The United Photo Detective: Ajax away 1976
Few photos evoke the manic magic of following Manchester United in the 1970s better than the one that heads this article.
Taken before the Reds' game with Ajax in Amsterdam, on 15 September 1976, it captures a whole world of feeling and emotion. And mystery...
Because when we first found this monochrome masterpiece lurking unnoticed in our archives, it well and truly set the mind racing. The fans in the photo look so young, so full of pride, so energetic in their love for United, you couldn't help but think: who are these people? Where are they now? What happened to them on that trip? Or even in the years afterwards?
Most importantly, did they make it home safely? We're guessing that bottle clasped in the young lad in the middle's hand isn't ferrying fizzy lemonade about...
Ruud Krol celebrates scoring the only goal in Amsterdam, before United won 2-0 to progress at Old Trafford in the second leg.
A bit of digging and a few SOS messages, sent through United's vast fanbase, quickly returned some leads.
We didn't manage to track down those in the photo. But we did locate a man who was there, and even thinks he might have taken the photo: Clive Saffery, a Cockney Red who was in Seville to watch United play Real Betis only a few weeks ago, still following his team all these years later.
We caught up with Clive, who now lives in Lisbon, to try to find out more about the photo and its mysteries.
“I was absolutely stunned when the photo came up,” he told us. “Because you don't always remember taking a photo. But I realised... somewhere in the depths of my memory... 'I took that photo.'
“I couldn't remember where, but I remembered Jacko [far right] being in it. It's actually now the desktop [background] of my laptop. I didn't know it existed. It wasn't even my camera! Someone must have given it to me to take that picture – and it wouldn't have been Jacko – so presumably it was one of the other two lads. But it certainly wasn't me [with the camera]! The amazing thing about that photo is ... that's us! There's no luggage, there's no bags. It was a toothbrush in the back of your pocket – that was basically it. Because it was a really hot summer, Jacko has that sleeveless T-shirt and that's probably all that he had!”
Clive believes the trip to Amsterdam was the first modern "Euro away"; the first trip where thousands of United fans travelled abroad en masse to the continent. Even now, he still sees people he first encountered on this journey; even now, the excitement of the trip regularly crops up in conversation.
“None of us, of my generation, had gone to any of the ones in ’68 or ’69,” he explains. “’76 was the first Euro away. It was typical of the time: chaotic!
“It's funny, of all the hundreds of games I've been to, some you can remember really well, other games you haven't got a clue. But that particular game was very memorable for a lot of things. First of all, it was the first one back since the Milan semi-final in ’69, so it had been seven years. And we were all very young. I was 20-21 at the time and I was one of the older ones around! So everyone who went to games hadn't been old enough to go to a Euro away until that one.
“The guy on the right was my mate, Jacko. His name's actually on the flag. Jacko's real name was Ray King, but no-one ever knew him by that. Jacko was a well-known DJ. He worked in several places, but one in Margate called the Atlantis. The Atlantis has got more famous as time has gone on. It was a pretty good club at the time, but if you look at lists of iconic soul music venues, it's now on those lists.
“There were a few great nights on there for several summers. That summer of ’76 was really hot; an iconic summer of that time. The club had been booming. So Jacko had been paid a lot of money. I DJ'd there myself a couple of nights a week, plus a couple of other places. It wasn't my proper job: I was on holiday from university. It was what I did at the time.
“So just for that game, he'd got a really big summer bonus, so he was flush with cash. Because we'd been told the ferries would not be serving alcohol, Jacko said: 'We're going to meet at the Railway Tavern the moment they open on Tuesday.' So this was a trip that began 10.30 on Tuesday. I didn't get home until Friday!”
Clive (left) still attends Euro aways to this day, almost 50 years since his first.
Saffery had met Jacko by chance in a bar, and the pair bonded and started going to United – even though Jacko had originally been a Chelsea fan. At the time, Saffery was running coach trips to United games in London and at Old Trafford.
When United finally returned to European football, after several difficult seasons – and relegation – following Matt Busby's retirement, Clive and Jacko, like thousands of others, were determined to make up for lost time.
“The build-up was quite a long one, because of all the [hooligan] trouble with United and everyone else. They were really trying to control the way that we went to the game. They basically made two departure points – I think one from somewhere on the north-east coast... and ours went from Dover. But they made everyone go to London, to King's Cross, and then ferried us down in a bunch of coaches from King's Cross to Dover.
“I don't know where that photo's taken – whether it's King's Cross at night-time, or on the journey, or in Amsterdam. But I remember we were all in this pub near King's Cross, having a drink. I have a vague memory of loads of photos being taken at that time.
“Then we got on the buses and basically headed back the same way we'd come. There was this fleet of buses. I always remember we left at midnight, and stopped at the services on the M2 – we looked like a load of rampaging red vikings!
“Then we got to Dover, boarded the ferry, and the ferry was selling alcohol after all. Though by that time, three quarters of people were unable to drink! One image stays with me from that ferry, of a few Cockney Reds building this massive pyramid of empty beer cans that seemed to stretch forever.”
The authorities took strong measures to keep the peace on the trip, which was the first mass United following outside the UK.
Once they arrived at Ostend, the fans were put on buses again, and driven around and around the Belgian and Dutch countryside in slow, time-wasting fashion – another tactic to try and keep trouble from spilling out onto the streets of Amsterdam.
“They finally dumped us in the city about four o'clock in the afternoon," remembers Clive. “So we only had a couple of hours before the game. For most people, it was their first time overseas; definitely their first time to Amsterdam. So everyone gathered at the match with the stories of what they'd seen: the red-light district and everything. Everyone was all wide-eyed.
“My memory of the game is quite vague. It was a foggy night, so my memory of it is our end was completely full and we couldn't hear much of the rest of the stadium.
“My other memory is from half-time: there was a big bar underneath our open end, and everyone was down there. I don't know whether someone had done something, but all of a sudden there were police coming from everywhere, and two lots of police dogs. They let the dogs go – but the dogs started fighting each other! So the police were spending more time trying to keep the dogs apart! But there was no actual trouble. Maybe there were a few minor bits of criminality, but there was no trouble at the game at all.”
United had to wait 36 years for a second visit to Amsterdam, in 2012, when goals from Young and Hernandez earned a 2-0 win.
And what of Jacko and the other lads in the photo?
“I can't remember the other two guys – that's got lost in the history of the time,” laments Saffery. “But when the photo came up on Facebook, people mentioned various names, so maybe they are still out there.
“Jacko sadly died not long after, maybe four or five years later. Early ’80s. When the photo originally came up a year or two ago, his daughter contacted me, because he'd died when she was one or two and she'd not known much about him. So I had to tell him the story I've just told you.”
It's a sad thought that this young lad, so full of vigour in this evocative photo, did not have much time left to live when it was taken. But, for Clive, it still brings back fond, vivid flashes from a great period following the Reds.
“The photo brought back loads and loads of memories. A similar thing happened again a year later: there was a photo of a load of us at the European Championship in ’88. There's a whole bunch of United in Cologne for the England-Holland game. Someone took a picture and you thought: I'll never see that. Then someone puts it on Facebook years later!
“But that particular one, that black-and-white one, is just so much of the time. It captures the image of United in ’76.”