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Old 10th October 2007, 14:56   #1
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Default The European Trail 1957/58 - Shamrock Rovers Sep/Oct 1957

The European trail – Shamrock Rovers Sept/Oct 1957

Although the end of the 1956-57 season had been tinged with the disappointment of defeat in the F.A. Cup Final, and also in the semi – final of the European Cup, at least United had finished as First Division Champions for the second successive season. This meant that once again, come the start of the 1957-58 season, they would be challenging on three fronts. As the players left for their summer break, there was renewed optimism throughout the red half of Manchester.

For me personally, the summer of 1957 brings back a lot of memories, some of them a little bitter sweet. In February of that year I had managed to pass the Eleven Plus examination and this meant that I would be leaving St. Augustine’s School in the July and heading for Grammar School. It was destined to be a huge big culture shock for me. I would be leaving behind all the young kids that I had been growing up with, and also my partner in crime, Brian Walsh. I was crossing over the line and becoming one of “them” – a “high school wallah”. I certainly knew what the implications of that was, and did not look forward to it as some young kids may have done.

However, as the season ended, I still had May, June and July to look forward to and I made the most of it. The morning after the F.A. Cup Final had been played, football was put aside, and cricket became the game. I played in the school cricket team, and was also able to go and watch Lancashire at Old Trafford on a number of weekends. The West Indies were touring England that season and I can remember watching them play Lancashire at Old Trafford, and oh! did they have some great names in their party – the famous three “W’s” – three “knights”, Walcott, Worrell and Weekes; the late “Collie” Smith who was to lose his life so tragically a few years later in a road traffic accident; Rohan Kahnai; Wes Hall; Roy Gilchrist; Sonny Ramadhin; and a certain young man by the name of Garfield Sobers! When I look at those names today, it seems so strange that some of them I was to meet many, many, years later – one of them being an absolute lunatic who should have been locked up (and was on several occasions) and certified!

It’s also strange to recall that football played no part in our lives during those summer months. Yes, there was anticipation and optimism for the new season to come, but back then, it was as though immediately after the Wembley final, somebody had drawn a curtain down. You didn’t see kids playing football in the streets or in the parks – it was cricket which they played! During the early evenings, especially when the Test matches were being played, you’d see men sat on their house steps in the street, listening to the last hours play on their old radios. The late John Arlott doing the commentary.

Just before I left St. Augustine’s, we had a wonderful occasion when our headmaster, a Mister Hammond, brought the late, great, Frank Swift to the school, to talk to the boys who had played in the school’s football teams. Even now, I can see the giant of the man that was “Swiftie” as he was introduced to us in the main school hall. He looked enormous to us young waifs, and standing at 6’4” – he was! What I do remember is that he was so softly spoken. We were all introduced to him individually and I remember his enormous hands as they engulfed my small hand when we shook hands.

My final day at “Gussie’s” came and I was presented with a book, inscribed by the headmaster, wishing me well in my schooling and in my life to come. I still have that book today and whenever I look at it, it brings back a myriad of memories, and I am not ashamed to say, many a tear. I hated leaving that school, my young friends, and the security that being with them brought. What lay in front of me was unknown and I have to be honest when I say I faced it with a certain amount of trepidation.

There was just one last fling though, and that was a school trip for a two weeks holiday, across the Irish Sea in a place named Skerries, just north of Dublin. For our family, it meant a lot of hard work to be able to pay for me to go on that holiday, and the means of how we did it became a reason why today, I hate anything resembling a garden gnome! My dad bought this set that helped you make the things out of plaster. You had a couple of rubber moulds that you poured the wet plaster mix into, then allowed them to set, peeled back the rubber mould, then painted them and hey presto! You had your garden gnome! We made hundreds of the things and my dad and mum sold them around their places of work and in the pubs. I have no doubt that a certain amount of the revenue found it’s way into their own coffers, but the thing was, I was able to go on that holiday.

It was early August when I returned home from Skerries and the football season was just a few weeks away. United’s first game was to be away at Filbert Street against Leicester City, and that game was to take place on August 20th. Unfortunately at that time, there was a horrible health scare in the country. There was an outbreak of polio, especially amongst children. To be stricken with that disease back then was a horrible thing because it completely incapacitated you, and you were more or less doomed to spend the rest of your days in a contraption that was so ugly and unsightly, and was known as an “iron lung.” I took ill the week before the 1957-58 season began and there was a scare that I might have polio. I was full of fever and vomiting violently, so as a precaution, I was moved into hospital at the Manchester Royal Infirmary on Oxford Road. Fortunately for me, things turned out to be okay and I was only there for a couple of days. It was found that I had just picked up a viral infection. However, it was certainly a worrying time for my parents.

The season began for United as I said at Filbert Street and they put Leicester City to the sword winning comfortably by 3-0 in front of 40,000 fans, with Billy Whelan scoring all three goals. I can recall listening to the second half of that game on the radio. United opened their home campaign just four days later on August 28th, against Everton. This was a game that because of how I had been physically, the week previously, my parents forbade me to attend. However, being the United daft sod that I was, wild horses weren’t going to keep me from going, and so in mid-afternoon that Wednesday, I slipped out of the house and walked to Old Trafford! The buzz and excitement of a new season was there for all to see. A big crowd of just over 59,100 saw United again dazzle with a performance that destroyed a good Everton team by 3-0, with Dennis Viollet, Tommy Taylor, and an own goal accounting for them. Upon reaching home after the game, I sheepishly went into the house and received the mother and father of all bollockings for not doing as I had been requested to do. So much so that my Dad, forbade me to go to the “derby” game which was scheduled for Old Trafford the following Saturday. I was heartbroken, but Dad said I needed to be taught a lesson.

The next few days were purgatory for me and as I walked about, I was the most miserable little sod that you could have ever seen. No amount of pleading with my Dad seemed to work and I resigned myself to missing what I thought was the most important game of the season. Come Saturday morning and I had a face like a bag of hammers! Soulless, leaden, and not pleasant. I did my errands for Mum, took my younger sister to the Saturday morning matinee at the Grosvenor picture house on All Saints, and then when we returned home Mum sent me to Armistead’s bakery which was on Rusholme Road, for pies for lunch. I still had a long face when I returned, and settled into a chair close by the radio. I must have looked a real miserable, sad, and sorry sight. So much so that Mum took pity upon me and relented. She dipped into her purse and handed me the money to go to Old Trafford. I was gone like a shot out of a gun, running all the way up to All Saints to catch the 49 bus. I got to Old Trafford and found that there were huge queues along United Road, so I made my way around to the back of the Stretford End, found the Junior entrance, paid my 7 pence, and made my way down the terracing and directly against the picket fence behind the goal. The first three “derby” games that I had ever watched saw three defeats for United, but the previous season had seen United break the jinx by winning both the home and away fixtures. Over 63,000 packed into Old Trafford that Saturday afternoon to watch United demolish City by 4-1 with Berry, Edwards, Taylor, and Viollet scoring the goals. Three matches played, 10 goals scored and only 1 conceded – United were top of the league once again. Our young team had certainly begun where they had left off the previous season and hopes and expectations rose even higher about what this team could achieve.

The following week the draw for the first round of the European Cup was made, and United came out of the hat to find themselves paired with the Irish part-timers of Shamrock Rovers of Dublin. The first leg was to be played at Dalymont Park in late September, and the return leg at Old Trafford during the first week of October. For Billy Whelan, it was to be a return to his home city and one that he looked forward to so much. But before those matches, there was League business to attend to.

On Wednesday evening, September the 4th, United had return game away at Everton. That day was also the day that I started at my new grammar school. That morning, I assembled in the school hall, together with all the other first year “newbies”, resplendent in the new uniform that Mum and Dad had worked so hard to provide for me. I was anxious and also very nervous. Lots of strange kids, strange teachers, and an expectation of progress that I hadn’t ever come across before. I was put with my new classmates, and it was strange to find that quite a lot of them spoke with “funny” accents and came from places which I thought were miles away – Royton, Oldham, Stalybridge, Ashton, Stockport. It was stranger still to find out that they didn’t follow either United or City and that a lot of them only played rugby! This wasn’t for me I thought! My mind drifted all over the place that day with my main thoughts being centred on how United would do that night at Goodison – concentration was at it’s lowest as far as education was concerned! At 4p.m. it was time to make my way home, and this was when the trepidation set in. The school was in walking distance of my home, so before I left the school building, I took off my school blazer, cap and tie, and rolled them up, placing them in my new school bag. I knew what lay in front of me on my walk home – I was going to have to fight for my title! The kids of the area where I was brought up in had an intense dislike for kids that had made it to grammar school. They used to lie in wait for them as they made their way home. They would then ambush them and fights were common place. That first day was no exception, even though I tried to be clever and take a circuitous route home! Kids who had been mates just months before, were now waiting to give me a hiding and sure enough as I cut around Mansfield Street, there were three waiting for me. There was provocation and finally the first punch thrown. Fortunately for me I was able to evade it throw a few of my own and then was off like the clappers out of harms way! Home with little or no damage done to myself – but over the next few years, it wasn’t always like that.

Over 72,000 crowded into Goddison that night to watch a magnificent game of all that was good in English football. Nobody left that ground that night without satisfaction, as the game ended in a 3-3 draw. It had ebbed and flowed with some terrific goals from both sides, United’s scorers being Berry, Whelan and Viollet. The following Saturday saw United entertain one of the promoted clubs, Leeds United. They had the great John Charles in their team and this would be the only time that I would see him play in the flesh. He made little impact that day as United went nap in front of almost 51,000 fans winning 5-0 with goals from Berry (2), Taylor (2) and Viollet. Just two days later and the “Babes” were playing at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, and the sea air had great effect on them as once again they hit the back of the net regularly, drubbing Blackpool 4-1 in front of 34,000. In the opening 6 games, this young team had scored 22 goals and conceded just 5 taking 11 out of a possible 12 points – the League was already ours – nobody could stop us on this form!

Back then, and also in subsequent years, playing Bolton wanderers was always a bit of a thorn in United’s side. For some reason they always seemed to struggle against them and come away empty handed. Saturday, 14th September 1957, was no exception. It was a game that I traveled to see. Along with all the other United supporters, I had taken the “Special” from Victoria Station and we all alighted 45 minutes later at Bolton’s Trinity Street station. Leaving the station we made the short walk to Burnden and packed the goal at the railway end. Everybody was in high spirits and we had expectation of our “Babes” in their current form, demolishing Bolton. Oh! how mistaken we all were. Whether it was over confidence given the previous six results, or whether it was Bolton’s performance that day, I don’t know. But what I do know was that United came down to earth with a pronounced bump being quite emphatically drubbed by 4-0! It was a jolt to the system and it was a very subdued trip back to Manchester for the United fans.

The following Wednesday, September 18th, United were at home for the return fixture against Blackpool. After the previous week’s drubbing of the Seasider’s most United fans were of the opinion that once again, this game would be a mere formality and that United would steamroller the men in Tangerine. Blackpool had a mascot back in those days, a man in a tangerine and white evening suit who used to walk around the ground with a goose on a lead, and I recall the banter as United fans called out to him. Once again though, things didn’t go according to plan that night, and Blackpool, orchestrated by that diminutive little fella’ Ernie Taylor, were two goals ahead early into the second half. United threw the kitchen sink at them and with just over ten minutes left, the “big fella” broke from midfield and fired a 20 yarder past George Farm in the Blackpool goal. Blackpool then infuriated the United crowd for the rtemainder of the match by their time wasting antics, and the main villain was none other than little Ernie. From positions all over the pitch, he would fire back passes to the goalkeeper, some from 40 and 50 yards out, and then farm would take his time in clearing the ball. Try as United would, they just couldn’t break Blackpool down, and when the final whistle blew, they had tasted defeat for the second game running.

With the first leg of the European Cup looming just a week away, were United having a mini crisis. All would be told in the next match which was at home to Arsenal on Saturday, September 21st. On the morning of that game, I had gone to the Queen’s Hotel which used to stand on the corner of Piccadilly and Portland Street. It was an old Georgian building with a covered porch over the steps which led up to the main entrance of the hotel. It was a place where young autograph hunters gathered each Saturday morning because most of the away teams playing fixtures in the north-west used to stay there overnight from Friday evening. I remember that it was raining that morning and a small crowd of youngsters was gathered on the steps. I was looking into the foyer of the hotel and could see a number of guys standing around, and one of them beckoned to me with his hand to go inside. I went through the door and the man asked me if I would run a little errand for him. He asked me to walk over to Dunn’s Men’s Outfitter’s just across Piccadilly for him, and collect a small package which was waiting for him This I did, and upon my return to the hotel, the man placed a half crown piece in my hand, and then took my autograph book from me and proceeded to get it signed by the group of men that were sat around in the hotel foyer. The man who had sent me on the errand was none other than Jack Kelsey, the Arsenal and Wales goalkeeper. That afternoon I was at Old Trafford to watch United return to form and they won comfortably by 4-2 with Billy Whelan (2), David Pegg and Tommy Taylor scoring the goals.

The buzz in Manchester gathered momentum from that Saturday afternoon, and what we had all been waiting for since the end of the previous season, was almost upon us – European Cup football. United traveled to Dublin for the game against Shamrock Rovers, and for Billy Whelan, the young and gifted United inside right, it was such a special occasion. He was returning with United to the city of his birth. Billy was such a quiet and unassuming lad, but what a player! Wednesday, September 25 th and Dublin was alive and throbbing with excitement and anticipation of United’s visit and the match was a complete sell out. Billy was inundated with requests for tickets from family and friends alike and by the time kick off arrived, Dalymont Park was jammed full and people sought vantage points wherever they could. United had left out Eddie Colman who had picked up a knock in the game against Asrenal, and they lined up; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Goodwin, Blanchflower, Edwards; Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Viollet, and Pegg.

United did not disappoint the fans that afternoon and Billy put on a performance. He opened the scoring after just half an hour. The Irish part-timers made a game of it in the first half, but after the break, United’s superior quality and fitness began to tell as they moved their counterparts around at will. 10 minutes after the break and the game was all over to all intents and purposes as first Billy grabbed a second goal on 51 minutes as he waltzed through a bemused defence, and then on 55 minutes, big Tommy Taylor powered in a header from a David Pegg cross. For the Irish fans they were in a no lose situation and they applauded United’s fine play. Shamrock tired dramatically as the game entered the last quarter of an hour, and in the last 10 minutes of the game, United scored three more times through Tommy Taylor, Johnny Berry, and David Pegg. 6-0 at the final whistle, and the fans rushed onto the ground to congratulate both sets of players. Billy Whelan was mobbed as he left the field and it took some 10 minutes to get to the sanctuary of the dressing room! As a tie it was all over, and nobody could envisage Shamrock pulling a deficit like that back. The festivities after the game were so cordial and there was a special bond formed between the two clubs.

United traveled back to Manchester and the following Saturday, September 28th, they faced a hard game against the team that was vying with them for the top spot in the First Division – Wolverhampton Wanderers. Stan Cullis and his team were desperately trying to knock United of their perch and there was a lot of jealously from the Midlands club. Cullis had been upset some years earlier when United had signed Edwards from under his nose as he tried to copy Sir Matt’s youth policy. In the very first year of the Youth Cup’s inception, 1953, United’s youngsters had trounced Wolves in the Final 9-3 on aggregate over 2 legs. Again, the following year, United’s kids triumphed again over Wolves although it was a little closer – 5-4 on aggregate. Wolves had played some prestigious friendlies against great clubs like Honved, the great Hungarian team, Moscow Dynamo and Spartak, and had come out on top. But this was prior to the start of European competition, and Cullis always had a bee in his bonnet about it. He was desperate to win the First Division title – unfortunately when Wolves did win their titles in 1958, and 1959, their European campaigns left them with red faces! United had to make several changes for the trip to Molineux. Roger Byrne had picked up a knock, so in came Wilf McGuinness. Eddie Colman was still out so Freddie Goodwin kept his place, Dennis Viollet and Billy Whelan had knocks and were replaced by Johnny Doherty and Bobby Charlton. United didn’t fire at all and went down to a 3-1 defeat with John Doherty scoring United’s goal. There was much crowing from the Molineux area as that result took them to first place in the League and they weren’t slow to let people know about it.

The return leg against Shamrock Rovers took place on Wednesday October 2nd, and the first leg definitely affected the attendance as only 45,000 fans turned up to watch it. United had some of their wounded back in Roger Byrne and Eddie Colman, but “Big Dunc” had taken a knock at Wolves and Wilf McGuinness moved up to his normal position at left half. John Doherty had also picked up a knock at Wolves and Bill Whelan was still unfit so Colin Webster was drafted in, and Dennis Viollet returned at inside left in place of Bobby Charlton. United lined up; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Colman, Blanchflower, McGuinness; Berry, Webster, Taylor, Viollet and Pegg. With a commanding 6-0 lead from the first leg, the game was over before it started. Within six minutes of the start Dennis Viollet put United 1-0 up and we thought that we were in for another landslide of goals, especially as just 15 minutes later, David Pegg made it 2-0. The Irish lads stuck to their task though and their was no more scoring before half time. The crowd were buoyant as the Beswick Prize Band marched around the pitch under the floodlights. Shamrock shocked United upon the restart by actually scoring through a little fellow named McCann, but any thoughts of a victory were quickly swept away as Dennis Viollet scored his second goal to make it 3-1 on the hour. But fair play to the part-time Irish lads, this time they didn’t wilt and made it 3-2 with a goal from Hamilton with 20 minutes left. United were in cruise to be honest for the rest of the game and it petered out at that score and Shamrock took a lot of heart from a very good performance.

We now awaited the draw for the next round and when it came, for the first time in the competition, United had to travel to Eastern Europe to play a team named Dukla who came from
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