The Steve James Phenomenon

31/07/2016 10:06

The Steve James Phenomenon

Steve James was the centre back Manchester United did have. He was a member of the F.A. Youth Cup side in 1965-66, which didn`t progress to the Final as some of his predecessors had. James` contemporaries were future England `keeper, Jimmy Rimmer, England left back, and 1966-67 championship winner with United, Bobby Noble (Capt.), Scotland`s centre back, John Fitzpatrick, Irish winger, George Best, who`d win the league in `67 and the European Cup in `68, along with England centre back, and sometime United centre forward, David Sadler, and England left wing, John Aston. Those players had been in the team that had won the 1963-64 F.A. Youth Cup, 1-1, against Swindon Town away, with a 70th minute goal from Best, and 4-1 at Old Trafford, after a hat-trick (3) from Sadler and a single goal from Aston, which gave the team a 5-2 aggregate victory.

 Steve James was behind Fitzpatrick in Sir Matt Busby`s thoughts about selecting centre backs for the first team. Bill Foulkes, who`d been at right back before the Munich air crash, when the club had lost eight players dead and two permanently disabled coming back from a 3-3 draw against Red Star Belgrade that guaranteed a European Cup quarter final against A. C. Milan. Foulkes, who`d won the league in 1956 and 1957 with United, which had allowed Busby to accept an invitation for the club to participate in the European Cup, moved into the centre half berth but, despite a 2-1 win at Old Trafford, A. C. Milan destroyed a weakened United in the San Siro, 4-0. By 1963 Foulkes was partnered by Maurice Setters at the back and United overcame Leicester City, 3-1, in the F.A. Cup Final for their first trophy since the 1957 league title. The emergence of hard tackling Nobby Stiles, alongside Foulkes, brought United league titles in 1964-65 and 1966-67, before the historic night at London`s Wembley stadium, when the reds overcame Benfica of Portugal, 4-1, with a rare headed goal from deep lying centre forward, Bobby Charlton and, after Benfica`s Jaime Graça equalized on 79 minutes, goals in extra time from George Best (92), 19 year old Brian Kidd (94), who was in the team for injured Scots` goal getter, Denis Law, and Charlton again in the 99th minute.

 Steve James made his debut against Liverpool in October 1968 and, capped by the England Youth team that year, James went on to make 21 appearances in the red shirt. Early in the season United lost 1-2 to Argentina`s Estudiantes de La Plata, winners of the Copa de Libertadores, that is, `freedom`s cup`, against Brazil`s Palmeiras. It was the Intercontinental Cup Final contested between the South American champions and the winners of the European Champions` Cup. United lost 0-1 away, and drew 1-1 at home, and so were beaten on aggregate, despite a last gasp 89th minute goal from then record signing from Burnley (£117, 000), Willie Morgan. Although Estudiantes` victory over Palmeiras of Brazil went to three games, because each team had won a leg of the final, and the rules didn`t provide for aggregate wins, the IC competition did, and many supporters were angry over a Brian Kidd strike at Old Trafford that was disallowed after having seemingly been in the Estudiantes` goal, and which would have made the final result, 2-2 on aggregate, which by the rules of the contest would`ve meant a third game to decide the issue, much as the rule governing the Copa de Libertadores required a third deciding game if each side had won a leg of the contest.

 Although Steve James made 21 appearances that 1968-69 season, he didn`t win a medal. The club made it through to the European Cup semi-final, but defeat 0-2 in the San Siro to A.C. Milan, followed by a 70th minute Charlton strike for a 1-0 win at Old Trafford, put the team out on aggregate, 1-2, although Steve had made two appearances in the competition quarter finals against Rapid Wien, at Old Trafford, 3-0, with goals from Best (2) and Morgan, and in the Vienna away leg, which United drew 0-0, so he might have anticipated a centre half berth in the final, which A.C. Milan won against Dutch side, Ajax of Amsterdam, 4-1. Busby, knighted by England`s queen, Elizabeth II, retired in 1969 to be replaced by coach Wilf McGuinness, whose tenure as manager was characterized by semi-final failure in the League Cup, 1970, 3-4 to Manchester City on aggregate, and 1971, 2-3 to Aston Villa on aggregate. Although Steve James didn`t figure in either the League Cup semi-final loss to City, or the semi-final loss to Leeds United in the 1970 F.A. Cup, 0-1, after two 0-0 draws followed by replays, he played in the 1-1 home leg against Villa in 1971, before the side lost 1-2 away in the semi-final of the League Cup. The 1970 F. A. Cup semi-final defeat to Leeds was characterized by McGuinness` seemingly inexplicable preference for Italian midfielder, Carlo Sartori, over goal scoring legend, Denis Law, who was sub for the three games. Steve James made only two league appearances, and a single appearance in the League Cup campaign in 1969-70, but 13 appearances in 1970-71, and 3 in the League Cup, were followed in 1971-72 by 37 league appearances for new manager, Frank O` Farrell, formerly of Leicester City, and United were top of the league at Christmas, but finished 8th.

 Steve James was perceived as a good centre half by O` Farrell, which is obvious from his number of appearances in the league (37/42) that 1971-72 season. Ian Storey-Moore, a left winger bought from Nottingham Forest in the New Year, scored 5 goals in 11 games towards the end of the campaign, but it wasn`t enough. United experienced 7 successive defeats at the turn of the year, before O`Farrell`s emergency buy, Storey-Moore, for £225, 000. Steve James missed the first three defeats, and Paul Edwards, who`d been deployed as a right back by McGuinness, most notably in the League Cup semi-final United lost to Manchester City, 3-4, when Paul had let fly from long range in the home leg, which finished 2-2, and beat the city `keeper with his only ever goal for the club in the 23rd minute to equalize a 17th minute Ian Bowyer effort. Edwards played only four games in the 1971-72 league campaign and was centre back for the three January 1972 contests United lost to West Ham away, 0-3, and to Wolves and Chelsea at home, 1-3 and 0-1. Steve returned to the team for the away game at West Bromwich Albion on January 29, which United lost, 1-2, and despite Brian Kidd opening the scoring with a goal on 24 minutes. James remained in the side for the subsequent February home defeats at Newcastle, 0-2, and Leeds away, 1-5, which were followed by a March 4 away defeat to Spurs, 0-2.

 Steve James` absence from the team for the first three games in the New Year had dented his and the club`s confidence and collapse had ensued. Despite Ian Storey Moore`s almost instant impact upon arriving from Forest immediately after the 7th successive league defeat, 0-2, at Spurs, when Ian scored 5 times in the last eleven games of the 1971-72 campaign, United finished 8th when looking every inch champions before January 1st. Storey-Moore retired in 1974 through injury after scoring only another 7 goals for United. Unpredictable genius, George Best, had told the press he wouldn`t play for the Manchester club if they were relegated, and without Ian Storey-Moore the reds didn`t have a replacement. The Irish winger, whose highest number of goals scored in a season was 28 in 1967-68, had top scored in 1971-72 with 18. George had reached double figures in terms of his season`s tally in every season since 1964-65, apart from 1965-66 (9), but retired to a beach in Spain, rather than assist the team out of deep trouble in 1973-74, and without an adequate replacement, which Storey-Moore had been, relegation resulted.

 Steve James remained amongst the loyal members of the squad. He played 22 games in 1972-73, and United finished 18th, barely out of the relegation zone. O` Farrell was replaced as manager by Scotland`s national team boss, Tommy Docherty, and a whirlwind of buying and selling ensued. George Best played 19 games for 4 goals, and Bobby Charlton was top scorer with 6. Docherty bought Lou Macari from Celtic for £200, 000, a diminutive but striking header of the aerial ball with `springs in his heels`, who ultimately found success with the red devils as a tigrish midfield goal poacher, and free kick specialist. Macari`s late 5 goal tally in 1972-73 was a sign of what might be to come. In 1973-74, however, the United slide proved unstoppable. George Best could spare the team only 12 appearances and 2 goals, and `crocked` Ian Storey-Moore played only twice. Steve James contributed 21 games at centre half and 2 goals, which otherwise would seem negligible, but for the fact that Irish forward, Sammy McIlroy who, labelled the last of `The Busby Babes`, had made a scoring debut as a forward for Busby`s managerial successor, Wilf McGuinness, in a 3-3 draw with Manchester City in 1971, and finished the 1973-74 relegation season as United`s top scorer with only 6.

 The club recovered well enough in the Second Division to win the title, largely because of the centre forward Docherty bought from Hull City for £200, 000, future England striker, Stuart Pearson, who netted 17 times, while Lou Macari rediscovered his striker`s boots for 11 goals. In Scotland he`d played for Celtic, where the opposition to the `Celts`, and the other Glasgow team, Rangers, was around the playing level of the English Second Division, before future United manager, Alex Ferguson, began winning titles and cups under the noses of the Celts and `Gers in the 1980s with Aberdeen. Consequently, United and Macari`s renaissance was largely due to Pearson`s knowledge of the Second Division, because he`d scored in it with Hull City, and a reduction in technical level, which suited Macari, who`d been used to Celtic`s marauding of lesser clubs in their plundering of silverware at the top of the Scottish league. With the `green hoops` Macari had won Scottish championships with a highest goal tally of 10 in 1972 from 20 appearances, which was his highest number of appearances in 4 seasons that saw him amass Scottish league title medals in 1969–70, 1970–71, 1971–72, and 1972–73, and Scottish Cup winners medals in 1970–71 and 1971–72. With his appearances limited by Celtic`s wealth of talent and in depth resources, because everyone wants to play for winners, and the only other winners in Scotland were Rangers, Macari was persuaded by Docherty to move to Old Trafford.

 Steve James moved on at the end of the 1975-76 season having helped United through the dark days with 13 appearances at centre back in 1974-75. Jim Holton, who after arriving from Shrewsbury Town broke his leg twice in 1972-73, and after United were relegated in 1973-74, when Jim made 34 appearances, had gone on to play in all Scotland`s undefeated 1974 World Cup Finals` games. Jim appeared 14 times in 1974-75 at centre back, although Yorkshire cricket`s fast bowler, Arnold Sidebottom, making 13 defensive appearances in the centre successfully competed with Steve James to rival Holton for a place in the first eleven. The team challenged for the league title in the 1975-76 season, and they perhaps would have won, but for an inexplicable change of `keeper, Irishman Paddy Roche for `68 European Cup winning `keeper, Alex Stepney, midway through the campaign, which saw United lose 0-4 to Manchester City at Maine Road in the 4th round of the League Cup; 1-3 away at Liverpool`s Anfield, and 1-3 away at Arsenal`s Highbury. Roche had been given his chance on November 1, 1975, and the team scraped a 1-0 win against Norwich City at Old Trafford. Though United beat Villa, 2-0, at Old Trafford, Roche`s away form was disastrous, and many believe that, although Stepney returned for the rest of the campaign, Roche`s inclusion for those few games had cost United the league Cup and the title, which they finally conceded to Liverpool with 60 points to United`s 56.

 Despite failing to win the league title in 1975-76, with Pearson (13) and Macari (12) more able to do what they could, because of more able support from well chosen new faces, for example, future England right winger, Steve Coppell, bought from Tranmere Rovers for £60, 000, and left winger, Gordon Hill, who came from Millwall for £70, 000, United made it to the F.A. Cup Final where, expected to win, they confounded the pundits and lost, 0-1, to an 83rd minute breakaway Southampton strike by Bobby Stokes. Centre back, Steve James, didn`t play that season and was transferred to York City, while Holton went off to Sunderland, but James` career, 1966-76, from youth to seniority, was more typically United. George Best died of alcoholism.