Steve Coppell and Sir Matt Busby

The lost United Player of the Year winners

Sunday 10 January 2021 09:00

The list of Manchester United's official Player of the Year winners only stretched back to 1988, when Brian McClair picked up the trophy as reward for a wildly successful debut season.

That was until our Museum curator Mark Wylie got to work in researching the award and managed to extend the roll of honour all the way back to the early 1970s.

It means proper recognition can now be afforded to a number of Reds stars from yesteryear, with no fewer than five players winning it on two occasions during this missing period - Willie Morgan, Lou Macari, Joe Jordan, Ray Wilkins and Paul McGrath.

Willie Morgan picks up his Player of the Year trophy.

Of course, Bruno Fernandes is the current holder of the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award but some canny digging by Wylie has unveiled something new: a deeper and richer history than some fans might have imagined. After seeing various mentions of Reds being crowned 'Player of the Year' in biographies and history books, we set Mark to work to try to compile a complete list. Where were these references stemming from?

The answer, as some older fans will know, is the Manchester United Supporters' Club, whose members were voting for each season's outstanding performer as far back as 1972. That means the history of the Player of the Year award actually stretches back almost 50 years, allowing us to present a fuller history than before.

In 1972, popular winger Morgan won the first trophy and photos from the period show Sir Matt Busby's final big-money signing mingling with fans at the award ceremony. Though the 1970s was a dramatic and difficult decade for United, it's striking just what a great list of players carved their names to the award. There's the terrace icon Jim Holton, whose career was sadly blighted by injury shortly after he was named Player of the Year in 1974.

The much-loved Macari, the popular Greenhoff brothers, winger Steve Coppell and the tough-as-teak striker Jordan would also all triumph before the 1970s came to a close.

In the 1980s, the award's identity would shift. Bryan Robson won the first of his awards in 1983 - the year his goals led us to FA Cup victory over Brighton - but it's perhaps surprising to see that the late Ray Wilkins had more marks on the trophy than Robbo until 1989, by which time Wilkins had long departed.

Voting, which came from the club's hardcore fan base, has not always picked out the club's most celebrated, famous players. Sometimes, it has selected the individual who has improved the most, or triumphed over adversity, or simply someone who fans have felt a connection with during the season. That is something that has continued throughout the 1990s and does so, even to this day.

When Sharp became the club's first-ever shirt sponsors in the mid-1980s, the award drew ever closer to the club itself. Their name was tagged on to the prize, though it remained the preserve of the supporters' club. Stylish centre-back McGrath, one of our classiest defenders of all time, won the first two of these incarnations, succeeding Mark Hughes, before McClair's success, which has long been logged in the record books

Joe Jordan won the award in successive years in the mid-1970s.

In 1987, Player of the Year was finally officially adopted by the club itself. The Manchester United Membership Scheme was introduced in April of that year and the supporters' club came within Manchester United at this point, and the award with it.

After Sir Matt Busby's passing in 1994, it would be renamed in his honour - the way it remains to this day as our end-of-season gala became ever more high-profile during the club's golden era under Sir Alex Ferguson. Unfortunately, the pandemic put paid to the special night in 2020.

So we can now, for the first time, present you with the missing winners from the list, dating back to 1972.

David De Gea still remains our record recipient, with four successes, but we hope you enjoy looking through these names that can be added to our roll of honour.

Ray Wilkins won the prize more times than his midfield partner Bryan Robson during his time at Old Trafford.


Manchester United Supporters' Club Player of the Year

1971/72: WIllie Morgan
1972/73: Willie Morgan
1973/74: Jim Holton
1974/75: Lou Macari
1975/76: Lou Macari
1976/77: Brian Greenhoff
1977/78: Steve Coppell
1978/79: Jimmy Greenhoff
1979/80: Joe Jordan
1980/81: Joe Jordan
1981/82: Ray Wilkins
1982/83: Bryan Robson
1983/84: Ray Wilkins
1984/85: Mark Hughes

Defender Paul McGrath won the first two Sharp Player of the Year trophies.

Sharp Manchester United Player of the Year

1985/86: Paul McGrath
1986/87: Paul McGrath

This feature first appeared in its entirety in United Review, the official matchday programme.