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How Sir Alex Changed It All At Old Trafford

My first Manchester United game was in 1963, I saw us play Crystal Palace at Old Trafford, I stood in the corner between the Stretford End and the South Stand. I was born within days of the Munich air disaster so at 5 years old I was already a Red, hooked for life.

In 1968 I was an altar boy and missed practice to watch us beat Benfica and I cried with joy for Matt Busby. I was drummed out of altar boy service for that ! These 3 events stood as landmarks for my Man Utd until now, Sir Alex has changed it all with 25 years of joy.

Its funny because United greats, Law, Charlton and Best are players I saw in their prime. They were great players and lesser mortals played improved games alongside them like that night at Wembley in 68. That night Stepney saved us, and John Aston was brilliant, as the greats got support from Stiles, Crerand, Dunne and Sadler.

When we were relegated by Dennis Law, it was my low point. I saw it coming, we were awful for years before it, players who shouldn’t get a game for United were in the team week in and week out. Its was horrible.

When Sir came to OT I could never have imagined what he has achieved. I saw Liverpool win those titles, they were excellent. Leeds had great teams too, so did Arsenal. At best we might win an FA Cup I thought, never again would I see us take a title, or so I thought. It was just so long since we had won one, you get to think that’s how it is.

And then, we saw it. Sir didn’t do too much at first. The drink culture and the acceptance of failure was too embedded, but that year when Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister were rocks, the comeback win vs Sheffield Wednesday and that title, the euphoria, all those years of hurt gone in one season of joy. Its turned!

Sir built teams, not superstars surrounded by lesser players.

Schmeichel was the best keeper I’ve ever seen, week in week out.

Irwin was brilliant every week.

Robson was a born winner.

Cantona was pure genius. I was at Oldham when he was man marked and he dropped to fullback to get space. He ripped them apart and we got scored 6.

Keane was the best player we ever had as a driver, pure winner. I saw him play for Notts Forest and was hoping we would buy him. A bit crazy but the best since Souness in that role, and few have done it as well in all the years I’ve watched football.

Of course the team that changed it all and brought Sir the Nevilles, Giggs, Scholes and Beckham was the one we will all remember.  However Kanchelskis set the team alight and was the fastest player I’ve ever seen.

Jaap Stam was the best central defender I’ve seen, and I saw Martin Buchan at his best. Ruud was the ace goal scorer, and given that Stuart Houston wasn’t bad in that respect, Ted McDougall also bagged a few and even Jim McCalliog scored regularly but Ruud set a new standard.

The best of United also has to mention people who, at their peak, were amazing. Juan Sebastian Veron had a few incredible games, Lee Sharpe excelled at times, Ole was amazingly accurate, Sheringham was class and tried so hard to win, Dwight Yorke and Andrew Cole were like brothers in arms, and Rio has been a classy buy despite his troubles.

The worst players I’ve seen are also memorable, Sartori, Albiston, Djemba Djemba, Taibi, Holtom, Nichol, Grimes, Kleberson….the list goes on.

But my point is this. Sir builds teams and not just around superstars which is why I say that the best team I saw in 1968 is not as good as the 3 teams Sir has built.

Those 3 teams are the Robson team, the Cantona team and the Keane team- as I like to classify them.

Robson team was Sirs transitional team, breaking the mould, letting McGrath and Whiteside go and building a defence like we never had before.

Cantona’s was the gloss team, the kids arrived, we swept the board. They were truly incredible years.

Keano kept is going, the engine arrived and he made it tick. We won the treble and, though it was so lucky, we deserved that luck.

So 25 years on I am so grateful. I’ve seen a lot and lived the dream with Sir. We knocked Liverpool off their perch and we just kept on winning.

Today we have one of the best teams in Europe, and some of the finest players in it. A youthful squad of ambitious players who will continue to win things, but Sir is closer to the end than the beginning.

There will be change, and now Liverpool can aim to knock us off our perch. Like that day in 74 when I watched poor United teams lose badly, I can’t imagine things can change but now I know its true.

United are rich, blessed, titled and talented but the choice as to what follows is vital. Remember that last time Sir threatened retirement in the 2001/02 season, we chose Sven as his successor; imagine where we would be now if that had happened.

So let’s debate who is next, Sir should go when the time is right, Mourinho want it but David Moyes is the best younger manager in the UK and my plea is that we get him and give him 25 years too.

I didn’t mention Wilf McGuiness, Tommy Docherty or the like but they are out there with new names and faces, don’t let that happen again. I couldn’t bear it.

Steve Burrows CBE @ifollowsteve

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