Let me take you back in time, May 1982 to be precise. It was a somewhat tumultuous time in the U.K. We had been at war with Argentina over the sovereignty of the then little-known Falkland Islands for some weeks. It would be a short but ferocious war which, by mid-May, had swung decisively in favour of the British forces, though at no small cost to the brave lads and ladies who had gone to the South Atlantic to face a determined foe.
That imminent victory had placed the incumbent Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher in a much better light than may otherwise have been the case. That administration had, amongst other things, been briefing the football associations of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland about their participation in that summerâ€™s World Cup extravaganza in Spain.
Argentina, as reigning World Champions, would be participating in the Finals tournament in Spain. Under no circumstances would FIFA expel the World Cup holders over the Falklands crisis. However, Thatcherâ€™s ministers were nervous about the prospect of one of the â€œhome nationsâ€ having to play a match against Argentina while hostilities continued.
There were threats from Westminster to force the associations to withdraw from the tournament, particularly after the terrible airstrikes on, in particular, H.M.S. Sheffield. Eventually, however, it was decided that such a withdrawal would simply hand the Argentinians a propaganda victory. Therefore, the three U.K. nations were given the go-ahead to participate.
Breaking Records With Bingham
For Northern Ireland that was a huge relief, given that it was only the second time the small nation had qualified for a major Finals. The stars of World Cup 1958 in Sweden, such as Danny Blanchflower, Bertie Peacock and Harry Gregg were much in need of having their ranks swollen by new heroes in green and white shirts.
One young man from the infamous Shankill Road area of West Belfast was probably not thinking much about the upcoming World Cup in Spain. Having spent the previous couple of years battling his way up through the underage teams at Manchester United, young striker Norman Whiteside had finally made his first-team debut as a 16-year-old at Brightonâ€™s Goldstone Ground on 24 April 1982. He came off the bench for Mike Duxbury in a game United won 1-0 thanks to a rare goal by English midfield maestro Ray Wilkins. That appearance made him the youngest player to appear for the United first-team since a certain Duncan Edwards in 1953.
He made his full debut at home to Stoke City on 15 May, just eight days after he had celebrated his 17th birthday by signing a three-year professional contract with United. That Potters side now included his fellow Belfast man, and United legend, Sammy McIlroy. It turned into a day for breaking records for young Whiteside. Having provided the clinical pass for Bryan Robsonâ€™s opener just before the break, Norman added a quick second goal himself in a 2-0 win. That goal made him the youngest player ever to score for United in a competitive first-team game.
Despite that record-clinching feat as he broke into the first-team at Old Trafford, Whiteside must have been as shocked as everyone else in British football when he was included in Billy Binghamâ€™s provisional Northern Ireland squad for Spain â€™82. After all, he had only made two appearances in senior football, one of those as a substitute!
There is no doubt that his hailing from a nation with a relatively small panel of players for the manager to select from was a big factor in Whiteside appearing in Spain that summer. Had he been English, for example, there is no way that then England boss Ron Greenwood would have included Whiteside in their 1982 World Cup squad.
As it was, not only did Whiteside travel to the Iberian Peninsula, but on 17 June at 17 years and 41 days of age, he famously took PelÃ©â€™s record as the youngest player ever to appear in a World Cup Finals. That day he lined up for the Ulstermen in their opening first phase game against an excellent Yugoslavia side in Zaragoza, and was, ironically, the only man to see the Swedish refereeâ€™s yellow card in a tense 0-0 draw.
That gritty display was enough to encourage Bingham to keep the strapping youngster in his starting line-up for the subsequent matches that Northern Ireland played at the Finals. Those games included the famous 1-0 victory over hosts Spain in Valencia thanks to a Gerry Armstrong goal (which gave the Northern Irishmen top spot in their first phase group).
In the second phase they battled to a creditable 2-2 draw with a top-class Austria side but lost 4-1 to brilliant France, a defeat that sent Northern Ireland out of the tournament. That French side included the likes of Michel Platini (later listed by Whiteside as the greatest player he had ever played against in his entire career), Jean Tigana and Dominique Rocheteau.
Becoming a Regular Devil
Such fabulous summer exploits at the highest level with his country undoubtedly propelled Whiteside ever more to the forefront of United boss Ron Atkinsonâ€™s thinking as the charismatic Old Trafford chief finalised his plans for season 1982-83. Now commencing his third season in charge of the Red Devils, Atkinson knew that the pressure on his shoulders to make an impact, both in Division One and the various cup competitions, was only going to increase.
If Whiteside wondered whether he had done enough with Northern Ireland to claim a place in Atkinsonâ€™s United starting line-up, his answer came on the opening Saturday of the new league season at home to Birmingham City: he was â€œinâ€. Starting up front alongside experienced Irish hitman Frank Stapleton on 28 August, Whiteside played his part as the Red Devils claimed a 3-0 victory courtesy of goals from Kevin Moran, Stapleton and Steve Coppell.
Four days later, United faced a tough trip to Nottingham to take on Brian Cloughâ€™s former European Champions. Whiteside started up front again as Atkinson named an unchanged line-up. This time, things got even better when Norman claimed the second goal in another 3-0 United victory; his season was up and running.
United, however, came off the rails a bit the following Saturday as Atkinson again named an unchanged team at his former club, West Bromwich Albion. The Baggies were a difficult side to beat, especially at The Hawthorns and therefore the 3-1 defeat, whilst disappointing (United had led through a Robson goal), wasnâ€™t the surprise that it would be in the Premier League nowadays.
The team picked themselves up to meet Everton at Old Trafford on 8 September, and it was another good day for the Belfast lad as he grabbed the all-important second goal after 21 minutes. United clinched a 2-1 win over a side that were developing into something special under Howard Kendall. That victory kept United in touch at the top of the table, just a point behind reigning champions Liverpool.
The games kept coming, thick and fast. Bobby Robson had left the Ipswich Town job for England in the summer, and his successor, Bobby Ferguson, brought what was still essentially Robsonâ€™s team to Manchester on 11 September; they left defeated. Whiteside had taken just three minutes to find the visitorsâ€™ net, and did so again five minutes from time to earn a brace alongside Coppellâ€™s solitary goal.
A Goal Drought…
In midweek, Whiteside made his European club debut as United hosted Spanish giants Valencia for the first time ever. He had happy memories of that night in Valenciaâ€™s Mestalla Stadium several months earlier when heâ€™d helped his country to overcome Spain. This time the sides clashed in Round One of the UEFA Cup, but neither could fashion a goal in a tense stalemate.
The following weekend United scored the only goal at Southampton through a second half strike from veteran Lou Macari. That goal took Atkinsonâ€™s men to the top of the table, with 15 points from their opening six games.
A goalless draw at home to Arsenal was followed by an exit from Europe, the Reds falling 2-1 in Valencia, particularly galling as they had led at the break thanks to a Bryan Robson goal.
There was undoubtedly an element of self-pity as well as fatigue in evidence on the Saturday, as another two points were dropped in a 1-1 draw at mid-table Luton Town. Ashley Grimesâ€™ early goal was cancelled out by Ricky Hill.
The following week, a League Cup Second Round game at home to Bournemouth saw a substitution which would (unfortunately) have greater significance in years to come, when Whiteside came off the bench to replace another youngster then on trial at United. His name was Peter Beardsley. He would return to haunt United, who simply didnâ€™t think he had enough ability to become a regular starter at Old Trafford at that time. United won the game 2-0, the opener an own-goal scored by a veteran called Harry Redknapp!
Now regarded as a regular starter for United, Whiteside played in all three Division One games ahead of the return game at Bournemouth; those were a narrow 1-0 win at home to Stoke City, a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Liverpool and a pulsating 2-2 Manchester Derby draw at home to City, United having to come back from being 0-2 down early in the second half thanks to a brace from Frank Stapleton.
Those results meant the Red Devils sat pretty at the top of the table, having won six and drawn four of their opening eleven games. The defence took most of the plaudits, having conceded a miserly eight goals in total, but the Stapleton/Whiteside partnership continued to develop up front, the Belfast lad adapting well to life in the uncompromising surroundings of the English top flight. However, he hadnâ€™t scored now for a few games.
Then things took a wobble. Having seen off the Cherries with a 2-2 second leg draw at Dean Court (during which Ray Wilkins had to be carried off with a depressed fracture of his cheekbone), United crashed to a 3-1 defeat at a strong West Ham. Ashley Grimes was red-carded for slapping the referee after he had failed to award United a penalty kick, minutes after Ray Stewart had put the hosts 2-0 up from the other penalty spot!
A week later, 6 November, a very poor 1-0 defeat at Brighton left a United side, still without Wilkins, three points adrift of new leaders Liverpool. Whiteside was still starting every game, but hadnâ€™t found the net now in weeks; it was a worrying goal drought.
A midweek 0-0 draw at Bradford City in the League Cup gave United a replay they certainly could have done without; the issue of squad depth was as relevant in 1982 as it is now in 2021, probably more so. The team retained the same core nucleus of players, week in, week out barring injury. Whiteside was now very much a member of that core group but badly needed a goal to end his drought.
A narrow 1-0 victory over Keith Burkinshawâ€™s Tottenham side at Old Trafford on 13 November thanks Arnold Muhrenâ€™s first ever league goal in a red shirt kept United within three points of leaders Liverpool. However, that gap widened to six points the following Saturday when Atkinsonâ€™s men were beaten 2-1 at the reigning European Champions Aston Villa, for whom Gary Shaw and Peter Withe were in red-hot form. Whitesideâ€™s dismal day was compounded by getting withdrawn for Scott McGarvey midway through the second period.
The Belfast lad was benched for the replay against Bradford City, coming on for Steve Coppell with the score already 4-0 in Unitedâ€™s favour, but started against Norwich City on the Saturday as the Reds ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
It must have been a huge, huge relief to Whiteside to finally find the net again. He did so as November became December, bagging the decisive second goal in a 2-0 win over Southampton. That goal was his first strike in 17 games and heralded a run of three goals in three games, Norman getting the winner in a 1-0 victory at Watford, before opening the scoring in a 4-0 thrashing of Notts County on 11 December. Those three wins carried United back up to second position in the table, just three points behind Liverpool.
However, as was so often the case during the 1980s, Atkinsonâ€™s men simply couldnâ€™t put a sustained run of form together. Two turgid 0-0 draws at lowly Swansea City and at home to Sunderland were followed by a dreadful 0-3 hiding at Coventry City (though Whiteside did not play in that reverse), making it a woeful Christmas for Red Devils fans. Those poor results allowed Liverpool to move eight points clear of United at the summit. It would prove to be a decisive lead.
Whiteside returned to the side to face Aston Villa on New Yearâ€™s Day, helping United to a deserved 3-1 victory over Tony Bartonâ€™s fading outfit, but another frustrating goalless stalemate with West Brom two days later left the Red Devils trailing ten points behind the free-scoring Merseyside Reds.
That meant the following Saturdayâ€™s FA Cup Third Round tie at home to West Ham was effectively a â€œseason deciderâ€ for Atkinson and his squad; lose, and they would almost certainly have nothing but the League Cup left to compete for. Thankfully, goals either side of half-time from Steve Coppell and Frank Stapleton secured a 2-0 passage to Round Four.
It signaled an upturn in team form. United didnâ€™t lose another game for almost two months, during which time Whiteside bagged three goals: one in a win at Birmingham City, the opener in a 4-2 first-leg victory at Highbury over Arsenal in the League Cup semi-finals (Unitedâ€™s first win at Arsenal in 15 years), and the crucial late winner in a 1-0 victory over Derby County at the Baseball Ground in the FA Cup Fifth Round.
The victories in the domestic cup competitions were very much needed, because despite the upturn in form and results, any chance of Division One title glory was, by early February, already pretty much over. Liverpool, with Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish in lethal goalscoring form, had built up a 15-point lead; they werenâ€™t going to falter. They hadnâ€™t lost a game since a shock 1-0 defeat at Norwich City in early December.
Â Â GD
Â Â 27
Â Â Â 5
Â Â 3
Â Â Â 22
Â Â Â 42
Â Â 62
Â Â 26
Â Â Â 8
Â Â 5
Â Â Â 20
Â Â 16
Â Â 47
Â Â 26
Â Â Â 4
Â Â 8
Â Â Â 27
Â Â Â 20
Â Â 46
Â Â 27
Â Â Â 5
Â Â 9
Â Â Â 35
Â Â Â 6
Â Â 44
Top of Division One; 23 February 1983.
United booked a place in the League Cup final (then known as the Milk Cup) after beating Arsenal 2-1 at Old Trafford on 23 February, to win the semi-final tie 6-3 on aggregate. However, the victory came at a high price, influential skipper Bryan Robson taken off after only 12 minutes with ankle ligament damage.
The following Saturday Robson was absent as United missed a last chance to put pressure on Liverpool for the league title, Arnie Muhrenâ€™s goal canceled out by Dalglish in a 1-1 Old Trafford stalemate. The destination of the league crown was confirmed over three days in early March: United lost 1-0 to a Stoke City side who subsequently journeyed to Anfield three days later and got hammered 5-1.
Up For The Cups…
After winning the Manchester Derby 2-1 at Maine Road thanks to a Stapleton brace, United faced a crucial FA Cup Sixth Round tie at home to a resurgent Everton. Whiteside hadnâ€™t scored now in almost a month, and Robson was still some weeks away from a return to fitness. Chances were at a premium as time wore on, and the packed Old Trafford terraces roared at the Reds to keep attacking.
Thankfully the players heeded that advice. Two minutes into stoppage time, with a very tough replay at Goodison Park looming large, Ray Wilkins floated a ball into the Stretford End penalty area. There, substitute Lou Macari knocked it back for Stapleton to spectacularly volley home with the outside of his right boot; the stadium exploded in joy and relief!
The Milk’s Turned Sour…
It was a huge moment in the season. By now the focus at United had shifted firmly to the domestic cups. Two weeks after overcoming Everton, the Red Devils journeyed down to Wembley to face their city neighbours Liverpool in the Milk Cup final on 26 March. It was Norman Whitesideâ€™s first visit to the national stadium for a competitive fixture. Despite coming into the game in decent form, the bookies quite rightly made United the ‘outsiders’, particularly given the continued absence of Robson. Liverpool, all but assured of retaining their league title, had surprisingly slipped to a 4-3 aggregate defeat to Polish side Widzew Lodz in the European Cup a week earlier, but were at full strength for the Milk Cup decider.
Whiteside took just 12 minutes to find the back of Bruce Grobbelaarâ€™s net. With his back to goal on the edge of the Liverpool area, he brought down a lovely lofted ball forward from Gordon McQueen expertly, before twisting and turning inside a bamboozled Alan Hansen and calmly passing the ball into the right-hand corner of the net. It was a superb goal, and just the start Big Ron had hoped for.
Alas, however, that was as good as it got for the men in the white shirts from Manchester. As time wore on, Liverpool increasingly took a vice-grip on possession and chances, United simply hoping to hit the red shirts on counter-attacks. Their resistance was finally broken 15 minutes from time when Sammy Lee found marauding left-back Alan Kennedy, whose dipping shot from distance deceived Gary Bailey and found the far corner of the net.
Eight minutes into the 30-minute period of extra-time added to find a winner, and with weary limbs very much in evidence, Irish midfielder Ronnie Whelan took the game away from United with a sublime curling winner, a strike good enough to win any match.
It was very disappointing to lose at Wembley, but the team had given everything they had against a side who were simply more resilient on the day. Controversial referee George Courtneyâ€™s decision not to dismiss Grobbelaar for a blatant ‘professional foul’ on an injured Gordon McQueen in the final seconds of normal time still rankles with United fans to this day.
McQueen had been moved up front late in the game as he could barely run anymore, and having already used his one allotted substitute, Ron Atkinson was desperate to retain his full compliment of eleven men on the park. Wanting the big blonde Scot to remain on the pitch, Ron had shifted him up front, and brought Frank Stapleton back to fill in alongside substitute Lou Macari in the centre-back positions. Macari himself had had to replace injured centre-back Kevin Moran. It was far from ideal against the potent threat Liverpool posed.
However, in the final seconds McQueen had somehow beaten the Liverpool offside trap but was completely â€˜taken outâ€™ by Grobbelaar, who must then have been as amazed as everyone else when Courtney only flashed a yellow card at him.
With almost a month to wait before meeting Arsenal in an FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park, Atkinson turned his focus to trying to secure a UEFA Cup berth for the following season by finishing as high up in the Division One league table as possible. A handsome 3-0 win over Coventry City got things rolling, but two draws, 0-0 at Sunderland and then 1-1 at home to Southampton, simply highlighted the sideâ€™s inability to convert possession into goals, and goals into victories on a consistent basis. It would repeatedly haunt them.
On the bright side, Robson had returned from his ankle injury problems to score Unitedâ€™s goal against the Saints, and it was a very timely return indeed, with the FA Cup semi-final game against Arsenal slated for the following weekend, 16 April.
Gunning Down The Arsenal!
Having lost the Milk Cup Wembley decider, and with league title hopes long gone, Ron Atkinson knew that victory over Terry Neillâ€™s resolute Arsenal team at a bright, sunny Villa Park was essential. The FA Cup was the last opportunity his side would get to secure a trophy during the season. His selection that afternoon was as follows (4-4-2):
Mike Duxbury, Kevin Moran, Gordon McQueen, Arthur Albiston;
Ray Wilkins, Bryan Robson (c), Remi Moses, Ashley Grimes;
Frank Stapleton, Norman Whiteside.
Big Paul McGrath was the substitute, and he would be called upon with just over five minutes of the game left to play when fellow Dubliner Kevin Moran was forced off with a head injury (not the first nor last time Kevin suffered such an injury!)
As they had been in the Milk Cup final, United were again kitted out in their change strip of white shirts and black shorts, and attacked the Holte End (where most of the Arsenal support was located) in the first half. Whiteside had the first real opportunity to score when he was found by the marauding Robson, but his shot lacked the power to really trouble â€˜keeper George Wood. Minutes later it was role-reversal as Whiteside picked up a Grimes cross from the left and rolled it across the edge of the box for Robson to shoot right-footed, but again Wood was able to smother and hold the ball.
This pattern of play continued throughout much of the opening half, United enjoying the lionâ€™s share of possession but unable to find a way to breach the Gunnersâ€™ stout defence.
With ten minutes of the half remaining, Arsenal took a hugely undeserved lead with a mess of a goal. Veteran former Chelsea man John Hollins floated a ball down the right flank to Graham Rix. He turned back and sent a left-footed cross into the right-side of the United area. Stewart Robson challenged the on-rushing Bailey for the ball, which broke kindly for Vladimir Petrovic to fire back towards the six-yard box from the right touchline. His effort went straight to Bailey, who inexplicably dropped it onto the prone Robson. He in turn managed to poke it towards the United goal-line (despite being on his knees), where Tony Woodcock nipped in to touch it over the line, before celebrating as if heâ€™d scored a 30-yard howitzer instead of a single yard tap-in.
It didnâ€™t take United long to find a deserved equaliser after the half-time interval. A dreadful loose ball from young centre-back Chris Whyte was intercepted by Grimes on the left wing; his bouncing cross into the top of the Arsenal penalty area was met by Robson. The United skipper got to the ball ahead of Oâ€™Leary (who had stooped to head it clear), before turning superbly and firing a left-footed strike to the far corner of the goal before Wood could set himself.
As the hordes from Manchester serenaded the players, United turned the screw on their London rivals even more. Both Robson and Whiteside came close to giving the Red Devils a lead their control of proceedings would have fully warranted.
The pressure was relentless on the Arsenal goal. A Grimes corner from the right was met by the soaring Robson, but his downward header was brilliantly parried over his own crossbar by the lunging Wood after Stapleton had touched it goalwards from inside the six-yard box.
On the rare occasion Arsenal threatened, Bailey was proving unbeatable, holding onto a fierce drive by Hollins as the clock ticked on.
And then the show was well and truly stolen by the young man from Belfast! With 20 minutes remaining, a long Arsenal clearance was nodded out to Albiston on the left touchline by McQueen. The experienced Scottish full-back noticed Whiteside making a run into the left channel and lobbed the ball first-time towards the Gunnersâ€™ penalty area. As the ball bounced into the area, Norman watched it carefully, before meeting it sweetly on the down-bounce and thrashing a fierce left-footed volley past Wood into the far corner. The veteran goalkeeper had had absolutely no chance!
The masses behind Woodâ€™s goal went absolutely berserk as Whiteside wheeled away to celebrate; it was truly a finish worthy of winning any big cup tieâ€¦ but would it win this one?
Arsenal, now staring defeat in the face, finally decided to come forward, but Woodcock fluffed a glorious chance to equalise when he could only shoot straight at Bailey, with time to spare only ten yards out. It was a fortunate escape for the men in white shirts.
Then United broke on a counter-attack, direct from an Arsenal corner. Whiteside fed the overlapping Grimes, who was eventually superbly tackled at the expense of a corner by the retreating Hollins. From the corner, Moran sustained a severe cut on his forehead when jumping to challenge for the ball in the air, before Grimes blasted a shot just wide of the post. With blood running everywhere and suffering concussion, Moran had to be replaced by a youthful McGrath, but still managed to give the fans a â€˜thumbs upâ€™ as he was stretchered off the pitch!
Minutes later, the final whistle signaled safe passage for Atkinsonâ€™s men to a May showdown with relegation-haunted Brighton, who had edged Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 in the other semi-final at Highbury. Whiteside was the hero of the hour, his fabulous volley proving the difference between the sides, though in all honesty United had deserved to win the game by a much more handsome margin.
Consistently Inconsistent; welcome to 1980s United
Having secured a Cup final date, Atkinson wanted to shift the team focus back to the league campaign, but a trip to emerging Everton three days after the Villa Park victory proved to be as difficult as anyone imagined it would, two quick-fire second half goals from Graeme Sharp and Adrian Heath deciding the game in the hostsâ€™ favour. Whiteside created a little bit of (probably unwanted) history that evening when he was substituted to give Real Madrid loanee Laurie Cunningham a first appearance in a Manchester United shirt.
The weekend witnessed high-flying Watford, under a man called Graham Taylor, visit Old Trafford. The Hornets sat in second position, four points better off than their hosts, so the hopes United had for UEFA Cup qualification via a league placing would be greatly boosted by a victory. They did get the victory, with Cunningham showing his worth, opening the scoring on his home debut after having replaced an injured Arthur Albiston. Ashley Grimes converted a penalty ten minutes later to give the Reds a 2-0 win.
However, a week later, and despite Whiteside notching another goal to give them a lead, United succumbed to an equaliser for Ken Brownâ€™s Norwich City at Carrow Road, thereby dropping another two precious points. Watford, now their main rivals for the league runners-up spot, had beaten Arsenal 2-1, and moved three points clear of Atkinsonâ€™s men.
It’s impossible to state with any certainty whether Arsenal were â€˜saving themselvesâ€™ for the league meeting with United at Highbury the following Monday evening, determined to secure revenge for their Cup semi-final defeat. Either way, on 2 May, just two days after having lost at Vicarage Road, they inflicted a demoralising 3-0 loss on Atkinsonâ€™s men. The goals were scored by David Oâ€™Leary and Brian Talbot. United played a portion of the game with ten men after feisty midfield maestro Remi Moses was sent-off for headbutting Peter Nicholas.
United, on 64 points, had four league games left, and now trailed second-placed Watford by four points. They needed to win the majority of those remaining games and hope the Hornets and third-placed Nottingham Forest slipped up, though both those sides only had two games left to play.
Â Â GD
Â Â 40
Â Â Â 9
Â Â 7
Â Â Â 34
Â Â Â 51
Â Â 81
Â Â 40
Â Â Â 5
Â Â 14
Â Â Â 53
Â Â 18
Â Â 68
Â Â 40
Â Â Â 8
Â Â 13
Â Â Â 48
Â Â Â Â 9
Â Â 65
Â Â 38
Â Â 13
Â Â 8
Â Â Â 32
Â Â 17
Â Â 64
Top of Division One; 2 May 1983.
The following Saturday, United ensured Swansea City would be playing Second Division football the following season when winning 2-1 at Old Trafford. That result (thanks to goals from Robson and Stapleton) relegated John Toshackâ€™s Swans whilst lifting the Red Devils to third position, just a point behind Watford, who went down 3-1 at Ipswich Town.
Whiteside, having started every game since the defeat at Coventry City just after Christmas, found himself subbed off after an hour the following Monday evening as United strengthened their claim for runners-up spot by winning 3-0 at home to relegation-haunted Luton Town. An unlikely brace in two first-half minutes from centre-half Paul McGrath had settled United nerves, and after Whiteside was replaced by Scott McGarvey, Stapleton sealed the win with a late third goal. That victory ensured United would be playing European football the following season; the only question that remained was whether it would be in the European Cup-Winnersâ€™ Cup or UEFA Cup.
Â Â GD
Â Â 41
Â Â 7
Â Â Â 35
Â Â Â 51
Â Â 82
Â Â 40
Â Â Â 8
Â Â Â 33
Â Â 21
Â Â 70
Â Â 41
Â Â 5
Â Â 15
Â Â Â 56
Â Â Â 16
Â Â 68
Â Â 41
Â Â 9
Â Â 13
Â Â Â 50
Â Â 9
Â Â 66
Top of Division One; 9 May 1983.
Unfortunately, the Football Association were determined to have all outstanding league fixtures completed before the FA Cup final on 21 May, so United were pressed into action just two days after claiming victory over Luton Town.
It was simply too much football too quickly for such a small squad; they lost 2-0 at White Hart Lane on Wednesday 11 May to a Tottenham side who were pushing for a UEFA Cup placing themselves. Whiteside had again started the game, but goals from Graham Roberts and Steve Archibald gave Spurs the three points.
The final league game of a long, grueling season witnessed Atkinson take his troops to Meadow Lane, Nottingham. There they met a Notts County side then managed by a man called Howard Wilkinson; he would feature prominently in English football for decades to come. The boss made a few changes for what was in essence a meaningless fixture, beyond players trying to play their way into his thoughts for the Cup final squad. However, Norman Whiteside retained his place in the starting XI, meaning that he would finish his debut season having featured in 39 of Unitedâ€™s 42 Division One fixtures.
Itâ€™s fair to say that not many of the fringe players did themselves any favours if their intention was to give Big Ron selection dilemmas! Having battled back from going behind early to a Rachid Harkouk goal, United led 2-1 through McGrath and Muhren with ten minutes to play. However, a late collapse in concentration saw them concede twice in the final three minutes to snatch a 3-2 defeat from the jaws of victory, Harkouk grabbing a brace.
That late collapse allowed Watford to leapfrog United into second position, as they ironically defeated champions Liverpool 2-1 at Vicarage Road; the Merseysiders had been mentally â€œon the beachâ€ for a few weeks, having wrapped up the title with a few games to spare.
Â Â GD
Â Â 37
Â Â 50
Â Â 57
Â Â 17
Â Â 38
Â Â 18
Â Â 50
Â Â 15
Final Division One Table, 14 May 1983
As his first league campaign came to a conclusion, Whiteside had plundered eight goals in 39 appearances. It was a respectable tally for a young striker still getting used to the physical demands of Englandâ€™s top flight, particularly playing in a side which was still some way from becoming the â€œfinished articleâ€, and which undoubtedly was over-reliant on its captain, Bryan Robson.
“And Smith Must Score…!”
However, the season finale, which Norman had been instrumental in helping United to reach, was now on everyoneâ€™s mind. In all honesty the FA Cup final, the first the Red Devils had reached since the late heartbreak of 1979, was the only thing the United fans had thought about since the final whistle had sounded at Villa Park a month before.
As hard as it may be for younger readers to appreciate now, the FA Cup final was as big a deal in the 1970s and 1980s as the UEFA Champions League final is now. No matter which club you supported, nearly all football fans flocked around television screens in those days to watch the game, even if their own side werenâ€™t involved.
Manchester United met newly-relegated Brighton in the FA Cup decider at Wembley on 21 May 1983 in front of a full house of 100,000 people. Managed by former Liverpool midfielder Jimmy Melia, the Seagulls had never been in a major cup final before, and were widely expected to struggle to contain Atkinsonâ€™s side on the wide expanses of the Wembley turf.
The side Big Ron named for the game was as follows (4-4-2):
Mike Duxbury, Kevin Moran, Gordon McQueen, Arthur Albiston;
Alan Davies, Ray Wilkins, Bryan Robson (c), Arnold Muhren;
Frank Stapleton, Norman Whiteside.
The substitute was Ashley Grimes.
Despite their recent relegation, Brighton had some experienced warriors in their side, not least the central midfield pairing of Irish skipper Tony Grealish and former Liverpool man Jimmy Case. They also had some genuine ability in the form of future England centre-half Gary Stevens and Irish striker Michael Robinson.
To say the game didnâ€™t follow the widely predicted script of â€˜United dominationâ€™ would be an understatement. Scottish striker Gordon Smith gave the South Coast underdogs a 14th minute lead with a neat header from a Gary Howlett cross from the right side. It was deserved on the early balance of play, as the men in red shirts struggled to deal with the occasion, and was a lead Brighton held until ten minutes into the second half.
By then any thoughts that United would brush the Seagulls aside had been well and truly extinguished. It was going to be a close game that could be decided by a mistake or a moment of individual brilliance.
The equaliser arrived after Duxbury and Robson had played a nice one-two, before the right-back crossed towards the near post. There, Whiteside had beaten Grealish to get a touch to the ball, which took it over â€˜keeper Graham Moseleyâ€™s outstretched hand to the back post. Rushing in was Stapleton, who powered the ball into the roof of the net before Stevens could clear it.
That goal gave Atkinsonâ€™s men confidence to push for another; the pressure on the Brighton goal intensified. Then, that moment of brilliance arrived. After winning a tussle for possession near the left touchline, just inside his own half, Muhren had spotted Ray Wilkins making an uncharacteristic forward surge down the inside-right channel. Having floated a lovely ball diagonally across to the Englishman, Muhren then joined everyone else in the country in having their collective breath taken away as Wilkins cut back onto his left foot and curled a sumptuous shot around Moseleyâ€™s despairing dive into the far left-corner of the Wembley goal.
It was a simply majestic strike, and would be the goal the former Chelsea man became best known for scoring during a lengthy career. As Ray charged off to celebrate with the delirious fans behind the goal, it seemed that the famous old trophy was destined for Old Trafford. Surely United could â€˜manageâ€™ the game out from here?
Well, no. Not only did Brighton push forward and deservedly equalise with only three minutes remaining on the clock, but they should arguably have caused one of the great FA Cup final shocks in the dying moments of extra-time.
The late equaliser came from a corner conceded when McQueen did well to nod a dangerous Robinson cross over the byline. Caseâ€™s resultant low corner went directly to Grealish, fooling the United rearguard who were expecting a traditional â€˜centreâ€™; the Irishmanâ€™s wayward shot fell kindly for Stevens to rifle home from eight yards out, Bailey given no chance.
Then, late in extra-time on a cut-up pitch, with many socks pulled down around ankles and thoughts turning to a mid-week replay, Brighton should have won the Cup. Case intercepted a loose ball in midfield and hooked it forward for the run of Robinson. He had enough energy left to out-pace and out-muscle Moran, before cutting back inside McQueen and unselfishly squaring the ball across the area to an unmarked Smithâ€¦all he had to do was hit it. Thankfully he delayed long enough to allow Gary Bailey to set himself and save the resultant goal-bound shot with his trailing leg before smothering the loose ball. The moment was captured forever by the legendary Peter Jones on radio commentary: â€œâ€¦and Smith must score!â€. He didnâ€™t.
Moments later the whistle blew to confirm a replay date the following Thursday evening. United had put their supporters through the full gambit of emotions, from sadness to elation to sweat-stained relief in the space of two hours of frantic football. Could they give the season a gloss by winning the Cup at the second time of asking?
Whiteside’s Wembley Wonderland…
Well Ron Atkinson clearly thought so. When Thursday 26 May came around, he named an unchanged line-up for the replay. Jimmy Melia had made one change for Brighton, captain Steve Foster returning to centre-back in place of Chris Ramsey. However, the second game was as different from the original as possible, and in a very good way for Norman Whiteside and United.
Having weathered early Seagullsâ€™ pressure, the Red Devils scored with their first serious foray into the Brighton half on 25 minutes. Whiteside had battled for the ball on the left side of the penalty area, before touching it back towards Albiston. His first-time low cross was met by Alan Davies, who in turn knocked it back to the edge of the Brighton area for the incoming Robson to connect perfectly and drive a fierce low left-foot shot through Graham Pearceâ€™s legs and past Moseley into the bottom right corner of the net. It was just what the United players needed to settle any nerves, and it transformed them instantly.
Five minutes later, and having penned Brighton into their own half, United extended their lead, and it was the Northern Ireland lad who got the goal. A Muhren corner from the right was narrowly missed by McQueen in the air, but Davies collected the loose ball and swung a delicious cross back in to the near post, where big Norman was waiting to firmly redirect the ball into the far corner of the Brighton net, Moseley with no chance. It was a wonderful header, wildly celebrated, and it gave United total control of the game.
A minute before half-time the game was all but decided as a contest. Muhren swung a free-kick from 25 yards out on the left flank towards the near side of the area; Robson flicked the ball up into the air towards the back post, where Stapleton beat Stevens to nod the ball back across the goal-line. There, it was met by the charging Robson, who gleefully volleyed it into the roof of the net; 3-0, game over!
That was confirmed just after the hour mark when United were awarded a penalty kick. By then Brighton were in total disarray, and when Stapleton released the relentless Robson down the inside-right channel with a perfectly-weighted pass, Gary Stevens had no option but to haul the England skipper down inside the penalty area to prevent him getting a clear shot at goal. Despite having already scored twice (and therefore looking at the possibility of claiming a hat-trick in an FA Cup final), Robson magnanimously handed the ball to Dutchman Arnold Muhren, who made no mistake with a left-foot strike to Moseleyâ€™s bottom right corner.
Living The Dream.
On 90 minutes, as time was blown on Norman Whitesideâ€™s first full season in English football, heâ€™d played a huge part in contributing to his clubâ€™s FA Cup trophy success. Indeed, coupled with the fabulous exploits in Spain whilst representing his country the previous summer, the big man from the Shankill Road had made quite an initial impression on senior football!
It was, of course, only the opening chapters in what would be a fairytale few years for Whiteside in Mancunian red and Ulster green and white. Wembley would become a favourite venue. Iconic goals would be scored. The â€œhard manâ€ reputations of some opposition players would be shown to be nothing but a fallacy whenever the big Belfast man came to town to challenge them! Hero status would be conferred on him by the adoring hordes on the Stretford End terraces.
However, the great tragedy is that, even as he broke onto the scene in 1982, Whiteside was already carrying the injuries which would ultimately curtail his career in the limelight of English top-flight football. A groin strain suffered at 15 years of age was severely aggravated by a physio mis-diagnosis in Belfast, resulting in pelvic damage which robbed the burly striker of some yards of the pace that he had possessed as a kid. Then, whilst playing for Unitedâ€™s â€œAâ€ team in a reserve game against Preston North End in 1981, Whiteside suffered a serious injury to his right knee, which eventually saw him need surgery to remove cartilage. That knee was never the same again, constantly giving Norman discomfort.
Whilst he could compensate for these setbacks over the short term, in the long run Norman was fighting a losing battle to enjoy a prolonged career, especially in the hugely physically demanding environs of English Division One football.
Just three years after scoring that decisive second goal against Brighton at Wembley, Ron Atkinson would be moving the big Northern Irishman back into a midfield berth, his terminal lack of pace no longer compatible with a more attacking role. When coupled with his well-documented attraction to booze off the pitch, Whiteside’s chances of a long career at the top were never good, and became even less so whenever the authoritarian figure of Alex Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford in November 1986.
However, despite his relatively short period at the top level, Norman Whiteside remains a firm favourite with a whole generation of United fans who simply loved his ‘all action’ endeavour and enthusiasm in the red shirt. Indeed, for many Ulstermen like myself, who grew up watching the big man from the Shankill Road â€œliving our dreamâ€ of wearing both the red of Manchester and the green of Northern Ireland, Norman represents a living embodiment of our greatest ambition. He never gave less than 100% effort for the shirt on his back, his heart always on his sleeve. A true hero!