Growing up in Nigeria you could not but follow English football. We watched ‘Road To Wembley’ regularly. To the best of my memory the FA Cup final was shown live on NTV/NTA Network up until the 1982 final. By 1982 a new programme ‘Big League Soccer’ fronted by Brian Moore was very popular.
Very popular also were the UK published magazine and comics ‘MATCH’, ‘SHOOT’; ‘Roy of the Rovers’ and ‘Tiger’. Most boys of my generation who were into football would have come across and in proper contact with these.
Our neighbour two houses to our right as you exit our gates were well ahead of us on videos. Their house had three machines in three different parts of the house and they had videos – loads and loads of videos. I was friendly with them and I used to be allowed to come choose. I always returned them. One day I stumbled on this tape written on it was ‘1983 FA Cup final’. Not far from it was also another one ‘1983 FA Cup Final Replay’. Brighton Vs Manchester United. Chineke!
So, when I saw those video tapes of the ’83 FA Cup final I was very excited. I asked if I could borrow them but my friends there said “Uncle just came back with them last week so he will notice if they are not here”. I couldn’t, for now.
Eventually I was allowed to borrow one at a time and I took the first game. It was a match recorded off the TV and it was a BBC broadcast of the match. The commentator was John Motson with Jimmy Hill alongside him. I watched this match so many times I could recall the commentary by heart. Every time I see QPR coach Chris Ramsey on telly these days all I remember is how his final was cut short by a horrible foul by Norman Whiteside early in the 2nd half.
The first was an absolutely cracking game. This commentary leading to the Brighton opening goal said it all “it is fast and furious in this opening quarter of an hour. Grealish. Square to Smilie. Number 8 is Howlett, chipping one in for Gordon Smith. It’s in. Brighton take the lead”. I can recall much more to this day.
I don’t know when – during the many viewings of that first tape – I fell in love with Manchester United but that was when it happened. The 1983 FA Cup Final featuring “Ron Atkinson’s team of all stars” – a SHOOT Magazine’s description of the team after the 4-0 replay win, was when I realised I was doomed to following this team.
Living in Nigeria at the time it was quite hard as only source of regular info came via BBC World Service and league tables that one could see at on Pools’ coupons. I will try and recall events and actions in the course of supporting United.
1985 FA Cup final.
Chris Okojie then of Guardian Newspapers was in London to cover this match and he did an elaborate build up for a week. I was nervous on the day of the match as Everton had won the league. Match day and I listened to it on BBC World Service. I think Peter Jones was one of the commentators in what they all agreed was not a good game. At some point Kevin Moran was sent-off. I got up from where I was, went to change my shirt – purely a nervous reaction. My scream when Whiteside scored was heard all over the house. My lucky shirt was born that day. Stayed with me till our next final replay.
Alex Ferguson joined United a few days before my birthday in 1986 but it did not make any headlines in Nigeria and I am not even sure when I became aware of it – certainly not on the day.
It was in 1988 I got to watch the 1985 final match fully. 3 years later. It was a dreadful match with two teams holding high lines only saved by the quality of Whiteside’s goal.
1990 FA Cup run.
I remember the start of the ‘89/90 season especially because of the Michael Knighton take over which was news and because of the 5-1 thumping of Champions, Arsenal. A friend of mine who was a Liverpool fan had moved to London and sent me a highlights video tape of the match complete with a letter saying how happy he was at the defeat of Arsenal – still smarting from the Michael Thomas goal of a few months earlier he was.
Anyway, when the draws for the FA Cup 3rd round sent us to the City Ground I genuinely felt we would lose. I was blissfully unaware of the pressure the manager was under I must confess. Team got past Forest who were a very good cup team at the time, making it to the semi-final vs Oldham and Joe Royle.
Earlier in the day Alan Pardew had scored the winner as Crystal Palace knocked out league leaders Liverpool so Athletic were primed. It was the BBC World Service again. 3-3 first game and a replay was called not long after. I remember it was on a weeknight and I made no attempt to go to the library as I listened to the commentaries. Nothing about the match do I even recall just the relief and joy at the final whistle. FA Cup final.
I was confident we will beat Palace in the final but it took a Mark Hughes equaliser to get us a replay. Not many young folks can picture the agony of listening to a radio commentary of a football match as I did on BBC World Service that afternoon.
The replay was a Thursday but the World Service did not join it until 2nd half. Before joining live they will run highlights of the first half which was how I found out that Les Sealey had replaced Jim Leighton in goal for United. Anyway, I was not taking any chances for this and quickly wore my lucky shirt just before the 2nd half started. United went on to win through that Lee Martin’s goal. This time I saw the match only a few weeks later for in UNILAG it was easier to have folks with family who frequented London.
I remember that at the time there were not many who were passionate about English teams in UNILAG. Those passionate about European football were more interested in the Italian League teams. Milan, Inter, Napoli, Juventus etc. Oh the arguments I had because of Ruud Gullit and Diego Maradona – to be known as King Diego henceforth – at the Hall canteens and Sports Centre. I won’t hear it that the Dutch man was on the same level as King Diego.
It is quite amazing now what that 1990 FA Cup win did for Alex Ferguson and the brand of Manchester United. I have no doubt that had he not won that trophy he would have been fired if the 90/91 season did not start well just as it happened for Ron Atkinson.
I was fully strapped in for the ride that was to come under Alex Ferguson.
End of Part 1.