After the loss of so many players and still more unable to play again, stand-in manager Jimmy Murphy had to assemble a team to play the remaining fixtures of the 1957/58 season. United were competing in the league and were contenders to win the championship for a straight 3rd year. They were also progressing in the FA Cup. The league match scheduled for February 8th against Wolverhampton Wanders and the 5th round FA Cup fixture against Sheffield Wednsday was postponed a few days but the FA refused to delay the FA Cup too long and the match was rescheduled just 13 days after the crash.
There were many rival clubs that contacted Jimmy asking how they could help. Liverpool and Nottingham Forest were amongst the first. So desprate was United's need for players that the FA "cup tie" rule, prohibiting a player from appearing for 2 teams in the same seasons competition, was waived.
Jimmy's first signing was the hugely experienced Ernie Taylor from Blackpool. The signing fee of £8000 for a player aged 32, showed the desperation.
The first match after the disaster drew a crowd of almost 60,000 on that mid-winter Wednesday evening. It was a night of intense emotions as fans wept openly. Most of them had tied black ribbons to their red and white scarves and poignantly red, white and black would later become United's official colours.
The match programme added a final poignancy. The team sheet was empty. At the time of printing the night before not even Jimmy knew who would be playing. The club instructed the printers to draw 11 boxes so that the fans could write the names in themselves. Very few did. As the names of the United team were read out a hushed silence fell around the ground. Not even the customary cheers rang out for each name.
"In Goal.. Harry Gregg"
"At right back... Bill Foulkes"
then the names became less familar...
"At left full-back... Ian Greaves". Ian was a United reserve who had graduated from the youth team and at 22, and with less than 20 appearances in his 4 year career, found he was replacing the legendary captain Roger Byrne. He would later state: "I can remember the dressing room was very quiet. I couldn't get Roger out of my mind, I was getting changed where he would have sat. I was wearing his shirt..."
"At right-half... Freddie Goodwin". Freddie was another youth graduate. At 21 he had made around 20 appearances in his career.
"At center half... Ronnie Cope". Ronnie was also a 21 year old youth graduate joining the club in 1951.
"At left-half... Stan Crowther". This was news to everyone in the crowd as Stan had been signed (rather reluctantly) from Aston Villa less than 75 minutes before the kick off. Jimmy Murphy later said:
"Eric Houghton was Villa manager at the time and he had told Stan that we were interested in him. He didn't want to leave Villa, but Eric got him to come to Old Trafford to watch the Sheffield Wednesday game. On the way up he told him he thought that he should help us out, but Stan told him he hadn't brought any kit with him. `Don't worry, I've got your boots in my bag,' Eric said. We met at about half-past five and an hour before the kick-off he'd signed!"
"At outside right... Colin Webster". Colin had joined United in 1952 making his debut in the 1953-54 season. He had won a League Championship medal in 1956 with 15 appearances, but had been unable to displace Johnny Berry.
"At inside right.. Ernie Taylor"... the new signing from Blackpool
"At center forward... Alex Dawson". Alex was just 18 and making only his 6th appearance.
"At Inside-left.... Mark Pearson". Mark was also just 18 and making his senior debut after joinging as a 15 year old in the youth side
"At outside-left... Shay Brennan". Shay was a right back in the reserves and at 20 was making his senior debut as a left winger.
The Manchester United boys were playing for the memory of their 7 friends and idols who had been killed just 13 days ago; Duncan Edwards was to die 2 days after the match. They played with passion and inspiration and were encouraged by fans equally possessed. Perhaps the full strength Sheffield Wednesday side were more effected by the occasion than the new United and the young lads in the team but United destroyed Wednesday by 3 goals to nil, and it could have been many more.
Albert Quixall, who would later join United, played for Sheffield Wednesday that night and would later state:
"I don't think anyone who played in the game or who watched it will ever forget that night. United ran their hearts out, and no matter how well we had played they would have beaten us. They were playing like men inspired. We were playing more than just eleven players, we were playing 60,000 fans as well."
United opened the scoring on 27th minutes after a series of errors by Brian Ryalls in the Wednesday goal. Bill Foulkes struck a free-kick 30 yards from goal and it was going wide but Ryalls pushed it away for a corner. Brennan's floated a corner kick which Ryalls tried to collect under the bar but could only turn the ball into his own net.
Brennan added a second around the hour when a shot from Mark Pearson rebounded off Ryalls straight into Shays run. He made no mistake with a side foot and United led 2-0.
With the game won and with just five minutes of play remaining young Alex Dawson added the third to make the scoreline emphatic.
The crowd stayed late after the players had applauded their way off the field. No one seemed ready to leave. No one wanted to be the first to turn for home. There was sadness and grief in the faces of those fans as the painful memory of those whom had died was impossible to hide. They had witnessed a brand new team continue the winning ways of their babes but they knew they would never see their heroes again.
Life had to go on... but it was hard to do so.
written by Condor © UNITEDLOUNGE.COM Reproducing this material, either in whole or in part, without the permission of unitedlounge.com is strictly prohibited