December 15, 2007

Manchester United FC, part 2 (1940 to 1959).

Filed under: English Football Clubs — admin @ 8:08 am


Matt Busby’s playing career was spent at Manchester City (226 appearances), and Liverpool (118 appearances), from 1928-40.  He enlisted in the King’s Liverpool Regiment during WW II, and was an Army instructor at Sandhurst Military Academy when Manchester United informed him of their managerial vacancy.  League play resumed in the late summer of 1946, and fans, hungry for entertainment after the War, flocked to the stadia.  Due to the extensive damage the Luftwaffe had visited upon Old Trafford, United had to play their matches at Maine Road for three seasons. 
Busby did not make wholesale changes with the squad, but several players were re-positioned.  His first move was to make former West Bromwich Albion player Jimmy Murphy the assistant manager.  Busby had met him during the War, and he saw in Murphy the ideal right-hand man.  He also began phasing in young 16 and 17-year olds into the squad.  It was this youth policy that led to the later squads being called “the Busby Babes.”  Busby also put together a group of forwards that would be called “the famous five.” These were Jimmy Delaney, Stan Pearson, Jack Rowley, Charlie Mitten, and Johnny Morris.  United started out strong in the 1946-47 season.  They eventually finished second to Liverpool.  The following season (1947-48), they were runners-up again, to Arsenal.  Their 1947-48 FA Cup run was hindered by the need to find alternate venues (like Everton’s Goodison Park, Huddersfield Town’s Leeds Road, and Aston Villa’s Villa Park), but the team overcame these obstacles.  Busby’s mix of established veterans and young local lads went on to win the 1948 FA Cup, 4-2, over Blackpool, at Wembley. man_u_48fa.gif

Goals were scored by striker Jack Rowley (twice), forward Stan Pearson, and winger John Anderson.  “The News of the World” called the match ’Wembley’s finest.’  It was Manchester United’s first major honor since 1911.  In 1949, Manchester United finished second in the League for the third straight season, behind Portsmouth.  The rebuilt Old Trafford opened in August, 1949.  The return to their home grounds failed to energize the team, though, and they dropped to 4th place. 

Manchester United were back as runners-up in 1951, behind Tottenham.  This was their third 2nd-place finish in four seasons.  The youngsters in the squad began to emerge, notably Roger Byrne and Jackie Blanchflower.  Byrne scored 7 goals in the final 6 games of the 1951-52 season, and Manchester United won their first League Title in 51 years.  But the club had a poor follow-up season, and finished 8th.  Attendance dropped 12%.  Busby acquired Tommy Taylor from Barnsley, for the then-record fee of  29,999 pounds.  That season, 16-year old Duncan Edwards debuted for the club, the youngest player to ever play in the First Division, at the time. 


Finishes of 4th and 5th places followed, in 1954 and ’55.  But by the summer of 1955, the young squad had gelled, with Eddie Colman, David Pegg, and Mark Jones, all products of Busby’s youth academy, as regular starters.  The team started the 1955-56 season poorly, winning only 3 of the first 8 games.  But the young squad found their confidence, and lost only 4 more the rest of the way.  They had pretty much sewed it up by Christmas, and they clinched it at Old Trafford on April 7, 1956, when 62,000 fans watched them beat second-place Blackpool.  Busby’s team played swift attacking football, with an abilty to clamp down defensively, then spring for a counter-attack.  The team, with an average age of just 22, scored 102 goals that season.  Dennis Viollet, Manchester-born, led the squad with 20 goals in this his first full season.  United were repeat winners of the League the next season (1957), and almost won the Double:  they lost the 1957 FA Cup Final to Aston Villa.  Their goalkeeper, Ray Wood, was injured during the game, and in an era of no substitutions, United was forced to use Blanchflower in goal.  They lost 1-2 {see highlights in this newsreel footage}. 

Busby now had his sights set on what to him was the the ultimate prize: the newly created European Cup.  This competition (the forerunner to today’s UEFA Champions League) was started in 1955-56, after the concept was proposed by the editor of French sporting magazine “L’Equipe,” Gabriel Hanot.  Real Madrid would go on to win the first 5 European Cups.  And it was Real who knocked out Manchester United in the 1956-57 competition.  After United breezed through to their second straight domestic Title, in 1957, Busby left no doubts to observers that what he wanted most was the crown of Europe. 9goals_at_highbury2.gif

Their 1957-58 European campaign led them to Yugoslavia, where they faced Red Star Belgrade, on February 5, 1958.  After a 3-3 draw (which assured them passage to the next round), the team set out for their flight home.  The plane stopped in Munich, Germany, to refuel, but when it tried to take off again, ice and snow on the runway prevented the plane from reaching speed.  The plane crashed, but before it burst into flames, goalkeeper Harry Gregg managed to pull the unconscious Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet out to safety.  23 passengers died in what has come to be known as the Munich Air Disaster: 8 Manchester United players, 3 MUFC staff members, and 12 other passengers.  The 8 players who died were: Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, and Billy Whelan.  Manager Busby almost perished as well.  He spent over 2 months in the hospital, and was even given last rites at one point.

Amid rumours of the club being forced to fold, assistant manager Jimmy Murphy took over the team while Busby convalesced.  In spite of the tragedy, and the decimation it did to their squad, a makeshift Manchester United made it to the FA Cup Final that year.  They lost to Bolton Wanderers, 0-2.  The club finished 8th in the League.  UEFA offered to allow Manchester United to compete in the 1958-59 European Cup, along with English champion Wolverhampton.  It would be in tribute to the dead at Munich.  But the English FA refused.  The next season, amazingly, Busby was able to field a squad that competed for the Title.  They came up short, though, finishing in second place, to repeat winners Wolves.  Matt Busby was now faced with rebuilding Manchester United, again.

{see this video tribute to the victims of the Munich Air Disaster}.

End, Part 2.

Thanks to: “Inside United” magazine (manutd[dot]com);  (manutdzone[dot]com); (redcafe[dot]net);  (viewimages[dot]com);  (empire-uk[dot]com).

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