Are You Sure? When things in football are ‘just wrong’

David Speedie

Some things are just ‘wrong’, aren’t they? You know, like wearing a patterned tie with a striped shirt; covering cornflakes with chocolate milk; hearing Elvis Presley singing Beatles’ songs *, and, well, Piers Morgan – period.

The same goes with football. Look hard enough on the internet and you can find pictures of Glenn Hoddle and Paul Gascoigne wearing Arsenal shirts and videos of Manchester United fans singing, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.

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These things are just wrong.

However, there are other elements to this great game of ours which if not exactly ‘wrong’ then are certainly weird. One of these concerns players we associate with certain clubs turning out for others we have forgotten all about. Today we are going to have a little meander through time and have a look at some of these cases and collectively gasp:

“I forgot he ever played for them.”

Men in Red: From Highbury to Old Trafford and Back Again

Let’s start with some ‘Men in Red’, shall we? Back in the late 1970s and then throughout the 80s, the name Frank Stapleton was synonymous with the red of first Arsenal and then, especially, Manchester United. Playing in, winning and scoring in FA Cup Finals for both sides, Stapleton was much loved by supporters of both sides and remains so to this day. But who can remember which other clubs he played for after leaving United?

Is it a surprise to learn or remember that after being ushered out of the Old Trafford changing room by Sir Alex of Fergieland, Stapleton actually went on to play for another nine clubs over the next seven seasons before finally retiring, including lengthy spells at Blackburn and Bradford City?

Another former ‘Red of Manchester’ was Joe Jordon. People of a certain vintage will remember his Old Trafford days and those he spent at Elland Road, Leeds, before that, but many perhaps do not have it so clear what became of the canine-challenged Scotsman after he departed Manchester United and perhaps think he just drifted off towards retirement when in fact a further eight years and almost 200 games were spent playing for the likes of Milan, Southampton and Bristol City.

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Staying with red, let’s nip down the M55 to United’s great rivals, Liverpool, and remind ourselves (in astonishment, perhaps) that the fireball that is David Speedie once adorned the red and white shirt of the Anfield giants. It seems an age ago now (and indeed, over 30 years are now in the rear window since this apparent aberration) but Speedie was one of Kenny Dalglish’s very last signings before walking out the Anfield door in early 1991.

Speedie only played a total of 14 games in that 1990-91 season, but to be fair to him he did weigh in with six goals – two of which came in a home derby victory against Everton, with another being the equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.

Talking of the men from OT, now we can zig-zag our way back to the, ahem. ‘Theatre of Dreams’ and examine another couple of examples of, ‘You what? Did he? No way!’

First up a quick delve back in time and context. In the late 1970s, Ron Atkinson inherited an exciting West Bromwich Albion side that he kept on course and steered to a title challenge in 1978-79. Integral to this side was the fantastically talented Laurie Cunningham whose speed, ability and physique shone out and appeared to promise a career at the very highest levels.

The summer of 1979 saw Cunningham sign for Real Madrid in an almost £1 million deal. Although a success in Spain, it is perhaps fair to say that Cunningham’s career didn’t quite reach the very highest levels anticipated, and although this was partly due to injury, by the spring of 1983 Cunningham was out of the Real side and looking for regular football elsewhere. It was then that Atkinson struck a deal to bring Cunningham to Manchester United on a loan deal.

Cunningham made five appearances for United at the tail end of the 1982-83 season and scored one goal. Due to injury problems in the United ranks, Cunningham was in line to play in the 1983 FA Cup Final against Brighton and Hove Albion despite carrying a slight knock himself. On the day of the final, he underwent a fitness test given by the United backroom staff and appeared to come through it with flying colours but then to everyone’s amazement, he declared himself not totally fit and informed Atkinson he did not wish to deprive someone else of a cup final place under such circumstances. Alan Davies, who was later to die young and tragically, was then selected instead.

Five years later history repeated itself when Cunningham signed on loan for Wimbledon and this time did manage to play in the FA Cup Final when he came on as a second-half substitute in The Dons’ surprise 1-0 victory over Liverpool. Cunningham was tragically killed in a horrific car crash the next year.

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A year or so after orchestrating Cunningham’s brief cameo at Old Trafford, Ron Atkinson was at it again. This time it was the loan signing of Garth Crooks that raised eyebrows. In the middle of the 1983-84 season, Crooks was surprisingly prised away from Spurs for two months and seven games.

It was a weird signing in some ways, as he had been a regular starter for Spurs and once his loan period was up he would continue to White Hart Lane and play for another season and a half almost as if nothing had happened.

Clough and Taylor: Even the Best Get it Wrong Sometimes

Staying with the theme of ‘red’, in the Midlands Brian Clough and Peter Taylor didn’t make many mistakes in the transfer market when signing players for Nottingham Forest. Taylor was famed for spotting a player who Clough would then either mould or completely transform into the finished article. Players such as Martin O’Neill and John Robertson were going nowhere much until Clough and Taylor got hold of them, and others such as Kenny Burns and Larry Lloyd were signed from Birmingham City and Coventry City respectively and changed from journeymen into title-winning players.

However, there were some exceptions and when mistakes were made the players in question were, generally speaking, moved on pretty quickly. Asa Hartford was one of these players. After enjoying sterling spells at both West Bromwich Albion and Manchester City, he was signed by Cloughie in the summer of 1979 with Forest sitting pretty as European Champions. Unfortunately for Hartford, within a month of the season starting Clough and Taylor felt they had made a mistake and so he was moved on to Everton having appeared just three times for Forest.

Brian Clough and Peter Taylor also had a couple of mercurial talents on their hands at one time in the shape of Stan Bowles and Charlie George. George had won the double of league and cup at Arsenal before transferring to Derby County and playing in the European Cup for the Rams, while Bowles had been an instrumental part of the Queens Park Rangers side that pushed Liverpool so close to the league title in 1976. Both were seen as ‘maverick’ players, though and so eyebrows were raised at their signings.

George signed on loan from Southampton in early 1980 and although he only played four games for Forest, he did manage to score in the European Super Cup Final as Forest defeated Barcelona. Also picking up a winners’ medal that night was Stan Bowles who had arrived on a transfer from QPR in December 1979.

Once again, it looked like a signing out of the left field, but initially, at least Bowles knuckled down and put in some good performances. Eventually, though, he managed to fall out with Clough when the manager refused to let him play in John Robertson’s testimonial, and so in a spur-of-the-moment decision that has surely come back to haunt him over the years, Bowles promptly walked out of Nottingham Forest and a probable starting place in the 1980 European Cup Final.

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Four years later, Clough would show his less pleasant side when he signed Gary Megson from promotion-winning Sheffield Wednesday only to sell him to Newcastle United five months later having made no appearances and with Clough’s ringing endorsement, ‘He couldn’t trap a bag of cement,’ helping him on his way.

One more for the ‘Men in Red’ and back down the motorway and back to London we go. In the summer of 1980, Terry Neill made Clive Allen the subject of the world’s first million-pound transfer for a teenager when he signed him for Arsenal from Queens Park Rangers. Unfortunately for Allen, just three pre-season friendlies were enough to convince Neill he had made a mistake and so Allen was shipped off to Crystal Palace in part exchange for Kenny Sansom.

Blackburn: The Place For Ex-Spurs Heroes?

Earlier on we very briefly mentioned Frank Stapleton’s time at Blackburn. If the Irishman turning out for the Ewood side at that particular period in their history was surprising, then the same was certainly true when former Tottenham Hotspur ‘legends’ Ossie Ardiles and Steve Archibald also turned up to play in the north-west outpost. Ossie, of course, had also spent a short and reasonably unheralded period playing for QPR after leaving Tottenham.

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Other players more readily associated with certain clubs have – of course – turned out for sides with which they are not normally associated. These include Steve Foster and Mervyn Day at Aston Villa, Mick Channon at Norwich City and perhaps even Liam Brady at West Ham.

*Elvis Presley’s interpretation of George Harrison’s Beatle composition, ‘Something’ is actually really rather good and well worth checking out on YouTube.