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Old 10th November 2005, 04:34   #1
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
Posts: 1,537
Default The European Trail - Bilbao 2nd Leg - February 6th 1957

On another couple of Forums I have been doing a series for the members regarding United's first ever European campaign during the season 1956/57. In that season, I saw what I still consider the greatetest game of football that I have ever been fortunate enough to witness. I thought I'd share that memory with you all.


It was quite late on Thursday January 17, 1957, when the silver Elizabethan aircraft lifted out of Bilbao?s small municipal airport, and into the dim, grey, wet and cloudy, Spanish afternoon. The United players had spent the previous four hours or so helping to free the aircraft of ice and snow, and now they just wanted to get back to Manchester for some rest before their scheduled 1st Division fixture against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough on the following Saturday afternoon. Once again, the ride home was bumpy and several in the party, including poor Duncan once more, were violently airsick during the journey.

The mood in Manchester was one of apprehension -could United claw back that 2 goal deficit in the return encounter? Make no mistake about it, Bilbao were a very good team and it would take a superhuman effort to break them down and progress to the next round - the semi-final. But this young team was capturing everyone's imagination, and everybody at that time wanted to see them. There was much optimism. They were so young, nothing fazed them, and if they played well on the night, then they were quite capable of beating Bilbao - but by 2 clear goals? We would have to wait almost 3 weeks to see.

Saturday January 19th arrived and the team made the short trip across the Penines to face the Owls of Sheffield Wednesday. It was a bad afternoon for United and a very lethargic performance saw them lose by 2 - 1, Tommy Taylor scoring the goal in front of 51,068 supporters. In retrospect, a defeat was always on the cards given the tough match and conditions that the players had endured in Bilbao the previous Wednesday, and then the exertions of their travel the following day.

United's next fixture was a fourth round F.A. Cup tie away at The Racecourse Ground, to Third Division Wrexham. Given the tough job that United had had in the third round at Hartlepool, this was a potential banana skin of a fixture. Incredibly, 61,803 spectators packed into the Racecourse that afternoon, and they were not to be disappointed. United were at full strength and ran the Welsh team ragged, running out winners by 5-0, with Tommy Taylor and Billy Whelan, bagging themselves a brace apiece, and Roger Byrne also adding to the scoreline. They were now into the fifth round of that grand old trophy competition, and again, talk of a magnificent treble began to surface.

As fate would have it, the league game before the return leg with Bilbao saw United facing Manchester City at Maine Road, on Saturday, February 2nd 1957. I can recall the game quite well and remember that it was a cold frosty day and I took my place behind the goal at what used to be known as the Platt Lane End. 63,872 crammed into City's ground that day. Considering the fixture that lay in front of United the following week, this "derby" game couldn?t have come at a worse time. City were well and truly up for it, especially as they had been turned over 2-0 at Old Trafford late in September of the preceding year. United were again at full strength, and they turned on the style once more as they steamrollered City from the off. Edwards was first on the scoresheet with a typical blockbuster from outside of the area which the giant John Savage never got any where near to. Tommy Taylor soared like an eagle above Dave Ewing to get onto a cross from Johnny Berry and bullet the ball into the back of the net. Joe Hayes pulled one back for City just before half time, but almost immediately after the restart, Billy Whelan went on one of his mazy runs before squaring the ball to Dennis Viollet who walked the ball around Savage to make it 3-1. Billy Whelan completed United?s scoring towards the end of the game, but United did allow Don Revie to score a second for City just before the final whistle. 4-2 for United and the red half of Manchester was ecstatic, and as we all trudged home through the dark bitter cold evening after the game - most of the talk was about what time would be reasonable to get up to Old Trafford the following morning to queue for tickets for the following Wednesday night's game? Brian and I decided that it was to be a 4a.m. start for us once again, and again we were under orders to bring back tickets for the Parish Priest!

Manchester was really buzzing that week. Into the 5th round of the Cup where United had been drawn at home to Everton, were leading the 1st Division, and now had an outside chance of progressing to the semi-finals of this wonderful new European competition. Everybody wanted to see this game against Bilbao. The newspapers were full of it, the radio was full of it, the pub talk was full of it - wherever you went in the city that weekend and the few days afterwards, the question always arose; "Can they do it?" After the "derby" game Busby took the team away out of the city and up to Blackpool where he had them ensconced at The Norbreck Hydro Hotel, a familiar place to the players as it was a retreat that Busby always preferred when he wanted them out of the limelight. It got them away from the constant attention from media and fans and they were able to concentrate on the forthcoming job in hand.

When Brian and I arrived at Old Trafford around 4a.m. on the Sunday morning, the line stretched all the way down Warwick Road to Trafford Road, and then all the way down to Ashburton Road, and well up towards the Trafford Hotel and the western part of Trafford Park.. I can honestly say that I have never, in my lifetime, ever seen such a line of people queuing for something like this. Even at that time, on a bitterly cold frosty February morning, there was an anticipatory buzz amongst the fans. People had come prepared for a long stay, and those that had flasks of hot, or even cold beverages, were only too willing to share them with other fans. It was all part of belonging to the "United Family." You felt that you belonged, you were wanted, and the players were "our boys." The Club was part of the community, and they embraced it totally. There was a constant hum of chatter as we queued and most of the chatter was about the coming Wednesday evening. Daylight broke after what seemed an age, and come 10a.m. the first signs that the lines were starting to move began to show. By now the line up Ashburton Road was out of sight going out towards what used to be Taylor's Steelworks and Turner's Asbestos Cement Factory. Slowly, inch by inch, yard by yard, the queue moved like a snake slithering on its belly towards its prey. Walter Crikmer was again out on the bridge, puffing on his pipe. I can recall Jimmy walking down the lines passing comments with the fans. There was no aloofness, no prima donna outlook, just a football man spending time amongst football people. As I look back on those days, it always fascinates me as to just how controlled people were. I can?t imagine today, fans queueing like that and standing in line for over 12 hours for a match ticket. Maybe back then people were conditioned to it. Rationing had not long ceased, the war wasn?t over a little more than 11 years, and it was an everyday occurrence to see queues outside of places like the grocer's shop, the butcher's shop, the bakery etc. But there was never any whining, just a lot of good natured banter among every day working class folk.
Brian and I obtained our tickets and also once more worked our dodge of getting back into the queue at the top of the line, and even though we were rumbled by a policeman, he turned a blind eye as nobody complained.

From then on in, for the next few days, everything was focused on "the match." Everybody wanted to see the game and tickets were changing hands at ridiculous prices. It is interesting to recall that at that time, Bobby Charlton was serving his National Service in the R.A.O.C. and as such, couldn't get to the game. However, his Company Sergeant Major told him that he would have loved to have seen the game. Quick as flash, Bobby told him that he could get them both tickets if the Sergeant Major could get him the time off to go - the deal was done right away! They traveled together, and actually they both stood alongside the dug out at Maine Road for the duration of the game! What a memory for that Sergeant Major! The press were divided as to what United?s chances were - some thought that it was just a step too far for them, others thought that if United scored early, then they could indeed win the tie by the required margin and progress through to the semi-finals.

The Wednesday came, and it is a night imprinted upon my memory forever. There are certain days, moments, in your life, that you never ever forget and recall with great clarity, irrespective of how long it may have been since that event happened. This is one of those days for me. Brian and I took our places on the Kippax side, on the small white wall that ran all around the lower part of the stadium. We were sitauated at the halfway line, facing the players tunnel which was across the pitch from where we stood. The ground filled rapidly once the gates had been opened, and although there was never any singing and chanting back then, there was an expectant drone, murmur, buzz, call it what you will, all around the ground. The clock ticked towards 7:20p.m. and then there was movement over in the tunnel. We could see the two teams lining up inside ready to make their entrance out onto the pitch, walking side by side. The Bilbao skipper, Garay, was carrying a huge bouquet of flowers. We saw the referee and linesman take their places in front of the team, and then slowly, they began their march out onto the pitch. Roger Byrne leading out United as he always did, carrying the pennant that would be exchanged with the Bilbao skipper for his flowers! The roar that greeted the teams as they marched out from the tunnel and into view of everybody inside Maine Road, was like nothing that I had ever heard or have heard, before or since - it must have sent a shudder through the Spaniards. It?s been said that fans don't score goals, but I believe on that night, they weren't far from doing it. The Beswick Prize Band played the two anthems as the two teams stood side by side out on the far touchline in front of the main stand, and you could hear a pin drop - the Spanish one first, and then the home anthem, sang by the fans with enormous gusto, and once it had finished, as the band began to march off beneath the streaming floodlights, the crowd erupted once more. It was an experience that I was never to forget, and even today, when I think about it, the hairs on the back of my neck rise! It?s difficult to describe, but the roars that evening were incredible. They could be heard as far away at places like Moston, Ashton, Eccles, Sale, Stockport etc. My dad told me that he had stood on the steps out in the street in Chorlton on Medlock, worried to bits that I was there in such a huge crowd. He need have had no concerns. Again, the fans were controlled and disciplined.

United lined up at full strength; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Colman, Jones, Edwards; Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Viollet and Pegg. 70,000 persons were crammed into Maine Road, and as Tommy Taylor started the game by rolling the ball to Bill Whelan, their voices reached incredible proportions as they roared on United. It never seemed to stop. United attacked the Platt Lane End in the first half, and they went at the Spaniards from the kick off, but in all their excitement and exhuberance, were leaving themselves open to the counter attack. The noise and the urgings of the crowd must have played a role in this as everybody was urging them forward. After 10 minutes a thunderous roar rent the heavens apart as Dennis Viollet latched on to a knock down from Tommy Taylor and slid the ball home - all to no avail however as the linesman on the Kippax side had his flag in the air for offside. United were too frenetic in their attacks, and as one such attack broke down, the Spaniards broke. The Bilbao inside left broke free. Bill Foulkes was alert to the danger and had come inside to cover. He won the ball and sent a back pass to Ray Wood ? unfortunately, "Cowboy" as he known then, underhit the back pass, and it slowed in the Maine Road mud. Deathly silence. The Bilbao attacker was after it like a flash and looked certain to win the race for the ball as Ray Wood catapulted through the area. Whether or not it was the sight of the big Geordie ?keeper racing to meet him that put him off, or whether it was the crowd?s momentary deafening silence that distracted him as 70,000 people held their breath, I don't know - but he suddenly bottled it, and pulled out of the race for the ball leaving big Ray to gather the ball safely - and another big roar rented the skies.

Big Duncan was all over the place working in tandem with Eddie Colman, and as the first half progressed they started to command the midfield. A clever ball from little Eddie Colman down the right hand side and inside the full back saw Johnny Berry go whizzing around him. Looking up, he spotted big Taylor drifting towards the penalty spot dragging Garay along with him. Instead of aiming for big Tommy, Berry drove the ball low and across the 6 yard line to find Viollet ghosting in from the left, and he made no mistake planting the ball beyond the outstretched hands of Carmello, the Bilbao 'keeper. Once again, despite the deafening roars of the partisan crowd, United were denied by a linesman?s flag - and nobody could understand why! Was it going to be one of those nights when although United played the right game and did everything right, that little rub of the green was not going to go their way. The linesman's parentage was certainly questioned by more than just a few fans! There was now a great fluidity in United's play but the minutes were ticking away towards half time, and time was of the essence as each minute ticked away. Bill Foulkes put in a thundering tackle on the Bilbao left winger over on the far right hand side and down towards United's goal line. He won the ball and quickly pulling himself up, he cleared the ball into space and down the right touchline into the Bilbao half of the field. Tommy Taylor began a diagonal run from the centre of the field and once again his shadow was Garay. Tommy was a big lad, with Adonnis like looks, but he was also very, very quick. As both of them chased the ball, Tommy feinted as though he was going to stop and hold the ball up, and this movement completely fooled the big Spanish centre half. He too slowed but in that split second, Taylor was away from him, gathering the ball and looking up. Berry had come in from his right wing and was haring in down the inside right Channel. Tommy drove forward towards the Bilbao area and goal line. As the Spanish defenders raced across to cover, he pulled the ball back and Berry made for the cross - at the last moment allowing the ball to run through his legs and there ghosting in behind him, was Dennis Viollet. Without checking his run he took the ball first time right footed and crashed it past Carmello and into the back of the net. No mistakes this time and no linesman's flag to rule the goal out. The roar that went up split the heavens and Viollet was totally engulfed by his ecstatic United team mates - something that didn't happen regularly with players after they had scored in those days - normally is was a quick handshake or a pat on the arse! The goal had come at the right time, just a few minutes before half time, and it took some of the steam out of the Spaniards. The whistle sounded for the break and as the players trudged off the field the applause never stopped until they were all out of sight down the tunnel.

On came the Beswick Prize Band to entertain the fans during the interval and they marched around the Maine Road pitch under the dark, pitch black night sky, playing tunes like "The Radetzsky March" "Blaze Away" "British Grenadiers" "Soldiers of the Queen" "Rule Britannia" and the crowd joining in and whistling the tunes as the band marched past. The smell of Oxo permeated the air around Brian and I as people opened their flasks, and got to work on their butties - most people had come to the game straight from their place of work. The half time break now brought an air of expectancy - one goal had been scored - one was needed to take the tie to a replay in Paris - and two more were needed to win the tie outright. United were playing really well, but let's not forget the Spaniards - they too had also played well even though they had been given the benefit of the doubt on two occasions by a shortsighted linesman! Defensively they were quite tight, but as in today's modern game, they had this ability to break from defence very quickly and on a number of occasions throughout that first half, they had threatened United?s goal. Another goal conceded and it would be a disaster for United, and whilst we were all in a rather euphoric state at half time, there was always that nagging fear that the Spaniards were good enough to score a goal.

The break in those days was only for 10 minutes and the players filed out from the tunnel once again. United were defending the Platt Lane end and attacking towards the old Scorebaord End. Little Johnny Berry came over to take his position at outside right, and as he stood waiting for the second half to get under way, there was more than enough vocal encouragement directed towards him. I can recall quite clearly, he turned towards us all and gave us the biggest smile and wink, and as the whistle went for the restart, he was back concentrating on the game.

From the off, the roars were unbelieveable again as the fans got right behind United and urged them forward. Calamity - inside the first few seconds of the second half, Eddie Colman got caught in possession, lost the ball, and a ball was played inside Bill Foulkes for the Bilbao right winger to run onto. He pushed the ball too far forward and once again, Ray Wood was off his line like a rocket. Unfortunately this time, the winger was a little too quick for him and managed to knock the ball past him. Agonisingly the ball was rolling towards the empty net and we all held baited breath! Suddenly there was a blur of arms and legs and a red flash as Roger Byrne appeared from nowhere and hacked the ball away to safety just as it was about to cross the line. He got up and I can recall him berating poor Eddie.

United once again dominated and wave after wave of attacks floundered on the rock that was the Bilbao defence. To say the fans were getting anxious was an understatement! The rorars however never ceased. The hour mark passed and United were still battering away. Taylor hit the bar with a glorious header, Berry hit the outside of an upright, Carmello made some stunning saves ? once again it seemed as though the ball just wasn?t going to go into the Bilbao net. On 65 minutes a ball was fed out to David Pegg over on the far left touchline. He began one of his mazy runs, then checked and turned, and checked and turned again. It looked as though he was going to get hemmed in by defenders, but dragging the ball away and inside with his left foot, he managed to make half a yard of space and sent a cross whizzing into the penalty area around knee height. Taylor was moving like an express train and as Garay watched the ball coming towards him, big Tom was in before him and across him steering the ball home with his right boot. Main Road erupted in a cacophony of noise. Once again the scorer was engulfed by joyous team mates, but most importantly, the tie was now level. People, complete strangers, were hugging each other - caps and hats had been flung skyward into the cold dark night, and the euphoric joy that abounded throughout that stadium was just an incredible experience to behold.

25 minutes left - could United get that elusive third goal. One thing was for sure, it would not be without the encouragement of the fans, and the players endeavours. The ball was played around sublimely. Edwards was all over, urging, prompting, watching, defending. Little Eddie was spreading the ball about like a maestro. The forwards were interchanging with so much telepathy and trying to drag defenders out of position. But the minutes kept ticking away until finally, we were down to the last five. To all intents and purposes, it looked as though the Spaniards were going to hold on and take the tie into a third game. They had begun to come more and more into the game during the last 15 minutes as the United player's exertions began to take their toll and tiredness started to become a factor. They were defending the 18 yards area when a cross from the left was aimed in and Mark Jones towered above all and thundered a headed clearance away and out to the right hand side. For the umpteenth time that night, big Tommy was after it, followed by his shadow, Garay. He collected the ball just in front of Brian and I, on that half way line, turned, and there was Garay showing him the touchline. Tommy held the ball inviting the tackle, but Garay was having none of it. They jockeyed each other down that touchline and Garay looked quite comfortable. Big Tom started to take the ball towards the big Spanish centre half, just about in line with the 18 yard line. He showed Garay the ball and then a quick dip of his left shoulder and movement towards the left and Garay pounced flying towards the ball. Alas, it wasn't there! Tommy pulled the ball back onto his right foot and was away a yard. Looking up he released a cross of stunning quality aiming and landing the ball just on or around the penalty spot - normally the area where he himself would be. But of all the big lads United had, not one of them was there - instead, the smallest guy in United's team, little Johnny Berry was haring in at full speed. He met the ball full on the volley with his right foot and crashed the ball into the back of the net - it sped in like the speed of a bullet. Maine Road really did erupt as did the United players. I?d never seen the big fella' jump and cavort about like he did at that moment, nor had I ever seen Roger Byrne so emotional. Again caps and hats had gone up into the night sky and I can remember adults around me with tears streaming down their faces - tears of great happiness - a far cry from just what one more year would bring to us all. Busby and Murphy danced a jig along the far touchline. For the next 5 minutes United played keep ball, and really did frustrate the Spaniards, and then at, last as the thousands of whistles echoed around the ground, the game was finally over. People hugged and kissed each other and cried with joy. Our "babes" had met the challenge once again and they were now into the semi-final of this wonderful new competition.

The Spaniards took their defeat with great dignity. Handshakes and hugs for their conquerors - no laps of honour like there would be in today?s game - respect for the defeated. There was a banquet for both teams at The Midland Hotel in Manchester later that evening, and the respect both clubs showed for each other was reflected in the after dinner speeches. The Bilbao President and manager said during their speeches that the crowd had certainly played a significant part in their defeat. Jesus Garay the Spanish captain, said that on the night, this young United team were just too good for his seasoned mostly international team. He too, also said that the crowd had played a huge part in their defeat, saying that in all their years of playing football, they had never encountered noise like it, and that it took them a long time to settle into the game. He paid a great tribute to Tommy Taylor saying that he was the finest centre forward that he had ever played against - and that was some compliment believe me.

In my opinion, this game was Tommy Taylor?s finest ever performance for Manchester United. As I said earlier, he was a big lad ? some 6?2? tall, but he had great skills. So comfortable on the ball with either foot, probably the best header of a football that I have ever seen ? and I have never, ever, seen anybody head a ball so powerfully. He was exceptionally quick, and had terrific temperament. He took some fearful stick but just used to get up and get on with it. He had a smile as big as a barn door ? especially whenever he scored a goal ? it was where his nickname ?The Smiling Executioner? came from. But that night against Bilbao at Maine Road, he led the line so ferociously, he pulled Garay all over the place, and whenever the defence was under pressure he was there to receive the ball from them and hold it up, and as well as scoring a terrific goal, he laid two others on for his team mates. Even now, all these years later, I can still see him, standing there smiling, looking like the good looking God that he was. Oh! that he was playing today, he would be bigger in marketing terms than anything that we have ever seen.

The fans danced on their way home that evenings We were all so delirious with happiness. The excitement of reaching a European Cup Semi-Final at the first attempt had already started to consume us all. Brian and I walked home along Lloyd Street towards Cambridge Street trying to imagine who would be United's next opponents. The chatter around us as we walked that dimly lit street was all happy chatter. The pubs along the route were overflowing with customers trying to get their "last hour" in before closing time which in those days was 10:30p.m. We parted as usual at All Saints and I walked once again down Grosvenor Street and to my home in Royle Street, to find a lot of the neighbours sat on their front steps out in the stree. As I got half way up the street they all started cheering - it was as though I had won something personally. Dad was there sat on the steps of our terraced home, and he got up and gave me a great big hug. He had been so apprehensive about me being in that crowd - so much so that he had stayed out of the pub that night! He?d sat there listening to the roars emanating from Maine Road, worrying that I'd get crushed in such a huge mass. Mum was her usual calm self, feeding me and making sure that I bathed before I went to bed - tired, but very, very, happy.

6th February 1957 is there in my heart and mind forever; one of those occasions that can never be expunged. I have never experienced a match with such intensity or atmosphere since. Time certainly does not dim my memory of that night nor of the main characters who took leading roles in it. I look back with so much fondness on those days and it was part of my growing up into the "United Family". It's so different for the kids today as the Club has lost that community spirit. The players were so accessible, no airs and graces, and you felt that you were part of something very special ? indeed, we were! I?m so glad that I was around at that time and that I can relate those times to you now. Sadly, in my opinion, and it hurts me to say this, times like that are gone forever.
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