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Steve Coppell 1975-1983 396 Games 72 Goals

January 18, 2010

Written by: Adam Carpenter

Once a scouser, always a manc. That was the tale of the playing career of Steve Coppell. Yet again another player from the era of the loyalty and good service provided to the club from the players. Coppell was never a letdown whilst playing for United, and he will not be forgotten by many that ever managed to witness him play.

As a twenty year lad who had already had two full seasons of football under his belt. He transferred to United in 1975 for £40,000 from Tranmere Rovers and he never looked back when he inked a deal to United. Steve had been rousing supporters who could see how effective he was with his direct wing game, and he was still only a student at Liverpool University. He was a very astute signing from the manager at the time Tommy Docherty. The manager had a reputation for adopting an old fashioned attacking style of play and Coppell was an integral part of those plans and settled into the team like a hot knife through butter. He was loved by the fans for his 100% commitment to the club and his appetite to attack the opposition full back at every chance possible. He was clearly in love with playing for United and a famous quote from him after playing retirement on his United career was ‘they were the great days. I had to keep pinching myself. My only dream was to play until I dropped.’

With only four appearances shy of the landmark of 400 games, he was an ever present in the side for a good eight years. He was never really blessed with trophies in his playing days and never managed to get a taste of winning the first division title. But without question the most important game he played for the red devils was against arch rivals Liverpool in 77 for the prize of the FA cup winner. A season that will have been remembered dearly by all Liverpudlians as they attempted an assault on the treble, with the title already wrapped up, United spoiled the fun with their cup final victory. This day he did manage to taste victory and how sweet it was at a sun basked afternoon at Wembley. On the day it was 2-1 to United with Stuart Pearson and Jimmy Greenhoff scoring the goals. It wasn’t really the best ever game Coppell had, but he lasted the whole 90 minutes and helped see his side to the only major trophy of Tommy Docherty’s regime as the clubs manager. But it was sweet justice as the year before United were cruelly beaten in the final as Southampton won 1-0 with a goal inside the last ten minutes. Just two months after the ecstasy of the cup final victory in 77, Docherty was sacked and a new transition phase was underlined by new manager Dave Sexton.

Sexton tried to get Coppell to employ a different style of game to the one previous. But this still did not hinder the level of his performance, playing just as brilliantly as he did under Docherty, Steve was asked to play more robustly and try to also develop technique. The attraction of good style of football was long gone when Sexton took over, as the stated all he was asking for was a good result. However after guiding United to another FA cup final in 1979, Sexton was to be unlucky and United lost out 3-2 to Arsenal, which is popularly branded about as the ‘’five minute final’’. But this day Coppell was immense, and helped create both of United’s goals with ingenious play. It was again harsh on Untied as it was 2-0 to Arsenal with around 5 minutes left to play, United decided to turn a=up and make a dramatic late comeback to make it all square at two a piece, and with extra time looming large, the gunners managed to snatch it right at the death of the 90 minutes. 2 years later Sexton was sacked despite winning his last seven games in a row in charge, but he left the club after four years trophy less, with the 79 FA cup final coming closest to landing him any silverware.

The days for Coppell as a professional footballer were now numbered. After Sexton had departed, he had only two years left before in 1983, he decided enough was enough and left United and from playing football as a whole, knowing that once he has left United, he could never reproduce his form for any other club. He was appreciated gratefully by the Old Trafford faithful for his wonderful and loyal 8 years stint at Old Trafford.

His international career was a decent one for where he racked up 42 appearances in only six years, scoring seven goals in the process. His best moment in the white shirt of England was to score the only and winning goal in a 1-0 victory over arch rivals Scotland at Hampden Park. Steve also featured in the plans on a regular basis of Ron Greenwood and played numerous friendlies and qualifying matches for major international tournaments. In 1979 to put disappointment of a cup final loss behind him, he again scored for England against Scotland at Wembley Stadium in a 3-1 victory. The habit of him scoring against the Tartan army continued a year later when he scored again against Scotland in a 2-0 victory at Hampden Park. He was making a name for himself north of the border that couldn’t stop scoring against them, and really put some impressive performances in for his country as a whole, not just against Scotland. He also featured in the 1980 European championship group matches. This was his last major tournament as he suffered a horrific injury just before the 1982 world cup, which in the end after a brief return to club and country, saw him hang up his boots in 1983 from all forms of the game, sadly due to that incident which shattered his knee.

Not only can Steve be regarded as a wonderfully talented football player, but he has also been a good a manager too. He decided to enter management straight away after retiring from football, and has managed numerous clubs over the last 25 years or so. He had four stints as manager of Crystal Palace who was his first club to be appointed at after only being 28 years old. He has also managed Brentford, Brighton and Manchester City, but arguably his most impressive time as a manager came more recently as the Reading boss. He only decided to call it a day last year in 2009 and joined the club back in 2003. He was very fond of by the fans in Berkshire and they gave him a very warm farewell when he decided to resign as manager of the club. Reading were a club that were stuck in the lower ranks for a long time and in the 2005-2006 season the dream of becoming a premier league team became reality. The royals stormed their way to the championship title only losing twice in the league, and Coppell was regarded as a hero at Reading. There was no letting up there either, the following season and the debut of Coppell’s team in the premier league, was a very impressive one. Reading finished as 8th place in the premier league and was only one point shy off of UEFA cup football. This really was a remarkable achievement by the club and Steve was deservedly rewarded as manager of the year for his personal achievements, and there was not man who disagreed with that decision.

However after sheer delight in the first season of the premier league football for Reading, the following season was not so wonderful, with Reading suffering from the so called ‘’second season syndrome’’ they were relegated back to the championship only just though, and the fans were still firmly behind Coppell to take them back to the promised land. Reading lost out in the 2008-2009 season in the playoff semi final in the championship, despite a protest from the clubs fans to keep Coppell at the club, he resigned straight after the game. Ever since he has been unemployed for almost 9 months to date, supposedly believed to be focusing more on family and private life.

But to sum the whole story of this up, Steve Coppell will be regarded as a footballing and Manchester United legend, without mentioning his impressive achievements in the managerial side of the game too. Steve really is an asset to the game of football.

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3 Comments leave one →
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