The European Trail – Red Star Belgrade – Second Leg – 5th February 1958
After the 2-1 win against Red Star Belgrade on the night of 14th January 1958, Manchester United would have to wait for three weeks before the tie would attempt to be resolved in the second leg which was to be played in Belgrade on February 5th 1958. It would be the most difficult European adventure in terms of travel and distance that the Club had undertaken in European competition so far.
We were never to know at that time just how important those next three weeks would be in playing their part in the future of a club that had already skirted with the dangers of foreclosure on two occasions in its history. However, since the end of World War Two, with the foresight of a great Chairman, and a backroom staff that fully supported his vision, it had laid the foundations of what was fast becoming a dynasty in British and European football. The appointment of Matt Busby as team manager was certainly the catalyst that brought Chairman Gibson’s initial dream to fruition. Busby had shown great foresight in placing his own back room team around him after his appointment was rubber stamped by the Board. The appointment of Jimmy Murphy as his second-in-command was the real master stroke, and Murphy’s role in the formulation and emergence of the club’s youth policy should never be forgotten or ever understated.
Without doubt, the fiery but genial Welshman played just as important part in Manchester United’s history from 1946-1970, as did Sir Matt Busby. Whilst there is not a shadow of doubt that Busby was “The Boss” – “Jimmy” was the man who worked with all the young kids from the moment that they arrived at the Club. His presence was enormous on the training ground at both The Cliff and at Old Trafford and he worked so hard in tandem with Matt Busby to achieve the goals that they had set out to aspire to. From the moment those youngsters became Manchester United players, they were all well aware of just who “Jimmy” was. He was the man who eventually moulded them into the players that they were to become. Hours and hours were spent on those training grounds bollicking them, cajoling them, urging them, willing them, pleading with them, trusting them, but most of all, teaching them and toughening them for a life in professional football. He had a fierce bark, but deep down, he loved working with all those youngsters and there developed a special bond between them and him and even today as most of the players that passed through his hands are now into their old age, they speak of him with reverence.
Jimmy was in charge the inaugural Youth team set-up in 1952-53, and it says so much for his hard work that for the first five years of the F.A. Youth Cup competition, the teams that he fielded were unbeatable. Their record of five successive F.A. Youth Cups has never been beaten even into this modern day. Fuelled by Joe Armstrong’s scouting team’s special talent for spotting promising young football players from all over Great Britain and Eire, there was a never ending stream of talented youngsters coming into that youth team.
Many were to become household names in British football in future years, but as they have all related in their later years, the influence that one Jimmy Murphy had on their careers is unquestionable, and the debt that they owed him in shaping their futures was a debt that they, or anybody else, could never put a price upon.
For the people of Manchester, those coming three weeks in late January and early February of 1958 would be gripped by “European fever” and talk of “the Treble” once again. The previous season had seen some epic battles and games fought on a knife edge between United and Atletico Bilbao, and Real Madrid. The game against Red Star in Belgrade was so critical for their chances of achieving the “treble” dream. It was now becoming just as intense as the battles against the Spanish teams the previous season, and with such a slender lead to take with them to such a far flung venue, everybody was again asking; “can they do it?”
The Red Star game at Old Trafford had been hard fought and there were some bumps and bruises to be tended to the following day. The next First Division fixture after the Belgrade home game was to be played on Saturday, January 18th 1958 at Old Trafford and the opponents were those old foes from Burnden Park, Bolton Wanderers. Bolton always seemed to have some kind of Indian sign over Manchester United, and it had been no different during the 1957/58 season. After making such a promising start to the season winning 5 and drawing 1 of the first 6 fixtures, they had gone off to Burnden Park in mid-September firing on all cylinders having scored 22 goals and conceding just 5. However, Bolton put a stop to that run and routed United 4-0! So the forthcoming game with the “Trotters” was quite significant, especially as United were still playing “catch-up” in the League, chasing Wolverhampton Wanderers. Just prior to the Bolton game, they were lying in fourth position some 8 points behind the Wolves with 26 games played and just 16 games left to pull back that deficit.
On the Thursday before the Bolton game the sports sections in the morning newspapers led with the announcement that Matt Busby had been appointed as team manager to the Scottish international team. It was a great honour not only for Matt himself, but also for Manchester United Football Club, and it was recognition for his sterling work in making United Britain’s leading football club at that time. Everywhere you went at that time, whenever and wherever football was discussed, and the name of Manchester United was to the forefront.
The “Busby Babes” had captured the hearts and minds of football followers throughout the nation. The announcement of his appointment concluded that his appointment would also take in the 1958 World Cup Finals which were to be held in Sweden in the summer of 1958. They were also quick to point out that in those finals he could well come up against his number two at Old Trafford, Jimmy Murphy who just a few months before had taken up the appointment as the Wales international team manager. For the only time in Britain’s footballing history, all four home nations had qualified for the World Cup finals. We looked forward to the summer with great interest.
Saturday morning 18th of January arrived and I recall it was bitterly cold. After doing household chores early in the morning, I made my way down to Wyman’s Pet Shop earlier than usual as I was off to the United - Bolton match immediately after I had finished deliveries. Jean and David were both there, and the loaded my delivery bags, handed me my flask of Oxo, and off I went. The banter with the customers was its usual good natured self as I made the rounds, and those that had bet with me on the outcome of the Red Star game the previous Tuesday evening, paid up with their three penny bits! Some of them thought that after the game later that afternoon I would be returning my gains and so we decided on “double or quits” and I was so happy as I walked the route.
Delivery orders completed, I was off up to Old Trafford and remember having a certain amount of trepidation because we were playing Bolton. I wanted so badly for United to win because in the three and a half years since I had been attending first team matches, United had only beaten Wanderers once in seven attempts! They were a real bogey team! My desire was also fuelled by the fact that the skipper of my school team was a huge Bolton fan and he never failed to rub it in my face whenever they put one over on United. I smile as I recall that boy now because he did go on to play for Manchester United and made just one appearance in the first team. We would walk the school yard together each day talking about football and our rivalry between us over our teams was intense.
Since Matt Busby had shaken up the team in mid-December, they had gone on an unbeaten run in all competitions. They had won one and drawn three away games, and won all three home games. They had an impetus going, but Bolton was going to be a test. For the 41,141 fans that braved the cold weather and went to Old Trafford that afternoon, they were treated to a football feast as United went rampant and destroyed Bolton by 7-2! Oh! What a performance as they ran the “Trotters” legless. Bolton’s goalkeeper was a guy by the name of Eddie Hopkinson – on the small side for a ‘keeper, but nonetheless, a very, very capable player. That afternoon though, he was so shell-shocked. He left the field at the end of the match having conceded more goals in a single league game than at any other time in his career!
It was a performance that must have had Busby chuckling because everything seemed to fire that afternoon. Bobby Charlton hit a hat trick – 2 were absolute screamers from over 20 yards out that Hopkinson never even saw. Dennis Viollet chipped in with a brace, and Albert Scanlon netted the sixth with a simple tap in. However, at 6-2 down and the game almost close to the final whistle, you could have forgiven Hopkinson thinking that his afternoon was over. In the dying minutes as United attacked with gusto once more, there was a melee in the Wanderers penalty area and the eagle eyed referee spotted a defender’s hand push the ball away – penalty kick!
How must Eddie Hopkinson have felt as he watched the player who picked the ball up, place it onto the penalty spot? It was none other than Duncan Edwards! Tom Jackson wrote in his match report for the Manchester evening News “Green ‘un” that evening; “I’ve little doubt that England’s ‘keeper Eddie Hopkinson will not face a fiercer shot than that which registered United’s seventh goal this afternoon. It was hit with such power that it was past the Bolton custodian before he could even move his feet.” Says it all really!
As I made my way out from the ground, I can recall stopping along with a few hundred others as we congregated below the old scoreboard and waited for the score from Bloomfield Road to come through. Blackpool was playing Wolves that same afternoon. It was agonizing as first West Brom’s score went up from their home game with Sheffield Wednesday and it showed that they had won 3-1. There was cheers when the Preston North End result appeared – a 3-3 draw with ‘Spurs at White Hart Lane, so that was a point pegged back on them. The minutes ticked away and then suddenly a huge roar erupted below that old black and yellow wooden/corrugated score board as it showed below the letter D, first a 3, and then below it a 2 – Blackpool had beaten the Wolves by 3-2! The gap was now down to 6 points and the great thing from United’s point of view was that all three clubs above them, Wolves, West Brom, and Preston, still had to come to Old Trafford. The title race was on and United fans knew it!
The Monday after the Bolton game I couldn’t get into school quickly enough. The lad I was looking for though was conspicuous by his absence – that is until just before the bell went for classes to begin. We saw each other at the mid-morning break and I had my pound of flesh out of him. I do have to say though that he was absolutely smitten by Edwards’ performance that Saturday. In case you are wondering who that lad is, it is Wilf Tranter who went on to play for United, and made 1 appearance against West Ham at Upton Park in 1964.
On Monday 20th January 1958, it was announced that Jimmy Murphy would not be traveling to Belgrade for the second leg of the European Cup Quarter Final tie. The reason being was that Wales had a home World Cup Qualifying tie against Israel at Ninian Park, Cardiff, on Tuesday, February 4th – the day before United’s game with Red Star. Little did we know at the time of that announcement just how fortunate that arrangement was to turn out and what the implications of it would have?
For the next week I was a happy soul as I traveled my delivery rounds collecting my bets. The customers reveled in the banter with me and the reality was that most of them were actually United fans! I had begun to settle more at school and had started playing football again after the broken arm. The trial with me playing at centre forward for the school team had been a disaster, and it was a relief to me to find myself back in goal for the next game which was against Nicholl’s High School from just around the corner in Ardwick – a local “derby”. This game was played on the morning of 25th of January 1958 and was a game which we won comfortably 4-1. I rushed back to Wyman’s immediately after the game was over and did the delivery round as I wanted to get to Old Trafford for the afternoon’s FA Cup tie with Ipswich Town. Jean Wyman used to chuckle about my enthusiasm for United, and when I returned to the shop after completing the deliveries, she asked me for a favour. Apparently she had a neighbour whose son was United daft even though he was only 7 at that time. Jean asked if it was possible if I could obtain some autographs for him from the United players that afternoon – it was a request that I relished.
I recall that afternoon today with great sadness and a very heavy heart. Going up to Old Trafford on the bus, I was full of excitement, expectation, and the adrenalin flowed as it always did whenever I went to a first team match. The “Babes” were my heroes, as far as I was concerned they were a huge part of me. For the past three and a half years I had watched them make their transitions from young boys into young men. I was no different from thousands of youngsters just like me and it was the same for the adults as well. We had watched as United as a club had embraced everybody’s lives and for us youngster’s, we were growing up alongside them. We all felt so much a part of it. The players, the manager, the staff, were all very much large in the local community. There was no distance between any of them and the fans – they were in fact just young working class boys who loved to play football for the club that they loved. No airs and graces, no pretentiousness, no big egos – feet firmly planted on the ground. Manchester United was just one big happy family.
I was a little later than normal getting to Old Trafford and the crowd was much larger than expected. I entered by the Juniors entrance in what is now United Road and made my way to a place behind the goal at the Scoreboard End. After the shellacking of Bolton the previous week, most fans expected a goal feast that afternoon as the opponent was Ipswich Town. It wasn’t too many years before 1958 that they had resided in the old Southern League. They had a young manager at the time in his first season with their club. One who had graced the First Division for many years with ‘Spurs and England as a cultured left full-back. It was none other than Sir Alf Ramsey, who just 8 years later was to take England to a World Cup win. Also returning to Old Trafford that afternoon was a former Manchester United manager, Scott Duncan, who had held the post for a few years just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.
It had snowed earlier in the week and as the game started there were small snow piles all around the touchline as I recall, placed there by the ground staff who had swept the pitch clear. In goal for Ipswich that day was Roy Bailey, father of Gary Bailey who was to play his part in some of the successes of United during the 1980’s. The expected goal feast didn’t happen that afternoon and United did no more than they needed to do to forge ahead into the fifth round of the F.A. Cup. 53,550 fans saw United take the game at a slower than normal pace and with a brace of goals from Bobby Charlton, they won easily by 2-0. Since coming into the team in mid-December, these goals made it a total of 9 in 9 games for the likeable young Geordie.
Immediately after the final whistle, I made my way out of the ground and walked around to the main entrance just down by the railway side. As usual there was a horde of kids hanging about outside the door just waiting for the players to emerge some 30 – 45 minutes after the game had ended. It was dark and it gotten colder. As we stood there facing those great wooden doors, we could see the steam and hear the sound of laughter and banter coming out from the open windows of the dressing room. We youngsters waited patiently for our heroes. Around 5:30p.m. the players started to emerge. Mark Jones with his inevitable trilby on, and pipe in mouth; Harry Gregg; Roger Byrne, always in a hurry to get away; Tommy Taylor, Bobby Charlton, and Kenny Morgans; little Eddie Colman; Albert Scanlon and Dennis Viollet. With the exception of Roger Byrne, all of the players stood and signed our books and bits of paper etc and then they disappeared down towards Warwick Road. The “big fella” and Bill Foulkes would have left via the old ticket office as we didn’t see them at all. My abiding memory of those 15-20 minutes or so is of little Eddie who came out through those doors with a group of friends. He was happy, chirpy, bubbly, chatting away to those friends as he signed away. So full of fun was that young boy, and then he was gone, just like the others, off into the distance and darkness, and out of our lives.
I look back on that day with mixed emotions. We were not to know that this would be the last time that we would see them in the flesh. To have witnessed their smiles and their happiness is something that I will always treasure. They had their whole world in front of them. So many dreams to aspire to; so much vibrancy in their lives; so much to live for; so much to give. I had a book signed with a good few signatures, and on the Monday afternoon, I handed it over to Jean Wyman and she was so pleased as she would make her neighbour’s son such a happy young boy when she gave it to him later that evening.
On the Tuesday, January 28th 1958, Manchester United announced their travel plans for the forthcoming trip to Belgrade. When they had played the game against Dukla in Prague in early December of 1957, the return journey had been beset by problems. United’s European travels were taken using scheduled airline services in those days. Because of fog in England there were long delays in Prague, and eventually, the United flight was diverted to Amsterdam in Holland. The situation became serious and Walter Crikmer, the Club Secretary, had to run around organizing the different modes of travel required to get the team back into England in time to fulfill their First Division fixture with Birmingham City at St. Andrews on December 7th. They made the journey by sea, out from Amsterdam and they arrived in Harwich in the early hours of Saturday morning. From there they went by coach directly to Birmingham arriving just a few hours before the kick off time. It probably helps understand why United didn’t fire on all cylinders that afternoon coming away with a 3-3 draw. Not wanting a repeat episode, especially with the mouth watering clash against Wolves at Old Trafford coming immediately after their scheduled return from Belgrade, United announced that for the trip to Belgrade they would charter their own aircraft. They had contacted British European Airways and an agreement was reached to charter a 47 seated Elizabethan aircraft for the 2000 miles round trip to Eastern Europe. By doing this, United wouldn’t be tied down to having to adhere to the rigid airline schedules. When we now look back, this decision was to have monumental implications.
On Friday afternoon, January 31st, United left London Road Rail Station and traveled down to London where they would stay overnight at the Lancaster Gate Hotel before fulfilling their fixture against Arsenal at Highbury the following afternoon. The players, management, and directors were all in high spirits as they headed south. The team had gelled and was playing some wonderful football and had not been beaten since mid-November. They knew that they had a monumental task on hand in trying to overhaul the lead that Wolves had established over them in the League, but they were confident that they could achieve this. The season was approaching its most exciting and important time – they were chasing that third consecutive Championship, were into the 5th round of the F.A. Cup, and also had the second leg of the European Cup Quarter Final less than a week away.
On Saturday morning the 1st February, there was a lot of activity inside the hotel where United were staying. It was established later on that morning, that Mr. George Whittaker, one of the Club’s Directors, had been found dead in bed in his hotel room. It was again, an event that would have serious implications upon the history, and future of Manchester United Football Club.
Traveling with the United party that day was a fan that was a dear friend, and very closes to Matt Busby. His name was Willie Satinoff. Willie Satinoff had become a very successful businessman and had mad his money in the “rag trade” in and around city centre Manchester. Outside of his business interests and commitments, he was a devoted family man, and his main leisure pastime was following Manchester United. He was a fanatical supporter and had traveled to League games and throughout Europe with the official Manchester United party. It was well known in Manchester sporting circles and especially amongst the press boys, that Willie was on the verge of becoming a Manchester United Director. Louis Edwards was around the scene in those days, but was looked upon more as a “hanger on” than anything else. George Whittaker loathed the man and thwarted him a number of times when he made an attempt to become a Board member. It was Willie Satinoff who was “flavour of the month.”
United traveled to Highbury for the game and as a mark of respect wore black armbands and a minutes silence ensued before the kick-off. I doubt very much whether anybody who entered that famous old ground that afternoon could ever have envisaged the game that they were about to witness. Here is an old newspaper report of that game:
1 February 1958, 20:25
Over 63,000 were present to witness Manchester United's first visit to the capital this season, and those lucky souls were privileged to witness not only the champions at their best, but also to see Arsenal produce one of their finest displays of determination and character since the days of Herbert Chapman. All this and nine goals as well.
Football League Division 1
Arsenal 4 Manchester United 5
Herd 58 Edwards 10
Bloomfield 60,61 Charlton 32
Tapscott 76 Taylor 43, 71
It is to be sincerely hoped that this absorbing match did not take too much out of United before their difficult match in Belgrade on Wednesday. If United are to prevail in Yugoslavia, much will depend on the form of the young Bobby Charlton, who was superb here today, improving all the time as he continues his progress from the one-sided, rather limited midfielder that he was last season into the brilliant inside-forward who played at Highbury.
United have no patience with the modern trend of moving one, two or even three defenders back to cover the defence, and they deserve credit for keeping their attacking tradition intact; in fact, at times in this match their wing-halves joined in with the attackers to make six or even seven forwards. Of course, this occasionally leaves gaps in the defence, and it seemed early on that Arsenal might take advantage of this; in the opening stages Mark Jones and even Harry Gregg were called upon to intervene at the last moment to deny Arsenal’s forwards. But after ten minutes, United were first on the score sheet, as Dennis Viollet dribbled through the Arsenal defence before picking out Kenny Morgans; his cut-back found Duncan Edwards to open the scoring. Then Albert Scanlon became the scourge of the Londoners; first he ran at great pace with the ball, and when he crossed it hard and low Charlton was on hand to finish cleanly. Ten minutes later it was Scanlon again who caused the damage, when another low cross was knocked back across goal by Morgans and Charlton was there again to claim United’s third.
At half-time Groves and Tapscott swapped positions in the Arsenal forward line, and it seemed to have the desired effect. Suddenly Jones was having plenty of trouble in the United midfield, and because Roger Byrne was not giving Jones much in the way of support, the Arsenal attacking play became much more threatening. All of a sudden, Arsenal clawed themselves back into the game with three goals in as many astonishing minutes. Firstly, Bowen delivered a long pass into Herd, who took his chance coolly to give Arsenal some hope; two minutes after that Nutt ran down the left, his cross found Groves’ head, and Bloomfield converted the knock-down. Arsenal sensed a chance to capitalise on United’s sudden self-doubt, and sure enough, a minute after the second, Nutt had repeated his left wing cross, this time finding Bloomfield directly; the header crept just inside the post. A lesser team than United might have crumbled completely at this point, but the Reds simply went up the other end and scored themselves. Scanlon went very wide on the left, and linked up with Charlton; Viollet was on hand to head home Charlton’s cross. United’s fifth came from a tremendous piece of improvisation from Tommy Taylor, who found himself running in towards the Arsenal goal along the goal-line. With few options available in the middle, he elected to shoot, catching out Kelsey by scoring from an almost impossible angle.
Arsenal should have been done for by that fifth goal, but with fourteen minutes still left to play, Groves, who had run tirelessly in midfield all afternoon, set up Herd with a great chance. The Arsenal centre-forward, however, preferred to pass to Tapscott, who had managed to escape from Byrne’s attentions, and easily scored to make it 5-4.
Fortunately for United, the scoring finished there, and they were able to return north with both points to prepare for another European jaunt. But their satisfaction at winning at Highbury will have been tempered by news of the leaders Wolves beating Leicester 5-1, and furthermore United will know that they need to produce a performance of at least equal skill and determination if they are to hold Red Star on Wednesday night.
Arsenal: Kelsey; S. Charlton, Evans; Ward, Fotheringham, Bowen; Groves, Tapscott, Herd, Bloomfield, Nutt.
Manchester United: Gregg; Foulkes, Byrne; Colman, Jones, Edwards; Morgans, Charlton, Taylor, Viollet, Scanlon.
Nobody was to know that afternoon that this would be the last time that this wonderful young team would perform on the English stage. For the 63,000 present at Highbury that day, they were left with the memory of a wonderful young team; a wonderful bunch of young men; a team that played the game in the right way; played it in the right spirit; and left them with the memories of a wonderful game of football between two great clubs.
As the train headed back up north that evening, the players were elated. Even though they had conceded 4 goals, Busby didn’t seem to be too concerned. What was worrying him most was that his skipper, Roger Byrne had picked up a strain and initially was thought doubtful for the Belgrade game the following Wednesday. The players were in high spirits and eventually arrived at London Road Station just after 10:30p.m. For the married lads it was off home to their wives and families, but the single lads wanted a night out, so off they went into Manchester’s city centre to explore the nightlife. They found themselves in a club named “The Costa” and as they sat and enjoyed themselves, they were unaware that the blonde haired boy sat just opposite from them was in later years to play such an important part in reviving Manchester United’s fortunes and to write himself into the folklore of their history. It was a very young, Denis Law!
Early on Monday morning, February 3rd, the players gathered at Old Trafford to catch the coach which would take them to Ringway Airport to catch their charter flight to Belgrade. Their departure was delayed because uncharacteristically, Mark Jones was late. It was a misty, foggy morning, and upon arrival at Ringway, they found that their departure would be delayed for at least an hour. The players broke off into their various groups, some playing cards, others just having a brew. The spirit amongst them was good especially after the win at Arsenal and there was a lot of banter. The flight to Belgrade took just over six hours and there was a re-fuelling atop en-route at Munich. As the aircraft approached Belgrade the weather was bad and there was snow and poor visibility. It circled the city a few times before it managed to land safely. Looking back, it is rather surprising to see that the records show that United’s charter flight was the only aircraft that managed to land in Belgrade that day.
Immediately upon deplaning and entering the airport arrivals hall, the players were surrounded by pressmen and photographers from news agencies all across Europe. The media interest in the forthcoming game was immense. The party departed the airport and went to their hotel and it was early evening and dark when they arrived. Their rooms were on the fourth floor of the hotel and the players were surprised but not alarmed to see armed guards on each floor. Much to their disappointment, the evening meal which they were served at the hotel was found to be cold. Some of them had taken their own supplies and so retired back to their rooms to supplement what they had eaten.
After dinner, a number of the players decided to have a walk about in the city. They donned their overcoats and off they went. It was a culture shock for all of them. Their eyes opened wide as they saw some of the poverty that existed back then. There was long queues at all of the shops and Tommy Taylor stared in disbelief pointing out that a number of people were wearing shoes made from old car tyres. As they walked about they came across what they thought was a skating rink. Upon closer inspection it was found to be a small park lake that had frozen over. Tommy Taylor, Jackie Blanchflower, decided to give it a try whilst the others stood back and watched. The management team would have had palpitations had they witnessed what these two international players were doing! After the skating episode, some of the players did a little late night shopping and bartered with chocolates, cigarettes, and toothpaste instead of using cash.
Upon arrival in Belgrade it had been rumoured that the game was in danger due the pitch being frost bound. However, the Red Star officials had assured United that the pitch would be thawed out in time for the Wednesday afternoon kick-off. On the Tuesday afternoon the United party, along with the press lads and the aircraft crew, l went to the stadium and the players trained. With the crew was a Steward, Tommy Cable. Tommy was a United nut and he had managed to change duties with the person originally selected to crew, just so he could fly with United and get to see the game. The surface of the pitch was still hard and under a covering of snow and there was ice patches all over it. Roger Byrne took a fitness test and declared himself fit to play. The party returned to the hotel and trainers Tom Curry and Bert Whalley got busy with the player’s boots making sure that they had studs of the correct length for the conditions.
The players were still in great spirit and that evening they all decided on a visit to the cinema. Much to their surprise, as they entered the cinema, the first two rows were cleared of people and the United party given preference! The players felt sorry for those poor people that had paid their hard earned money. However, they may not have been able to understand the film as it was all in English. With the film over, the players retired back to their rooms at the hotel and had an early night – the following day was going to be a huge test for them. Back in Manchester, we were all nervous and waited with anxiety as to how this game would go.
Wednesday February 5th dawned, and a lot of the players slept in. At lunchtime they had a light snack and afterwards they were told of the team selection and briefed by manager Matt Busby in one of the hotel’s dining rooms. When they left the hotel to board the coach for the stadium, there was hundreds of singing, dancing, Red Star fans outside. It was the same all the way to the stadium. The stadium was packed to capacity, many of the spectators being servicemen. The pitch was still not in the best of condition but from the very first whistle United had decided to take the game to Red Star. Within 2 minutes they had been rewarded. Red Star had an attack broken down just on the United 18 yards line and the ball was swiftly played up the channel on the right hands side of the pitch. Tommy Taylor had moved out wide to collect the ball just inside his own half. Turning quickly he was away down the right hand side as the Slav defenders retreated. Dennis Viollet had made a run inside of him and as the big Yorkshireman bore down towards the goal, instead of shooting himself he slipped a short ball inside to Viollet who made no mistake in putting it past Beara and into the net. The goal should have given United more breathing space. However they continued with their strategy of attacking the Slavs, and after 14 minutes thought that they had increased their lead when Charlton had the ball in the net only for the goal to be ruled out for offside. The Austrian referee was spoiling the game as he whistled so often, more often than not, and it was frustrating United as they only had to go near a Red Star player to be pulled for a foul. The game was stop – start and even the most innocuous of challenges was penalized. Big Duncan Edwards vented his feelings to the referee only to find himself being booked for his audacity! On 15 minutes, Bobby Charlton picked up a loose ball in central midfield just inside the Slav’s half. He drove forward until he was some 25 yards out and let fly with a blockbuster of a shot that hardly got off the ground. However, it was hit with such venom that once again, Beara got nowhere to it. Leading 2-0 and 4-1 on aggregate, the tie was virtually over and the Slav crowd was silenced. It got even better just two minutes later when on 17 minutes, after United had been awarded a free kick, there was a melee in the Red Star goalmouth. The ball fell to Edwards who miscued his shot which rebounded from Beara to Bobby Charlton who made no mistake from such short range. 3-0 up with just over a quarter of an hour played – 5-1 up on aggregate – things just couldn’t get better. To all intents and purposes, this tie was over.
For the remainder of the first half United were content to play the ball around, keep possession, and keep it safe at the back. The Red Star team looked demoralized and downhearted as the half – time whistle sounded and the teams made their way to the dressing rooms. Whatever was said by the Red Star management team in their dressing room during that break certainly had an effect! Within two minutes of the restart inside forward Kostic had pulled a goal back, and then just 10 minutes later there came an incident that is still talked about today. Bill Foulkes was marking Zebec tightly and the ball was played into the young Slav’s feet. He was blatantly backing into Foulkes and as he did so, they both went tumbling inside the penalty area. The United players were furious when Keitl, the Referee pointed to the penalty spot. It was a very suspicious decision but one that allowed Kastic to score and Red Star were back in the game at 2-3 and 3-5 on aggregate with still over half an hour to go.
United had to fight a hard rearguard action and for the remainder of the game, Edwards and Byrne marshalled their defenders magnificently. They did breakaway on a few occasions and after carrying the ball some 40 yards or more, young Kenny Morgans was unlucky to see his shot rebound off the inside of the post and out to safety. The Yugoslavian fans were now very noisy and as the minutes ticked away, they upped the atmosphere. Somehow United hung on until in the very last minute, Harry Gregg had to come racing out to the edge of his area to smother a through ball destined for the feet of Sekularac. The big Irishman made sure that he got there first but the impetus of his dive took him outside of the area and he was penalized. From the free kick, Kostic lifted it over United’s wall and into the United net to make the score 3-3 and 4-5 on aggregate. The crowd were in raptures, but unfortunately for them, the Referee blew up to end the game almost as soon as the game had re-started.
Tom Curry and Bert Whalley ushered the players off the pitch as some of them were bombarded with lumps of ice from the disappointed Red Star fans. Once inside the dressing room there was relief. United were through and could now look forward to seeing who they would draw in the semi-finals. Busby’s reaction was one of elation and his words to the players were; “well that’s another one out of the way and we’re there again.” Afterwards, when the players met the Press and were asked about the second half, Roger Byrne told them; “We had to stop tackling because the referee was blowing up for anything and everything. We had to be careful and keep our composure. We just dare not go in.” The Red Star players were generous in their praise for United after the game and admitted that the best team over the two legs had won through.
The United party returned to their hotel and after a few hours rest. In the evening the British Ambassador was hosting a dinner for both teams at the Majestic Hotel. There was a lot of respect and camaraderie between the two sets of players and as the evening wore on, they just wanted to get away and enjoy themselves. Sir Matt had told Roger Byrne the skipper, that he would allow the players to leave once all the formalities and presentations were over. As it approached midnight the younger players were getting itchy feet, so Roger wrote on a napkin; “You promised the boys that they could leave once the formalities were over. Permission to go?” The napkin was passed up to the top table and upon reading it, Sir Matt looked down the table to where Roger was sat and just nodded his assent. Roger rose and assembled his team together, and led them as they all joined in with a rendition of the old war time song that was such a big hit for Vera Lynn; “We’ll meet Again.”
Sadly, that was never to be and as the players slipped out of the Embassy into the snow and darkness, for the majority of them, although they were never to know it; their careers, European adventures, and their journey through life, was just a few short hours away from being over.