When local lad Peter Beardsley was released by hometown club Newcastle United, all was not lost thanks to smaller regional outfit Carlisle United offering him his first professional contract at 18 years of age.
Helping the Cumbrians achieve promotion to the Second Division in 1982, he then made a move entirely unheard of in its day by heading west to the North American Soccer League to play for the Vancouver Whitecaps, making 48 appearances in total for the side that would dissolve just two years later before its much later MLS resurrection.
Happy belated Birthday, @PBeardsleyMBE! We hope u had a good 1!
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Thankfully for Beardsley, this decision proved no detriment to his career as Manchester United eventually came knocking with manager Ron Atkinson prepared to pay £300,000 for the budding youngster.
Beardsley would only make one appearance for the Reds though, in January 1984, which came sometime after his initial capture and represented the club’s most infamous defeat of the pre-Ferguson era.
Drawn against Bournemouth in the third round of the FA Cup, United were certain of safe passage through to the next phase of the competition by taking care of business with ease at Dean Court against Harry Redknapp’s men, in what was the legendary coach’s first job.
United were the cocksure holders of the cup and runners-up of the League Cup the previous season, falling to bitter rivals Liverpool 2-1 in a thrilling final. Led by the likes of England captain Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins and the benched but legendary Lou Macari in his last ever outing for the club, they were making a push for the top flight title while, in polar opposite fortunes, Bournemouth found themselves deep in a relegation battle to stay in the Third Division.
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To motivate his players, Redknapp’s off-field tactics included peddling fake news that detailed how United’s stars had been watching horse racing the day before the game. Also highlighted was his opposite number Atkinson’s blasé pre-match interview with a tone that suggested his squad saw the outing as nothing more than a colour by numbers training session, which perhaps explained the rare inclusion of Beardsley.
Dubbed by many as the “match of the 80s”, United, who had been seen off by Oxford in the Milk Cup previously, seemed off boil from the start and their game opponents smelled blood. Bournemouth were held at bay for a good hour, but finally broke through with a goal from Milton Graham that sent the home crowd into raptures.
Five minutes later, Ian Thompson, who had only recently signed a professional contract with Bournemouth at the relatively ancient age of 25, made it two with a toe poke from just inside the 18-yard box and had a packed house of around 15,000 attendees in seventh heaven; their resounding 2-0 victory blighted only by fighting breaking out in the stands minutes before one of the most famous moments in their history had been concluded by the full-time whistle – which a shaken United faithful had tried to prevent by storming the pitch.
For their heroics, Bournemouth’s players received a £200 bonus – though the holiday they were promised for sealing an unlikely David versus Goliath triumph sadly never came to fruition. Likewise, an Italian restaurant in the locale where goalkeeper Iain Leigh dined with the rest of his team hours before kickoff reneged on an offer of lifetime pizza in return for keeping a clean sheet.
It remains unknown whether Beardlsey, making a return to Vancouver shortly after, was never played again and later sold for his performance in this historical encounter. Ron Atkinson’s fate however, coupled with humiliations such as these and unflattering form that saw United hovering around the relegation zone by November 1986, was in part sealed by questionable decisions such as letting Beardlsey go – least of all for a pittance.
Completing less than 30 appearances in his second Canadian sojourn, Beardsley would finally be shown the faith he deserved by his beloved Newcastle United through being bought for half of what Atkinson had paid for him at £150,000. In cahoots with Kevin Keegan, he helped the Tyneside club gain promotion to the First Division.
To the chagrin of the Old Trafford hierarchy, Liverpool eventually acquired his services in 1987 and, joined by John Barnes and John Aldridge, Beardsley helped the Merseysiders prolong their dominance over English football. As part of developments that echoed United’s similar mishandling of, and showing of the door to, modern day greats such as Gerard Pique and Paul Pogba, he also became one of the best players of the 80s and a regular England international.