United Fan Culture Archive: A matchday coach from Shrewsbury

Saturday 10 September 2022 12:09

The United Fan Culture Archive was set up by Michael Brennan, whose documentary photography project aims to celebrate the changing social culture of Reds through the ages.

The not-for-profit initiative has partnered up with Real Change MCR – a fund that helps homeless people to rebuild their lives away from the streets. 

Any revenue generated by the archive goes towards Real Change MCR, while fans are also encouraged to make donations via the UFCA website.

We've long been fans of the work the UFCA does, in sharing a wealth of amazing photos that have been submitted by long-time United fans. 

And there was one particular photo that recently caught the eye: an image of 16 fans in front of a supporters’ coach, heading to a game in the late 1970s (below). 

This brilliant image recently featured on the United Fan Culture Archive.
A fantastic insight to the excitement around United at the time, it made us yearn to know more. So United Review recently caught up with the man who submitted the photo to the archive, Geoffrey Croft – a lifelong United fan who helped to set up the matchday coach you can see in the photo, from his hometown of Shrewsbury. 

“Unfortunately I’m not on the photo,” laments Croft. “But my son, Steven, is. We think it was taken in the 1978/79 season, on the way to West Bromwich Albion. We stopped at the Bradford Arms on the old A5 [in Wheaton Aston]. That would probably account for the fact that there’s not many on the photo – they’re probably all in the pub! Steven is in the middle at the front, with the Wembley scarf on and a red top. “I used to go to the games by car,” he explains. 

“But we thought it a good idea to form a United supporters’ club. This was about 1976, I think. So I put an advert in the local paper for anybody interested to come along at the pub. There were about 40 people turned up at The Elephant & Castle in Shrewsbury. 

“For about four years after this photo, we went to every game, home and away. Sometimes there would only be three people on the bus, but if we got to a cup final or the big matches, you could make up the money lost [from running the bus]. So it all worked out.”
The following year, Croft took over the supporters’ branch, and ran it until 1988, when a work opportunity forced him to move to London. 

“Obviously things started looking up after that, didn’t they?” he laughs. “I ducked out at the wrong time! But the photo brings back a lot of memories. “The man on the left, in the white England shirt, Peter Jones, he’s no longer with us. But for years he used to go to all the games – youth games, reserve games, everything. Second from left, there’s Brian Norris – or Chuck, as we called him – with the denim jacket on. 

“The lad on the right, with a red and white jumper, and a red scarf... apparently he’s a City fan now. You can’t believe it, can you?! Obviously it must be since they got all the money – he wouldn’t have supported them years ago!” 
One of the bus regulars, Peter Jones, would go everywhere with the Reds, says Croft.
Croft’s family was given a copy of the photo not long after it was taken. Geoffrey found it in a box full of similar photos, and shared it on Facebook, before submitting it to the UFCA.

“What did we do on the bus? Nothing much! Some of the lads would be singing and chanting songs and all sorts. At one stage you could drink and smoke as well. But the coach companies weren’t too keen on us having too much to drink. But we had some adventures. It was brilliant. I remember going to Dundee [in 1984] for a UEFA Cup game. We stayed two nights – that was a highlight.” 
United triumphed 5-4 on aggregate against Dundee United in the 1984/85 UEFA Cup third round. The first leg - pictured above - finished 2-2 before the Reds won 3-2 in Scotland.

And as for the supporters’ club? “It’s still running now, 45 years later,” marvels Geoffrey. “As far as I know, the lad who took over from me still runs it now. I gave up my season ticket last year – it’s just got too much for me to go now, because of the travelling. I’m 80 years of age and I struggle walking a bit. It’s not so easy to get a vehicle near to the entrance at Old Trafford – but I still watch every game on the television though.”

Luckily, Croft still has his many memories – some of which are preserved forever in evocative photos such as the one above. “Everyone looks so happy, don’t they?” he smiles.

For more on the United Fan Culture Archive, you can visit their website here, or find them on Instagram and Twitter

Click here for more information about Real Change MCR.

This feature was first published in the Liverpool edition of United Review, our official matchday programme, in which you will find more reads inspired by the UFCA over the course of the season.