According to many faiths, there are seven heavens, corresponding to the seven heavenly bodies (sun, moon and the five naked eye planets). Furthermore, Seven Sisters is a series of chalk cliffs on the East Sussex coast, a set of waterfalls in Norway, and a group of Stalinist skyscrapers in Moscow. For the less mythological inclined and geographically conscious, there goes a famous British spy by the fabled code of 007 - clearly 7 isn’t just any other number.
Manchester United’s love affair with the hallowed jersey #7 dates back eras and generations. The famous Scarlet jersey has been bejeweled by many legends; United’s number sevens have invariably attained cult status. It took pure genius, unparalleled inspiration and sheer charisma to be a true United number seven. The magic surrounding the famous piece of cloth has been surreal – it was as much a privilege to wear the celebrated number 7 for the chosen players, as for the mere mortals who got the opportunity to get bedazzled by the genius of these magnificent men.
The origins of this love affair date back to the 1940s, as Jimmy Delaney was the first of the famous Red Devils to emerge after the war. He set the ball rolling and laid the ground work for generations to emulate and eventually surpass. Delaney, a Scottish International, made over 150 appearances for the Old Trafford club. Interestingly, the Scotsman was United’s legendary manager Matt Busby’s first ever signing. Delaney even wore his collar up – was that a sign for things to follow?
Johnny Berry further added to the aura as he carried the famous number on his back for 8 illustrious years, winning three league titles on the way. Berry was the part of the famous Busby Babes that swept all in their wake, until the disaster of the 1958 Munich tragedy. One of the survivors of the Munich air crash, the Scot couldn’t, however, wear the famous shirt again.
In the last 50 years or so, legend of the number 7 went up a notch. Here’s a look at five of those splendid sevens.
Who do you think was the best?
The boy from Belfast, El Beatle, the rock star, made crowds sway and dance to his tunes. Best was the first true poster boy at Old Trafford; his charisma remains unmatched till date. Best was the original ladies man as he brought crowds from all segments of Manchester – from 13 year old girls to 40 year ripe aunts, Bestie’s spell loomed large over one and all. To further strengthen his case, the boy was as much a killer with the ball at his feet as he was with his drop-dead gorgeous looks. Best was indeed the best of his generation and perhaps one of the greatest of all time.
The 60s was an age tailor-made for the Irish legend – foot lose and fancy – and the quintessential champagne Charlie, Best, scored as many goals on the pitch as the bars he cleared off it. When on song, Best produced moments that will remain etched in the psyche of every Red Devil for time immemorial. He played a pivotal role in guiding United to their first European crown in 1968 and in the process won the European Football of the year award. George was an entertainer par excellence and the famous phrase coined by his supporters is always worth another mention: “Maradona good; Pelé better; George Best.
Favourite George Best Moment: His goal in the game between San Jose Earthquakes and Fort Lauderdale Strikers is worth a mention, although it wasn’t one of the most famous. The goal against Sheffield Wednesday , scored after going past players as if they didn’t exist before applying an assured finish, has been replayed over and over again in every George Best tribute. But, it will have to be his goal in the European Cup final against Benfica that clinched United’s first ever European Cup and with it Bestie’s place in the United folklore.
Note: George Best was so good that he played in a variety of attacking roles for the Red Devils and hence had to wear number 8, 10 and 11 for a significant part of his career.
He was the first non-winger to establish himself as a United number 7, and with untold class. Robo was tough as nails and would go on to be renowned as “Captain Marvel” for the famous Reds. Passion, commitment, grit and determination are some of the adjectives one associates with Robson. Sir Alex Ferguson’s voice on the pitch, Robo was an institution in himself as he carried the Red Devils through the turbulent 80’s on his own shoulders. The debate still rages on in United circles – for many Robson was the best United midfield player, not only of his generation but perhaps the best ever. The longest serving captain in the club’s illustrious history, Robo served United with distinction for more than thirteen glorious years. No player wore the number 7 more times than Robson; perhaps, no one wore it with more passion. In the twilight of his career, Robson achieved his holy grail as he finally won the hitherto elusive league title; no one has ever deserved it more, no one ever will. Bryan Robson – Captain, Leader, Legend.
Favorite Bryan Robson Moment: Well, it has to be his brace against Barcelona in the 1984 Cup winner’s cup final. United needed to win, and Robo expectedly rose to the occasion.
The king of Old Trafford, Cantona is truly the most special personality to have ever dawned the famous red shirt. King Eric was the catalyst, the final piece of jigsaw, and when he arrived at the Theatre of Dreams, he captured the imagination of every Devil on the planet. He made United fans believe that with Cantona in their side, nothing could go wrong. His fan following surpassed the borders of sanity and went into the realms of divinity. Cantona occupies a special place in United’s history – if there was ever a player born to play for Manchester United FC, that player was Cantona. Eric was in many ways the reflection of the new age United, fear gave way to confidence as the French maestro turned up his collar and pumped out his chest every time he walked onto the pitch, like he owned every blade of that grass and sure he did. Words will never be enough to do justice to the Cantona phenomenon that swept Old Trafford – he was the gift from Jesus, the savior from afar and his name was Eric Cantona.
Favorite Eric Cantona moment: One of the nominees would be his goal against Sunderland, wherein he delivered an exquisite chip after going past a couple. For non footablling reasons, none of us can ever forget the Kung-fu kick to the hooligan (Mathew Simmons) at Selhurst Park. However, his volley against arch rivals Liverpool in the F.A. Cup final that sealed off an eventful double would be up there too.
The most famous face in world football, Becks will always be a ‘Red’ at heart even though his stint at the Theatre ended in a bitter feud. David’s influence at United stretched miles beyond Old Trafford, as for years Beckham remained the face of club and country, and one of the most distinguishable sports personalities of his generation. On the football pitch, David was part of the golden generation of United’s youth team graduates that eventually went on to rule the country and finally Europe. Beckham was omnipresent on United’s right wing for close to a decade as he delivered pin point crosses from every part of the football pitch. Beckham’s dead ball exploits further added to his growing stature as an all time United great. Off the pitch, David’s persona brought fans from every part of the world as “Brand Beckham” helped “Brand United” further its reach to every nook and cranny of the globe. The love for Beckham was never more evident than on the night when he returned back to Old Trafford as Milan player. The prodigal son of Man United got a welcome to savor as Beckham mania reverberated from the terraces of OT. Fans showered their love for the legend with chants of “There’s only one David Beckham”, Becks was clearly missed and will always be remembered. Beckham was every boy’s hero, the apple of the eye of every United fan – David Beckham was the cheese to United’s macaroni.
Favorite David Beckham moment: Becks will always be remembered for the goal he scored against Wimbledon from inside his own half; that piece of genius brought David into the limelight and he hasn’t deserted the stage since then. His famous swerving free-kicks will long remain etched in our memories. However, Beckham took two of the most crucial corner kicks in Manchester United’s history – two right-footed kicks, and the European Cup was won in the most riveting manner ever.
The United fan-base may not be united while discussing Ronnie’s standing in United’s history, but there can never be any doubt over the impact the twinkled-toed winger from Madeira had on the club. Cristiano Ronaldo brought back the “buzz” at Old Trafford ever since his jaw-dropping debut against Bolton. In 20 minutes of unadulterated skill, Ronaldo won over the mesmerized Old Trafford crowd and the boy from Portugal went on to further bamboozle defenders for 5 historic years as a Red Devil. On talent and talent alone, Ronaldo would rank probably amongst the top three to have ever kicked the ball in the Red of Manchester United. His brilliance catapulted United to the top of the English game and even Europe bowed down in unison. For the new age United supporters, Cristiano Ronaldo was an icon – he was the symbol of power, precision and excellence, who woke Man United from its slumber and transformed it into a hungry and ferocious animal. Ronnie was an amazing amalgamation of beauty and beast; he will be missed but perhaps the love affair had to end, eventually.
Favorite Ronaldo Moment: Cristiano’s debut was memorable to say the least; also his free kicks in that fabulous season when he was the “first, second and third best player in the world” would always be remembered. Ronnie’s goal in the European Cup final was pivotal as was his thunderous strike against FC Porto from more than 40 yards out.
Honorable mentions must go to two other illustrious United number sevens: Willie Morgan and Steve Coppell for years of brilliance in the famous red jersey.