Love Sport's Manchester United correspondent Wayne Barton takes a look at a statistical oddity
The turn of the decade has had many in reminiscent mood. At Manchester United, there has been more cause than usual to dwell upon nostalgia, considering the fact that Liverpool are near-certainties to follow up 2019’s Champions League success with a first ever Premier League title.
At Old Trafford there has been a regeneration of sorts and a renewed concentration on the club’s historical values. You can’t have missed the
stories and columns about the 4000th consecutive game where United included a homegrown player in their matchday squad. Even the club
themselves have acknowledged this phenomenon as canon, with the milestone being achieved against Everton on 15th December.
There is nothing wrong with that. It is a fine accomplishment, worth boasting about.
But when does a record become not a record?
Well, when the club themselves fail to acknowledge certain games as competitive ones, as is the case here.
Those familiar with the countdown to the milestone will acknowledge it to be derived from the social media postings of United youth historian Tony Park, who, alongside Steve Hobin, wrote the seminal record ‘Sons of United’.
Park has always openly discussed the record - as well he should - and has often championed the rectification of Sir Bobby Charlton’s appearance and goals record, which he believes to be greater than the 758 and 249 respectively which are officially recognised by the club.
Charlton appeared in the Anglo-Italian Cup when the club participated in the now-defunct competition in 1973. United played four games, against Fiorentina on 21st February, Lazio on 21st March, Bari on the 4th April and Verona on the 2nd May. In the latter game, Charlton scored twice in
a 4-2 win.
The issue is further complicated by United’s appearances in the Watney Cup in 1970 and 1971 (5 games in total) and the Football League Super Cup (4 games) which came in to serve as a temporary substitute trophy for clubs who had qualified for European competition the previous season but were unable to compete due to the Heysel stadium disaster in 1985.
Of course, the legitimacy of those competitions could be debated and disputed, but in acknowledging the Everton game as the 4000th with an academy product, United themselves left themselves open to questions about their own record-keeping.
For instance, does this now mean that they acknowledge those competitions that they previously had not? Do Charlton’s 4 appearances and 2 goals in the Anglo-Italian Cup get added to his record? His 5 appearances and 1 goal in the Watney Cup?
If so, then that would mean Ryan Giggs did not break the club’s appearance record on the night they won the European Cup in Moscow. Instead, that would have been achieved on 25th October 2008 when he played in a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park. And Wayne Rooney’s 253rd and last goal for the club at White Hart Lane in May 2017 would have been the strike that made him the club’s record goalscorer.
According to the club’s own official records — the games it counts as competitive, which register on player’s records — the Everton game was in fact the 3986th consecutive game with an academy player in the matchday squad. The defeat to Arsenal on Wednesday was the 3,991st.
That means the landmark 4000th game (should the trend continue) will come early in 2020 — against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on February 17th. (Ironic, considering this was the venue for Charlton’s last ever game for United.)
That, however, depends on United beating Wolves in the FA Cup. If either or both of the FA Cup third or, if they qualify, fourth round game goes to a replay, then it complicates matters further still; though either way that 4000th game on the club’s official record is rapidly approaching, rather than being now part of the wonderful history.
If they lose to Wolves at the first attempt, then the record will be formally be achieved in the Europa League first leg game against Club
Brugge. But, if they have a replay against Wolves in the FA Cup, then when Nuno Santo takes his team to Old Trafford in the league on February 1st, that will be the occasion the record is set. Got that?
The club have yet to formally acknowledge the discrepancy but I am told their position on it is in line with their official records: the landmark has not yet been realised. (This despite the celebrations on the club’s website.)
Clearly, the matter should be investigated further and some official statement registered — after all, it’s not just Charlton, Giggs and Rooney who were affected. There would be a number of players keen to have an extra appearance or two on their overall tally for the club.
What of the difference of opinion often tossed around about the Charity/Community Shield, and the legitimacy of that as a ‘class one trophy’?
I am told that the club generally recognises where ‘senior trophies could be explained as a pyramid, with one success leading to another’ effectively meaning that due to there being a qualification process for the curtain-raiser, that is why it is included in appearance and trophy records, however seriously people do or don’t treat the latter part of that.
If that’s a grey area, a can of worms is opened when considering how seriously other clubs take other competitions. The Anglo-Italian Cup in
particular was regarded as a senior club competition, is acknowledged as such by other clubs, and there is no official reason for why it
shouldn’t count towards United’s history, despite that history being a rather underwhelming four games.
Newcastle United, winners of the competition in 1971, do include it as one of their major honours. However, they also include the short-lived Texaco Cup, which they won in 1974 and 1975, too.
Liverpool do not include their Screen Sport Super Cup as one of their official honours, which shows some consistency across the clubs on that score.
It is difficult to know where to draw the line but United’s position has been, at least, traditionally consistent on the matter. As it stands the
club do not consider it a matter of revision, although it is nonetheless a fascinating topic of conversation.
If the official stance is at odds with Tony Park’s study, then the club are at least indebted to he and Steve Hobin for the research which
revealed the trend which they have already acknowledged (particularly as neither Park or Hobin were referenced in the club’s feature on their official website); it will be interesting to see if United acknowledge the 4000th game as it is officially occurs as per their own records.
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