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Old 29th November 2005, 21:12   #1
tomclare
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Default The European Trail - 1956/57 - The End of the Dream

The End of the Dream – Real Madrid April 1957

After the euphoria of the victory against Bilbao on that never to be forgotten evening of 6th February, 1957, the fans had to wait until the 11th April for the 1st leg of the European Cup semi-final. United also had to wait to find out who they would be playing as joining them in the semi-finals were Red Star of Belgrade, Fiorentina from Italy, and either Real Madrid from Spain or Nice from France When the draw was made it pitted Red Star against Fiorentina, and United against either Real or Nice, who, because of a postponed second leg of their quarter final tie, had to play after the semi final draw was made. Madrid carried a 3-0 lead into the 2nd leg in Nice so Busby and Jimmy Murphy decided to go over to France and take in the game. Madrid eventually won that game by 3-2, but what the United managerial duo saw that night in Nice, opened their eyes wide to the task that would confront them in Madrid in April.

Between that glorious night at Maine Road in February, and the first leg in Madrid in April, so much went on both in football matches, and at Old Trafford itself. On the Saturday immediately after the Bilbao victory, United entertained Arsenal at Old Trafford. The “Babes” carried over their scintillating form from the previous Wednesday evening and demolished a good Arsenal team by 6-2. Billy Whelan scored twice, little Johnny Berry scored twice and “Big Dunc’” and Tommy Taylor scored one each. I attended this game and it was the first time that I can recall seeing David Herd, who was to later join United and play such a big part in United’s success during the 60’s. David was actually brought up in the Manchester area (his father Alec having played for City and Stockport County) and father and son actually turned out for Stockport County in a League game, and I think that this may be the only time that this has happened in English League history. David scored twice that day against United but still finished on the losing side.

The following Saturday, 16th February saw United entertain Everton at Old Trafford in a 5th Round F.A. Cup tie. I can recall this game with great clarity, notably for one of the best goalkeeping performances that I have ever witnessed. Everton had emphatically ended a run of 27 league games without defeat for United back in October, when they defied the odds by coming to Old Trafford and defeating United by 5-2 – a huge great upset at that time if ever there was one! I can recall that it was a bright sunny day on the day of the tie, even though we were still in February! Everton really did frustrate United for the majority of this match. Their goalkeeper that day was an Irishman named Albert Dunlop (who was later to be charged by the police in the match fixing trials in the early 60’s that saw Peter Swan, David Layne and Tony Kay all sent to prison) not a big man for a goalkeeper, but that afternoon, his agility was something that had to be seen. United threw everything at Everton and bombarded the Everton goal throughout the first half, and also well into the second half. Dunlop just didn’t seem to be able to be beaten – the range of saves he made that day bordered on the breath taking. One particular effort I remember was a 25 yard piledriver that Edwards hit with such venom. The Everton ‘keeper flew through the air and to his right, and managed to get a hand on the ball, pushing it onto and over the crossbar. The force of the ball took it high into the air and right over the top of the banks of spectators at the Stretford End! Another save I recall was from a full blooded headed effort from Tommy Taylor, which Dunlop again stretched high into the air and to his left this time, turning the ball over the bar. Whelan hit the woodwork as did Berry and it just seemed as though it was going to be one of those days. Just on the hour mark however, Edwrads took a short pass from Colman just inside the centre circle in his own half. The “big fella’” looked up, and started to drive straight forward, towards the Scoreboard End goal. There was a couple of half hearted challenges from Everton defenders, which were brushed off contemptuously, and then again looking up, just outside of the penalty area, he let fly with a left footed shot of tremendous power which never got off the ground – Dunlop never saw it until it was bulging in the back of the net. It was going to take a special effort to beat the Toffeeman that afternoon, and this was it, but it came from a very special player. The goal proved to be the match winner, and United were now into the 6th Round draw on the following Monday lunchtime. They were to draw an away tie against Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic, who were doing some unusual things that year!

United had to play a Division One fixture on the following Monday afternoon against Charlton Athletic at The Valley in London. There was a few knocks from the previous Saturday’s cup tie and a few changes were made. Geoff Bent came in for Bill Foulkes with Roger Byrne moving to right back; Wilf McGuinnes replaced Edwards, and Bobby Charlton came in for Dennis Viollet. Again, the “Babes” were magnificent and went “nap” winning 5-1. Bobby Charlton scored his first League hat-trick and Tommy Taylor weighed in with a brace. Bobby had made his League debut against Charlton earlier in the season and had scored twice, so he must have been more than happy with his second performance against The ‘Addicks. Poor old Sam Bartram, the Charlton goalkeeper, had to watch a couple of thunderbolts from “Wor Bobby” as he was known back then, fly past him in both games. A big bright ginger haired man, and one of football’s great characters, Sam was probably the best uncapped goalkeeper in the game during that era. He was really famous for an incident in a game a few years earlier. The fog had come down during the game, and got so thick that Sam couldn’t see too much. He was patrolling around his goal area for a long while, and finally found his way back to his goal line, where he was surprised to find a big policeman standing there! He informed Sam that the referee had abandoned the game some 15 minutes earlier, but big Sam had no idea, as he couldn’t see too far nor could he hear too much. To say that he was red faced when he returned to the dressing room is an understatement!

On the last Saturday in February, United were at home to Blackpool. They were back to full strength again, but unfortunately suffered a home defeat losing 2-0, little Ernie Taylor scoring one of the goals for the Seasiders. It’s funny to recall some of these games, especially when I remember the visiting club mascots who paraded around Old Trafford. Just a week earlier I had watched Everton’s “Toffee Lady” dressed in blue and white Victorian lace costume, complete with Easter Bonnet, walk around the perimeter track handing out toffees to the kids down at the front. Blackpool’s mascot was a guy dressed as a magician – all in tangerine and white, but he used to have a white goose that would paddle around the ground after him! Chelsea would bring along one of the old Chelsea Pensioners, Portsmouth had a sailor, dressed in the old “Jack Tar” uniform, and of course United had their own as well, the ebullient Jack Irons complete with “billy pot” hat and frock coat and tails! And to add to this, the dear old Beswick Prize Band would regally entertain us pre-match and at half time. There used to be an old catch question which went; “Who played for United one week, City the next and never a penny changed hands in transfer money?” Of course the answer was the Beswick Prize Band!

On Saturday 2nd March 1957, United had to travel to dean Court in Bournemouth to take on the home team, Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic. They were residing in the old Third Division back then, and had caused somewhat of a sensation that season by knocking out a number of First Division clubs, notably the mighty Tottenham Hotspur and Wolves in the 5th and 4th rounds respectively. These were really great victories and this tie was a potential real banana skin for Manchester United. Bournemouth’s team contained a certain mr. Oliver Norris, an eccentric indidual if ever there was one. He was tall for an inside forward and what he lacked in skill, he tried to make up for it in physical aggression – sometimes so that it bordered on the boundaries of legality. In those two previous rounds, he had done enough to unsettle both Billy Wright, and the ‘Spurs captain, Danny Blanchflower. He made himself a real nuisance – would stand in front of players at throw ins, jumping up and down like a jack-in-the-box. The same ritual followed at goal kicks, free kicks, wherever you were, Norris was “in your face.”

Thematch was a sell out, and united took to the field that day wearing their unfamiliar white shirts. Tommy Taylor was out of the team through injury, so Busby reshuffled them, playing Edwards at centre forward and Wilf McGuinnes came in at left half. The Dean Court pitch was small, and the ground hard. After just a quarter of an hour, United were down by a goal and also down to 10 men. Mark Jones went up for a ball with Norris and attempted to head clear, but he fell awkwardly and twisted his knee badly, and injury that ruled him out for the next few weeks. As Jones lay writhing on the ground the ball broke loose and Lewin hit the ball into the back of the United net. It was a setback, but the “big fell’” settled into the defensive roll, and although Norris was up to all his tricks, United concentrated on their football. At half-time it was still 1-0, and upon the restart, United controlled the game, passing the ball fluently, and moving their Third Division opponents around. Just on the hour mark, Johnny Berry received a ball out on the right hand side, moved inside the full back leaving him floundering, and cut across the 18 yards line. He checked back again and turned and hit a left foot shot that flkew into the top of the Bornemouth net – from that moment on, there was only ever going to be one winner. 15 minutes from time, Billy Whelan was hauled down in the penalty area and again, it was little Johnny Berry who duly obliged by smacking the penalty kick high and to the right, into the goal. Norris had by this time run out of steam through all of his eccentric motions, and Bournemouth were happy to hear the final whistle go at just 2-1. United were now top of the league, into the sem- finals of both the FA Cup and the European Cup, and the “treble” was now “on!”

I spoke a little earlier about the strength in depth that United had at that time. The Wednesday night following the Bournemouth fixture, United had to play a First Division fixture at Goodison Park against Everton. The previous Saturday’s cup tie had taken it’s toll on the United team and they had to make 5 changes to the team that had triumphed at Dean Court. Out went Foulkes, Colman, Edwards, Berry, Viollet and Taylor was also missing – in their place was Bent, Goodwin, Blanchflower, McGuinness, Webster, and Doherty. Goodison in those days was never an easy place to go to, especially with a team showing 5 changes – nevertheless, United won the fixture by 2-1 with Colin Webster scoring both goals.

We were now into the middle of March and football fever really was gripping the city – the talk of the “treble” was on everybody’s lips. For the fans, it was wonderful – this team of young kids really were living up to their plaudits. They were such a joy to watch and showed very little inhibition in their play. They also learned very quickly.and Manchester united really was a “family’ – both inside the club and out into the community. They wer a credit to the club, to the countries the various players represented, but mostly, they were a credit to themselves. No prima donnas, just a bunch of guys who happened to play football, loved the club that they played for very deeply, and if it had come to the nitty-gritty, would have turned out for nothing! They were all so in love with the game, and so in love with life. It’s hard to put into words, but they were such an exceptional team of young men both as skilled footballers and as human beings.

In mid march they had to play Aston villa at Old Trafford in a league game. 55,484 turned up to watch a 1-1 draw with Bobby Charlton scoring a “blockbuster” that Nigel Sims the Villa ‘keeper never saw. Again, 5 reserve players turned out in this fixture. Looming up was the FA Cup semi Final to be played at Hillsborough against Birmingham City. United had a number of injuries, notably to Taylor and Viollet, and the backroom staff were frantically trying to get these players fit for this tie.

On the 16th March 1957, United traveled to Molyneux to take on their nearest challengers in the title race, Wolverhampton Wanderers, and again were not at full strength. However, they did come away with a very creditable 1-1 draw, and Bobby Charlton continued his scoring run.

The following week, United filed out at Hillsborough to face Birmingham City. The big blow was that Tommy Taylor was still unfit to play, and so was Dennis Viollet. Once again Busby played a master stroke. Although Viollet was less than match fit, he sent him out to play in the centre forward’s shirt and left Bobby Charlton at inside left, Viollet’s normal position. His instructions to Viollet were simple; “Dennis, if you can move big Smithy (Trevor Smith the Birmingham centre half) around and drag him out of position, the other forwards will get into the gaps he leaves, and they will do the damage.” It worked like a charm! After 13 minutes, United were 2-0 up thanks to goals from Johnny Berry and Bobby Charlton. True to Busby’s instructions, Viollet, although he saw little of the ball, pulled Smith out of position so many times it became embarrassing for the big man. The game, in reality, was over and the 2-0 scoreline when the final whistle sounded really did flatter Birmingham City. United had reached the FA Cup Final and would play Aston Villa on the first Saturday in May at Wembley. On paper and form, Villa would be no match for a rampanyt young United team and to us fans, it certainly did look as though the first piece of the “treble” was “in the bag!”

Manchester City had been to Wembley for the past two seasons and were the current F.A. Cup holders, so the red half of Manchester had a real ball that weekend, and once again, most of the talk centred around the “treble.”

However, there was no rest for the players. As soon as United had entered the new European competition, the Board had authorized the installation of floodlighting at the Old Trafford ground. Over the past 6 months, fans arriving at the famous old stadium had witnessed the progression of the building as the four floodlight pylons grew in size with each passing week. The building was now complete, and just two days after the semi-final tie with Birmingham City, United had scheduled a First Division match against Bolton Wanderers – Monday, March 25th 1957 – the first ever floodlit game to be play on Manchester United’s home turf. I can remember this match so well. With the forthcoming game against Real Madrid imminent, Busby had asked Bill Ridding, the Bolton manager, if his team would wear an all white strip for the game against United. This they agreed to do, and United wore all red, the strip that they would wear in a little over two weeks time in the Bernabeau. 60,802 fans crammed into Old Trafford that evening, but it was to have no happy ending for the “Babes.” United lost the game by 2-0, and I can quite clearly recall Bill Foulkes scoring a classic own goal. Bolton had been attacking and Foulkes had been drawn into the middle of the park when Dennis Stevens whipped in a hard cross at waist height. Foulkes flung himself in front of Nat Lofthouse but the ball whipped off his forehead in a position just around the penalty spot, and it shot past a bewildered Ray Wood in to the top left hand corner of the goal. Dennis Stevens added a second late in the second half, and as per usual, Bolton Wanderers had proved a real thorn in United’s side. United’s floodlights were a huge big hit with the fans at that time though, and they were far and away far better than any on other grounds in Britain at that time.

The following Saturday, march 30th, United were away at Elland Road to play Leeds United – John Charles as well. United came away with the points winning 2-1 with goals from Colin Webster and Bobby Charlton. Jack Charlton was in the Leeds team that day, the second time that season that the famous Charlton brothers had faced each other in a competitive League game.

The game with Real Madrid was drawing near, and it was with relief that the United fans heard that Tommy Taylor was almost back to full fitness again after having been out for six weeks with a groin injury. Busby brought him back for the First Division fixture with Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. United were without Roger Byrne and Duncan Edwards that day as they were away on international duty with England, playing against Scotland at Wembley – a game in which “Big Dunc” scored the winner with a blockbuster from outside of the penalty area to make the score 2-1 in England’s favour. The game at Old Trafford was watched by 60,349 fans and finished in a 0-0 draw, and the players were due to leave for their European tie in Madrid the following Monday morning.

It was happy Manchester United that left Ringway Airport that Monday morning. They posed for the press photographers, all smiles, resplendent in their club blazers, and wearing small trilby hats that they had made for the occasion. The flight over to Madrid was smooth and uneventful, and the players were in a happy and confident mood. They arrived in Madrid that afternoon to find the city bathed in glorious sunshine, and they were whisked away to their hotel just outside the city. On the Tuesday, they trained for the first time inside the fabulous Bernabeau Stadium – probably the best stadium in the world at that particular time. They couldn’t wait for the Thursday match to begin. Back in Manchester the atmosphere was building up, and most fans thought that Real Madrid posed no significant problems for the “Babes”. The second half of the match was to be relayed from Madrid courtesy of the BBC Light Programme.

Thursday came, and it was an excited crowd that gathered around the radio in the Clare household that afternoon. The news from Madrid was good as far as United were concerned – half –time saw them go in on equal terms with the Spaniards 0-0. United’s team that day was; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Colman, Blanchflower, Edwards; berry, Whelan, Taylor, Viollet and Pegg. Busby had pulled off a magical tactical plan on the Spaniards – everybody thought that it would be Edwards who would be given the task of marking the great Alfredo Di Stefano. Instead, the job was given to the diminutive Eddie Colman. Eddie was a terrific tackler as well as a good distributor of the ball, and he latched on to di Stefano like a Jack Russell terrier to a postman’s leg! So much so, that he unsettled the great man and it disrupted the normal flowing elegant style of this wonderful player. It also disrupted the service to Gento, “the flying bicycle” as the speedy left winger was called then. It also enabled Duncan to play his normal game and during that first half he had caused Madrid several problems with his strong surges forward from mid-field. United were on the wrong end of some bad refereeing decisions in that first half as well and had the ball in the net twice, only for the “goals” to be ruled out for dubious offside decisions! Then with half time approaching, di Stefano received the ball just inside United’s half of the field in a central position. Little Eddie was on him like a terrier and quite cleanly took the ball away from him. Alfredo’s temper snapped, and he blatantly kicked Eddie to the ground – an offence for which he should have been sent off for. Amazingly, only a free kick was given, and there was no admonishment from the referee! Big Bill Foulkes took matters into his own hands and grabbed the Argentinian/Spaniard by the shirt leaving him in no doubt what would happen should anything like that offence occur again! So they went to the dressing rooms on level terms for the break and the job was half done.

The second half was a different kettle of fish – Madrid showed just why they were such a great team. David Pegg had given Becceril their right back a real old roasting in the first half, so they made sure that he saw as little of the ball as possible. United competed with them until the hour mark and then some quick interpassing and movement opened up United’s defence allowing Hector Rial to glide in unnoticed to fire home past Ray Wood. The goal seemed to unnerve the “babes” and five minutes later they found themselves two goals down. Gento got free of Bill Foulkes on the right and from his cross, di Stefano appeared from nowhere thumping a majestic header firmly into the United net. United had 25 minutes to try and salvage something from the tie, and they began to find their rhythm once again. Edwards surged forward drawing defenders towards him, before releasing Berry on the right. Little Johnny skipped around the full back and drove for the bye line. As another defender came to close him down he played the ball into the 6 yard area where Tommy Taylor used his strength against Santamaria to force the ball over the line. The Spaniards contested the goal as the goalkeeper dragged the ball back from over the goal line, but the linesman was perfectly placed to see that the ball had crossed the line. United were back in the game and they went forward searching for the equalizer. Viollet hit the post and Tommy Taylor had a legitimate call for a penalty kick denied after he had been upended in the area by Santamaria. Just before the end of the game, as they searched for that elusive second goal, Madrid caught them on the counter attack. Hector Rial was again in acres of space and had the simple job of slipping the ball past Wood and into the net. The final whistle sounded shortly afterwards, and once again, United were returning home from Spain with a 2 goal deficit to claw back.

The game had been a strange affair as far as United’s lads were concerned. 2 goals disallowed, strong penalty claim turned down – even today, Bill Foulkes reckons that there was some suspicion of the Referee having been bought! They returned home in an optimistic mood on the Friday morning. In Manchester, the fans were more than optimistic – if we could see off Bilbao then there was no doubt in our minds that we could see off Real Madrid as well!

United arrived home on the Friday, and the following day, Saturday, 13th April 1957, they had to travel to Kennilworth Road to fulfill a Frirst Division fixture against Luton Town. They had sustained some injuries from the game in Madrid – notably Eddie Colman, Billy Whelan and David Pegg. Into the team for the Luton game came Freddie Goodwin, Bobby Charlton and Albert Scanlon. United won comfortably with a brace from Tommy Taylor. Busby was a little worried as the team left Luton and returned to Manchester. The following week was the Easter weekend, and United’s programme was probably the most punishing schedule I have ever seen in professional football. They had to play 6 games in 10 days and in the middle was the return fixture against Real Madrid! The fixture list looked like this; Good Friday, April 19 – away versus Burnley. Saturday April 20 – home versus Sunderland. Easter Monday April 22 – home versus Burnley. Thursday April 25 – home versus real Madrid. Saturday April 27 – away versus Cardiff City. Monday April 29 – home versus West Bromwich Albion. In today’s modern era, you just can’t comprehend what a punishing schedule that was, especially given the importance of the Madrid game.

I told earlier, of just what strength in depth United had at that particular time, so it is interesting to see what transpired over that ten day period. On the Good Friday, United traveled to Turf Moor and beat Burnley 3-1, with Billy Whelan scoring a hat trick – the team lined up; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Goodwin, Blanchflower, Edwards; Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Charlton and Pegg. The following day, Saturday April 20th, they defeated Sunderland at Old Trafford by 4-0 – a game I recall, mainly because this is the game in which I saw Charlie Fleming, the big Sunderland centre forward, who had to go into goal because of injury to the Sunderland goalkeeper, actually duck out of the way of a Duncan Edwards “special.” Billy Whelan 2, and Tommy taylor were the other scorers, and the team lined up; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Colman, Blanchflower, Edwards; Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Charlton, Pegg.
Busby now had his sights firmly set on the following Thursday’s forthcoming second leg tie against real Madrid and as per usual, he took the players away to Blackpool to keep them out of the limelight. The fixture on Easter Monday, April 22nd, showed just how strong United were as a club because he made 9 changes from the team that had defeated Sunderland on the previous Saturday. He rested the following players; Byrne, Colman, Blanchflower, Edwards, Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Charlton and Pegg. When the Football league got wind of it, there was talk of charging United for not putting out there strongest team – oh! that they had. The following team turned out and comprehensively beat Burnley – who were no mean team themselves – by 2-0; Wood; Foulkes, Greaves; Goodwin, Cope, McGuinness; Webster, Doherty, Dawson, Viollet, Scanlon. Goals from Colin Webster and Alex Dawson sealed the win, with an attendance of 41,142 inside the ground – including yours truly! Bob Lord, the autocratic Burnley chairman, never ever seemed to forgive United for that defeat and he became very prejudiced against anything regarding Manchester United. Shortly after the Munich tragedy, he branded United; “nothing more than a bunch of thugs and teddy boys!”

And so once again, European fever gripped Manchester, and indeed the whole country. Such was the interest in this game that ITV decided to show the match “live” – the first time a European game had been screened in this way in Britain.. The tickets for the game had gone on sale on Easter Sunday and again it was the long vigil of getting up early, joining the long queues, and working our ruse to get the extra tickets. Everybody wanted one, and Brian and I had too many requests to deal with – we settled for the tickets for the priests and our own!

The big question on everybody’s lips was; “could we do it?” There was so much optimism, and United would be back on home turf as Old Trafford was ready with terrific floodlighting, and we all thought that this would be such an advantage to United. Real Madrid pulled off a stunt before even a ball was kicked. Remembering the chasing that David Pegg had given Becceril, Madrid had brought in on loan a full back named Lesmes from Valencia, to counter David’s strong running game – in effect, this guy was a “hatchet man!” They had this player on 14 days loan, and specifically for just this game. Matt wasn’t at all happy, and countered by saying that would they think it was fair if he brought in Mathews and Finney. The outcome was that he accepted things and said he had faith in his youngsters to do the job. 65,000 fans crowded into Old Trafford that evening, full of expectancy and optimism, and millions more tuned in to ITV to watch on the little screen. The commentary was done by a journalist from the old Reynolds News – Gerry Loftus, and from what I am told, it was a very amateurish affair.

I was stood against the fence, on the half way line on the Popular Side and watched as the teams emerged from the player’s tunnel. United in all red and Real Madrid in all white. Again the crowd tried to lift the team with their cheers and roars. The line-up that famous evening was; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Colman, Blanchflower, Edwards; Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Charlton and Pegg. Real Madrid were certainly a far different proposition than Bilbao, and in the early stages, United just couldn’t get control of the ball. The guy who was orchestrating everything was di Stefano – he was grudgingly magnificent that night. After 20 minutes play, the tie was all over and the crowd had been silenced – United conceded 2 goals and in effect were 5-1 down. Their “gung-ho” attitude and search for that early goal left them vulnerable at the back and Madrid were sufficiently classy, and experienced enough to take advantage of this. First Raymond Kopa darted in and scored and then Hector Rial scored – from then on in – the task was insurmountable. The “Babes” went into the half time break 2-0 down but came out for the second half in a far different mood. They battered the Madrid defence, but I have to say, Santamaria was outstanding for them that evening. He broke up or cleared so many United thrusts. However, Tommy Taylor scored on the hour mark, and the fans sniffed something – the atmosphere heightened, and it seemed to affect Madrid. They started to resort to gamesmanship, something we hadn’t really seen back then. Players started going down feigning injury, they wasted as much time as they could, and they contested every referee’s decision. It frustrated United as it stopped the flow of the play. With just eight minutes left Bobby Charlton scored and the crowd were right back behind the team again. The abiding memory of that night is of Miguel Munoz going down with nobody around him and rolling over as though he had been shot! From out of a bunch of players strode “the big fella” – Duncan – and he literally took hold of Munoz by the back of his shirt, pulled him along the gound and over the touchline onto the running track. In those days, there was no time added on for injuries etc and the whistle blew, and the European dream for that season was over – as was the the chance of winning the “treble.” The players were so disappointed as they trooped off the field but they did so to the acclaim of the United fans. The following morning there was a picture of Edwards in one of the morning newspapers, and it had caught Duncan’s expression just as the final whistle sounded. Disappointment was etched all over his face, and it’s a picture that I can still see clearly even today.

So the dream was over, but as we reflected on that defeat to Madrid, we also looked back on the European campaign that season and the thrills that it had brought to us all. The club had made so many new friends and Europe now knew about the wonderful young team that was growing in Manchester. They had been terrific ambassadors, not only for Manchester united, but for Britain as well. They now had a campaign under their belts and like us, the fans, the players could not wait to get back into it again the following season. The team had captured the hearts of the Birtish nation and they were all so enthralled with the type of football that was coming out of Old Trafford.

But wait! There was still the chance of the “double” – something that had not been achieved in that century by anybody. United were through to the F.A. Cup Final and also had the First Division Championship wrapped up. On the Saturday immediately after the Madrid defeat, United traveled to Ninian Park in Cardiff and won by 3-2, with goals from Albert Scanlon , 2 – and Alex Dawson. The Madrid game had taken it out of the team and several changes were made; Greaves, McGuinness, Webster, Dawson, Viollet and Scanlon, replacing Byrne, Edwards, Berry, Taylor, Charlton and Pegg. The important thing was though, that they came away with the two points. United’s last game of the season was at home to West Bromwich Albion on Monday, April 29th, and only 20,357 fans turned up to see a weakened United team draw 1-1 with Alex Dawson scoring the goal. Gordon Clayton made one of his rare appearances in goal in place of Ray Wood; Ian Greaves still deputized for Roger Byrne; Freddie Goodwin, Mark Jones, and Wilf McGuinness were in for Colman Blanchflower and Edwards; Doherty, Dawson, Viollet and Scanlon were in for Whelan, Taylor, Charlton and Pegg. The Championship was won and now the “Babes” only had to wait until Saturday, May 4th 1957, where they faced Aston Villa at Wembley. Surely Villa were no match four our wonderful young team? Busby took the players away again to Blackpool for a few days, before moving down to London on the Thursday before the Final. He had a couple of dilemmas regarding team selection; Mark Jones was fir again, should he replace Blanchflower, and would Dennis Viollet be fit to play in place of Bobby Charlton? Viollet had been carrying a long term groin problem and had in fact turned out in games when he was not fully fit. If he was not 100% fit then Wembley was certainly not the place to find out. Busby delayed team selection until the morning of the Final.

I can recall it was a beautiful sunny day as Eric Houghton and Busby led out their respective teams. Villa in claret and blue stripes and United in all white. Busby had decided to leave Blanchflower in the line-up, and sadly, Dennis Viollet didn’t make the starting line up either, so the team that marched out into that famous old stadium was Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Colman, Blanchflower and Edwards; Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Charlton and Pegg. On paper, this game was a forgone conclusion, Villa man for man were no match for this classy united side. Unfortunately when the game was just 6 minutes old, United were on the receiving end of the worst piece of premeditated skullduggery and violence that I have ever witnessed on a football field. A harmless looking header had found its way into the arms of Ray Wood,. He had gathered the ball safely and was about to move out of the 6 yard area when Peter McParland came hurtling in and threw himself at Wood headlong. His head impacted Ray Wood’s face, shattering his cheekbone. This was the only time that I ever saw Duncan Edwards come close to losing his temper. Duncan sprinted across to McParland and then stopped and turned away, probably counting to ten. There was no need for McParland’s challenge – to all intents and purposes the ball was “dead” in Wood’s arms. Wood left the field on a stretcher and was taken on the long walk to the dressing rooms. There was no substitutes allowed in those days, and United had to reorganize. On a hot day, and down to 10 men having lost a crucial member of the team, it was going to be an uphill task. Blanchflower, who was more than a competent goalkeeper, moved into the goal and Duncan, moved to centre half. They fought valiantly and went into the half time break at 0-0.

During the break, Ted Dalton, the United physiotherapist, at Busby’s request, took Wood outside of the stadium, and on a grass verge, started throwing a ball to him. Poor Ray was so dazed and befuddled that he didn’t see the ball properly at all and failed to collect any of the balls thrown to him. Nearby was a group of young schoolboys playing football themselves, and one of the kids approached Dalton and Wood and said; “Mister, you can come and play with us if you want to!” Just 100 yards away, 100,000 fans were inside waiting to see if Ray Wood would return to take part in the season’s showpiece finale, and just outside ray was being offered a place in a game of street football! He stayed in the dressing room as the players filed out for the second half.

United held their own for the first 15 minutes of that half but Villa eventually got the breakthrough, and of all people, McParland was the scorer. 15 minutes from time he was to score again although there was more than a hint of offside about the goal. United’s dream of the “double” was fast disappearing. With just 10 minutes to go, Busby gambled and sent for Wood to come back onto the field. Obviously very dazed and in pain, Ray made the short journey to the goal at the tunnel end of the ground. United were back at full strength but had to keep the ball away from their goal. This they did and they started to besiege the Villa Goal. 5 minutes left and Tommy taylor forced a corner. Sprinting from midfield came Duncan to take the corner kick. He floated the ball towards the penalty spot. Tommy taylor seemed to have got too far in front of the ball, but he arched backwards as he jumped and with tremendous power, sent the ball soaring beyond Nigel Sims and into the net! 2-1 – 5 minutes to go. United pressed, oh1 how they pressed. Billy Whelan got the ball into the net but was fractionally offside, and all to soon, time disappeared and the final whistle sounded. Disappointment was etched all over the United boys faces. A season that had promised so much had been cruelly thwarted by McParland’s act of violence. Even today, Foulkes and Charlton maintain that Villa made a premeditated decision to take out the goalkeeper as they knew there was no way that they could compete with United on equal terms.

True to the spirit of that team and the wonderful sportsmen they were; as Johnny Dixon led his players up the famous 39 steps to collect the old trophy from Her Majesty the Queen, Roger Byrne led the United players in the applause for their conquerors. It must have hurt them, but they were so sporting in the way that they took their defeat. The biggest cheers that day was for the losers as they collected their medlas. Villa had won the Cup, but the Glory belonged to the “babes”. Immediately they got back to the dressing room, Wood was whisked off to hospital where he was operated upon for a broken cheekbone and other facial fractures.

The season had ended in disappointment – true. They had set out on a journey, especially in Europe which was uncharted territory; they had retained their League Champions title, had come so close to achieving the “double”, and had reached the European Cup semi-final at the first attempt, losing to a great team who were the eventual winners. All this was more experience for them, and as they departed for their summer break that year, each and everyone of the “Babes” was eager for the start of the following season to come around. They had an inherent belief in themselves and feared nobody – they wanted to put the record straight and they promised the fans that their goals for the 1957/58 season was nothing more than that so called “treble”. Failures they certainly were not – they were a team that learned quickly as teams had found out.

The fans had tasted European competition for the first time and had come to realize how special those nights are. It was with eagerness and anticipation that they awaited the coming season.
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