Manchester United squad in training in the 1960s.

How United used to train: the 1960s

With just days to go until the Manchester United players return for pre-season, we've been looking into what training used to be like through the decades.

Continuing on from Wilf McGuinness' insight into how the players were put through their paces in the 1950s, European Cup winning goalkeeper Alex Stepney is up next to shed light on how the men in between the sticks were trained in the 1960s - a time where the backpass rule didn't exist and where keepers had only just started to wear gloves.

Stepney had an illustrious career in a United shirt after arriving from Chelsea in the summer of 1966. In his 12-year stint at the club, where he kept 175 clean sheets, Alex helped United to three major honours: the first division, the FA Cup and of course, the European Cup in 1968, where he pulled off a stunning save to deny Benfica's Eusébio in the final.

When it comes to training though, goalkeepers were often the forgotten player in the 1960s, as Alex recalled...

“From my position as a goalkeeper it was bloody hard; there were no goalkeeping coaches in those days and so I had to do the same running as the players - something I wasn't very good at!”

Brian Kidd and Alex Stepney in training for Manchester United.
Brian Kidd (left, on the bench) and Alex Stepney (right, on the bench) in training for United during the 1960s.

“Pre-season is the same for everyone, we all had to do the running, but this was throughout the season as well.

“I was always at the back, but you knew yourself that after two or three weeks of it you'd feel very fit.”

Stepney soon realised that a few weeks of hard work would be enough to get the body through the ensuing nine months, but it was going back to it after having a summer off that was the hardest part.

“Pre-season was the killer. Once a season had finished we had three months off and so to get back into it was a nightmare.

“We'd have to take it on ourselves to look after our bodies; there were no diets or training plans back then.

“It would normally be about 10 days before we were due to go back when you'd think, 'I'd better do something here' and you'd hit the roads. Yet no matter how much preparation you did you couldn't help being knackered after a session. You'd go home and lock up - your body would be so stiff.

“These days a player can go to Carrington throughout summer, but the Cliff was always locked up in the close season. It was all do it yourself. Even when we did train it was between 10am and midday, which is hardly anything at all.

Manchester United players in training.
The Reds on the training field in the 1960s.

“What we used to do - players like myself, George [Best], Denis [Law] and Paddy [Crerand] - we'd go off ourselves and play. No-one told us to, we just did it off our own backs. Yet it was this that gave us such a good team spirit.

“Good team spirit or not, there were plenty of casualties!

“Most of us were sick. We'd go up to Heaton Park and what we used to call the 'V' by the golf course. It was horrible. Not for the coaches - they'd stand there and tell us where to go and what time we had to do it in - then they'd be there when we got back!”

Wilf McGuiness takes training for Man United.
Former United player and manager Wilf McGuinness delivers a pep talk to the players in 1969.

And even when the balls came out, there was no respite. Well, not for the goalkeepers anyway. Instead it was a case of survival of the fittest.

“I'd be pelted with balls. There was only me and Jimmy Rimmer at the time, we only had two keepers, and we'd take it in turn for 18 players to hit the ball at us! It was a great end to a session for them, but not for us.”

This article first appeared in Inside United, the official club magazine.

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