Can Blackpool 'shock troops' win last battle?
Jimmy Armfield's mind will flash back almost 40 years when he takes his seat at Old Trafford on Sunday to watch Blackpool fight the odds for one final time in a bid to secure Premier League survival.
Armfield played the last of his 627 games for Blackpool against United at Bloomfield Road in May 1971 - the day they dropped out of English football's top tier and into the lower divisions, where they stayed until they returned under Ian Holloway's colourful leadership this season.
Now Blackpool's immediate future will be shaped in another last-day meeting with United, newly-crowned champions for a record 19th time and possessing a proud record of dropping only two points at home this season.
Blackpool, in all likelihood, will require victory at Old Trafford to survive unless Wigan Athletic lose at Stoke City and Tottenham beat Birmingham by a margin that pushes them below The Seasiders on goal difference.
'Most important game of my life' - Blackpool boss Ian Holloway
It is an occasion - and an equation - that has been exercising the mind of the former England captain and iconic Blackpool figure whose rich contribution to their history has been immortalised with a stand at one end of Bloomfield Road and a recently-unveiled statue outside the stadium.
He told me: "I've been thinking a lot about this game and of course the fact that I played my last game for Blackpool against United, a game that turned out to be our last in the old First Division, and it took us 40 years to get back.
"I don't think they could have picked a harder match. When we played them on the last day of the season all those years ago it was at home so this is the toughest task they could have had had."
Blackpool's approach, and their ability to surprise, means that Armfield will travel to Manchester on Sunday with hope in his heart that they can somehow emerge as survivors from what is sure to be a nerve-shredding final day of the Premier League season.
He said: "The team that Ian Holloway has are football's shock troops in that nobody gave them a chance of getting out of the Championship last season, they started that as favourites for relegation, and they surprised us by getting up through the play-offs. Everybody said they were relegation certainties this season and they have surprised everyone - so why can't they do it one more time?
"If you had said at the start of the season that this team was going to get 39 points you might have settled for that. They have done extremely well and could have had a few more points if they had not conceded as many late goals.
"They have had eight games where they have lost goals in the last two minutes and they have had one or two decisions go against them as well when they might have had penalties in games they have lost against Manchester United and Arsenal.
"If they survive it would be astonishing. This is a club with a £10m budget and they have not gone into the red - the chairman Karl Oyston won't allow that. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Manchester United are in the red but not Blackpool."
Holloway, perhaps in an attempt to foster a siege mentality and galvanise Blackpool to climb another mountain, claims the Premier League would be "relieved" to see the back of him and his team.
Armfield, in contrast, believes Blackpool will carry a wave of sympathy and support from outsiders into Old Trafford as reward for their bold philosophy that has illuminated this campaign.
"They have been the real entertainers this season and established themselves as a lot of people's second favourite team. They have conceded a lot more goals than everybody else but they have also scored a lot more than most teams outside the top five or six," said Armfield.
"It has been an all-out attacking policy that the manager has had. They can't prop a game up so they keep bombing forward and I certainly don't see that changing on Sunday.
"It started at Wigan with that 4-0 win on the opening day of the season. They ran all over Wigan and could have scored a lot more.
"Holloway's attitude seems to have been it is better to play two games, win one and get three points rather than play two and get two draws and just take the two points, and with the players he's got it has worked."
Armfield added: "Irrespective of whether they go down on Sunday, the manager and the players have done themselves and the town great credit this season. They have carried the support with them and, as I said, won a lot of support from the fans of other clubs as well. I think they will have a lot of sympathy and support behind them at Old Trafford.
"I think everyone has enjoyed them but the simple truth is that there is also a hard-nosed point about this as well. You have to try and preserve your position at least. There is black and white not just the grey area in the middle where you are entertaining but there is always the hard-nose part of trying to make sure you stay up."
Blackpool led Man Utd 2-0 at home in January before going down 3-2 - photo: Getty
Blackpool will rely heavily on the talismanic figure of Scotland midfield man Charlie Adam at Old Trafford, probably playing his final game for the club before a summer move, but Armfield insists this season has not been a one-man show on the field.
"Everybody talks about Charlie Adam," he said. "But there is a lot more to Blackpool than Charlie Adam. People like Alex Baptiste and Ian Evatt, as well as the likes of David Vaughan, Stephen Crainey and Gary Taylor-Fletcher, have come up from the lower divisions and done themselves real credit in the Premier League this season."
The vexed question of whether Ferguson will field a so-called weakened team with the title won and preparations about to begin for the Champions League final against Barcelona is dismissed by Armfield.
He said: "There has been talk of a weakened United team but that is too obvious a point to make and there is nothing obvious in football.
"They have dropped two points at home all season and Sir Alex Ferguson is a tough guy, someone I would call a streetfighter. He won't want to lose at home to a team down near the bottom of the table.
"He proved that when they went to Hull City and won a couple of seasons ago. I don't care what other people say, if you take it as a squad it is the strongest he has ever had because he can double up all around and no-one else can do that.
"He may not have the players he has had in the past, you can always say that, but they have reached the Champions League Final and won the Premier League with a match to go and still some people are saying they are not as good as they were."
As the action starts around the Premier League and Blackpool join Wigan, Wolves, Blackburn and Birmingham in fighting for their lives, Armfield is convinced The Seasiders may just be cast in the role of safety net for those unable to fashion their own way out of trouble.
"It will certainly be a tense day on Sunday, days like this always are because there is so much at stake for everyone involved. I think the other teams fighting against relegation are banking on Blackpool losing at Manchester United and they will try to avoid being the third team."
Armfield's eyes will be firmly on Blackpool as he hopes a dark day in their history is not about to repeat itself.