Big Ron arrived during the summer of 1981 to take charge of United, replacing Dave Sexton as first team manager. Sexton’s United had finished in 8th place the season before in the old Division One, yet despite winning their last seven games of the season it just wasn’t good enough for a club like United and the United board of Directors saw Atkinson as just the man to take United forward in the right direction. Atkinson was new chairman Martin Edward’s first appointment, Edward’s father Louis had passed away leaving his son to take the chairman’s seat. United fans were relieved to see a change in management at Old Trafford; Sexton’s United played a conservative game with the emphasis on safety first. It just wasn’t the United way; it never has been or ever will be. Atkinson had impressed the football world by what he had done at Cambridge United and West Bromwich Albion. Those teams had played quick attacking football; it was a no brainer that United should offer Atkinson the manager’s job. Ultimately Atkinson would fail in bringing home the Division One title, but his United team did lift a clutch of silverware; Big Ron also brought in some class players such as Bryan Robson and Remi Moses.
United saw a change in kit for that 1981 – 1982 season. Adidas had recently taken over from Admiral as United’s kit supplier; it was the beginning of the 1980’s, a decade which saw United take to the field in many brilliant kits that were designed by Adidas. Although the change in kit supplier saw no major change in team colours regarding home, away and 3rd choice apparel, Adidas did introduce some beautiful designs into the United kit. Another point worthy of note, the early 1980’s was a time in the clubs history when United liked to chop and change through the season with the colour of shirts and sometimes socks. Today, it’s taken for granted that teams use one style of shirts or shorts for home and away and 3rd choice, it was different back in the day. Also the 81 – 82 season was the season just before shirt sponsorship would be introduced at Old Trafford. Of course shirt sponsorship had begun in England a few years before. Many people will tell you Liverpool were the first team in England to use a shirt sponsor, well that’s not correct. It’s true the Anfield club were the first in the English top flight to use a shirt sponsor; however it was Kettering Town (then in the Southern League) early in 1976 that became the first English team to have a shirt sponsor, the Southern League side’s sponsor? Kettering Tyres. Those sponsorless Adidas shirts of Manchester United are something of a collector’s item. United’s blue 3rd choice shirts have always looked the dogs bollocks, the sponsorless blue shirt of the 81 – 82 season is no exception. As I have already said it’s something of a collector’s item, an Adidas United shirt with no sponsor on the front. The shirt was first worn in August 1981 in a pre-season tournament in Aberdeen . Competitively, It was only worn three times that season, way to Sunderland, Southampton and Stoke City. United arrived at Roker Park on 7th November 1981 on the back of three straight wins against Middlesbrough, Liverpool and Notts County, the team was in confident mood.
A crowd of just over 27,000 saw United smash the Mackems 5 – 1, United’s goals coming from Bryan Robson, Garry Birtles, Kevin Moran and a couple from Frank Stapleton.
About a month later the United team bus pulled up outside The Dell for a league meeting with Southampton. It didn’t go well for the visitors from Manchester, United losing the game 3 – 2.
The blue kit was worn for the last time on 23rd January 1982. United won 3-0 at Stoke with goals from Birtles, Coppell and a Frank Stapleton penalty.
United failed to win the league that season but there was much improvement. Atkinson had built a very decent side, Old Trafford had once again become a fortress, United were once again a dangerous side to play against. United finished in third that season therefore qualifying for European competition.
It’s worth mentioning that United’s youth team, which featured such players as Norman Whiteside, Clayton Blackmore and Mark Hughes, was once again on the rise. They got to the final of the F.A. Youth Cup which was the first time since 1964. Sadly for United, their final opponents Watford lifted the trophy after a 7 – 6 aggregate victory.