Why Norman Whiteside's 1985 FA Cup Final Winner Is the Best Goal I've Ever Seen
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For a Manchester United fan growing up in the late '70s and early '80s, trophies and tales of glory existed mostly in the black and white pictures of Bobby Charlton, George Best and Duncan Edwards, found inside the history books I used to devour.
The First Division title and the European Cup were exotic and unattainable pieces of silverware that other clubs like Liverpool would win with depressing regularity, as would even Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest.
So the FA Cup, which could be won by any side who could string together six wins, remained United’s only real hope of success for more than a quarter of a century.
In the 1984-85 season United’s quest to become champions for the first time since 1967 ended before Christmas once again, but a side boasting Paul McGrath, Bryan Robson and Gordon Strachan were good enough to reach the FA Cup final to face Everton.
The Merseyside club were the overwhelming favourites, having just emerged from Liverpool’s shadow by winning the First Division title. They were also the FA Cup holders, who four days before this final had added the European Cup Winners' Cup as well.
Howard Kendall’s side possessed an abundance of both brawn and skill in such players as Neville Southall, Andy Gray, Graeme Sharp, Trevor Steven and the reigning Player of the Year, Peter Reid.
This was my first FA Cup final, when it was still the most important game in English football. Sitting high up in the Wembley stands opposite the Royal Box, it was even then a faded and crumbling old stadium, a full 15 years before it was finally knocked down, but for a wide-eyed 12-year-old, it was full of grandeur and romance.
However, the actual game was initially a cagey and nervous affair, with neither side creating many real chances. But this was all to change after 78 minutes, when Peter Reid intercepted an under-hit pass from McGrath and slipped the ball past Kevin Moran only to be spectacularly upended by a reckless and late challenge from the United defender.
Although just inside the United half, Reid would have had a clear run at the United goal, so last man Moran was sent off by the referee Peter Willis to become the first player in the 113-year history of the FA Cup final to be shown a red card.
But a tired Everton side were unable to take advantage of United being reduced to 10 men, and the final staggered into extra-time.
Step forward Norman Whiteside.
In the '80s he was my hero, somebody to be proud of during a largely bleak time for United. To a kid, he seemed like a colossus: powerfully built and no one messed with him on the pitch. But he was an intelligent, skilful and graceful player too, and he always seemed to deliver in big games.
He had only turned 20 years old 11 days before the final but was already a veteran. Discovered in Belfast by Bob Bishop, the same scout who had unearthed George Best a generation earlier, Whiteside made his debut for United aged only 16 years old in April 1982, and that summer he replaced Pele as the youngest player to ever appear in the World Cup finals in Spain aged 17 years and 41 days old.
In his first full season at Old Trafford, Whiteside became the youngest player to score in both the 1983 League Cup final, which United lost 2-1 to Liverpool, and the FA Cup final as they overcame Brighton 4-0 in a replay at Wembley.
But his greatest moment would come in the 1985 final. With 10 minutes remaining in, extra time Mark Hughes put him through on the right side of midfield, but as he approached the area, Everton didn’t seem to be too troubled as Whiteside was too wide, and the angle appeared impossibly narrow.
But entering the area, Whiteside performed a step over to buy time before curling an incredible shot around Pat Van Den Hauwe and beyond the stretched arm of Neville Southall to dramatically win the Cup for United.
Thirteen years later, I had the pleasure of sitting across a restaurant table from Whiteside as he explained the goal in great detail using a bottle of tomato ketchup and mineral water.
I was getting back from a previous attack and was absolutely exhausted, so I was thinking, "Please, don’t pass it to me," but Mark Hughes found me with a great pass.
“I made my way in to the penalty area and could see Neville Southall hanging on to his near post. Pat van den Hauwe came right into line with the ball and at that moment I hit it. I used the defender as a screen, so Southall couldn’t reach the ball.
In the following years, as United went in to decline and even flirted with relegation I would watch that goal on an old VHS tape over and over again.
The commentary on the tape was particularly poignant, with the BBC’s John Motson yelping, "When they write the Norman Whiteside story, I wonder where they will start? And for that matter, where they will finish."
It was sooner than anyone could have imagined, as that goal would prove to be the peak of Whiteside’s career.
Whiteside was never the same player again. A series of debilitating injuries saw to that, and as Sir Alex Ferguson, who replaced Ron Atkinson as United manager in November 1986, observed in his book Six Years at United, it was his “depression at his continual injury [that] lead him to seek refuge in a lifestyle that created conflict with my concept of a United player,” which essentially meant he started drinking too much with his friends Paul McGrath and Bryan Robson.
Whiteside eventually left Old Trafford in the summer of 1989, but after briefly flourishing at Everton, he was sadly forced to retire from football aged only 26 years old, but that goal against Everton in the 1985 final will always give me goose bumps.
You can follow Sam Pilger on Twitter: @sampilger
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