Middlesbrough Lose to City Wearing Utd’s Shirts!

Here’s a story I’ve told often but I still see it incorrectly reported on occasion. It’s the tale of the 1980s game when Middlesbrough played Manchester City at Maine Road wearing Manchester United’s shirts. It’s the anniversary (17 January) of that game today, so here is the story, a match report and some video clips of that game…

It was January 1981 and Middlesbrough travelled to Maine Road for what was nothing more than a mid table top flight clash. John Bond’s City had faced Liverpool in a controversial League Cup semi final first leg 3 days earlier – don’t get me started on that one! You can read about and listen to John Bond comment on it (from my interview with him back in the 1990s) elsewhere on this site.

The City-Middlesbrough game wasn’t scheduled to be on TV or anything. Remember this was a time when games would only be filmed if they were to be shown as highlights on TV that night or the following day and the news of what games would be on the telly would often be kept secret until shortly before kick off, or sometimes announced at the end of one of the lunchtime football shows on BBC or ITV, depending on which channel had the TV rights for Saturday night games that year. In 1980-81 ITV had the rights to Saturday night football and in Granadaland our programme was called Match Night, presented by Elton Welsby.

That night Granada TV planned on showing the Bolton home game as their match but a waterlogged pitch at Burnden Park meant that game was called off, so a quick decision was made to move the Granada cameras to Maine Road and film the City game instead. I remember arriving at Maine Road with my Dad and being surprised at seeing the Granada TV trucks outside the Main Stand. In those days spotting the TV trucks outside the ground brought a bit of excitement because it also meant you’d have the unusual experience of seeing a game, or at least highlights of it, again. I was 13 at the time, and this was always a big bonus.

Of course, I wasn’t the only person surprised by the TV switch to Maine Road as Middlesbrough were also caught out by it. Back in 1980-81 shirt sponsorship was still a bit of a thorny issue in football and clubs were allowed to wear sponsors names on their shirts but not in games televised. Middlesbrough arrived at Maine Road with shirts wearing their sponsor’s name and this meant the filming of the game was now in jeopardy.

City hadn’t yet struck a deal for shirt sponsorship – that was to come later in the year when Saab became the club’s first sponsor – which meant the club did not need as many shirt variations as Middlesbrough. Whether this had any bearing on what happened next isn’t clear but, instead of wearing City’s second strip, Middlesbrough asked Manchester United if they could borrow their shirts instead. Someone sent for a full set of United home shirts from Old Trafford and Middlesbrough played in United’s unsponsored red instead of their own shirts.

The game was filmed and broadcast that night – Granadaland viewers had the choice of the game or the end of the Parkinson show/start of a Burt Reynolds film.

The game ended in a 3-2 City win with goals from Tommy Hutchison, Bobby McDonald and Kevin Reeves. Middlesbrough’s Hodgson became the first man to score wearing a United first team shirt at Maine Road that season. In fact, Hodgsonnand McAndrew were the ONLY men to score at Maine Road that season in a first team game wearing United’s colours!

Were you at this match? If you were why not leave your memory as a comment or email it to me for possible future use on this website?

You can read a report of the game here:

Here’s some film of the match too:

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