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Countdown To Opening Day - 1979 Manchester United
Wednesday, 31st Jul 2019 08:22

In the first of a series leading up to the opening day of the new season that takes a look at past first fixtures of the season we go back in time to 1979.

The summer of 1979 was one of hope and optimism for Saints fans, the previous season had seen Saints return to the top flight after a four year absence and cement that by not only finishing a respectable 14th out of 22 clubs with a top 10 finish looking likely until an awful ending to the season but also another Wembley appearance this time in the League Cup final where we had lost to then reigning League Champions and soon to be European Cup winners Nottingham Forest.

So the start of the 1979 season was being greeted with hope for Saints supporters, even though there had been little transfer movement in the summer.

Back in those pre transfer window days that was not a problem though, signings could be made right up to the then transfer deadline day that was in March, so there was the opportunity to improve the side during the season and it was also felt that Lawrie McMenemy had dne his summer business late in the previous season and that Charlie George now fit would offer some good attacking options.

The Dell however had seen some changes, a new pitch had been laid, back then the old ground had been notorious for being very boggy due to an underground stream it had been built over and the solution back then was to put sand and more sand on it, meaning it looked more like Bournemouth beach than a football pitch in most latter halves of a season.

In 1978 half of the East Stand terracing had been converted to bench seating and now the same happened in the West Stand giving a capacity of somewhere around 25,000.

We would be at home on August 18th and the visitors would be Manchester United.

Saints line up would be


Golac, Nicholl, Waldron, Peach

Baker Williams Holmes

Hebberd George Boyer

United although finishing 10th the previous season and only 5 points ahead of Saints were expected to do well for the coming season and a healthy crowd of 21,768 turned up.

Perhaps the big draw though was the home crowd finally getting to see Charlie George at the Dell in Saints colours after signing 8 months earlier in December 1978 it had taken the former Arsenal & Derby striker almost 3 months to make his debut and after 1 cup appearance at Arsenal and 2 away at Bolton and Spurs he had played no other part in the season, perhaps as few as 1,000 Saints supporters had seen him play and now the rest had their chance.

Indeed badges had done the round in Southampton saying "I've Seen Charlie George Play For Saints" and a fair few of them would be in evidence.

So Charlie lined up in a Saints side kicking towards the Archers Road with United in their blue third kit as both their traditional red but also their white second strip both clshed with our then kit known variously amongst Saints fans as either the Pyjama kit or wallpaper strip.

Our not so new signing soon made his mark though, in the 25th minute he was brought down by Martin Buchan and David Peach sent Gary Bailey in the United goal the wrong way to put Saints a goal up.

The lead would not last long though, 13 minutes later it was unlucky for Saints as Gordon McQueen equalised for the visitors.

This would be the end of the scoring though as Saints replaced the hustle and bustle of the first half with a more composure in the second, the previous season was one where Saints often had to outscore the opposition and where just as capable as letting in four goals as scoring them, Lawrie McMenemy was determined to try to change this and commented.

"The problem in the first half was a bit too much enthusiasm and some of the younger lads were trying to rush at United a lot, but we had more composure after half time and were better organised, we can only get better"

Perhaps 40 years ago this was a disappointing result at first, we were very much a home side back then and in the days of two points for a win any failure to take both points at home was a point dropped rather than gained, even against the top sides.

But come the end of the season with United chasing Champions Liverpool right to the wire, finishing in 2nd only 2 points behind, in hindsight this was a good solid start to the season, Liverpool would lose only 7 games and United 8.

We would enjoy a good solid season finishing in 8th with 45 points, indeed as late as February we had been 3rd and the hope was that we would finish high enough to play in Europe with our newly announced signing Kevin Keegan, but after beting Brighton 5-1 at the Dell then we would win only another 5 out of the last 14 games, two of those the final fixtures and in the end we did well to hang on to 8th.

Phil Boyer would also finish as the division's top scorer with 23 goals, sadly Charlie George would spent a lot of the season injured as he had been when he signed and his 20 league games yielding only 3 goals was a disappointment.

Saints fans leaving the Dell after the opening day of 1979 felt that tere would be good times ahead, little did they know that a year later things would be far far different and beyond their wildest dreams.

Photo: Action Images

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Snowy added 16:15 - Jul 31
Enjoyed that thanks. The addition of the bench seats was quite controversial as the west stand Milton Road end terrace was very popular and provided a great atmosphere.

SaintNick added 21:36 - Jul 31
You are right snowy, but it was the Archers end under the west stand that was converted in 1980, that had a vocal section of the crowd who gathered there all being forced to move, the milton end under the west wasnt converted to seats till the early 1990's

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