The story of United's indoor football team

Wednesday 29 April 2020 12:52

“De Gea rolls the ball out to Ferdinand… who gives it to Scholes… who slips it to Giggs… the Welshman skips past a defender, then feeds Rooney… who spots Ronaldo… goooaaaal!”

Okay, so that’s not a real piece of commentary, but who’s to say it wouldn’t have happened had Marcus Rashford’s six-a-side United dream team ever taken to a small-sided pitch?

Rashford’s mouth-watering selection earlier this month got me wondering just how good this fantasy half-dozen might have been if it had ever gone into competitive action. Far-fetched? Well, it’s happened before. United took part in top-flight tournaments from 1986 to 1990.

Soccer Six was launched by the Football League for clubs in the Midlands in 1982, and was won by Birmingham City – who retained their title a year later. The invite was then extended to London clubs, with Arsenal and Tottenham winning the next two tournaments. But it was in 1986, when the venue was switched from the NEC in Birmingham to Manchester that United took an interest.

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Alex Ferguson’s side played in four tournaments at the G-Mex Centre, or Manchester Central as it’s known these days, finishing as runners-up to Nottingham Forest in 1987. Our then-boss was familiar with the format having taken charge of Aberdeen in the Scottish equivalent.

Just a month into Sir Alex’s Old Trafford reign, the Reds had fallen at the group stage – losing 2-1 to Oxford United before smashing Chelsea 5-2 in what was effectively a dead rubber. Disappointing, but still enough to get this 12-year old hooked after watching the highlights on BBC’s Sportsnight. The following year, I persuaded my dad to take me along to the first of the three nights.

What I found was a very young crowd of mainly United fans delighting at getting so close to their heroes – not least Brian McClair, who despite wearing an old pair of white trainers (most of them were, actually) was named ‘player of the night’.

United’s 10-man squad, playing 15-minute matches with rolling substitutes, was as follows: Chris Turner, Mike Duxbury, Arthur Albiston, Lee Martin, Jesper Olsen, Gordon Strachan, Clayton Blackmore, Liam O’Brien, McClair, plus youngster David Wilson.

The Reds beat Wimbledon 1-0 (McClair), Luton 3-0 (McClair 2, O’Brien), then reached finals night with a penalty-shootout win against Watford. I’d had a great time but couldn’t persuade my dad to take me back two evenings later, so it was back to the highlights.

Incidentally, I also recall Steve Bruce (possibly on crutches?) being there with Norwich but happily autographing United shirts. With the defender on the verge of joining the Reds, he probably didn’t think it’d do any harm!

On finals night, Alex Ferguson’s side drew a thriller with Tottenham 3-3 (Albiston, McClair, Blackmore), then thrashed a youthful Everton 4-1 (Albiston, McClair 2, Strachan) to reach the final. A stalemate led to a penalty shootout, which Nottingham Forest – complete with Stuart Pearce, Nigel Clough and Neil Webb – won 2-1.

All 21 Division One teams took part the following year, plus second tier Manchester City, but defeat to West Ham then a draw with Derby County ended our hopes – and with it any real interest in indoor football.

Gordon Strachan was also part of United's squad.

By 1991, English clubs were back in European competition and six-a-side matches were once again the preserve of the masses in sports halls up and down the country.

Rashford’s dream team would have given any side in the country, or Europe, a tough time in its United prime. And over the coming weeks we’ll be asking other Reds stars of the past and present for their all-time six-a-side selections - you’ll get to have your say on which of them are the best!