As another premiership season is assigned to the history books Chelsea rejoice at being Premier League Champions. Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool have the consolation second prize(s) of reaching the Champions League and Arsenal achieve third prize, the Europa League.
Manchester United started off season 2016-2017 by winning the FA Charity Shield 2-1 against Leicester City. In February United won the EFL Cup 3-2 against Southampton. Finally United ended the season winning the Europa League Final 2-1 against Ajax and therefore also gained a place in next season’s Champions League.
It might be argued that, but for a seemingly ridiculous red card for Ander Herrera in the FA Cup tie at Chelsea, United might have added a fourth trophy to the season’s collection.
Inevitably however supporters minds, including those of United, now turn to the summer transfer market and wonder who their team’s starting line ups for season 2017-2018 may include.
Maybe Manchester United will finally sign Antoine Griezmann, maybe James Rodríguez or the surprise player Jose Mourinho hinted at in his recent interview, we wait in suspense.
However the truth is that the start of next season, or any season, whoever is bought and brought into a particular squad, can often be very misleading. Manchester United fans need only cast their minds back to the start of season 2013-2014 and remember the team beating Swansea City 4-1 away to echo that sentiment.
After a successful 2-0 Charity Shield win against Wigan a week earlier the match inaugurated the start of the David Moyes era. An era which failed in every way to live up to the hype, if hype there was, and which did not even last its full first season term.
Offering proof if it were needed that many a false dawn is heralded, many a champion proclaimed, before winter arrives, and with it the cold light of day.
Back in May 1985 at the old Wembley Stadium, Manchester United beat Everton 1-0 with the Norman Whiteside ‘wonder’ goal and United fans enjoyed the following summer as FA Cup winners. With Everton having already won the first division title that season the joy was extra special because United stopped Everton achieving the domestic double.
A few months later in August 1985 Everton gained some revenge by beating United 2-0 in the Charity Shield at Wembley Stadium. The Charity Shield was notable that day for two particular reasons, it was Gary Lineker’s first competitive match for Everton, and Alan Brazil of Talksport fame was a Manchester United substitute.
The start of the 1985-1986 season began in earnest on Saturday 17th of August with United beating Aston Villa 4-0 at Old Trafford. Jesper Olsen, Norman Whiteside and 2 goals from Mark Hughes got the season off to the best possible start.
By the time August was over United had also beaten Ipswich, Arsenal, West Ham and Nottingham Forest. Five wins from five matches, home and away, the United team were top of the league and setting records, they were taking the first division by storm.
The start of September 1985 saw more of the same as United, with goals from Hughes and Frank Stapleton (2) earned a comfortable victory over Newcastle at Old Trafford. United had now won their first six matches and a growing belief that it was Manchester United’s year for the title was difficult to dismiss both for team and fans alike.
Oxford United 3-0 (h) Manchester City 3-0 (a) and West Brom 5-1 (a) were all beaten in some style. United scored 11 goals and only conceded 1 against West Brom with Brazil scoring twice in that match.
So as incredible as it perhaps now sounds, Manchester United had played nine matches and won nine matches before they took a slight break to play Crystal Palace in the League Cup. The cup match was decided over two legs with a Peter Barnes goal at Crystal Palace and a Whiteside goal at Old Trafford seeing United through to the next round 2-0 on aggregate.
The next league match, after the first leg of the League Cup, was at Old Trafford on Saturday 28th September 1985, United beat Southampton 1-0 with a goal from Hughes.
On the 5th October 1985 United were on the verge of history and faced an away match at Luton Town. However a 1-1 draw, another Hughes goal, left United one match short of the record of 11 straight league wins and while there was some obvious disappointment around the club there was also a belief that it was still going to be Manchester United’s year.
Following the second leg of the cup tie against Crystal Palace in October 1985 United beat QPR 2-0 (h) drew with Liverpool 1-1 (h) beat Chelsea 2-1 (a) and beat West Ham 1-0 (h). Finally at the start of November 1985 after a 2-0 win at Old Trafford against Coventry City, United finally faced defeat 1-0 at Sheffield Wednesday.
The final league game of the 1985-1986 season on Saturday 3rd May saw Manchester United draw 1-1 at Watford. Another Mark Hughes goal rounded off United’s total of 70 goals for the season, a season in which they collected 76 points. Overall Manchester United won 22, drew 10 and lost 10 in the 42 game season.
No doubt for the supporters watching Manchester United that season, after such an auspicious beginning, finishing 4th in the first division left a feeling of flatness. The inevitable thoughts of ‘what could have been’ mused on as that particular season entered the history book. In hindsight it was an amazing and incredible start to the season, a season to live through and one that has never been replicated, at least by Manchester United.
Perhaps the moral here might be not to get too carried away at the start of the season with what at first looks like a footballing miracle or even a footballing disaster. Good starts and bad starts are only ‘starts’, for all supporters it is where their team finishes in May that really counts.