It hasn’t been a happy hunting ground but we’ve had our highs

No one ever looks forward to Manchester United away but the Irons can deliver

With a trip to Old Trafford coming up this weekend, it got me thinking back to matches against Manchester United saved in my memory bank

Obviously there are many home matches against The Red Devils that will live long in the memory, but not so many, particularly in the league, at Old Trafford.

Our league record at Old Trafford is not, ahem, the best. The overall record, including cup victories is played 74, won 14, drawn 10, and we’ve lost 50 times. 

Filter out the cup games and it’s a butt-clenching 12 wins, nine draws and 43 defeats. That may look horrendous but it’s actually typical of our record against the consistently “bigger” sides that we have played over the course of our history. 

An 18% win rate at Old Trafford — with six of our 12 wins coming before the war, will not fill anyone with confidence as we head to the red half of Manchester. 

But does a historical record mean anything going forward when the personnel of both clubs are completely different, and turnover on a regular basis? Well, the statistics would suggest that history has a big bearing.

I’ve witnessed a couple of cup wins at Old Trafford — the “Taxi for Barthez” di Canio goal in 2001 and Geoff Pike’s header from 18-yards in the fifth round replay in 1986. 

But only once have I seen us win there in the league. Hardly surprising I suppose as it’s only happened four times in my lifetime, in 1976, 1986, 2001, and on the final day of 2006-2007 when the popular media would have you believe that Tevez’s goal kept us up. 

Complete rubbish as we would have stayed up if he hadn’t scored that day. But why ruin a good story with the truth?

My first visit to Old Trafford was on a gloriously sunny April afternoon in 1984. West Ham had enjoyed a fantastic season up to the point where Alan Devonshire suffered his devastating injury in a third round FA cup tie against Wigan in January. 

From that point onwards the season was on a downward spiral, falling from second place at Christmas to finish ninth.

Significant injuries to Alvin Martin and Steve Whitton who had been involved in a car accident on the way to training meant that the likes of Paul Hilton and Neil Orr were deputising.

I travelled up on the train as an excited 16-year old and remember vividly being awe-struck by the sight of the Stretford End raining their arms in unison and clapping, but the sound taking a second to travel across the length of the pitch and register with my brain. 

It was one of Trevor Brooking’s last games for West Ham. I remember very little about it other than the game finished 0-0 and as I was leaving the stadium, the policeman who had confiscated my can of “Quattro” fruit juice on the way in tapped me on the shoulder to return it to me, not only unopened, but having been in the fridge for two hours.

The following season I returned twice, once for a 5-1 trouncing in the league and a few months later for an FA Cup sixth round exit in which our flu-ridden squad did well to get back to 2-2 but eventually succumbed 4-2 to the eventual winners.

We visited three times in 1985-86, once in the League Cup during Manchester United’s brilliant opening to the season in which they won their first 10 league games.

Indeed they were unbeaten until November winning 13 out of their opening 15 matches. 

We were unlucky not to get a replay. Mark Ward’s indirect free kick took a deflection on the way in but the referee chose not to see it and disallowed it. Norman Whiteside’s goal was the only one that counted. 

In the league, they beat us 2-0 but by March 1986, the tables had been turned and the end was in sight for Ron Atkinson as they failed to build on that amazing start and gradually fell apart.

That Sunday Afternoon we stood at the Scoreboard End at Old Trafford playing ‘spot the blade of grass’ on the Old Trafford pitch as the classic 1985-86 line up of Parkes, Stewart, Parris, Gale, Martin, Devonshire, Ward, McAvennie, Dickens, Cottee and Pike won the cup game heroically 2-0 but crashed out a few days later at Hillsborough. 

At the time it felt like we were playing twice a day, never mind twice a week. If only we’d had undersoil heating I am convinced we would have done it that year.

The only league win I witnessed came the following season on August Bank Holiday. I’d passed my driving test the previous February and this was my first long motorway trip. 

Half way up I was beginning to regret it as rain poured out of a black sky all the way there and all the way home. 

Having finished third the year before, it would be reasonable for us to believe that a 3-2 win at Old Trafford heralded the start of something magnificent. 

Devonshire scored, and Frankie bagged a brace, the second from an impossibly flighted ball from Mark Ward. 

Top of the league. Six points from two matches. Oxford away next. This was going to be easy.

But Dev’s injury returned, Macca took a knock, we were pretty hopeless for a while. We finished 15th.

Little to report after that. Alex Ferguson took over from Ron Atkinson a few weeks later and the rest is history. 

We lost every single one of the following 12 visits to Old Trafford in the league until Jermain Defoe’s header in December 2001 earned us an unlikely 1-0 win. 

Since then we have visited 15 times and gained one win (Tevez) and three draws (0-0 in 2014-15 and 2015-16, 1-1 last term).

Not forgetting 2015-16 also saw the quite outrageous Payet free kick cancelled out by the even more outrageous foul on Darren Randolph that resulted in an equaliser for Schweinsteiger.

I’ve seen us lose 7-1 there after having the temerity to go in front. I’ve seen us lose 6-0 in a fourth round FA Cup tie with Gary Breen giving his masterclass in defending from the seated position. 

I’ve been rained on, spat on, run for my life and sang my heart out in vain. But, on average for every five and a half defeats, there will be one Payet free kick. One Geoff Pike Header. One Mark Ward cross. One taxi for Barthez. One chilled can of Quatro.

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