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Old 4th April 2010, 18:07   #1
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
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Default United Captains - Dennis Viollet

United Captains - Dennis Viollet

To be around Old Trafford in the early to late 1950’s was an absolute joy. It was a joy shared by fans, players, directors, staff, in fact anybody who had any kind of connection to the club. Ask any of the older fans today who were around during that period; “which is the greatest United team ever?” and it’s my guess that the answer will come back as quick as a bullet shot from a gun – “the Babes!”

The “Busby Babes” were probably the most exciting, and precocious collection of young football players ever to come together at any club in the world. For at that time, they were certainly unique. In the professional world of football at that time, players in their teens and early twenties were deemed not to have the skills or experience to survive at the top level of the professional game. Fortunately, Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy’s visions changed that kind of blinkered thinking, and opened up a whole new outlook and era particularly in the British game. Sadly, after sowing the seeds and watching the flowers grow, they were to see them wither at the end of a slush filled airfield runway in Munich, Germany, on February 6th 1958.

Seven Manchester United players lost their lives that sad day, and another one, the colossus that was Duncan Edwards, was to lose his young life just fifteen days later. Because of the severity of their injuries, two others were never to play again. Of the seven surviving players, four of them would leave the club within four years, and of that four, three would disappear into relative anonyminity. The other player is the subject of this wonderful webpage tribute, and he is of course, Dennis Viollett.

Mention of that wonderful team always throws up the names of Byrne, Colman, Edwards, Taylor, and of course a young teenager who had just broken into the team, a certain Bobby Charlton. Yet one of the side's key performers was widely and peculiarly underrated, though not, it should be emphasised, by Matt Busby himself. In terms of appearance, Dennis Viollet did not correspond with the popular image of a goal-scoring hero. Wan of countenance and slim to the point of scrawniness, he seemed pathetically equipped physically to mix it with strapping defenders. Yet the prolific Mancunian was a gem, both as a foil for the magnificent Tommy Taylor and as a marksman in his own right. Indeed, the fact that no one - not Law, not Best, not Cantona, not Ronaldo, not even Rooney - has netted more league goals than Dennis did in a single season, offers telling evidence of his rare calibre.

After captaining Manchester schoolboys - and also playing regularly for his country at that level - he joined Manchester United as an amateur in 1949, turning professional a year later and making his first-team debut at St. James’ Park, Newcastle in 1952/53. Dennis held his own against white-hot competition as Busby's youthful revolution gathered exhilarating momentum and he won a regular place during 1953/54. He was blessed with instinctive ball control, searing acceleration, and the vision to use these attributes to full advantage. Arguably he was at his most effective when working in tandem with Tommy Taylor, the big bold Yorkshireman who lost his life on that slushy German runway. Big Tommy was majestic in the air while his less conspicuous but formidably lethal partner was a steel dart at ground level. During the mid-1950s when the Babes were sweeping all before them, the duo struck up a seemingly telepathic understanding, creating space for each other by their imaginative movement and registering a river of goals that showed no signs of drying up. It is incredible when you look at the fact that they played in 134 games together and scored 182 goals between them, Dennis netting 84 and Taylor 98!

From the inside-left position, Dennis contributed at least 20 senior goals per season, and he went on to share in a succession of heady triumphs, notably the League Championships of 1955/56 and 1956/57. As United blazed a trail into Europe, his pedigree shone through ever more vividly and his evident relish for continental opposition made his sojourn in the international wilderness increasingly perplexing. Maybe this was because at that time the England team was chosen by a selection committee made up of chairmen/directors of other First Division clubs.

Dennis survived the tragedy at Munich but did suffer head injuries and was hopitalised for a month after the accident. However, he did return home to Manchester and began the journey that would see him playing again. By mid April of 1958 he was deemed fit enough to play again at first team level and after a couple of League outings he was selected to play at Wembley against Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup Final. Dennis had missed the emotional passage of United’s patched up young team winning their way to that Final, and sadly, on that May day in the London sunshine, the emotions of the previous few months caught up with them, and their energies seemed to have been sapped. They didn’t function too well and Bolton were deserved 2-0 winners.

Any fears that Dennis would never be the player that he was quickly disappeared over the following two seasons. In season 1958/59 Manchester United confounded everybody by finishing as runners-up to Wolves in the First Division. Dennis contributed 21 goals. The following season he was on fire and set a club League goal scoring record by notching a further 32 goals. By this time he had also taken over the responsibility of Club Captain from Bill Foulkes. It was an enormous responsibility considering that the club was in the early stages of trying to rebuild the team after the accident. It was also during this same period that Dennis finally and deservedly won full international recognition. That he was only capped twice for England was, and still is, a travesty of justice.

In the 1960/61 season Dennis’s form dipped and he lost his place in the team. Perhaps his phenomenal contributions from the previous season did take its toll. However, he battled back towards the end of the season and he began the 1961/62 season as first choice striker. Again his foirm dipped and once more he was left out only making sporadic appearances and playing in the number seven shirt. By this time United had signed centre forward David Herd from Arsenal, and plans were well afoot to bring Denis Law back to Manchester from Torino in Italy. Dennis was still only 29 years old, and despite his herculean efforts for the club since the tragedy, Busby sold him to Stoke City who were then in the Second Division, for the sum of 25,000 pounds in January of 1962. Just four years after the tragedy, only Gregg, Foulkes, and Charlton, remained at Old Trafford from the 17 players who had left for Belgrade in 1958, and Gregg was to leave the club in 1966.

Dennis was to spend five years at the Victoria Ground and served Stoke City well. It was an exciting time for the Potter’s fans as Stanley Mathews had returned to his home town club, and the astute Stoke manager, Tony Waddington had put together a team of very seasoned, but experienced players. Not only had Mathews joined from Blackpool but Stoke had also taken on Scottish international Jackie Mudie. Northern Ireland international Jimmy McIlroy was signed from Burnley, goalkeeper Jimmy O’Neill came from Everton, Full back Eddie Stuart from Wolves, and tough, robust tackling wing half Eddie Clamp was signed from Arsenal. In his first full season at Stoke City, Dennis helped them win the Second Division title, and was top goal scorer with 23 goals from 37 games.

The following season Stoke were able to keep themselves in the First Division, but the did reach the Final of what was then a fledgling League Cup. Unfortunately for Dennis, although he scored in that Final, Leicester City emerged victorious by 4-3 over the two legs. In the League, Dennis had his poorest return of goals in 10 years scoring 10 from 32 league games. Season 1964/65 saw Stoke finish in mid-table and Dennis again got into double figures, netting 14 goals in 34 league games. By now he was well into his thirties, and although he still played in over 30 leagues for each of the following seasons, his goals dried up as he only scored a total of 7 and 2 respectively. Dennis finished his career in England shortly afterwards.

It wasn’t the end though. After the Stoke City sojourn he joined British soccer's mini-exodus to the United States staying two summers with Baltimore Bays, before re-crossing the Atlantic for a brief stint with non-League Witton Albion in 1969. Later that year he joined Linfield as player-coach and did well in Ulster, pocketing an Irish Cup winner's medal for his pains in 1970. There followed a coaching spell at Preston North End in 1970, an abortive flirtation with management at Crewe in 1971 - he was sacked after his side was knocked out of the FA Cup by non-League opposition - and a more fulfilling engagement in charge of football for Washington Diplomats between 1974 and 1977.

Dennis went on to achieve further coaching success in the United States, settling in Jacksonville, Florida.
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