It’s a typical autumnal afternoon and Manchester United have just drawn 1-1 at home to Southampton, the Old Trafford crowd voices their discontent at a team playing drab football and a lack of signings, while debate rages as to whether this is the end of United’s dominance in Manchester and if City will finally overtake them. While this bares a striking resemblance to the recent goings on at Old Trafford it was also the case back in 1978. Unlike David Moyes, manager at the time, Dave Sexton, had a season in the United hotseat behind him and was under mounting pressure to improve the situation at Old Trafford.
Documents from ITV’s football programme, Kick Off, give us an insight into the situation at the time and its one that bares a strinking similarity to the goings on today at Old Trafford. As previously mentioned United had just come away from a disappointing home draw and had struggled for form all season, managing just four wins in their first 14 league games. Transfer policy at United was under heavy scrutiny, despite the club coming out and saying money was available, they were unable to secure a deal for the target they wanted, a transfer for goalkeeper Jim Blythe falling through. While pundits stressed that what the side really needed was an added presence in the midfield in order to compete.
The parallels to the situation of today are obvious, with United struggling this summer to wrap up the deals they were after and a number of transfers falling through. They even stretch as far as the weaknesses in the squad being in the same position, a lack of a central midfielder, the transcrpits above showing the concerns of fans at the time. Of course, Manchester City now pose a clear and present danger to United’s dominance as well, something which was also discussed at the time.
The 1978/79 season improved but was ultimately a disappointing one, United’s league form picked up enough to see them finish ninth and above Manchester City, while they also managed an FA Cup run where they eventually lost to Arsenal in the final.
However, Moyes and United fans should remember that a bad start does not necessarily indicate a sign of things to come. Sir Alex Ferguson’s start at United could be described as sluggish, losing his first match and winning just six of his first 15 in the league was unspectacular, albeit he did steady a rocking ship left by Ron Atkinson. I’m sure we are all fully aware of what was to follow in the Ferguson era, however, his shaky beginnings should not be forgotten.
David Moyes will hope that these parallels with the Dave Sexton era go no further than this mere coincidence and he can recapture the magic of his predecessor, however, one gets the sense he will not be afforded the four years Sexton had before the pressure became too much and he was sacked or that Ferguson had to finally get that first trophy, if Moyes doesn’t keep the club at its glorious best.
Thanks to ITV plc for use of their transcripts.