4 – 2 United victory, the goals for United coming from Downie, Aston, Clempson and Pearson. United’s next pre-season friendly in the USA understandably caused quite a lot of interest, it was against Tottenham Hotspur in Toronto, Canada at the Varsity Stadium.
As you would expect the game was seen by a bigger crowd than normal, over 25,000 saw United take a 5 – 0 beating. United’s embarrassment didn’t end there, just a day later in New York the same Spurs side put seven past United, the Red Devils could only muster a single goal by Jack Rowley, not a particularly nice ending for the Red Devils this time around.
The Red Devils wouldn’t return to North America for another eight years. 1960 saw United’s return to North America for a ten game series of friendlies.
An interesting first game against Scottish side Hearts at the now familiar Varsity Stadium in Toronto saw a 2 – 2 draw against the Edinburgh club, United’s goals coming from Alex Dawson and Johnny Giles.
United were on their travels again, going south for a New York for a match against part German and American side at Randalls Island stadium, now known as Triborough Stadium (it’s now known as Downing Stadium), nearly 15,000 watched United record a 2 – 1 victory, goals coming from Irishman Shay Brennan and Alex Dawson.
Another meeting with Hearts of Scotland was on the horizon, bur next up for the Red Devils was a meeting German club Munich 1860 in New York, once again at the Polo Grounds in New York. The talented German outfit ran out 4 – 2 winners. United were back at the Triborough stadium for that second meeting with Hearts four days later, the result this time in United’s favour, the Red Devils winning 3 – 0, our goals coming courtesy of Alex Dawson and Stan Pearson.
Following that and after a 4 – 0 victory over a Catholic Youth side in St. Louis, United once again met Hearts, this time in Vancouver, United again winning the match, this time the final score was 3 – 2. The two clubs must have got on well, they met again three days later in Los Angeles at Wrigley Field, the Edinburgh side gaining some revenge, then put four past United with no reply.
Four days later on the 5th of June United walked out at the Balboa Soccer Stadium to play a Pacific Coast All Star XI, these days the same stadium is known as Boxer Stadium, as expected United emerged the winners following a 4 – 2 victory, with goals from Denis Viollet, Johnny Giles and a couple by Albert Scanlon.
For their final two games of that tour United headed back east. On the 8th of June they walloped New England All Stars 7 – 0, the final game saw United stroll to a 10 – 1 victory over the Ukrainian National XI in Philadelphia.
United returned to the USA seven years later in ‘67 for a short series of games.
As I am sure you’re aware that was the side that full of United legends we know and love today. Sir Bobby, Bestie, Denis the King, Nobby and Kiddo to name a few. It was THE standout British side of the 1960’s, full of brilliant players. United’s first game on that tour was against Portuguese giants Benfica at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, Benfica won the match 3 – 1, not that it mattered, we all know what happened less than a year later. They stayed on the west coast for their next game five days later against Scotland’s Dundee, again losing, this time 4 – 2.
Not a great start to the ’67 tour, two games in, two losses. They then travelled to New Zealand, for a couple of Games against Auckland, which they won 8 – 1, and to Christchurch where they notched up a handsome 11 – 0 win.
As I mentioned at the beginning, United are the most popular non North American sports team on that particular continent and by the time they returned for another visit in 1970, United’s popularity over the Atlantic was already well established.
As before, United’s first stop was in Canada, in the city of Hamilton which is only about an hour’s drive from Toronto. First up was a meeting with the Bermuda Football Union on the 30th of April. United’s team that day consisted of Paul Edwards, Tony Dunne, Paddy Crerand, Carlo Satori, Willie Morgan, Tony Young, Ian Ure, new signing Willie Watson, the Belfast Boy Georgie Best and John Fitzpatrick.
In goal for us that day was twenty year old John Connaughton. John was a Wigan lad, who had joined United four years previous in ’66, unfortunately for John, he had stiff competition for the number one shirt in the form of club legend Alex Stepney and Jimmy Rimmer. United cruised to victory over the Bermudans to the tune of 6 – 1, goals coming from Young, Satori and two each from Best and Fitzpatrick. After that pleasing opener for United, they took a trip up the road to Toronto to face stiffer competition in the form of Italian club Bari at the Che Stadium.
A much larger crowd saw United win narrowly 1 – 0 courtesy of a converted penalty from club great Willie Morgan. Three days later they met Bari again in New York, this time running out 2 – 1 winners, United’s goals scored by Bestie and the young flame haired Italian Carlo Satori. Carlo was born in Cardezone in the very north of Italy, only a spits distance from the Austrian border. However, Carlo was raised in Collyhurst, north Manchester. The young talented Satori progressed through the United youth side. He signed for United in 1963, quickly proving himself a very good midfielder. He turned professional aged 17 and made his full team debut for the European champions during the October of 1968 in a 2 – 2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur.
After that 5th of May meeting with Bari in New York, United travelled back to Canada for a game with Glasgow Celtic at the Varsity stadium in Toronto, the Red Devils won the game 2 – 0 with goals from John Aston and one own goal from an unfortunate Celtic player.
Quite a large crowd for that friendly game turned out for that United v Celtic game, almost 25,000. A couple of days later on the 13th of May, the Red Devils had travelled to San Francisco for a match with German side Eintracht Frankfurt, just under 10,000 saw the United win the game 2 – 1 , George Best and John Fitzpatrick getting on the score sheet for United. The Red Devils then travelled the 380 or so miles down the west coast to Los Angeles for another game with Eintracht, this time the Germans came out on top with a 3 – 2 victory.
United wouldn’t return to America for another six years. 1976 saw Tommy Docherty took his young, attacking side back to North America for a three game series, once again kicking off in Canada.
The 24th of May saw United to the field in Vancouver for a fixture against the Whitecaps, just over 16,000 watched the two sides play out a 0 – 0 draw. A couple of days later the Red Devils were back in Chicago to play Chicago Sting at Soldierfield, again it was a draw, but at least this time the fans saw some goals as both teams scored a couple each, United’s goals scored by two genuine United legends, Lou Macari and Sammy Mcilroy.
United’s final meeting with the NASL sides was against Dallas Tornado at the Ownby Stadium, just a smidgeon over 15,000 saw a 2 – 2 draw, David McCreery and Jimmy Nicholl scoring for United.
As you’ll know football was really taking off in America at that time, the North American Soccer League was a football showcase of colour and excitement.
United went back in 1978 for a couple of games against Tampa Bay Rowdies and Tulsa Roughnecks. First up was the game with the Rowdies at the Tampa Stadium, Florida. Surprisingly Tampa won the game 2 – 1, United Great Stuart Pearson scoring United’s only goal.
A couple of days later United were in Oklahoma for a meeting with Tulsa Roughnecks at the Skelly Stadium. Just over 5,000 saw United come away with a 2 – 1 victory, both United’s goals scored by club legend and much missed Brian Greenhoff.
United went back for more a couple of years later, Dave Sexton took his team to Portland Timbers, United winning by a single goal scored by the much loved Lou Macari.
Big Ron was in charge when United went back in ’82 for a three game series. United lost two of them against Vancouver Whitecaps, 3 – 1, and against Seattle Sounders, 3 – 0.
United’s only victory came against Croatian side Hadjuk Split, when club legends big Gordon McQueen and Mick Duxbury scored the goals for United in a 2 – 1 win.
United wouldn’t go back to North America until twenty one years later in 2003. Sir Alex took his team over for a four game series beginning with Glasgow Celtic on the 22nd of July, United won the game 4 – 0, the goals coming from Ruud van Nistelrooy, Ryan Giggs, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and David Bellion. By this time United were a huge deal in North America, a crowd of around 67,000 turned out for that United v Celtic game in Seattle.
Five days later, United were in Los Angeles for a meeting with Club America at the Coliseum, over 57,000 saw United win 3 – 1 with goals by Diego Forlan who got himself a brace and one from Ruud van Nistelrooy.
At the end of that month United had a game penciled in with Italian giants Juventus of Turin at the Giants Stadium in New Jersey. United swept the Italians aside winning 4 – 1, the goals courtesy of Giggs, Scholes, van Nistelrooy and Solskjaer.
To finish, United met Barcelona in Philadelphia at the Lincoln Financial Field. A couple of goals from the very likable Diego Forlan and Ruud van Nistelrooy ensured United finished a very successful tour 3 – 1.
The USA was well and truly in love with United, no shocks then that the Red Devils went back a year later. On the 25th of July 2004, United once again walked out onto Soldierfield, Chicago, awaiting them this time was Bayern Munich. The game ended up goalless, so a penalty shoot-out would take place, the Germans ran out 4 – 2 winners.
Three days later United met up with Glasgow Celtic in Philadelphia, this time it was the Scots who took the honours with a 2 – 1 victory. The Red Devils then travelled to New York for a meeting with Italian giants AC Milan in East Rutherford. It was another entertaining game, it ended 1 – 1, however Milan came out on top in the penalty shoot-out 9 – 8.
So there you go, sixty five years of the biggest sports team in the world in the United States of America.
Written by Richard Fenton. Follow him on Twitter.