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Friday, March 19, 2010

Utd author Tom Clare on Manchester United vs Liverpool in the 1960s

United v Liverpool in the ‘60’s

Manchester United versus Liverpool. Just the very mention of this fixture triggers off all kinds of thoughts and emotions. Down the years, the clubs have been engaged in some gargantuan games against each other. Although the rivalry is exceptionally fierce on the field of play, that rivalry has never exceeded the tribalism that we see so prevalent in both sets of supporters today. It is true to say that there is a venom, and a hatred, on both sides of the divide, that for older fans like myself, is sometimes hard to understand.

Both clubs have enjoyed more than their fair share of success and in days gone by, there was a time when both sets of fans lived side by side harmoniously. I should also point out that after the Munich tragedy in 1958, only two clubs were quick to offer Manchester United their support in whichever way that they could; and the first of these clubs was Liverpool! The other one was Nottingham Forest.

The tribalism that we see today didn’t really surface until the 1970’s and coincided not only with a lot of social unrest in the country, but also with the decline of United in the early part of that decade, and the rise in domination that Liverpool were to enjoy for the best part of 15 years. The 60’s was relatively quiet as far as the fans were concerned, even though there was some terrific battles fought on the pitches of both Old Trafford and Anfield. Fierce rivals on the field, the players were very good friends off it, and it was not uncommon back in those days for some of the United lads to travel across to Liverpool on a Saturday evening to spend the evening in the company of some of the Liverpool players. It was a reciprocal thing with the Liverpool players, and it wasn’t uncommon back in the middle 60’s to see them out in the Manchester night life.

At the start of 1960, Liverpool was languishing in the old Second Division and had been there since they were relegated from the top flight in 1954. Although they had some decent players, during the ensuing years, they never seemed to be able to make that push that they needed for a return to the First Division. In 1959, Bill Shankly was managing Huddersfield Town. One morning, after supervising the Yorkshire club’s training session, he was making his way on foot back to Leeds Road, when a stranger stopped him and asked; “How would you like the best job in English football?” Quick as a flash, Shankly replied; “Why? Has Matt Busby decided to retire?” The conversation that ensued after those opening remarks, was to take Shankly across the Penines and to Liverpool.

It is ironic that not long after he took over at Anfield, Shankly, and the then Second Division Liverpool, met United on January 30th 1960, at Old Trafford in a 4th round F.A. Cup tie. United was still rebuilding after Munich and were very much mid-table, but 56,736 turned up on a bitter cold day to watch United win comfortably by 3-1. I can recall attending this game but not too much about it apart from the fact that I am pretty certain that Billy Liddell played for Liverpool and this was the only time that I ever saw him play. United’s team that day was; Gregg; Foulkes, Carolan; Setters, Cope, Brennan; Bradley, Quixall, Charlton, Viollet, and Scanlon. Bobby Charlton scored twice and Albert Scanlon notched the other.

In 1961/62, Liverpool gained promotion to the First Division, and from then on in, it was the real start of the rivalry that we see today. The first meeting between the two clubs in the top flight was a real rip snorter of a game. It took place on the 10 November 1962 at Old Trafford, and ebbed and flowed until at the final whistle, both sides were happy with a 3-3 draw. I can remember this game quite well, and mostly because there was Liverpool supporters actually stood on the Stretford End! Something that in years to come was never ever going to happen again. But times were different back then and fans freely mixed together on the terraces. Liverpool were losing 3-2 coming to the end of the game when they were awarded a direct free kick some 35 yards from goal, out on the right hand side. Ronnie Moran was still playing in those days, and I can recall him hitting this free kick so hard that Harry Gregg never moved as it whistled through the wall and hit the back of the net. One of the hardest shots I can ever recall. United’s team that day was; Gregg; Brennan, Cantwell; Stiles, Foulkes, Setters; Giles, Quixall, Herd, Law, Charlton. United’s scorers that day were Giles, Quixall and Herd, with St. John and Melia scoring for Liverpool as well as Moran.

I think that the best game between the two clubs that I actually saw during that decade was in 1965, when United, who had won the Championship title the season before, entertained the Scousers at Old Trafford on October 9th. Liverpool had won the First Division title in just their second season back in the top division in 1963/64. Shankly had built up a very good team, and there was certainly a healthy respect between both teams. Liverpool were a big team with players like Yeats, Lawrence, Stevenson, Byrne, Milne, and they could be physical when the need arose. Roared on by 58,161 fans the game was hard fought and tight until well into the second half. The Stretford End by this time had definitely become “United territory” and they were in full voice as United attacked towards them in the second half. The game seemed to be heading for 0-0 draw until a moment of pure magic changed all that. United were defending the Scoreboard End, when big Bill Foulkes, who had been rock solid in the middle of the United defence, put the big boot to the ball to clear his lines. The ball soared into the air, and Yeats the Liverpool centre half who was up near the half way line in the centre of the pitch turned to get back and shepherd the ball back to Lawrence in the Liverpool goal.

There appeared to be no imminent danger at all. But as Yeats ran back watching the flight of the ball, there was a blur of red haring in from the right hand side, chasing what seemed to be a lost cause. Lawrence could see what was happening and started to advance. As the ball came down near the edge of area, Yeats made the mistake of letting it bounce with Lawrence by this time, in no-man’s land.

The blur of red with a mane of jet black hair trailing behind him, haring into the middle of the pitch, was wee Georgie Best. As the ball started its descent, Best was up alongside Yeats and with a prodigious leap, he soared above the Liverpool centre half and met the ball as it fell, with his forehead, sending it over Lawrence’s head and into the back of the net. Old Trafford erupted, but the real noise came from the Stretford End as George wheeled away in front of them to be engulfed by his rapturous team mates. Not many players would have chased that ball, but then not many players had the vision of George Best. It was so typical of his spirit and will-to-win attitude. That goal knocked the stuffing out of Liverpool and not long afterwards, they conceded a tap in by Denis Law, and United won by 2-0. The United line-up that afternoon was; Dunne P; Brennan, Dunne A; Crerand, Foulkes, Stiles; Connelly, Best, Charlton, Law, and Aston. Unfortunately though, Liverpool had the last laugh that season as they did finish up Champions.

As I said, the ‘60’s saw very little trouble between the fans. The 70’s really did change all that…

by Tom Clare

Red News contributor Tom Clare's book - Forever a Babe - order via Amazon