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Old 11th November 2005, 03:29   #1
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Default The European Trail - Borussia Dortmund - October 1956

The City of Manchester, and also the rest of the country, started to feel for the very first time, "European Football Fever" in October of 1956, following the emphatic demolition of Belgian Champions Anderlecht by United in their very first tie in this new European Cup competition. Significantly, the 10-0 winning margin, and the display of pure football by such a young team had begun to fire everybody's imagination. It was the talk of the country at that time, in the workplace, be it office or shop floor, in the pubs, in the schools and even out on the streets. The news media were beginning to see just what a wonderful young team Matt Busby had put together now that his youth policy had begun to bear the fruits of his own, and his staff's years of labour in starting his youth policy. Alf Clarke, the sports reporter for the Manchester Evening Chronicle had affectionately dubbed Manchester United's team the "Busby's Babes" some eighteen months earlier when Busby had introduced several players who were under the age of 20 years of age into the team for a Football league Division One game against Huddersfield Town at Leeds Road.

From that moment on, Manchester United entered a glorious period in their history and really did make the English football community sit up and take notice when they romped away with the First Division Championship in season 1955/56 by the stunning margin of some 11 points ahead of their nearest challengers. That Championship win inspired the Edmundo Ross Band to record a Caribbean calypso record entitled "The Manchester United Calypso."

Now football is a pleasant game
Played in the sun and in the rain
And the team that gets me excited
Is Manchester United

Oh Manchester, Manchester United
A bunch of bouncing Busby Babes
They deserve to be knighted.

If ever they're playing in your town
You must get to that football ground
Take a lesson come and see
Football taught by Matt Busby

Oh Manchester, Manchester United
A bunch of bouncing Busby Babes
They deserve to be knighted

That particular record if I remember rightly, made it to quite near to the top of "The Top 20" charts back then! Wherever you went in Manchester at that time, that tune seemed to be on everybody's lips.

Winning a Championship with such a young team was unheard of back then, but it proved just what great foresight Matt Busby had. In those dark days, it wasn't unusual for players not to make their first team debuts until they were in their early 20's. The thinking back then was that the rough and tumble of first team professional football was no place for so called young boys. It was no coincidence that other clubs attempted to copy Busby's policy in recruiting the best young schoolboy players they could find, but unfortunately for them, Busby had stolen the march upon them. Wolverhampton Wanderers managed by the autocratic Stan Cullis, and Chelsea managed by the affable Ted Drake, were closest adversaries at that time, but although they unearthed some fine young players they were no real match for the quality that Busby had coming along in conveyor like style at Old Trafford.

The atmosphere in Manchester back then was a joy to be part of. Manchester City had been top dogs in the city for a number of years and had in fact been to two F.A. Cup Finals in 1955 (losing to Newcastle United by 3-1) and 1956 (winning against Birmingham City by 3-1 in that famous Final when Bert Trautmann played on for the last 17 minutes with a broken neck!). But their win against Birmingham City was overshadowed by United's title win, and there was a great healthy banter between the two sets of fans. City's team were an ageing team whereas at Old Trafford we really were seeing the birth of a new babe, and the rejuvenation of the whole Manchester United Football Club. Old Trafford was a wonderful place to be around. Smiles on everybody's face, matchdays being a wonderful happy experience knowing that you were going to see total football by a team that was allowed to express themselves both individually and collectively. And now we had this new European Cup competition which was firing everybody's imagination - nationwide.

After the demolition of R.S.C Anderlecht, United were drawn against the German Champions, Borussia Dortmund. As far as the fans were concerned, it was a case of "bring them on!" As stated in previous articles, not too much was known about foreign teams back then as foreign football was very rarely reported upon in the newspapers or on the radio. For me I was clueless as to where Dortmund even was, and it was my father who told me that it was in a place called the Rhur Valley in Germany. This got me hastily looking through my school geography book to find out exactly where it was. From what I read it was a city that shared many similarities with our own Manchester. It was a city populated by heavy industry, particularly steel mills and engineering factories. I also found out that just to the north, and north east of the city were the Mohne, and Eder Dams, which had been so successfully breached in the air raids by the famous "Dam Buster's" led by Wing Commander Guy Gibson V.C. some 14 years earlier, and had seen the successful use of Professor Barnes Wallis's famous "bouncing bomb." Little was I to know at that time, that years later I would actually become very familiar with the city of Dortmund, and would actually stand upon the ramparts of those two dams.

Between the game against R.S.C. Anderlecht on September 26th of 1956 and the next game against Borussia Dortmund which was scheduled for October 17th, the atmosphere in Manchester was something we hadn't experienced before. These European games were breeding a different kind of expectancy. The game was again to be staged at Maine Road because work on United's own floodlight system for Old Trafford was only in its early stages. The board at Old Trafford sensed the interest in the fixture with their German counterparts, and they decided that the game would be "all ticket." These tickets were to go on open sale to the public on Sunday, October 14th, 1956. Because of the goal feast that had occurred in the previous game, fans were expecting another goal glut, and everybody wanted to be there to witness another drubbing of foreign opponents. You also have to take into account that World War Two had only ceased some 11 years earlier and there was still a lot of anti- German feeling abounding at that time. I can recall hearing quite often from the older generation that they wanted "the Jerries noses rubbed into the Maine Road mud." Maine Road had the capacity to allow in some 75,000 fans with some ease and so it was that those 75,000 tickets went on sale that cold, October morning.

The only time that I had queued in line for match tickets before then, was back in April of that year, but it was actually for tickets for the semi-final of the F.A. Cup which if my memory serves me right, was between City and Sunderland. My aunt was getting married the week before that semi-final took place, and her husband to be wanted to take her to watch that game which was to be played at Villa Park. I was an altar boy at that time at The Holy Family Church which is still there today, nestled in the square at All Saints, just off Oxford Road. Also an altar boy was my partner in crime (and who still is today, Brian Walsh). We were both down to serve the 7a.m. and 8a.m. masses that Sunday, but we went missing because we went to Maine Road and both queued for the semi final tickets, which got us the reward of half a crown each from a very happy, and generous, groom to be. What it didn't protect us from though, was the wrath of one Father (later Monsignor) Bernard McClernon who really did lay into Brian and I when we turned up for Benediction later that Sunday evening! I have had some bollockings in my time, but Father McClernon's was the one that I will always remember - and for good reason!

Once again, Brian and I were down to serve the early masses on the Sunday morning that the Dortmund tickets went on sale. We were in a quandary because neither of us wanted to endure standing in front of Father McClernon again for chastisement! But we were desperate to be in that queue for the match tickets for the following Wednesday evening! Imagine then to our surprise on the Friday morning, when Father McClernon paid a visit to our school class at St. Augustine's in York Street and asked Mr. Gibbons our schoolteacher, if he could talk to both of us outside of the classroom. Both of us had wobbly knees as we made our way out of the classroom to face our venerable cleric. Looking at each other as we walked out of the classroom, wondering what transgressions we were going to be chastised for this time! I can recall the conversation clearly, even to this day. "Well boys, how are you both today?" "Fine Father" we replied. "Will you be going to the match at Maine Road next Wednesday?" he asked. Brian and I did not know what to say to be honest. I piped up; "Well if there are any tickets left on Monday Father, we'll try and get some because we both want to go and watch the match." Looking down on us both, Father McClernon's face went quite red as he exploded; "Monday? Monday? Why are you waiting until Monday?" Brian quickly interjected; "because you have us both serving the early masses on Sunday Father, and we don't want to get in trouble again by missing the mass through going to queue for tickets." "Ah! Now! Well there has been a little change of plans. You two have been changed for some of the boys who are City supporters, and they will serve the early masses and you two will do the early masses during the week. What do you think of that?" Brian and I were gobsmacked. He'd never, ever done anything like this and we were both elated to say the least, but unfortunately, we couldn't see what was coming! "Oh! Father that's smashing, thank you!? "But there is a condition you both understand?" he said, and Brian and I looked at each other not really understanding what was about to come down upon us. "You are going to queue for the tickets on Sunday now aren?t you?" "Yes Father" was our cherubic reply. "Well then, I want you to also get 4 tickets for the Priests as well as your own." "But Father, you are only allowed to buy 1 ticket each, it would mean us having to queue 3 times and that would take ages." "I don't care how many times you have to queue, don't come back without those tickets! Now here's a pound to pay for the tickets, Put that in a safe place and be off with you both." Brian had been doing some reckoning. "Father, there are 5 priests but you only want 4 tickets?" " Father O'Hara likes City too much so he'll be the one on duty on Wednesday evening - he doesn't need to be going to watch United!" With that, there was a swirl of his long black coat and he was gone just as quickly as he had arrived!

I was left holding a green pound note in my hand. I honestly don't think that at that time of my life, I had ever held so much money in my hands! One pound could get you an awful amount of things in those days. Walshie looked at me and he said; "Tommy, do you think that you should go home with that money in your pocket?" I knew exactly what he meant. If my father knew that I possessed a pound note on my person, it would have disappeared faster than anything David Copperfield has ever made disappear in his career. No doubt about it, he would have treated himself and his buddies to eleventeen pints each of Annie White's best mild beer, and Mum would not have seen him for days! So being prudent, I handed the pound note to Walshie for safekeeping in their off-licence.

Walshie and I made plans to meet at 4:30a.m. on the said Sunday morning at All Saints. Seems incredible when I think of it now, that we could do this quite safely, with the agreement of our parents, and that there would be no worries for anybody. We were able to catch the "all night" 49 bus from All Saints to Warwick Road and we were surprised at just how full the bus was. It must have been some time after 5a.m. when we arrived at Old Trafford. I can recall it was still very dark, but when everybody alighted from the bus, we found that it was just like match day with thousands of people making their way down Warwick Road. The tickets for the game were not going on sale until 10a.m. so we still had some 4 and hours to wait. We followed the throng and could not believe our eyes as we walked along the road, past the scoreboard end of the stadium on our left. The turnstiles that would be open for the sale of the tickets were to be on the Glover's side of the ground (what is today the North Stand), and the line of 4/5 people deep snaked out from United Road, and back over the canal bridge, and down onto Trafford Park Road and bent left past the Glover?s cables works complex. As we walked down and over the canal bridge and into Trafford Park Road, the line still stretched forever backwards and by the time that found the end of that queue, we were winding into Ashburton Road! We were horrified when we remembered that we probably had to do this some three times each! Taking our place in the line, we began our wait. Two little street urchins surrounded by crowds of adults at 5:30a.m. on a cold mid-October morning. The mood was expectant and good natured. People of that era were used to queueing for everything. Rationing had not long ceased to be, and people accepted standing in line as part of the normal everyday life. No aggression from anybody, just good natured banter. I recall there being plenty of women standing queueing and they were quite happy to share their flasks of tea and sandwiches with these two scruffy little imps. Dawn and daylight came and the line stretched up towards Ashburton Road. When I think back to those days now, it's incredible to remember how orderly people were - I could never see something similar of that like today.

At 10a.m. right on the dot, the line started to shuffle along as the gates opened for the sale of the tickets. We inched along and Walshie and I racked our brains as to how we were going to get the Priests' tickets. Obviously, we didn't fancy having to go back and join the end of the line again so we formulated a plan! As the line got down on to Trafford Park Road, the United Club Secretary, Walter Crikmer, came walking along, shaking hands, chatting to the fans and telling them that they would all get a ticket. By 11:30a.m. we were up on the canal bridge, and there standing on the corner of United Road was God and St. Peter - Matt and Jimmy! They passed time of day with the fans and had a word for all who were fortunate enough to be in their earshot. At last the turnstiles were insight and it wasn't long before we heard the steady click, click, click, of the rotating turnstiles. For Walter Crikmer, those turnstiles were playing a beautiful new tune and it was all money in the bank for the Club. At last, Brian and I were at the Turnstiles and just as quickly, we were inside purchasing our Junior tickets for nine pence each! We then had to walk around the ground to the Scoreboard End and out through the huge big wooden, double doors.

Once outside we decided to put our plan into action for the purchase of the Priest's tickets. As the line approached the turnstiles on United Road, it fragmented into four different lines outside four different turnstiles. Instead of joining the back of the queue again, Brian and I made our way back onto United Road, very unobtrusively - two young kids larking about watching the grown ups queue for match tickets. We inched up to the point where the line fragmented and we joined the end of a line outside a turnstile. Once again we purchased tickets, only this time Adult tickets for One Shilling and Three Pence - it worked like a dream, and we managed by 2p.m. that afternoon to have secured our tickets with no problems! Like the two young bucks we were, we were delighted and took off back again on the 49 bus going back towards All saints. Brian and I parted there, and I continued on down Grosvenor Street, across Brook Street, until I reached the Priests' Presbytery on Greek Street. The front door of the Presbytery was a big black wooden imposing thing, with a big brass knocker in the shape of a lion's head adorning it. It was all I could do to reach it and make the necessary knock. After what seemed an age, the door opened and there stood the youngest priest of the parish's clergy, Father Doran. His eyes lit up when I handed him the match tickets, and the change from the pound note! He expressed his thanks and said that Father McClernon would be more than delighted with our efforts. It was a very happy little bunny that made the short trip down Grosvenor Street from there until I reached the sanctuary of our home in Royle Street - tired, but very, very happy in the knowledge that once again, I would be seeing United against another continental team on the following Wednesday evening.

The atmosphere really did build up prior to the Wednesday, and on that cold, October evening, Walshie and I once more made our way to Maine Road. Compared to the previous journey there, this was sublime as there was no rain, just a hint of frost! We were into Maine Road fairly early only this time we took our place on what you would all know as the Kippax. We were down at the front on the half way line, and that night Maine Road was filled with some 75, 598 (don't ask me where the extra 598 people came from!) souls all baying for the destruction of the German champions. As kick off time neared we eagerly awaited the arrival of the two teams from the tunnel directly opposite from where we were stood. United were to line up that night; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Colman; Jones and Edwards; Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Viollet and Pegg.

The roar that greeted the two teams was like nothing I had ever heard before and it must have frightened the life out of the Germans, because inside the first 27 minutes of the game they were 2-0 down! Busby's "Babes" looked to be heading for another demolition when Dennis Viollet had scored two terrific goals and then just before half-time, the big German right back, Burgsmueller was hustled into putting through his own goal by Tommy Taylor. 3-0 up at half time, the mood was ecstatic, delirious, and we waited for another goal glut to come during the second half. Talk of another 10-0 was rife.

The Germans tightened up considerably in the second half and began to take the game to United, pinning them back in their own half for long periods. The penny began to drop with the fans - hey! These Jerries are not a bad team. 3-0 seemed an unassailable lead though and that would be more than enough to take to Dortmund in mid-November. No team could give United a 3 goal lead and expect to win. Unfortunately, the situation changed dramatically during the last 10 minutes of the game. First, Duncan Edwards made an uncharacteristic mistake when he allowed himself to be disposessed on the edge of his own area and the German inside forward Kapituluski fired the ball past Ray Wood, to make the score 3-1. Just two minutes from time and Priessler the other German inside forward latched on to a loose ball following a scramble in the goal area and knocked the ball over the line to make it 3-2. All of a sudden, the whole complexion of the tie had changed, and the mood of the fans had changed drastically from the one that had been experienced at half-time. As people trudged home in the black night it was a very muted atmosphere, and the first pangs of uneasiness were felt about a football match!

The return leg was played in late November - 21st to be exact at the Rota Erde Stadion on a very, very, frosty evening. 44,450 fans packed into this compact little ground right in the heart of the city, many of them British soldiers and airmen serving their National Service terms. United lined up as follows; Wood; Foulkes Byrne, Colman, Jones and McGuinness; Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Edwards and Pegg.. United had been forced to move Duncan Edwards up to inside left in place of Dennis Viollet who had been injured some weeks earlier. Bobby Charlton would have played but was required to play for the Army instead, as he was serving his National Service at the same time and the Army had first call on his services! Could you imagine a situation like that happening today? The ground inside the stadium was like a skating rink - bone hard and very icy. To compound United's problems for this game, the box containing the rubber studs that would have replaced the normal studs, mysteriously went missing on the day of the match. Nor could Tom Curry find replacements for them in any outlet in the Rhur area! They took to the field wearing the normal leather stud in their boots, ostensibly going out to commit suicide! But this was Manchester United, and they showed another character to their make up. We all knew how skilful they were, but their guts, determination, and sheer doggedness shone through in a defensive performance that probably has never been bettered since. A world class goalkeeping performance from Ray Wood, a wonderful captain's performance from Roger Byrne as he marshaled his ice skaters around the penalty area, but a superhuman performance from Duncan Edwards. The big fellow was magnificent in this game. He broke up German attacks and also found the strength and energy to support Tommy Taylor whenever he could. He tackled everything in sight that night and Dortmund understood why he had been christened "Boom Boom" the year before in Berlin. Even the German fans took him to their hearts that night as he strove to keep his team afloat. Just towards the end of the game he brushed off a German forward who was holding the ball inside the centre circle. He took off with the ball at his feet and made a bee line for goal, shrugging off defenders as they came to tackle him. Just outside the area he let fly with his left foot and the ball hurtled along the ground like a bullet shot from the gun. Unfortunately for United, it struck the upright and the whole goal shuddered as the ball rebounded to safety for the Germans and out by the touchline. Not too long afterwards, the final whistle was blown and the match ended 0-0. It was a tremendous performance by United's young team, and once again, they were through to the next round of the competition. The morning after the game in Dortmund the British hacks could not praise Busby and his team enough for the bulldog spirit they had shown in obtaining the result required to go into the next round.

Once again, the mood in Manchester was buoyant to say the least. European fever was becoming the in thing. Everybody wated for the draw to see whom United would face next. The following week we knew - they were going to Spain to play somebody named Atletico Bilbao. Again, I had no clue as to where this team came from or where Bilbao was, so it was back to the geography book again! Spain - land of sunshine - at least United wouldn't have to put up with bad weather over there. Little was I to know that this draw would lead up to what I consider to be the finest game of football that I have ever seen and that the tie would see one of the greatest goals ever scored in Manchester United's great history.
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