Even a man with as sharp an eye for detail as Arthur Albiston, then 29 and already an OT veteran of 12 years, struggles to recall much of what happened on the pitch. “They had a decent, strong side and had just come up the leagues,” he says. “Ray Houghton and John Aldridge for starters, and a couple of gorillas at the back in Malcolm Shotton and Gary Briggs – they were an organised team. And it was a difficult ground to go to, very tight and compact. The nation’s eyes were on us and everybody other than United supporters were hoping we would get beaten – that’s exactly what happened.” Aldridge agrees that the pressure on United was a factor. “The hype was to our advantage. The day was all about Ferguson, and that helped us immensely.”
“The manager obviously didn’t know at the time that almost everybody was probably anti- United, but over the years he’s used that to his advantage, I would think – you’ve got to!” Albiston continues. “He probably thought after that first game that we had a team that was underachieving and he’d have been right. We were in the bottom four, which was just awful for a club of that size.
“I know he’s got a reputation for blowing hot and cold, but I’d have remembered if he’d gone off his head that afternoon – I think he spent the first few weeks assessing what he had, trying to sort it all out, which he did do.”
Albiston wasn’t one of those who’d incurred the displeasure of their new manager by going to Big Ron’s farewell drink on the Thursday night – the day he was sacked and Ferguson agreed to take over – considering it inappropriate. “I had a great relationship with Ron, I signed for him at West Brom a couple of years later, but even just going along somewhere for an hour, which is what the night was, just didn’t feel the right thing to do. People come and go in football and you just get on with it.”
Out of the title race and dumped out of the League Cup by Southampton 48 hours earlier, there appeared little to toast at Old Trafford. The timing of the incident, discussed by Sir Alex in his 1999 autobiography, Managing My Life, had left a rather bitter taste in the new boss’s mouth. “When I heard about these activities, I could hardly bear to contemplate the implication that the players involved did