Old Trafford has been the stage for many great European nights over the years, mainly during the reigns of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson. However, the European Cup Winners Cup Quarter Final second leg clash between Big Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United and Barcelona on 21st March 1984 is remembered as one of the greatest nights Old Trafford has ever witnessed.
Barcelona and their superstar players Diego Maradona and Bernd Schuster, arrived in Manchester with a 2-0 lead from the first leg. However, this was the evening when Bryan Robson became Manchester United’s Captain Marvel. Robson promised after the first leg defeat in the Nou Camp that United would get through. This may have been perceived as rather optimistic or a brave statement but he really was a man of his word.
In the twenty-second minute Robson flung himself to score with his forehead after Norman Whiteside’s flick from a Ray Wilkins Corner kick. Old Trafford went wild and erupted into a noise that scared the Spaniards. The crowd of 58,547 really roared and pushed United on. The sound made by the crowd that evening was phenomenal and really did spur United on to an incredible fight back.
In the fiftieth minute a weak back pass from the Barcelona full back Alonso was chased by Whiteside, Wilkins and Remi Moses, causing panic and an inevitable error by the Barcelona keeper Urutti. The ball came loose and Robson pounced once again to score his 2nd of the match. Two minutes later Frank Stapleton grabbed United’s third and the winner to complete the scoring. Arthur Albiston charged forward, Whiteside met his cross and knocked the ball back perfectly for Stapleton to smash into the net from near range. United won the tie 3-0 but it was Bryan Robson who was the hero. At the final whistle there was a pitch invasion and the jubilant United faithful carried their captain, on their shoulders, off the pitch.
Captain Marvel has since described that evening as one of the greatest moments of his football career, not just because of the result but for the way every United supporter got behind their team and willed them to victory. He said ‘I have never heard a noise like it. It seemed to get louder as the game went on and it made us feel that there was no way we could let anyone down’. Every player and supporter played its part in this victory but no more than Robson.
Unfortunately United, without Robson who injured his hamstring in training, went out of the competition in the semi-final against Juventus losing 3-2 on aggregate.
Barcelona has since played its part in United’s history of special European nights, notably in the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup triumph in Rotterdam and the European Champions League Semi Final victory at Old Trafford in 2008, the year United went on to lift the trophy in Moscow. However, the night of 21 March 1984 has remained long in the memory of those who attended the epic.
Here is a video from the game courtesy of YouTube user ‘ralics’.
By Baniko Demetriou