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Russell Beardsmore They Promised so much.....

Exactly thirty years ago today, academy graduate Russell Beardsmore made his debut for Manchester United. We look back on the career of one of the original Fergie Fledglings.

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By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

Born in Wigan in 1968, Russell Beardsmore joined Manchester United’s academy in 1984. His primary position was on the right side of midfield, and he impressed at youth level to the point where it wouldn’t be long before he was given his chance in the first team.

In September 1988, four days before his 20th birthday, Beardsmore made his debut as a substitute against West Ham United in a 2-0 victory. Within a few weeks he was given his first start, in a 5-0 League Cup victory over Rotherham United. Following this, he found himself back in the reserves for the next couple of months, until Manchester United approached the Christmas fixture list. A substitute appearance against Arsenal at Highbury was followed by a full league debut, in a 2-0 win against Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford on Boxing Day 1988.

Instant Hero

Beardsmore had impressed enough to be included in the starting line up on New Years Day, against United’s biggest rivals, Liverpool. This was the game in which the young midfielder announced his arrival to the Old Trafford faithful. The match itself had been a dull affair, until John Barnes put Liverpool ahead in the 70th minute. This served to spark the game into life. Within a minute, Beardsmore went on a jinking little run, and his cross was met by an overhead kick from Brian McClair, which sailed into the back of the net.

The volley was so well hit that most of the crowd probably thought it had been scored by Mark Hughes (one of his specialities), but it didn’t take long for the Welshman to make his mark on the game. Four minutes later, more pressure applied by Beardsmore forced the Liverpool defence into a mistake which allowed Hughes a clear strike at goal, which Mike Hooper got a hand to but couldn’t keep out. United’s fans loved it; here was one of their home grown players, tearing apart their hated enemies. It was to get even better.

A poor defensive clearance by the late Gary Ablett invited more United pressure. This started a move that culminated by a fine cross from young Lee Sharpe, which was volleyed home by Beardsmore from close range, to seal the points for the Reds, and a Man of the Match award for himself. For the rest of that season, Beardsmore found himself a regular in the United squad, and was a permanent fixture in the first team from March onwards, following the transfer of Gordon Strachan to Leeds United. Despite regular opportunities, it’s fair to say that he never quite repeated his performance against Liverpool on a regular basis.

High Expectations

After that match, United had been in sixth place, but poor form from the team in the second half of the season saw the Red’s slip to 11th position, having finished second the previous year. It was clear that reinforcements were needed. The addition of three midfielders in the summer of 1989, Neil Webb, Mike Phelan and Paul Ince, meant that Beardsmore was always going to find his chances limited.

In September 1989, when Webb snapped his Achilles tendon on international duty for England, Beardsmore, who hadn’t featured in any of the match day squads up to that point, was immediately brought back into the picture. Despite providing United fans with their only highlight of a 5-1 thrashing by Manchester City at Maine Road, a superb run and cross met by an even better bicycle kick by Mark Hughes, Beardsmore started just ten games that season. He did make a further 15 appearances from the bench, but was not included in the 1990 FA Cup Final squad, which saw Alex Ferguson win his first trophy as United manager.

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Over the next two seasons, Beardsmore made less than twenty appearances. Most of these came as a substitute, as niggling injuries and the form of other players, blocked his path. His only senior medal came from being an unused substitute in United’s UEFA Super Cup victory over Red Star Belgrade in November 1991. A few weeks earlier, he had made what proved to be his final appearance for the club, in a 3-0 defeat to Atlético Madrid in the Cup Winner’s Cup. It’s very likely that if UEFA hadn’t had the “Three Foreigner” rule in place at that time, his last game for United would have been sooner, as he only played in European matches that season. He also made two league appearances for Blackburn Rovers in this period, during a loan spell at Ewood Park.

By now, United had a host of options in Beardsmore’s position, such as Andrei Kanchelskis and Danny Wallace. Beardsmore did not see any first team action as Manchester United won the inaugural Premier League title, and despite being offered a one year extension by the club, he knew the writing was on the wall for him. In the summer of 1993, he left Old Trafford on a free transfer, having made 73 appearances, scoring four goals.

After United

Beardsmore joined AFC Bournemouth, then playing in the third tier of English football. Over the next five years, he played over 200 games for the Cherries, and found his form again, to the point that he was linked with a return to Blackburn Rovers. Unfortunately, in 1998 he retired from a long term back injury, shortly before his 30th birthday.

By his own admission, Beardsmore struggled to deal with the end of his football career. With help from the PFA, he managed to get his life back on track and is once again working in football. Today, he is back at Bournemouth working as an Inclusion Officer. He has also helped out at Bolton Wanderers, and in the hospitality lounges at Old Trafford on match days. He also regularly does guest appearances on radio for Talksport.

Final Thought

It’s hard to know what to make of Russell Beardsmore’s career at Old Trafford. Practically all of his appearances for Manchester United came at a time when Alex Ferguson was trying to rebuild the club from the ground up. In the two seasons when Beardsmore saw most of his action, United finished 11th and 13th, respectively. As Ferguson’s plan started to come together, Beardsmore wasn’t to be a part of it.

To this day he remains a committed fan of both United and Bournemouth. He admits he regularly gets asked about the game against Liverpool, and what it was like to work under Fergie.  While Beardsmore’s career might not have panned out the way he would have hoped, he can look back with pride. He bossed a game against Liverpool (when they were still at their best), and scored the clinching goal against them in front of the Stretford End, etching his name into United folklore.

Not many can say that.


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Added by Philip Meese on 24/09/2018 19:10:08
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