His name was Brian Greenhoff and he was a swashbuckling centre-half for Manchester United. Forty-three years ago today on September 8, 1973, Greenhoff made his senior debut for Manchester United at 20 years old as Tommy Docherty’s central defender. The opponent on the day was Ipswich Town, and although United lost 2-1, and was eventually relegated that season for the first time in 37 years, United’s fans had a new favorite player.
His long blonde hair and fantastic ball playing skills as a centre-half endeared him to United fans everywhere and was voted as the Supporters Player of the Season in his first year. Born and raised in Barnsley, but a lifelong United fan, Greenhoff joined Old Trafford straight out of school at the age of 15. He was discovered by United’s Chief Football Scout, Joe Armstrong when he was playing for Yorkshire Boys. The next day he and his family signed the forms allowing for Greenhoff to join United’s youth academy.
When he arrived at United he was a bit disappointed as the facilities were not as nice as those he had seen at Burnley. The season after his debut was a magnificent one for Docherty, Greenhoff, and United. Despite being relegated to the Second Division for the first time since 1937/38, Manchester United won the Second Division title and returned immediately to the First Division the next season. That year, Greenhoff made 49 total appearances and added four goals.
Greenhoff was a constant in Docherty’s young United side in his five senior seasons with the Red Devils. His greatest heartbreak came in the 1976 FA Cup final as a heavily favoured United lost 1-0 to Southampton in front of almost 100,000 fans at Wembley on May 1, 1976. That summer, Brian’s brother, Jimmy, joined United from Stoke City and Docherty had a Greenhoff at the front and at the back of his starting XI.
The 1977 season saw Greenhoff make 57 appearances in all competitions for Manchester United adding five goals to the cause. His greatest moment at United came at the end of that season as United lifted the FA Cup against Liverpool in a 2-1 victory, with Brian’s brother, Jimmy, scoring the winner. Brian put in a Man of the Match performance at the back for United and the brothers celebrated together their triumph.
As the news that summer turned to Docherty’s personal life and his eventual sacking, the conservative playing, Dave Sexton was brought in to replace the FA Cup winner. Brian found it hard to get matches under the new manager and Sexton’s first season at United would be Greenhoff’s last. In total, Greenhoff spent 11 years at Manchester United. He played 271 matches for the Red Devils and scored 17 goals from the back winning the Second Division title and the 1977 FA Cup. On May 22, 2013, Brian Greenhoff died suddenly at his home in Rochdale. He was 60 years old.