When Anfield became the Theatre of Dreams for Manchester United

Jason Rodgers

Manchester United and Liverpool have been bitter rivals for years, with Anfield being the equivalent of hell for almost every United fan. Fans of either club could never imagine the Red Devils playing home games on Anfield Road, but on 20th August 1971, that is exactly what happened.  

United had been plagued during the latter part of the 1970/71 season with hooliganism. Fans had a habit of throwing objects during games and the tipping point came when knives were thrown onto the pitch, aimed at the away section of the crowd, at the end of the season.

The FA had to come down hard on the club, and so United were banned from Old Trafford for the first two home games of the 1971/72 season.  This would be a huge obstacle these days, but back in the early 1970s, there was a lot of goodwill towards the Manchester club, and the rivalry between themselves and Liverpool was a friendly one.

Many clubs were keen to help, but Bill Shankly was particularly direct, calling United to let them know:

“We’d like you to play the Arsenal game at Anfield”.

So it was decided. The first home game of the new season for Manchester United would be played at Anfield on a Friday night – Everton requested this due to fears that United vs Arsenal at Anfield would affect their gate figures.  The other home game incidentally would be play at Stoke City’s Victoria Ground.

SEE ALSO: One of the few respectable faces left at Old Trafford

United fans packed into the Kop end, a sight no one could ever imagine these days, but a moment that many supporters wanted to be a part of on this unique occasion. Despite this, the attendance of 27649 was still well down on the average home figures at Anfield, which were close to 50000.

The match itself was also memorable for the Red Devils. United had just appointed a new manager, Frank O’Farrell, after Matt Busby’s departure in June. O’Farrell’s side got off to a slow start, trailing by a goal to nil at half-time thanks to a fourth-minute effort from Frank McLintock.

George Best came out firing in the second-half, and he provided the assist to Alan Gowling, to score the first home goal for United at Anfield. From there, there was only ever going to be one winner. Bobby Charlton’s curling free kick gave the Manchester club a 2-1 lead, before Brian Kidd wrapped the game up in the dying minutes.

Unfortunately, the game didn’t pass by without yet more crowd trouble. Hundreds of fans stormed onto the pitch before the match and attempted pitch invasions continued throughout the evening, with several United fans being ejected from the Kop. There were also reports at the time of windows of houses around the Anfield area being smashed and bricks being thrown at United supporters as they waited for trains to take them back to Manchester.

Part of the reason why there was so much trouble, especially before kick-off, was because many United fans were desperate to swap ends and stand in the Kop. Who could blame them in hindsight for wanting to say that they stood in the Kop to celebrate a United win?

SEE ALSO: Why Liverpool’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” will never be beaten

Ultimately, as well as damaging the club’s reputation, the game hurt Manchester United financially too. Liverpool received 15% of the gate receipts and because the attendance was much lower than the 48000 or so that would’ve attended the game at Old Trafford, Arsenal were also entitled to some compensation as well (gate receipts were still shared at that time).

Could groundsharing between such fierce rivals ever happen again? Let us know in the comments below!

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