Time can play real tricks with your mind. It is normal now for Manchester United to attack the old Scoreboard end in the first half of matches, and then into the roaring furnace of the Stretford End in the second half as the pace of the game lifts, players tire and those fans can make a real difference in creating a winning goal for The Reds.
But was it always like that?
Recently I saw a picture of Bobby Charlton scoring a goal in only his second match for United against Everton in October 1956. The goal was shown being scored at the Stretford End in the first half of the match. Incidentally, I was at that game, nine years old and not suited to seeing Manchester United lose, particularly at Old Trafford. Well, in one of the biggest shocks of The Busby Babes reign, lowly Everton won that match 5-2.
Back to the story, as I say Bobby’s goal in the first half shows United attacking the Stretford End, I then recalled another match I had been to at the end of the previous season against Blackpool which had virtually decided the league title. I had only just got into the game as thousands were locked out, and standing right at the back of the open, cavernous Stretford End, I could hardly see a thing, but Manchester United definitely attacked that end in the first half.
Two other matches then came easily to mind, the night United beat the soon to be ‘double’ winners Tottenham Hotspur in January 1961, and the debut of ‘The King’ himself Denis Law against West Bromwich Albion at the start of the 1962/63 season. The Tottenham match had been postponed just before kick off on the Saturday and was hurriedly re arranged for the Monday night. A full house saw me doing a daft thing and swapping with a mate on the Stretford End and getting behind a barrier. When Nobby Stiles put United one up at that end of the ground after about twenty minutes, the whole Stretford End seemed to sway forward and I was momentarily crushed out. Next thing I am being passed over heads down to the front to be sat next to the St John Ambulance men on a bench right behind the goal. They did ask later if I wanted to go back into the crowd, but as I turned round and saw the still crush I thought No thanks!
Denis Law’s debut was eagerly looked forward to and it took him no time to score at the Stretford End against West Bromwich Albion in August 1962. So why was Manchester United attacking that end first half as opposed to the second half nowadays? I suspect that until that period in time, remember until 1959 the Stretford End and the old Scoreboard End were totally open so there was not really much difference in which way the team played to, and you could also just walk around the back of the old United Road Paddock area to change ends at half time. By the time of Law joining United, the whole country was also just about to embark into the the start of ‘The Swinging Sixties’ and more youngsters were going to a match and a end such as the Stretford End gave it a real atmosphere as the crowd there created their own unique atmosphere. This was then seen as a real game changer as it became a swaying mass of noise and near hysteria becoming responsible for sucking many a goal over the line.
Mind you, there are at least two memorable occasions when the ball crossed the line at the Stretford End and the goal was not given! One against AC Milan in the Second Leg of the European Cup Semi Final in 1969 when Denis Law scrambled the ball clearly over the line which would have made the score 2-0 and 2-2 on aggregate. I was actually in the main stand paddock, near to the player’s tunnel on the half way line in those days and you could just tell it was over.
Twenty years on, a similar occurrence happened against Nottingham Forest in the quarter final of the FA Cup which eventually saw United go out 1-0, but again a referee missed what looked a clear United goal. Incidentally, this meant Nottingham Forest would go onto Hillsborough to play Liverpool in the Semi Final, a game which is still referred to as the Hillsborough disaster match when ninety six people were killed.
Against that though, many a time a goalkeeper has been rattled by the noise (and abuse!) hurled at them as the Red wave of Manchester United attacked one of the most famous sports ends in world football, with United often scoring late goals which have won or saved a match, all in front of
THE STRETFORD END.