It may not be unusual for Manchester United to partake in a friendly match, there isn’t much else to do in pre-season, but it is for them to wear something out of the ordinary. Circumstances have led to an interesting kit to be conjured up for the day, which is definitely the case by default for any ad hoc opposition.
The first notable example would be against Ashton Town in November 1903; United wore black-and-white striped shirts out of respect for half back Sandy Bell’s father, who recently passed away. At the time, their change top was green-and-white stripes.
Testimonial matches seem to be a dying ember in the modern game. Typically reserved for those who’ve served their club for 10 years, such longevity for a player at one club keeps getting rarer as time goes by.
Originally used to give the man of the moment a big payout for retirement, the amount of money in football today makes that redundant at the top level, although proceeds now go to charity.
The Red Devils had 10 testimonials in the 1980s, for its servants who met the 10-year criteria, plus one memorial match for a staff member and a benefit match at home for the Prince of Wales Trust. They had six testimonials in the 2010s, including one for a player who left in 1966, which is a high figure for a Premier League team.
A few of these games they were involved in had them combined with another team, typically with their city rivals City. Both teams were two of the country’s best by the end of the ’60s but back then, the derby wasn’t as intense as it was when both again were vying for silverware at the start of the New ’10s.
In April 1964, a combined Manchester City and United team played an ‘all international XI’ at Maine Road for City legend Bert Trautmann, who was in goal for the home team. No special uniform was used by the Manchester XI, playing in sky blue.
Ten years later, City and United joined forces again for Peter Jackson, honorary secretary of the Manchester Football Association, as they took on a Bobby Charlton XI at Old Trafford. The Manchester XI went neutral this time and wore white, Charlton’s team were clad in red.
Quite possibly the most bizarre combination involving United came in June 1983, whilst on tour in Swaziland. Tottenham Hotspur were also out in the Southern African country and both sides went toe-to-toe, before joining forces to become ‘Spur United’, taking on the local national side.
What they wore was not far off to what Spurs called time on the year before; a plain Le Coq Sportif number albeit all-white and with red trim. Both clubs’ crests were placed next to each other on the left breast and the Swazi Spa logo adorned the chest.
The goalkeepers were in a yellow top but due to its details being obscured in the reference photograph and its quality, I daren’t risk to draw it though one can make a calculated guess based on what was en vogue in the French brand’s catalogue. If anyone’s aware of someone who has experience in illustrating the kit histories of Man United and Tottenham?
Returning to England, it was time to give Martin Buchan a farewell after 11 years of service. His boyhood club Aberdeen travelled down the M6 in August to pay tribute, who were riding high from their ‘double’ of the European Cup Winners’ Cup and Scottish Cup, guided by one Alex Ferguson. Both trophies made the trip and were paraded to the fans in the stadium, along with United’s FA Cup.
Club sponsor Sharp refused to have any part in the match so Buchan’s boot provider Puma supplied the kits — the only instance the club has worn their attire thus far — which were bereft of markings bar their leaping feline motif.
One could assume the sponsorless Adidas shirts oft-used in 1982-83 had the household appliance manufacturer’s logo applied to them, after broadcasting restrictions on shirt sponsorship were alleviated over the off-season.
Red socks were part of the package, which haven’t been paired with the home kit since going to Newcastle in October 1971 and weren’t seen again until as standard in 2018-19. Gary Bailey wore a predominantly yellow kit, a colour which was prohibited by the Football League at the time.
When Bailey’s day came, on 10 May 1987, the guests were England. Despite earning two caps for the Three Lions, he was part of the squad at the 1986 World Cup and Bobby Robson guest-appeared in his usual role. Bailey and Bryan Robson represented both club and country in the match, the latter team having shirts devoid of the lions passant arms and a different sublimated stripe pattern from the norm.
The next nation to visit Old Trafford and face United were the Republic of Ireland, four years later for Sir Matt Busby. Making his debut for the club was Peter Schmeichel, whose large stature and opponent’s colour created a perfect storm of him not having anything suitable to wear.
A prominently pink-and-purple Adidas Taifun shirt — a design popularised during Italia ’90 — in XXXL was acquired for the Dane, defaced with the Sharp logo to keep the commercial partners happy.
For the 40th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, it was agreed that a benefit match would mark it. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Red Star Belgrade were touted as possible opponents but with Eric Cantona retiring at the end of the previous campaign, club chairman Martin Edwards thought it was a good idea to combine both.
Understandably, those affected by the 1958 tragedy feared that focusing on the Frenchman’s farewell would overshadow the main purpose and poignancy of the event. Pencilled in for 24 February, FA Cup commitments the next day ultimately pushed the date back to 18 August.
Cantona brought a European selection for the night, skippered by himself before switching sides at half time. The team were in Nike gear and wore black-and-white stripes with black bottoms, somewhat fittingly forcing the hosts to wear their European colours featuring white socks.
Goalkeeper Pascal Olmeta’s shirt had a black-and-yellow striped gradient pattern on the front, on the face of it looking like a precursor to Nike’s shot-stopping efforts introduced in 2002. Interestingly, United were offered an orange-and-black one when they signed to them that year but opted not to use it.
The following season, it was time to celebrate Alex Ferguson and what he achieved in the meantime. A World XI were organised and were kitted out in white and black, this time provided by club partners Umbro. United themselves were in their European colours again, now in their continental kit but for the shorts.
Schmeichel, who left during the summer, returned and wore something rather familiar; being in the same outfit he wore for most of 1998-99 but with different markings. His shirt was missing the One2One sleeve sponsors the outfielders had, the sleeve bands could not accommodate them.
He made way for Olmeta during the game, reappearing when the World XI were replaced by a Man United Ferguson XI on the 70th minute — a team which featured three number 7s, including David Beckham who was returning from a hamstring injury. Earlier opponent Cantona and Robson made up the magnificent trio.
To celebrate 50 years since the signing of the Treaty of Rome, the European Union contacted UEFA to mark the occasion with a football match for the uniting qualities of the sport. As it was also 50 years since United debuted on the European stage, it was decided they should play a team organised by Europe’s footballing body.
Billed as ’50 years in Europe & 50 years of Europe’, World Cup-holding coach Marcello Lippi hoped to have a star-studded side to take part in the UEFA Celebration Match but it taking place in a March midweek proved awkward, though there was a strong Italian presence from the previous summer.
For starters, Arsenal and Chelsea had to use that week to make up for lost Premier League time, brought on by the League Cup Final. Bolton Wanderers players helped fill the bench with national European champion Stelios Giannakopoulos, two-time club European champion Iván Campo, and 2002 World Cup starlet El Hadji Diouf. Liverpool provided the most substitutes, with four.
The guests were in all-white with blue piping and despite UEFA’s involvement — ensuring partners Adidas would dress their selection, a shorts clash was allowed due to the celebratory nature.
‘Unite Against Racism’ patches were worn on the their right sleeve; philanthropic patches were pretty much exclusively used under UEFA’s watch by those competing in the European Championship since 1996. This took place during the interim of Euros 2004 and 2008, when the ‘Fair Play’ patches on the left sleeve were subsequently replaced with ‘Respect’ ones.
Starting in net for the Europe XI was Santiago Cañizares; who had his sleeves cut short, wore teamwear shorts and had the same socks as his colleagues. The hosts were in their domestic colours, with black socks, yet they had their gold typeset and smaller sponsor which complied with UEFA regulations.
The next special team formed to face United was one picked by Michael Carrick, in 2017 after 11 years of service and with one more to offer, on the pitch at least. His first professional manager, Harry Redknapp, took charge of this very experienced side.
It was evened out by the home side being based on their European ‘double’ winners of 2008 though with a few discrepancies; Dimitar Berbatov didn’t join until the following transfer window, Cristiano Ronaldo was in Champions League Final action in Cardiff the night before thus was unavailable, making Michael’s brother Graeme help make up the numbers. Sir Alex Ferguson was in the dugout once more.
The Michael Carrick All-Stars were in all-white Adidas attire complete with white components, ruined by the socks having black stripes. This made the United ’08 team to wear red-black-black, contrary to the white bottoms they wore in Moscow on that particular May evening in 2008.
For that extra nostalgia factor — though be it before Carrick’s time — Edwin van der Sar was in the home goalkeeper kit, giving the Dutchman matching legwear to his teammates. Opposing custodian Shay Given was in a light blue shirt with navy shorts and socks, out of which only his top sported the Three Stripes.