Much of the 1980s were rather barren for Manchester United fans – rather like today, really! The club was without a top-flight league title since 1967 and Old Trafford was starting to show signs of disrepair. With Liverpool the undoubted 80s powerhouse, the United hierarchy appeared desperate to try and reinvigorate and reconnect the Red Devils’ fanbase.
You might be thinking that the club’s owners dipped their hands into their pockets to pay for one or two big name arrivals. Far from it. In fact, the club’s officials turned their attentions away from the football pitch towards a completely different sport – basketball. Maurice Watkins was a prominent director at Manchester United during this era and had a long-held desire for the club to invest in other sporting teams in the city; rather like the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona do in Spain.
Bizarrely, the rest of the board agreed and eventually opted to take on the Warrington Vikings’ basketball franchise, renaming and rehoming them as the Manchester United Red Devils. The team played out of Stretford Sports Centre, in a modest gymnasium, complete with temporary seating and a distinct scent of old sweat in the air.
If a Manchester United basketball team was to still exist today, you can bet your bottom dollar they would try to aim for one or two marquee signings to add to their roster. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks would be an obvious choice, given that he’s single-handedly helped the Bucks become major Eastern Conference contenders in 2020.
That strategy was precisely what the Manchester United Red Devils adopted too. They took advantage of former NBA stars like Will Brown and Jeff Jones living in and around the Manchester area by enticing them on board. They also snapped up Colin Irish, a player that just 12 months before had been selected in the NBA Draft in the fifth round by the Washington Bullets. Nevertheless, Irish played a blinder for the Red Devils, helping them to their first Championship Final victory in 1985 against Kingston, bagging 47 of the team’s 109 points along the way.
The Red Devils then forced through a merger with city rivals, the Manchester Giants, in a move that was largely derided by the local press. Despite that, the reformed team would win the Championship again in 1985-86 thanks to the addition of Dave Gardner and Tom Brown to the roster. The Red Devils ceased to exist after three hugely successful years, with the appointment of a young Sir Alex Ferguson breathing new life into Manchester United’s football team and the rest, as they say, is history.