On Wednesday Manchester United face Crystal Palace in a Carling Cup quater-final match at Old Trafford, although on pap this is a big game for the smaller Club, in the late 1960’s Palace were a 1st Division top team that played attractive football and in fact were in the top flight as recently as 2005.
The player that epitomised Palace for me was Alan Whittle, a blond, talented ex-Evertonian who could really play. They were a top team and entertained wherever they played. But the player that ties the two Clubs together was Stevie Coppell.
Stevie was bought from Tranmere to United and played on the right wing. He was well known as one of the few players with a University degree, alongside Brian Hall of Shankly fame.
As an aside that story goes that when Liverpool won the European Cup, Shankly was on a podium in Liverpool City Centre and as he was about to speak he first shouted to Brian Hall and said “Brian, who is that Chinaman, you know the famous one ?”. Brian replied “boss….you mean Mao Tse Tung?” And Shankly turned to the crowd and bellowed …”Like Chairman Mao you’re my Red Army!!!!” …..well maybe it’s true.
But I digress. Stevie was the brains of the Docherty outfit and we needed some brains at that time I can assure you.
He played right wing, his one trick was to stop, push the ball 5 yards and then sort of burst past the opponent with a crabby wide stance and whip in the cross. Dave Beckham is the closest modern incarnation of Stevie Coppell and they had a similar impact on the team
Stevie held down that right wing berth for years, he followed George Best and was the best winger in a poor team, always present, consistently good, England regular and then, horrifically his knee was shattered playing for England and his career ended too soon. Like Beckham, his passing range would have allowed him to play 10 more years, in deep midfield or even fullback, but it was over too soon and, at two months short of his 29th birthday, he became manager of Crystal Palace.
He was one of the few top players who became a top manager. Palace were good, very good. He was even a potential England manager at one point. He also managed Manchester City but that’s best forgotten, he lasted about a month and resigned. That’s how good he is!!
He also went on the manage Reading to great success when John Majeski took over. He knows how to build a team.
So on Wednesday we have a clash of two great Clubs, each with a fine history of good football with one man in common.
Stevie Coppell, United legend, educated man, manager of quality and someone both Clubs can be proud of.
When United list the great right wingers of the modern era the list goes something like this:
Willie Morgan, Stevie Coppell, David Beckham, Andrei Kanchelskis, Christiano Ronaldo,
Current first-teamers Nani and Valencia have a long way to go before their names can join that list, but in this game we might see the next generation emerge, and begin the journey to match the right wing legends of Old Trafford. I hope so.
Stevie we love you.
By Steve Burrows CBE @ifollowsteve