Video of the Day: Tottenham Hotspur vs Manchester United, December 1970
The extent to which Manchester United’s period of flux in the years following the retirement of Alex Ferguson have their parallels with those following the retirement of Matt Busby are almost eerie. Busby had taken over at Old Trafford in 1945, eventually retiring in 1969, a year after reaching his goal of making United the first English champions of Europe. Busby announced his retirement in January 1969 for the end of that season. His replacement was a former player who had operated on the fringes of the Busby Babes, Wilf McGuinness.
McGuinness had been a Manchester United player at the time of the Munich air disaster, but injury had prevented him from being on that fateful flight. A broken leg two years later ended his playing career, but he stayed on at the club’s training staff and replaced Jimmy Murphy as the club’s reserve team manager in 1964. Even at the time of his appointment in June 1969, though, McGuinness something of a surprise appointment, at just thirty-one years old and with a team that needed to be carefully managed through a transitional period following the European Cup win and Busby’s retirement.
McGuinness’ first season in charge of the club had been frustrating. The team had finished in eleventh place in the First Division, but it was in the cups that it shortcomings had been the most visible. In the FA Cup, the League Cup and the European Cup, Manchester United were defeated at the semi-final stage of the respective competition. In the FA Cup, they were beaten after two replays by Leeds United. In the League Cup, it was Manchester City who knocked them out. Their reign as the champions of Europe was ended by Milan.
By the start of December 1970, it was clear that his position was becoming untenable. Manchester United arrived at White Hart Lane having won just two of their previous thirteen league games and sitting in fifteenth place in the table. Spurs, for their part, were in third place, behind Leeds United and Arsenal. Wilf McGuinness would last another month as the manager of Manchester United, being replaced by a brief return from Busby before Frank O’Farrell took over as the new manager in the summer of 1971. Back in December 1970, meanwhile, commentary comes from Brian Moore.
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