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Old 11th December 2007, 15:07   #1
tomclare
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Default The European Trail 1957/58 - Dukla Prague - Nov/Dec 1957

The European trail 1957/58 – Dukla Prague - Nov.Dec 1957

The autumn of 1957 was a carefree, buoyant time for Manchester United fans. They had watched as the team had made a decent start to the season and also as they had brushed aside the Shamrock Rovers club from Dublin, in the first round of the European Cup. After being League Champions for the previous two seasons, expectations were running high, not only with the fans, but also inside the Club, and the expectation was that a third consecutive title could be achieved, and with it, the F.A. Cup and European Cup. The young team of “Babes” had come close to achieving the “treble” the previous season, and was determined to go that one step further.

After the defeat of Shamrock Rovers in the first round, second leg, of the European Cup, which was played on Wednesday, 2nd October 1957; United was placed fourth in the First Division behind the surprise joint leaders, Nottingham Forest, who were sharing top spot with Wolves on 15 points. Forest had been promoted from the Second Division and had made a great start to the season, particularly in games away from home where they had won 4 out of 5 matches. In third place was West Brom with 14 points, with United’s tally being 13 points – all the clubs at this stage had played 10 games. The earlier League defeats to Bolton, Blackpool and Wolves had set United back a little – but there was no doom or gloom around Old Trafford, nor for the Red half of Manchester. Everybody was still upbeat and knew that “it would come good.”

For me personally I had started at my new school and was finding life more than a little strange and difficult. There was far more kids attending this school and competition both in the classroom and on the sports field were much fiercer than I had ever experienced in my young life before. It was like a double edged sword for me because with my new class mates, I was a kid from the inner city and from a poor family so to them, I had no real place at the school and was a target for their mischief. Outside of school and in the area where I lived, I was “one of them” – a “high school wallah.” Both situations caused me no amount of grief and I was in trouble several times in those early days at my new school for fighting. Back in those days, my personality was that initially I was very quiet and shy and some kids took this to be a sign of weakness. However, once provoked I could more than look after myself and was quick to throw the first punch. Early on, it gained me something of a reputation and this became another rod for my back as kids who were much older would come looking for me. Those early days at grammar school do not hold the happiest of memories for me.

One place which I did find that brought me out of my shell was the school gymnasium. I loved the PE lessons and the gym master, a person named Eddie Hirst. Eddie was a hard taskmaster, but he was fair and as long as you gave of your best, he was happy. The one thing that I wanted to do was to play for the school football team. I set my heart on it. At my previous school I’d experienced two years of playing in the school teams. Manchester schools teams back then had a way of grading their teams – Juniors, Thirds, Shield, then finally Cup, teams. The Juniors was for under 11’s, the Thirds 11-13, the Shield 13 -14 and the Cup 14 – 15. Because my previous school had no junior team, I’d played for two years in the Third’s. I was a goalkeeper and the period that I had played was spectacularly unsuccessful – I think out of something like 40 plus games, my team had come out on top in just 5 games. I can recall us being on the end of some heavy defeats and double figures occurred on a number of occasions. But those defeats never dampened my enthusiasm for the game – quite the reverse, it made me more determined.

The school football trials were held in mid-September at a place named Greenbank Playing Fields which was in Levenshulme, and I can still recall that evening so well. The master in charge of the team was a wonderful guy named Renee Travers (who was actually a scout for United) and he was assisted by an Irish teacher named Fred Leyden. Those kids who had put their names down for the trial were given two red bus tokens to get to and from Greenbank, and upon arrival there, I was amazed to find that we actually had changing room facilities. My previous school had played at Hough End on Princess Parkway and the changing facilities there were non-existent. We used to get changed in the open air behind the goal, and many was the time that people on the buses passing by on Princess Road got more than a flash of bare arse, no matter how much we kids tried to conceal it!

On the evening of the trial I had decided that I was going to have a change from playing in goal. Nobody knew that was where I played as in the schoolyard I was always an outfield player. I fancied myself at right half and tried to imitate Eddie Colman and his exaggerated body-swerve, and looking back, it must have been really funny to watch. However, as the two teachers began selecting their teams, it became clearer and clearer that I wasn’t going to get a start. Finally, the teams were complete apart from….”We need another goalkeeper” announced Mr. Travers. There was no way that I was going to be left out and quick as a shot, my hand was up in the air and I was in!

Even now, I can recall that trial game very clearly and I did very well in it. So much so that I played the full game this was unusual in schools trials. I had a confidence as a young kid whenever I was playing and was more than a little brave for my own good. The trial over, it seemed as though I had even impressed some of my own classmates as there seemed to be a thawing with some of them in their attitude to me. The first game of the school season was just a week away and it was a Manchester Catholic Schools Shield knock out tie. My school had been drawn against St. Malachy’s from North Manchester and the game was to be played at Monsall Rec, a place I knew only too well.

The week dragged and I could not wait for the Monday as this was the day the team would be known, and the team sheet posted on the school notice board. My thoughts were all over the place that morning as I trudged along Ardwick green to school, and a fear started to come over me as I thought; “what if I don’t make it? How will dad react?” My stomach churned all morning as there was no team sheet listed during the morning break, nor at lunch time. However as I entered the playground for the afternoon break, I could see kids crowded around the notice board and I knew that the team sheet had been posted. At first, I was a little apprehensive and approached the group around the notice board tentatively, my stomach still turning over. As I inched forward, I could suddenly see the team sheet, and the elation that coursed through me as I saw my name penciled in between the goalposts, even now, is hard to describe.

Once school finished that day, I ran all the way home and couldn’t wait to tell my parents that I had made it. Even more, the following Sunday I felt even prouder as I was able to tell my Granddad that I had been picked for my new school. My boots back then were of the old type with the bulbous toe cap, leather studs, and leather bar covering the instep. I lovingly coated them with dubbing that week, and made sure that they were comfortable on my feet. Monsall Rec is still there today just as it was 50 years ago. Three football pitches on a red shale hard surface. St. Malachy’s had a super inside right playing for them, a boy named Barry Grayson who was later to go on to play for United. But even he could not help their cause on the evening that we played, and we won by 5-2. It was the beginning of something new for me – playing in a team that could win. We had some very good players and this was proved over the next month or so as we swept aside all of the teams in that faced us. I was so elated.

Following United’s second leg defeat of Shamrock Rovers, the following Saturday, October 5th, saw them at home to Aston Villa. Fortunately for the Villains, Peter McParland, their Northern Irish international left winger was injured and unable to play in this game. United fans were still seething about his atrocious foul on Ray Wood in the previous season’s FA Cup Final at Wembley, and the incident was still very fresh in their memories. United contemptuously dismissed Villa that afternoon winning by 4-1. During the previous mid- week, as United had been playing in European competition, Wolves and West Brom had both played Leagues games. West Brom had drawn with Birmingham and Wolves had demolished ‘Spurs 4-0. On the Saturday that united played Villa, Wolves drew with Leeds United, West Brom beat Portsmouth and Forest beat ‘Spurs. The League was taking shape and United were still placed in fourth position on 15 points, two points behind Forest who were now third on 17 points, and West Brom who were second on the same 17 points and three points behind the leaders, Wolves, on 18 points. Both Wolves and West Brom however, had now played a game more than both United and Forest. It set things up nicely for Saturday 12th October when United were to travel to the City ground to play Forest in a League game for the first time since December 1938 when both teams were then in the Second Division.

The game at the City Ground turned out to be a classic and was an advert for all that is good in English football. It was an exhilarating display of attacking football from both teams watched by Forest’s record attendance of 47,654 fans. United had gone behind early in the game and needed to draw on their reserves to hold a rampant and uninhibited Forest team. In the second half United began to exert a little more control on the game and gradually pushed Forest back. They equalized through Dennis Viollet and then 10 minutes before the end of the game, Billy Whelan once again popped up to score the winning goal. But everybody went home satisfied as it had been such a tremendous game and both teams took the plaudits in the Sunday newspapers. This win took United above Forest and into third place in the League on goal difference. West Brom drew with Bolton that day so their advantage over United was just a point but they had played a game more. Unfortunately Wolves were in a rich vein of form and had trounced Bolton by 5 that afternoon to maintain their three point advantage at the top.

The following Saturday October 19th was a day that also saw the Home International Championship matches played and England were away to Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff. That same afternoon, United were at home to Portsmouth. Back in those bygone days, there was no cancellation of league games because players were on international duty – reserve team players had to be promoted to fill their places. At that time, a home game against Portsmouth was of little threat to United. Pompey was languishing down towards the bottom of the League in 18th position and had won only 1 of their 6 away games so far. Even though United were deprived of Byrne, Edwards, and Taylor by England call-up, their replacements being Peter Jones the young full back, Wilf McGuinness, and Alex Dawson, the consensus in the media was that united would be just too good for Pompey. Making his debut for Portsmouth that afternoon was a long legged, 19 years old beanpole of centre forward, who had just been signed from the Northern Irish club Distillery and went by the name of Derek Dougan. I was stood at the Stretford End of the ground during this fixture, and Portsmouth totally dominated United throughout the game with the young debutant scoring all three Pompey goals in a 3-0 win. Whether or not it was complacency on United’s part, or whether or not Portsmouth just “upped” their performance I don’t know, but I can recall that Dougan led United’s defence a merry dance. He looked so ungainly, much like Peter Crouch does today, but here was young player with an eye for goal and for being in the right place at the right time. The 38,000 plus fans left Old Trafford that afternoon with Dougan’s name on their lips and it was a glittering start to the young Irishman’s career in England.

That result against Pompey set United back again and they dropped back to fourth place as Wolves had beaten Chelsea that afternoon to increase their lead to 5 points, West Brom drew with Leeds to go back to two points clear of United and maintain second place, and Everton suddenly appeared in third place having drawn with Burnley to be 1 point ahead of the Reds but they had played a game less than United and 2 lest than Albion and Wolves. Forest were beaten at Leicester and dropped to fifth place. It could have got much worse for the “Babes” the following week when they traveled to the Hawthorns for a crunch meeting with West Brom. Unfortunately, despite scoring 3 goals away from home, they still lost as they conceded four! However, Wolves could only draw at Newcastle, whilst Everton lost at Preston, a result which put the Deepdale team into 4th position above United.

Something was not quite right within the team. Whether pressure and expectation was beginning to tell we’ll never know. Having won the title so easily during the previous two seasons, it may well have been that one or two players were “coasting”. With the season into November, and the Dukla European tie looming, they were going to have to tighten up, especially in defence. Busby never panicked and on the first Saturday in November the team got back on a winning track by beating Burnley 1-0 in front of almost 50,000 fans at Old Trafford with Tommy Taylor scoring the goal. However, Wolves won that afternoon, as did North End, whilst West Brom and Everton drew. Wolves were out in front still and had confirmed their 6 point lead over the Reds whilst West Brom were still second on 22 points whilst Preston, United, Everton and Arsenal followed respectively, all on 19 points. It was tough going trying to peg back the Wolves lead, but the following weekend, on Saturday 16th November, Wolves could only draw whilst West Brom beat Villa, and United drew with North End at Deepdale 1-1 with Billy Whelan rescuing that precious point. United still had a game in hand on both West Brom and Wolves. As it stood that evening, Wolves still had their 6 point lead, West Brom were 4 points ahead and United were back in third place again on goal difference from North End.

On the Tuesday afternoon, after the game at Deepdale I was playing in a schools match against Ducie Tech at Fog Lane, Didsbury. We were unbeaten so far that season having won all our games and I was on top of the world as far as my football went. Ducie was a very good schools team with a big reputation in Manchester Schools football. We were leading 2-1 late into the second half when their big centre forward broke through on his own. I advanced from the goal towards him narrowing the angle and waiting to smother the ball if I got the chance. Sure enough, another touch and he’d pushed it just a little too far in front of him and I was down like lightning clutching the ball. Unfortunately he followed through with a full blooded swing of his leg and his boot came crashing down on my left forearm. The pain was intense and I knew immediately after the impact that the arm was broken. Renee Travers took me to the Manchester Royal Infirmary and once there, left me to go to my home and tell my parents. Mum came to the hospital and stayed as they put me to sleep in order that they could reset the forearm. Football for me was now out of the question for the next three months or so. Little did I know what those three months were to hold in store.

I had to stay off school initially but the broken arm did not prevent me from going to watch United at Old Trafford nor from getting my ticket for the home tie for the European Cup tie against Dukla which was now less than a week away. On Saturday November 16th, I went to watch United play Sheffield Wednesday at Old Trafford and the team scraped a win by 2-1 with Colin Webster, who was standing in for the injured Dennis Viollet, scoring both goals. It was also a day when United pulled a point back on both the Wolves and West Brom as they had played each other that afternoon and had drawn 1-1. Preston had also beaten Leicester City by 3-1 and had leap frogged over United on goal difference. Going into the European tie that week, Wolves were top with 27 points from 18 games, West Brom were second with 25 points from the 18 games, and North End and United were third and fourth respectively with 22 points from 17 games. The United fans were not worried as the team had a game in hand and all three clubs above them, still had to play United at Old Trafford!

After the game against Wednesday had finished, I hung around outside the main entrance for some time. Eventually, the United players began to emerge from behind the big wooden doors and I asked each one of them as they appeared, to sign the white plaster cast engulfing my left arm. Little Johnny Berry was most inquisitive as to how I had come by the injury, as was David Pegg. David knew me from seeing him at the Galleon Swimming Baths in Didsbury during those late summer months as did Billy Whelan, Tommy Taylor, Bob Charlton, and Little Eddie. Nobody refused an autograph and I just wished that I still had that plaster cast today!

European fever began to engulf Manchester again as the game against the Czech champions loomed large. Not much was known about them and certainly, we hadn’t heard very much about any of their players. Most of the fans were confident that United would go through easily. However, looking back, the team had been conceding too many easy goals and this fixture was a potential banana skin. For most of the players back then, they too knew little or nothing about their opposition and the would see them for the first time when they played them. Mum and Dad allowed me to go to the match and I can recall that it was a bitterly cold day. They had gotten hold of a second hand duffle coat for me and I was more than greatful to have this as I made the journey to Old Trafford. I left home about 4:30p.m. in order to avoid the congestion on the buses as there would be difficulty gewtting on one due to the rush hour and people wanting to get to Old Trafford. It was also dark and I caught the 49 from All Saints. By the time the bus had reached Trafford Bar it was jammed full of people some virtually standing nose to nose. The Conductor had difficulty getting up and down the bus as he tried to collect fare sand punch tickets. At Warwick Road there was a mass exodus off the bus as people alighted to walk down this famous thouroughfare.

The night was cold, dark, and the stars were already shining like glimmering crystals in the sky as the fans made their way towards the ground. There was a muted murmur which within the next hour or so would become louder and louder with the incessant chatter as the fans multiplied in numbers and sound of feet marching upon the stone cobbles. Back then, there was none of the vendors stalls around that you see today, and there was no souvenier shop at all. Newspaper sellers were in abundance though and you could here their pitches as they shouted out which newspaper they were offering, the News or the Chron. I made my way around to United Road and stood across from the two towering chimneys that stood in the Glover’s Cables site. White smoke billowed straight up into the night sky as I took my place in the short line that had begun to form outside of the “Junior’s” gate. At 5:45p.m. a huge cheer went up from around the outside of the ground as the fans forming the queues by their respective turnstiles vented their pleasure as the floodlights were switched on. At 6p.m. the gates were opened and another cheer rent the air. the steady clicking of the rotating turnstiles could be heard as fans ushered inside and the cries of the programme sellers were also heard. From the little stalls inside the Popular Stand, the smell of Oxo and Bovril lingered in your nostrils as the occupants did a steady and brisk trade. I collected my programme and made my way through the tunnel which led inside the ground. It was adjacent to the halfway line and the player’s tunnel on the opposite side of the ground. I walked around to the Scoreboard End and took my place against the white picket fence immediately behind the centre of the goal.

The ground filled steadily, Jack Irons the United mascot appeared and began his walk around the pitch, perennial cigarette in his hand. The Beswick Prize Band arrived and started to set up just opposite the main stand and player’s tunnel. A big roar went up on the Popular Side as a man with an artificial leg, dressed in a red shirt and white shorts began sprinting up and down the touchline. The band played, the crowd grew in size and the expectation, anticipation, and eagerness to see United do well, added to the atmosphere. 60,000 were in the stadium as on 7:20p.m. the two teams marched out from the tunnel. As was the usual in those days, after the preliminaries, the United team went to the Scoreboard End. The ususal trio of Colman, Blanchflower, and Edward were over to my right in front of the Popular Stand and were joined by the young United mascot with the white number 6 on the back of his red shirt. The forwards fired in balls at ray Wood as Roger Byrne and Bill Foulkes played a ball up and down the touchline in front of the Old Trafford Paddock. United were without the still injured Dennis Viollet that evening and lined up: Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Colman, Blanchflower, Edwards; Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Webster and Pegg.

Dukla proved to be a very stubborn and obdurate team and were very physical with it too. They strangled the game in midfield and were very difficult to break down. This wasn’t going to be easy and there would be no goal feast as there had been against Shamrock. The Czechs were very disciplined, organized, and had a lot of gamesmanship in their locker. At half time there had been no breakthrough and we had seen nothing of a threat from Dukla at all – surely they were not going to sit back in the second half? Unfortunately, that did seem to be their plan! United surged forward towards the Scoreboard End where I was standing, and with an hour gone the game was still deadlocked. Both Berry and Pegg were seeing plenty of the ball as Bill Whelan sprayed the ball into their paths. Taylor and Webster were making runs but the final ball through to them was just not falling for them. A toe poke here, a body in the way there, a hoofed hurried clearance – it just didn’t look as though United were going to have any luck at all. On 65 minutes, David Pegg got the ball out on United’s left hand side and as the big Czech full back made for him, he played in a hopeful first time cross. The ball ballooned into the air of the approaching full back and Tommy taylor challenged for it succeeding in knocking it down into Colin Webster’s path. The little Welshman gleefully slammed the ball past the ‘keeper and into the back of the net. The deadlock was broken, United had the lead, and a huge roar of relief erupted from the crowd.

Dukla now had to come out of their defensive shell if they wanted to get anything from the game. They did so and they began to leave more room between the midfield and their defence which United began to exploit. Roared on by the fans United began to exert even more pressure. In the 75th minute United won a corner over on their right and Johnny Berry whipped it in low around thigh height. It zipped into the area between the penalty spot and six yard line and suddenly there was a blur of movement as big Tommy Taylor threw himself headlong in front of his marker to connect with the ball and it flew beyond the ‘keeper into the net. 2-0 – game over and a nice lead to take to Prague. Things got even better just two minutes later as Whelan robbed a Czech player in mid field, saw Pegg making a run inside, and delivered the most telling of balls to him and the young Yorkshireman hit the ball first time into the back of the net. 3-0 – and so it stayed until the final whistle. As the fans streamed out of the ground everybody was confident that 3 goals was more than enough to take them through in the next leg and into the semi-final. There was a divided opinion of whom the fans wanted to meet in the semi final, but the consensus was real Madrid. Both the team and the fans were still smarting from the previous season’s defeat by the Spaniards and they wanted to rectify it – the sooner the better!

The Saturday after the Dukla game, United had to travel to St. James’ park in Newcastle for a potentially tricky League game. Viollet was still not fit and Berry had taken a knock in the European game so Scanlon came in for him, and Webster continued at inside left. Almost 54,000 saw the magpies go down to a 2-1 defeat with Duncan Edwards and Tommy Taylor’s goals seeing United claim the two points. Wolves beat Manchester City 4-3, West Brom beat Sunderland 3-0, and North End beat Bolton 3-0 to leave the top of the First Division unchanged.

November 30 was the last Saturday in the month and United had a home fixture with ‘Spurs. Ray Wood had taken a knock at Newcastle and was replaced by 17 years old David Gaskell. Berry was still not fit and Scanlon continued at outside right. Tommy Taylor had also taken a knock an so Colin Webster moved to centre forward with Bob Charlton coming in at inside left. Busby had one eye on the following week’s second leg European tie in Prague and was taking no chances with players reporting these slight knocks. United hit ‘Spurs for three that afternoon with Pegg scoring twice and Whelan once. Unfortunately, young Gaskell made a couple of elementary mistakes as his nerves showed and this helped ‘Spurs score four times. It was a big setback and one that already had Busby thinking about changing the make-up of his young team. West Brom drew that afternoon and United had missed the chance to claw back some of their lead. Preston had also drawn and moved a point in front of United, but the worrying thing was that Wolves had won again beating Burnley 2-1 and so stretching their lead to seven points. Busby saw it as a missed opportunity, and certainly didn’t want Wolves’ lead getting any larger.

United flew off to Prague on the Monday morning in good spirits. However, Jackie Blanchflower had picked up an injury in the ‘Spurs game and was unfit. Little was the so popular Irishman to know at that time, that he had played his last first team game in United’s famous red shirt. Mark Jones came back into the team after a lengthy absence, but there was little to choose between the contrasting styles of both centre halves and his return in no way weakened United’s young team. Berry was still not fit so Scanlon continued in his place. Taylor was back though and he resumed at centre forward with Webster moving to inside left at the expense of Bob Charlton. The game was played on the Wednesday afternoon of December 4th 1957, and United lined up; Wood; Foulkes, Byrne; Colman, Jones, Edwards; Scanlon, Whelan, Taylor, Webster and Pegg.

The game itself was played at the Strahov Stadium in Prague and was probably the poorest performance by a United team in the European competition so far. They never really functioned and fell behind to a goal from Dvorack just after the quarter hour. However, United squandered a hatful of chances, throughout the game and when the final whistle blew with the score still 1-0 to Dukla, Busby was not a happy man. He didn’t lambast them at all after the game, but in his own mind he knew that eventually, if the team didn’t improve on their current performances, he was going to have to make some big changes if they were going to challenge for all three honours.

For the fans, we were just so happy that another European challenge had been met successfully and we awaited with eagerness, the quarter-final draw. We were still buoyant, still had great faith in the youngsters and what we believed they could achieve, and had no doubts in their ability to overcome the seven point deficit in the League. The European draw was made and United were paired with a team named Red Star Belgrade from Yugoslavia. This team we did know something about as they had already played in England in previous years and we knew that they had some wonderful players. This tie was going to be no easy task as once again the first leg was to be played at Old Trafford in January of 1958. The Christmas period which included a “derby” match at Maine Road was going to be a crucial time in United’s bid to win a third consecutive title, and they had also drawn Workington Town away in the third round of the F.A. Cup. The “treble” was definitely “on” as far as we as fans were concerned. But little were we to know at that time the major events that were to unfold before us in the coming few months.
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Old 11th December 2007, 17:50   #2
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Nice article Tom, as ever.

"All I want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague away kit..."
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