Last updated : 06 August 2007 By Ed

From the times

When I was 17 and 18, I would have Saturday nights out, doing a minor crawl around town, and we would always end up in a famous Chinatown establishment in the early hours drinking lager out of a teapot to get round the licensing laws.

As I got older, I would go out a bit more regularly, but if you look at the schedule of a typical week, it is clear that we had a lot of time on our hands and the way we filled it reflected the difference between what was deemed acceptable in the culture of professional football then and now.

Later, we would go out with the wives and partners on a Saturday night to somewhere like the Four Seasons hotel out by the airport and then have a boys' drinking session on the Sunday. The usual suspects - Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath, Gordon McQueen and me - would be joined by others such as Mark Hughes, Alan Brazil and Kevin Moran, depending on their commitments, and we would stay in The Park all day, gassing about the game, steadily knocking back pints and joining in a singsong with the Irish musicians in the evening.

On Monday, we would have a good, hard couple of hours of physical work to blow the cobwebs away, from 10.30am to 12.30pm. On Tuesday, having got the Saturday night and Sunday sessions out of our system the previous day, we would do an hour and a quarter, maybe an hour and a half maximum, from 10.30am again.

If there was no midweek game, we would have Wednesdays off and do an hour and a half on Thursday; if we played on Wednesday night we would have Thursday off. On Fridays we would do an hour at most of five-a-sides, with perhaps some finishing to end with. Then we would play on Saturday and have Sundays off. It was either 4½ hours of training plus three hours of matches or six hours of training and a 90-minute game - a 7½hour working week.

Usually, if we did not have a game on a Wednesday - and from 1985 there were fewer than before because of the European ban after Heysel - Robbo would convene a team meeting on Tuesday afternoons that would often go on for 12 hours or more.

I am not pointing the finger at Bryan - if he hadn't given us the nod (and done it with the manager's approval, I must add), some of us would have gone out anyway. Why? Because we loved it and felt it had no detrimental effect on our form and fitness.

We were not the only ones who had a carefree attitude to nights out. Liverpool did it, Everton certainly did it and you only have to read Tony Adams's accounts to know that Arsenal were up to it, too. I am not saying it was right, but on the other hand I cannot see that it was all that wrong either.

Whiteside enjoyed life under Ron Atkinson, the showbiz manager of United who would often conduct contract talks with players while lying beneath his office sunbed dressed only in briefs and red goggles

Ron was an old-school motivator, full of enthusiasm and encouragement, but not one who would endlessly drill us on set-plays or put on a coaching masterclass to outline his defensive theory. His team-talks reflected this - there was no essential difference in their content and tone, whether our opponents were Barcelona, Juventus, Arsenal, Liverpool or Bury.

His whole philosophy was: "We are Manchester United. Let's not worry about what they're going to do. Let them worry about us."

When Alex Ferguson came in [in 1986] he would have the opposition watched three or four times and would come out with all sorts of intricate instructions, for example: "In three successive games between the 65th and 70th minutes, their left back began to tire because he had made too many runs. I want you to start hitting that channel in the 70th minute." His level of preparation was such that anyone would look bad when measured up against him. Ron never gave a hoot about anything like that.

Ron's other misfortune when appraised alongside his successor is that he was not what you would call a manager of the whole club, in the same vein that Fergie is. All that mattered to Ron was his first-team squad.

If you look at it objectively, you could say that his job depended on those players alone, so it was understandable that he focused on us. We were what he called his "magic circle" and if you were one of his chosen 16 you were made - he backed us to the hilt, lavished us with praise, played five-a-sides with us, made us all eligible for win bonuses and even, occasionally, socialised with us. If you were in, you were part of Ron's gang, but if you were outside this charmed set for whatever reason - dropped, injured, too young or not good enough - he would not give you the time of day.

Behind the face he adopted for the public, jovial, wise-cracking TV Ron was a football manager as serious and ruthless as any other. He certainly poured a lot of pink champagne for the guests he regularly entertained in his office after home matches, but he took ages to drain his glass and hid the fact that he was secretly drinking gallons of tea while his visitors were necking the sauce.

It is true about the sunbed in his office, though, and he often conducted contract negotiations with players while lying beneath his lamp, dressed only in his briefs and a pair of red goggles. It was probably quite a good negotiating tactic because it had the effect of unsettling you.