There have been so many great games in the last 58 years and I’ve covered many of them throughout my book, Goodbye Upton Park, Hello Stratford. So many of them are remembered because of the importance of the game, the goals scored, and the spine-tingling atmosphere generated by our fans. Hopefully my memories of these great games will evoke fond memories of fans, (especially older ones like me!), and the music in the charts at the time.
One of the best games of football that I can remember, and certainly one of those with the most incredible atmosphere, came in the last game of the 1976-77 season. United were back again as a force in the top flight and we were facing relegation. It was a Monday night and United were playing in the FA Cup final the following Saturday. The equation was simple. If we won the game we would be safe. I met (lifelong friend and co-weblogger) Geoff Hopkins after work, and we stood on the West Stand Lower Terrace to watch the game. Considering the importance of the game, it was surprising that fewer than 30,000 were there to see it. I guess it was a sign of the times. We had only won two of our previous 13 games, leaving us in this precarious position, although in truth we had spent most of the season in the bottom three.
If we thought that United would be taking it easy with the cup final just a few days later we had another think coming. Firstly they fielded a virtually full strength team, and secondly within 30 seconds of the start their left winger Gordon Hill gave them a 1-0 lead. Frank Lampard (senior of course) scored the equaliser in the first half, yet another of his important goals, and then shortly before half time we were awarded a penalty. With Pop Robson in the team I’m not sure how a young Geoff Pike came to be the penalty taker, but he had scored twice from the spot in the previous month and he stepped up to take the kick. Unfortunately his fierce shot sailed high over the bar and we went into the break at 1-1. Fortunately he atoned for the miss early in the second half when he scored a tremendous goal to put us ahead. Pop Robson made it 3-1 to ease the nerves before Stuart Pearson (later to join us) pulled one back. Robson scored again to ensure a 4-2 victory that kept us in the First Division. Our stay in the top flight only lasted into the next season, as we were relegated after another dismal year when we barely got out of the bottom three for the whole time. Once again we could have saved ourselves from the drop in the final game but a 2-0 defeat at home to Liverpool sealed our fate and we went down for the first time in my life.
The number one in the charts that week was Free, by Deniece Williams. Other notable chart songs in May 1977 were Stevie Wonder with Sir Duke, Rod Stewart with I Don’t Want To Talk About It (which was the number one the following week), Abba with Knowing Me, Knowing You (not by A-ha!), Hotel California by the Eagles, Good Morning Judge by 10CC, and Lucille by Kenny Rogers, which took over at number one after Rod Stewart’s three weeks at the top. Even though it was almost 40 years ago, I can recall practically all the songs in that chart, unlike my non-existent memory of the May 2016 chart recalled in Number 3, the final game at Upton Park, also against Manchester United.