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Old 10th November 2005, 17:44   #1
tomclare
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Default The European Trail - Anderlecht - September 1956

History was made on the evening of September 12, 1956 - when thanks to the vision of United manager Matt Busby, the club became the first English club to compete in European competition. In truth, if Busby had wanted to test his beloved "Babes" in competition against the cream of Europe's best football teams, the historic preliminary first leg tie against the Belgian Champions R.S.C. Anderlecht, told him little about the strength of the competition that he had been so eager to join

That first game was played in Anderlecht's Park Astrid Stadium in Brussels, and a capacity crowd of some 35,000 turned up to watch the game and the newcomers to the competition. United lined up that evening; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne (Capt); Colman, Jones, Blanchflower; Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Viollet and Pegg.

To say that the match turned out to be an evening's stroll for Busby's "Babes" would be rather unkind to the Anderlecht team of that evening which was liberally sprinkled with Belgian internationals including the Belgian national captain, Jeff Mermans. However, it is true to say that United dominated for most of the game. Dennis Viollet opened the scoring after 20 minutes with a blistering 20 yard drive. In the early part of the second half however, United did ride their luck a little and were rather fortunate when Anderlecht's Lippens, struck a penalty kick against the foot of the post, the ball rebounding to safety. From then on, United re-established their dominance and it was no surprise when centre forward Tommy Taylor left his mark on the game with one of his trade mark headers. David Pegg had switched wings and moved over to the right hand side of the pitch, and after rounding the full back, his cross was superbly delivered for Taylor to imperiously rise above his marker and thump home a bullet of a header. This sealed the game for United and they had a comfortable 2-0 lead to take back home with them.

For us all back in Manchester, it was a case of waiting for the 10p.m. news on the radio or the t.v. for those families that had them, before we could find out what the match result was. European games were not shown on the television back then and I can recall how we all used to wait, crouched around the old steam radio, waiting for the news to finish, then the shipping forecast, before the two minute sports slot was delivered. It was a happy family that went to bed that night, and the following morning, I know that I was up early to run to the local paper shop for Dad's Daily Herald, and to read George Follows' match report.

For United fans at this time, we were all still high on the euphoria that was brought about by our team of young "Babes" winning the First Division Championship by a margin of eleven points the previous season. A winning margin like this was unheard of back then. As with Alan Hansen's remarks in the mid nineties about winning nothing with kids, the sportswriters were of a similar vein of thought prior to the start of the '55/'56 season. For young kids under the age of 21 to be playing first team football was so unusual in those dark days. The average age of the team was just 22 years, and that season was the break through at senior level for Busby's youth policy. The team had played with a fluency, audacity, but ruthless streak all through that season, and they were so entertaining to watch. They were able to prove the sportswriters quite wrong with their predictions and assumptions.

The challenge of European football was new to both the players and fans alike. European football was not well reported back then, and the names of the clubs and where they came from, was quite alien to us all. I'll be honest, I didn't have a clue at that time where Anderlecht played their football. Brussels seemed a million miles away from Manchester. It was the same for the players. The first time that they knew anything about their opponents was when they stepped out onto the field alongside them! But the entry into this competition had fired our imaginations and we all looked forward to the second leg of the tie which was to be played on September 26, 1956.

The Second Leg

I can well remember the excitement that built up leading towards the second leg. However, the Saturday before that second leg tie, United had a little matter of a "Derby" game to settle at Old Trafford with Manchester City. In the years preceding this season, City had certainly had the edge on United, and it had been really painful for me to witness in the '54/'55 season, United being knocked out of the F.A. Cup at Maine Road by 2-0, being beaten 3-2 there in the league, and then suffering a real mauling at Old Trafford in the return league game by some 5-0! In the '55/'56 season the games were drawn. I can remember that I stood behind the goal at the Stretford End for this particular "Derby" game, and remember how awestruck I was at seeing the size of the City goalkeeper, John Savage, as he first trotted towards the goal for the 5 minute kickabout before the kick off. He stood some 6 feet 8 inches tall and had huge great hands. He was in the City team because Bert Trautmann had suffered a broken neck in the previous season's Cup Final at Wembley. I clearly remember thinking that this man was so big that I didn't think anything could possible get past him! Fortunately I was wrong and United won that "derby" by 2-0 thanks to goals from Billy Whelan and Dennis Viollet. For us going home on the buses late that afternoon, it was like going to a wedding feast, but for the City fans, like attending a funeral. The hearse being the bus and the evening's "Pink" and "Green" being the papers that carried their obituary!

Wednesday night's game could not come quick enough for me. Unfortunately, Old Trafford had no floodlights when they began that first European quest, and so Manchester City had kindly agreed to allow United to use Maine Road for their first few European ties. My Granddad grumbled that the game should have been played in the afternoon - he hated going to Maine Road, and used to tell me that the only time that he would attend there was if the place was on fire! Well little was he to know that Maine Road would be on fire that night - but fire of a completely different kind!

The day of the match arrived, September 26th, 1957. It was a normal school day and I attended St. Augustine's Boys School which was situated in York Street, behind All Saints, and the school comprised of three prefabricated huts which housed six classrooms. Today, part of Manchester Polytechnic is housed on that land. I left home that morning with my parents knowing that I would not be home until later that evening. I had taken all my saved up pennies etc from a jar that I kept secreted away behind a couple of bricks in our backyard wall, stuffed them into my pocket and made my departure from the house. I could never concentrate in my classes on match days, and this day was no exception. From the classroom window I could see the big clock on the Refuge Assurance Building's tower in Oxford Street, and I would will those clock hands to move around even quicker. The schoolmaster Mr. Gibbons, knew it was useless talking to me on days like this and quite often would throw me a question like "What's the score now?" as I fantasized about the coming happenings of the evening. Lunchtime came and it was off to the "Dinners" on Upper Brook Street where we would all hastily gobble up our meals, and rush back to the schoolyard to play football on "the big pitch." For us kids back then, playing on "the big pitch" was akin to the professionals playing at Wembley! We would imagine ourselves to be our heroes, and I was always Bert Trautmann, in the goal, throwing my young body around all over the concrete floor! I idolized "Big Dunc" but when I played, Trautmann was the player I wanted to be!

The afternoon dragged on slowly and finally 4p.m. came, and me and my great friend Brian Walsh (he now lives in San Francisco) were off out through the classroom door, into the school yard, then out through the gates before anybody could move! Brian's parents owned an off-licence in Rosamund Street, and we went there first so that he could have his tea! I had to wait around outside, but sure enough some half hour later Brian was there at my side and we began the great adventure of watching our first match at night time under floodlights, and the very first European Cup tie played on English soil. We obviously didn't know it then, but we were playing a part in United's great history.

We walked from Rosamund Street, up onto Cambridge Street, and continued on into Lloyd Street. As we got into Lloyd Street the first sprinklings of rain started. From Brian's home to Maine Road, was little more than a half hour's walk for two young whippersnappers and it must have been before 6p.m. when we arrived at the ground. Maine Road back then was a huge big stadium with covering only on the main stand and Platt Lane end. Seating also was also only in that main stand. Across from there was a huge big spion kop that arced like a quarter moon. Capacity in Maine Road then was 75,000 with ease. We spent some time just walking around the ground in the steadily increasing rain. My curiosity was always heightened just being at a football ground wherever it happened to be, and I would be fascinated by every little thing that I would see. The gates were open around 6:15p.m. and we paid at the turnstile, made our way down to the concrete wall at the front of what used be the North Stand, but back then was the Scoreboard End, and claimed our places. The rain became a steady stream and even before the game started, we were soaked through. Some 40,000 passed through the turnstile that night, all, I am sure, quite unprepared for what they were about to witness.

At 7:15p.m. the players of both teams appeared from the tunnel walking out side by side, something we had never ever seen before. United in their red shirts and Anderlecht in their blue and white halves. The players were presented to various people and gifts and pennants exchanged, and then at last, we were ready for the kick off.

United lined up at full strength; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne (Capt); Colman, Jones, Edwards; Berry Whelan, Taylor, Viollet and Pegg. I am certain that the vast majority in attendance that night expected victory. But no one could have predicted the earth tremor that the "Babes" were to send out across Europe that evening. Immediately the game started United were at the Belgians like tigers and by half time had steamed into a 6-0 lead! Both Tommy Taylor and Dennis Viollet had hat-tricks to their names going into the break. Unfortunately for Brian and myself, all six goals had gone in at the Platt Lane End and we had to be content watching Ray Wood unemployed at the Scoreboard End! But I can remember vividly David Pegg's performance that wet night. He tormented the entire Anderlecht defence and he would keep switching from wing to wing, and pulling across quality crosses. The power of United's half back line and the interplay of the forwards completely dominated the Belgian Champions and they had no answer. Going off at half time they looked demoralized and rightly so - they were Champions of their country and were going in 6-0 in arrears - something that they hadn't experienced before and were being hammered by a team of very young men!

United began the second half as they had left the first and within minutes of the restart, Dennis Viollet had fired home his fourth goal. Billy Whelan weighed in with two more, and little Johnny Berry stole in to get on the end of one of Pegg's crosses and fired home. All the forwards had scored apart from David Pegg, despite his blistering performance. The Belgians had no answer to his speed, his dribbling skills nor his unselfishness in letting the ball go at the right time. For the last ten minutes or so of the game, United's players tried teeing a goal up for David, but despite their efforts, and his, the ball just would not go into the net for him, and unfortunately the final whistle ended his and their efforts.

What a sensational start to their first ever European campaign - they were trooping off that sodden Maine Road pitch, victors by 10-0 on the night, and by 12-0 on aggregate. It had been a wonderful evening. Despite the rain and being wet through, Brian and I were delirious as we trudged home along Lloyd Street. There was certainly a buzz in the air that night, and as fans, we couldn't wait for the draw to see who would be United's next opponents. We parted company at All saints and as I made my way home past the old Grosvenor Picture House and into Grosvenor Street, an old friend of my father's, Chris Dunn was stood outside the snooker hall. "How've they done young Tom?" he asked me. "Won 10-0" was my reply. "You little bugger don't tell lies" he fired back at me, but I didn't care and I was off home, down the street, across Brook Street and finally into the house in Royle Street where I lived. Mum and Dad, my sister and brother were all there, and Dad said that he could not believe the score when it had come through on the radio. He actually told my Mum that it must have been a misprint on the newsreaders script and the score must have been 1-0. I was so happy to confirm to Dad that it was indeed 10-0.

I went to bed so happy that evening after Mum had gotten me out of my wet clothes, fed me. As I lay there I relived what I had seen that evening, and even today, after all these many years, I can still see the ghost of David Pegg tormenting that poor Belgian defence time after time after time. The excitement of European football really did begin to grip the City of Manchester after this result, and not only Manchester, but the whole of the country. Everybody who followed United could not wait for the draw, and sure enough, by the end of the week we knew who the next opponents would be - Borrussia Dortmund some mugs from some place in Germany!
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