“I always feel better after going to Old Trafford”
Most fans that attend Old Trafford have a long association with United.
Some will have held a season ticket for years; others will have a family link with the club dating back decades.
But when a supporter tells United Review that his first match was in May 1943, we know we’re in for a truly Homeric sweep through United folklore.
Sharman has been present at all of United's European finals.
Pete Sharman was born at Withington Hospital in June 1936, and spent his formative years in Wythenshawe, where he became good friends with 1968 European Cup winner Shay Brennan.
He tells us that his uncle even witnessed the infamous win at Millwall in May 1934. Had United lost that game, we would have been relegated to the Third Division. Instead, a 2-0 win sent Millwall down.
“Even though the club was nothing like it is now and had few successes,” Pete explains, “my dad’s generation were just as passionate, and they had interesting things to say. My dad once walked from Hulme to Edgeley Park, when United and Stockport were in the Second Division. By the late ’40s, I was going regularly to watch us at Maine Road and local grounds like Bolton, Burnley, Anfield and Stoke.”
It’s fair to say that Pete has seen it all. Every European final; even one of our earliest Euro aways, against Shamrock Rovers in Dublin back in 1957. He saw the Busby Babes’ final game on English soil before the Munich Air Disaster: a legendary 5-4 win at Highbury that has been referred to as one of the great matches of all time by well-known attendees such as Harry Redknapp and Terry Venables.
“We were coasting it and then Arsenal came back, but we never seemed in danger,” he remembers. “I was on a coach and a television company filmed us throughout the journey, in the ground... they paid for everything. I found the Pathe News film on the internet years later! I’m on it preening my hair. I had a good head of hair in those days!
“The first 10 or so times I went to London was for football. We’d get there about five in the morning, go to Covent Garden for a beer, and then play football at Hyde Park until about half 11. Then it was something to eat, a few beers, the game, and the same after, before the coach back at midnight. There was great camaraderie, and I made so many great pals.”
Pete and his daughter Rachel in Barcelona before the 1999 Champions League final.
Despite all the golden years since, it is the 1950s that still linger most vividly in his imagination. And the explanation Pete gives is something most fans will be able to relate to.
“It’s about your youth, isn’t it?” he muses. “Your memories are clearer and your loves are stronger when you’re younger. I think that ’58 team is still my favourite, but there were more successes after that. The Law-Best-Charlton period was very good and I suppose I should say the Treble season as well.
“But my favourite player is still Dennis Viollet. His record speaks for itself in a way, because he’s still United’s top league scorer [in a single season]. I think he scored 32 [in 1959/60], and no-one has bettered that. He was a local lad, a top goalscorer, and so wiry.”
However, even though the 1950s loom so large in Pete’s imagination, the 85-year-old’s desire to get to games – both home and away – has not disappeared.
He still goes to Old Trafford now, despite the challenging journey from his current home in Sheffield.
“I miss some games, because my health is a bit tricky,” Sharman admits. “But I’m always glad I’ve been. My daughter drives me, and there’s a couple of old friends I still see, like Derek Gardner, and Beryl Townsend, occasionally.
“I used to love going to away games too, but you can’t do everything as age creeps up. But I want to do this season – that will be 80 years since my first game.”
It’s been an incredible journey since that maiden match – a wartime Lancashire Cup tie against Liverpool at Maine Road, attended by just 9,196, in case you
And Sharman isn’t done yet.