When Andy Ritchie moved from Manchester United to Brighton in 1980, it broke the the Seagulls’ record transfer fee. Undoubtedly, the Sussex club got the best deal in a bizarre triangular deal that saw Peter Ward move from Brighton to Nottingham Forest and Garry Birtles from Forest to Manchester United. Mike Anderson reports on Ritchie’s prospects:
If Andy Ritchie, one of the most promising young centre-forwards in the country, realises his full potential then Manchester United manager Dave Sexton may regret selling him to Brighton for a “give-away” £500,000.
Brighton manager Alan Mullery sees Ritchie as the perfect striking partner for Mike Robinson, a £400,000 buy from Manchester City.
And although it’s uncertain whether Ritchie can help unfashionable Brighton to become a major force in the First Division, it seems inevitable that he will one day play for England.
Why Sexton would not give him an extended run in the United side this season is a mystery.
Perhaps when United were finding it hard to regain their scoring touch in the early games, Sexton felt he needed someone more experienced than Ritchie.
Yet the 20-year-old striker’s scoring feats made him a firm favourite with the Old Trafford fans.
He blasted two hat-tricks in his occasional first team outings during the last two seasons, to take his goals tally for United to 13 in only 23 full League games before the present campaign got under way.
Admittedly, he could not find the net for United when he was brought into an injury-hit side early this season, but then neither could the rest of the team.
However, it was Ritchie who was dropped.
He said at the time: “lf l can’t get a regular first team place this season and I feel I don’t figure in Dave Sexton’s plans, then I must reconsider my future. To play in the reserves would prevent me making progress so it is a make or break time for me.”
After his transfer, Ritchie commented: “I feel that at Brighton I now have a better chance of establishing myself as a First Division player.'” Other managers apart from Mullery had not been slow to recognise Ritchie’s talent.
Tommy Docherty, who had first signed him for United, had wanted to take him to Queen’s Park Rangers and it was following the comments Docherty made when Chelsea were trying to sign Ritchie that the ‘Doc’ was sacked as Rangers’ manager.
The first manager to make a bid for Ritchie was Aston Villa’s’ Ron Saunders. Last season Saunders offered United £350,000 for him and Sexton would have let the youngster go, but Ritchie turned down the move.
Ritchie recalled: “I decided against joining Villa for several reasons. United were my home town team and I loved it at Old Trafford. It had been my aim since joining the United staff to be a success in their first team. I would have got a large amount of money had I gone to Villa, but I put self-satisfaction before money. I had received a lot of encouragement from the training staff at Old Trafford and I wanted to justify their faith in me by doing well at United. I knew that a transfer would mean adjusting to a side playing a different style of football. I felt that I might just as well spend that time proving I was worthy of a place at United where I was part of possibly the best club in the country. Unfortunately, I found myself playing reserve team football again until Brighton came in for me.”
Ironically, Ritchie, whose big ambition is to play for England, looks a better long-term prospect than United’s most regular striking pair, Joe Jordan and Jimmy Greenhoff.
The 5ft 9in well-built youngster may not be as powerful as Jordan, yet since making his debut for United against Everton three seasons ago he has proved himself to be a more consistent marksman than the Scottish international.
By the end of the 1978-9 season Ritchie had scored 10 goals in only 20 full League appearances, compared with Jordan’s nine goals in 44 games. And when last season finished he had hit 13 goals in 23 full games (plus six substitute appearances), whereas Jordan had taken his tally to only 22 goals in 76 games.
Sexton tended to play Ritchie only as second choice to Jordan, and this pair partnered each other very rarely.
Two seasons ago Ritchie came into the United side against Leeds and scored a hat-trick in a memorable League game, but he was dropped for the next match so that Jordan could return in the F.A. Cup semi-final against Liverpool.
That ended in a draw, with United winning the replay.
The unfortunate Ritchie was substitute for both semi-final encounters, coming on in the second game, but was then left out of the final.
He recalled: “Brian Greenhoff took over as substitute for the final against Arsenal. It was a big disappointment to be omitted and I was upset at the time, but I soon got over it as I realised I had my whole career ahead of me. Watching the final seemed a little strange as I kept thinking I could so easily have been out there playing, but uppermost in my mind was cheering the team on.”
Last season, when Jordan was injured, Sexton played Steve Coppell and Lou Macari as twin strikers in preference to Ritchie, who didn’t come into the side until late in the season against Spurs.
He then scored another hattrick in a 4-1 win – a remarkable feat in his first full League game of the season.
Ritchie is now learning to fit into a new-look Brighton team which Mullery has reshaped by paying £400,000 to Glasgow Rangers for Gordon Smith, and £100,000 plus Andy Rollings to Swindon for Ray McHale. Then there was the £400,000 for Mike Robinson, and another £100,000 enabled Mullery to pick up Israeli internationals Jacob Cohen and Moshe Gariani.
Ritchie could prove to be the best buy of them all. He is not only very talented, but also extremely loyal and he knows his own limitations.
Asked to describe his style of play, he said: “Most of my work is done in the penalty area where I can turn quickly to get in first time shots. I have needed to work on the rest of my play and I feel it is improving.”
The young striker, who used to support Manchester City as a lad and had trials with them before joining United, has already represented England at two levels.
He scored six goals in nine games for England schoolboys and was then picked for the~ England Youth team.
He recalled: “When I was 17, I went to Poland for the Mini World Cup but I suffered a hip injury in the second game and missed the rest of the competition.
“The following year I was selected for England Youth again for the Mini World Cup in Austria. Unfortunately, I went over on my ankle in training and could not make the trip. Now I’m hoping to get into the full England team. Nobody has been able to really establish themselves in the No. 9 shirt due to the fact England are at an experimental stage and it’s up to me to prove I can do the job.”
Meanwhile, Ritchie is hoping he can earn honours with Brighton. But as his new career gets under way, he still remembers the man who gave him his first big break. He commented: “I was signed for United by Tommy Docherty and although I didn’t have any dealings with him because he left the club two months later, I’ll always be grateful to him for helping me get into League football.”
It is fair to say that Ritchie did not show his best form in 1980/81. After hitting five goals in ten games in all competitions from late November to mid-January, he went on a long and barren spell without scoring. While he did a good job in providing Michael Robinson, his own lack of goal touch meant that Alan Mullery gave young Giles Stille a run in the side in February and March.
Even so, who was it who got the decisive second goal against Leeds on the final day of the 1980/81 season? Why, Andy Ritchie, of course, scoring with a confident volley, to guarantee First Division survival. It was the last goal under Alan Mullery’s glorious first spell at Brighton. Ritchie’s England hopes had faded as the season went on, but his chances of playing himself into the national side were back up during the following campaign after enjoying his first pre-season at the Goldstone in the summer of 1981.