Scott McGarvey: The eighties was a fantastic time to be at Manchester United

Scott McGarvey was on the radar of Manchester United from the age of eleven. Spotted by a scout as a young lad in Glasgow, he signed as an apprentice in 1979. Scott went on to make his debut against Leicester City at Old Trafford in 1980. Having come through the academy, he went on to play for, in his own words, the ”mighty reds” for four years.

Growing up in Glasgow in the sixties

Scott speaks fondly of his upbringing and cites the influence of his dad as an important factor which influenced his love for Celtic: ”As a young lad in Glasgow at the time, it was a lot different to what it is like today. There were many football teams. When I was about seven, my dad got me involved with one of the local teams. I joined and played for the under 7, 8 and 9 teams. I played for my school too and that is how it started for me. Like most kids, I just wanted to be out playing football.

Growing up, my big hero was Kenny Dalglish. I was a big Celtic supporter and me and my dad would go to as many games as we could. I watched Kenny come through from the reserves and then play in the first team. He went on to have a great career and he was somebody I had a lot of admiration for as a young kid.”

Becoming an apprentice at Manchester United

Spotted by United as a young lad in Glasgow, he recalls their interest in him as an eleven year old and joining the club following his completion of school: ”I remember I finished school, and I became an apprentice at Manchester United in 1979. I had a great upbringing but in them days, Glasgow was a pretty rough place, there was a lot of violence and gang crime which my parents were eager to keep me away from. I was 15 and there were a few clubs interested in me.

Tommy Docherty showed an interest in me initially, and then Dave Sexton got the job. He came up to Glasgow to see me and he told my mum and dad that the club would like to take me on as an apprentice for my last year of school; which was half school, half football, even better! The apprenticeship was from about the age of sixteen to seventeen and then at seventeen I got a three year professional contract.

My mum and dad thought it was the best thing for me at the time, to keep me away from the trouble going on in Glasgow at the time and play football. At the time, I could have signed for Celtic or Aberdeen; I had plenty of options. We all agreed, however, that it was the best move; to get away altogether.”

Life at United

The Scot found his feet quickly at Old Trafford and scored on a regular basis for the youth and reserve teams. Speaking fondly of his former team-mates, he maintains that they would not be out of place in the modern game and would be more than capable of holding their own: ”Being at United in the eighties was fantastic. Whether it’s at Manchester Utd, or another football club, it’s an amazing position to be in as a young man. I think that when you finish as a footballer, you realize that even more. It is just a privilege; whether you are earning £50 a week, or £50,000 a week. At the end of the day, you are a professional footballer, and it’s just a fantastic life. I believe that in the eighties, there were better players than there are today. However, nowadays, they are much more athletic and are probably stronger because of improved knowledge with regards to nutrition and diet. The training has evolved a lot too compared to my time. There are some great players in the game today but there was a fantastic bunch of players at Manchester Utd in the eighties.”

Norman Whiteside was younger than me. He came through and took my position, he was a fantastic young player, thats for sure. There was also a lot of Scottish lads at Manchester United at the time, such as Gordon McQueen, Joe Jordan, Arthur Albiston and Lou Macari, who were great guys. I think big Gordon would be up there in any conversation about great centre-halves today. He was a brilliant player. There was always plenty coming through, but you don’t really see that any more. Its rare to see Irish, Welsh or Scottish lads coming through on a regular basis in the modern game.”

Paul McGrath

A man who Scott clearly has a lot of time and respect for. Speaking of his admiration for the Irish-man, he only has positive things to say: ”I’m a big Paul McGrath fan. For me, in terms of the great Manchester United defenders, he has to be up there. Paul could play a bit, don’t get me wrong, but in terms of protecting your goal, Paul was as good as anyone.

If you were to think of the great Utd defenders, people like Jaap Stam and Martin Buchan come to mind, for me. Martin was a fantastic player and very easy on the eye. He read the game well. Buchan always knew what he was doing. He was a calming influence for Utd, he stopped things before they could even cause a problem for the team.
But for me, as a centre-half, Paul McGrath would be up there with the very best, that’s for sure.”

Drinking culture at United in the eighties

The old saying of all work and no play wasn’t applicable to professional footballers in the eighties. Scott states that they knew when to let their hair down but also offers a gentle reminder that they knew where to draw the line: ”Yes, it was going on at United, for sure; but it wasn’t just at Manchester United. In the modern game, like we have said, there is much more of an athleticism about the players and you probably wouldn’t get away with it now. You might be playing against players that aren’t as good as you, but if he is fitter than you, or stronger than you, at the end of the day, he is going to win the race. It doesn’t matter how much skill you have got if you aren’t fit to perform.

Having said that, it wasn’t a case of the players were going drinking on a Friday or Saturday morning before a game. However, after a game on a Saturday, we would have a few drinks. If you think about, the club itself were to blame; they had a bar, and it was free! So, you walk in, you’ve got your friends there, or people who came to the game, and there was a pint there waiting for you; a lager or whatever it is, and you are obviously thirsty, it was just the way it was.

We might go out on the Saturday night for a few drinks, with girlfriends, or mates, and then Sunday lunchtime, which for a normal guy working at the time, was a time to head out for a pint. It was just how it was but It wasn’t like we were drinking 24/7. If there was no game on a Wednesday, you might be tempted to go for a game of golf and have a few pints on the Tuesday with a few of the boys. There were players who were obviously bigger drinkers than others but it wasn’t just going on at United; it was going on at most football clubs, be it a top club or a club in the fourth division. You wouldn’t get with it now though, that’s for sure.”

Dave Sexton

Having been signed by Dave Sexton, his subsequent dismissal was a disappointment for Scott. Of course, it was Sexton who gave him his debut aged just 17 against Leicester City in a 5-0 victory. When reflecting on his departure, he says: ”Dave was a big influence on my career, as was Harry Gregg, one of the coaches at Man Utd at the time. Syd Owen was also great to me, he was the youth team manager. When I was 17, Dave gave me my debut against Leicester City, I came on as a substitute. Back then, there was only one substitute and it was hard to get in the squad. There were a lot of good players who couldn’t even get in the squad. Nowadays, there are 7 substitutes and it makes you feel more together with the team. To be honest, Dave leaving was a blow for me.

Obviously, Ron then came in to replace him, and it was a bit of a two sided coin, for me. On one hand, he was great for me, I was involved with the squad and had a fantastic pre-season; I finished top goalscorer.

The funny thing with Ron was that I had done very well, and he came to me after one of the pre-season games and said ‘Listen kid, you’ve been great. I want you to go see the club secretary and get yourself a new contract, and get yourself a new car.’ I was buzzing. I couldn’t believe it and I was flying high. But then I came home one day after pre-season, and it was all over the news that Man Utd had signed Frank Stapleton.

In one sense, he gave me a new contract, but then on the other side hand, he goes off and signs Frank. I didn’t have a problem with Frank though, he was a good player. A super player really, and probably more adequate to be playing in the first team than I was at that time. I thought I was okay, but to be honest, I don’t think I was mentally strong enough; which you have to have when you are playing for Manchester United. In spite of that, I had a good relationship with Ron and I still see him now. I have seen him recently and he is always great company. I have nothing against Ron, that’s for sure.”

Differences between Sexton and Atkinson

When asked to contrast Dave and Ron, Scott points to the man-management skills of both men. Where Sexton offering a tough-love approach, Ron went a different route in an attempt to get the best out of his players: ”Man-management is all about understanding people and some players respond better to an arm around the shoulder. In them days, when I Iook back at it, the way people spoke to you; they wouldn’t get away with it today. No chance. I’m not sure if bullying is the word I would use but it was certainly a harsh environment. I think it was too much but then today you could argue the young kids coming through have it too soft. They get their mum or dad, or their agent down to sort it out if there’s a problem.

In terms of tactics, Dave was great in training and preparation, he had a great knowledge of the game. He was very well respected by the players and regarded as a top coach.

Ron wasn’t as involved in the coaching side; but if he had something to say, he would certainly say it. His man-management skills were great and he would get involved with the 5-a-side games, and befriend you almost. He would make you feel good about yourself and I think that’s how it should be. If you have got top players at your disposal, you have to make them feel wanted; because there are a lot of ego’s and they need to feel liked and wanted.”

Kevin Moran’s shoes

Scott speaks fondly of his time house-sharing with Dublin-native Kevin Moran and Ashley Grimes. When asked to offer some anecdotes of their times together, he thought it apt to keep it PG for the sake of our readers (much to my disappointment): ”I lived in digs with Kevin Moran for a couple of years. I could tell you lots of stories about Kevin, but you wouldn’t be able to print it! He was a good lad, a very laid back guy. Obviously, he came from a Gaelic football background and he was so strong; as tough as old boots.

He never changed his shoes! He was always joking, ‘make me a cup of tea, make me a sandwich.’ I had to keep my eyes open with Kevin, you could be lying on the sofa, having a cup of tea, minding your own business. If you weren’t concentrating, he would throw his shoe across the room at you! I still see him now and again. I’m happy he has done well for himself outside of football. I had some great times living in digs with Kevin.”

Jose Mourinho

When pressed on the dismissal of Jose Mourinho, Scott expressed his admiration for the Portuguese man. However, in spite of this, he agrees that the time was right for a change: ”In my opinion, I thought he should have been given more time. I felt sorry for Jose in many ways because modern-day football, and dealing with modern-day footballers is different in many ways. I think Sir Alex Ferguson would struggle trying to manage some of these players. I wanted Jose Mourinho to be a success; I really did. However, I don’t know about all this talk of the players not playing for him is right, I just think that maybe they aren’t good enough. Having said that, since he has gone, they have won all these games and I suppose because of that, you would have to say it was the right timing. Okay, we are talking about games that they should have won, and I think Jose would have won them too. I don’t think you can dispute that but we will see what happens. It’s the bigger tests against the bigger teams that Ole will be judged on. Ole has come in and brought back the feel good factor so 10/10 to the lad.

I think in the end he looked tired and there were a lot of times when his demeanour wasn’t good. It’s no secret that he doesn’t like the press at all, and I don’t think some of the press particularly like him either. He is a big target and they certainly go for him. However, some of the demands of the modern-game include dealing with the press. There are certain rules you have to adhere to and one of them is giving the press what they need.

Also, I think the Paul Pogba situation exploded but it’s not the first time there have been arguments between a manager and a player. It can be the best player at the club like Bryan Robson and Ron Atkinson. Arguments can happen in football, and in life. It can’t be all nicey nicey every day of the week dealing with 30 footballers with different personalities. When I played, there was managers I didn’t get on with. There are moments when you may hate a manager especially if you aren’t getting picked; but you have to give your best to the club that’s paying your wages, regardless of who the manager is. You have to give your best seven days a week; anything less is not good enough.”

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