Very few Manchester United fans will recall the club wining a Quadruple of trophies in season 1966-67 during the halcyon days of the famous triumvirate of Law, Best and Charlton.
Written by John White
Carryduff Manchester United Supporters’ Club
But the author of 17 books on Manchester United, a super fan who possesses a cornucopia of knowledge about the team’s history, Belfast Red John White, recalls it all too vividly.
The 1966-67 season was the greatest in the history of Manchester United, their anus mirabilis. Domestically we were untouchable, winning the English First Division Championship by four points ahead of runners-up, Nottingham Forest, who were managed by Busby’s first Manchester United captain, Ireland’s Johnny Carey.
Gentleman Jim, as he was affectionately nicknamed by the United fans, captained United to FA Cup success in 1948, the First Division Championship in 1951-52 and the 1952 FA Charity Shield, the first three trophies won by United under Matt Busby. Old Trafford was a fortress in 1966-67 with United winning 18 and drawing 3 (Liverpool 2-2, Leeds United 0-0 and Stoke City 0-0) of their 21 League home games and every Cup game played at Old Trafford.
Our first trophy actually arrived on 4 March 1967, the Football League Cup. United made their way to the Wembley final defeating Colchester United 5-0 in Round 1, a 1-1 draw away to Aldershot in Round 2 with United winning the replay 2-0. In Round 3 we beat Swansea Town 2-1 at their Vetch Field home followed by a 4-2 victory over Leicester City in Round 4. Carlisle United stood between us and a semi-final berth with United edging a tight encounter 2-1. The semi-finals were a home and away leg and United were drawn against Birmingham City. The first leg took place at St Andrews on 17 January 1967, United romping the game 4-1. In the return tie, United won 3-1 at Old Trafford on 7 February 1967, for a 7-2 aggregate win. West Bromwich Albion beat West Ham United 6-2 on aggregate thereby depriving The Hammers’ legendary captain, Bobby Moore, from captaining a team to four different Cup final wins in four consecutive years at Wembley Stadium. West Ham United won the 1964 FA Cup under the Twin Towers beating Preston North End 3-2 and the following year Bobby lifted the European Cup Winners’ Cup at Wembley Stadium after beating 1860 Munich 2-0. And of course, Bobby captained England to World Cup final glory at Wembley Stadium in 1966, a 4-2 win over West Germany after extra-time. United claimed the first silverware of the season thanks to a 3-2 victory against The Baggies (scorers: Law, Best & Charlton).
In the FA Cup, United beat Millwall 1-0 at home in a Third Round replay having drawn the first game 0-0 in London, Portsmouth 4-1 at Old Trafford in Round 4, they saw off Bristol City at home with a 2-1 victory. The quarter-finals draw pitched United with an away trip to Birmingham City with the game ending 0-0 at St Andrews. Four days later United booked their semi-final place with a thumping 6-0 win before a delighted bumper midweek crowd at Old Trafford thanks to two hat-tricks from George Best and Denis Law. On 29 April 1967, United faced their nemesis that season, Nottingham Forest, at Hillsborough, the home of Sheffield Wednesday. In the League, Forest swept aside United 4-1 (scorer: Charlton) at the City Ground in October and in the corresponding fixture in February, Law scored the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win. Had Forest beaten us at Old Trafford both sides would have ended the campaign on 58 points but United would still have been crowned Champions thanks to a superior goal difference, plus 39 to our rivals’ plus 23. Denis Law was our top goal scorer in the League with 23 from his 36 games.
On 20 May 1967, we met Chelsea in the final at Wembley Stadium, London before an expectant 100,000 fans. Chelsea had a star studded side with the likes of Peter Bonetti in goal, Eddie McCreadie and Ron “Chopper” Harris in defence, Charlie Cooke and John Hollins in their midfield and Bobby Tambling up front who was Chelsea’s all-time leading goal scorer for 47 years with 202 goals in all competitions until the current Chelsea manager, Frank Lampard, surpassed his total on 11 May 2013. The Chelsea manager who led his team out of the tunnel for the final was none other than Tommy Docherty, who would go on to manage United including guiding us to the Second Division Championship in season 1974-75, a 1-0 loss to Southampton in the 1976 FA Cup final and FA Cup glory over Liverpool in 1977, a 2-1 victory over our fiercest rivals under the famous Twin Towers. One week after the United players paraded the English First Division Championship trophy around the Old Trafford pitch after drawing 0-0 with Stoke City, the United captain, Bobby Charlton, climbed Wembley’s famous 39 steps to receive the FA Cup from Queen Elizabeth II. United beat Chelsea 2-1 with David Sadler and the teenage Best netting our goals. The victory meant that United became only the second team of the century to claim the Double of English First Division Championship and FA Cup in the same season, Tottenham Hotspur achieved this feat in season 1960-61.
In Europe we were drawn against the Swiss Champions, Fussballclub Zürich, in Round 1. The first leg was played at Old Trafford and we won 2-0 thanks to two brilliant goals from George Best. The Belfast Boy missed the second leg at the Letzigrund, Zurich against the four times Swiss Super League Winners, but we didn’t need him as the reigning European Footballer of the Year, and FIFA World Cup winner just three months earlier, Bobby Charlton scored the perfect hat-trick, a left footed tap in from a Denis Law pass, a trademark 25 yard shot with his right foot rocket launcher of a football boot and a header, without even upsetting his hair! The Round 2 draw pitched us against the Champions of Ligue 1, FC Nantes, France, who were national Champions for the first time in their 23 year history. FC Nantes were formed on 21 April 1943, during the Nazi occupation of France in World War 2, an amalgamation of local clubs who bonded together despite the backdrop of hostilities enveloping their everyday lives. The first leg was played in Nantes at their Stade Olympique Yves-du-Manoir ground with United returning to Manchester on the back of a two goal advantage and three away goals in the bag. United beat Les Canaris (The Canaries) 3-1, our goals resembling our 3-1 win over Leicester City in the 1963 FA Cup final, two scored by David Herd and one from The King himself, the one and only, Denis Law, European Footballer of the Year in 1964. United won the home leg by the same score a week later (2 week gaps between European ties were a long way off), with Charlton, Herd and John Aston Jr on the scoresheet. Round 3 was actually the quarter-finals of the competition because in season 1966-67, only the Champions of each UEFA nation were entitled to play in the European Cup. The concept of a Champions League as we know it today was more than two decades away (it commenced in season 1992-93 which saw the winners of the last ever English First Division Championship, Leeds United in 1991-92, lose 2-1 home and away to Glasgow Rangers in Round 2).
The first leg of our quarter-final tie versus Fudbalski klub Vojvodina, who the previous season had won the Yugoslavian League for the first time in their history, was played at their Karađorđe Stadium home. United lost 1-0 in a game more remembered for the brutal tackles and off the ball kicks and punches than for the defeat on 1 March 1967. A week later a bumper crowd of 63,674 poured into Old Trafford for the second leg. United beat the team with the same nickname as the world famous Italian side, Juventus, “The Old Lady,” 2-0 with goals from Herd and Law.
The semi-final draw included us plus CSKA Red Flag (Bulgaria), Dukla Prague (Czechoslovakia) and Inter Milan (Italy). But for our second consecutive game in Europe’s premier tournament, we had to travel behind the Iron Curtain. On 12 April 1967, United welcomed the eight times winners of the Czechoslovak First League, Dukla Prague, to Old Trafford. United won the tie 3-1 with goals from the players who would later be dubbed “The Holy Trinity,” Law, Best and Charlton. In the corresponding fixture, the Italian Champions only managed a 1-1 draw at home to the Bulgarian A Group Champions. Everything looked set for a United v CSKA Red Flag final six weeks later in Lisbon, Portugal. In the second leg of our semi-final, we held out, a 0-0 draw meant we were in the final of the European Cup final. But who would we play in the final at Wembley Stadium on 25 May 1968? Inter Milan grabbed a 1-1 draw in the Vasil Levski National Stadium, Sofia, Bulgaria which meant a play-off match to see who would face us in the final of Europe’s most coveted trophy.
For some unknown reason, UEFA did not rule that the play-off game should be played on neutral territory. So on 3 May 1967, Inter Milan had home advantage over their Bulgarian opponents when the game was staged at Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, Bologna, Italy. The Italian Champions won the game 1-0. And so, to the final of the most prestigious game in European football, the 1968 European Cup final at the home of football, Wembley Stadium, London, England. On 25 May 1967, United met the 10 times Serie A Champions, and two times European Cup winners (1964 & 1965) to decide who would claim the mantle of “The Best Team In Europe.” The final was hosted by Portugal in its national stadium, Estádio Nacional, Lisbon. It was a balmy night in an expanse ground, which resembled an athletics stadium as it was encircled by an athletics track, and a record crowd of 45,000 fans attended the game in the hope that their side would be crowned the best side in Europe.
The open areas of the ground were a sea of red and white. But, just seven minutes after the game kicked off, Inter Milan took the lead. We conceded a penalty when Paddy Crerand brought down their big centre forward, Renato Cappellini, in the box and midfielder Sandro Mazzola scored from the spot against Alex Stepney in the United goal. United were staring defeat in the eyes but in the 62nd minute of the game Law drew us level. The Italian fans in the ground were stunned. And then, with only five minutes to go, George Best collected a pass from Crerand in the middle of the pitch. Best looked around him, and thought about attempting a dribble past a defiant Italian back four marshalled by their captain Armando Picchi, but decided to lay a pass off to Charlton. Bobby looped his pass over a towering blue and black striped wall into the path an on running Best who finished the move off in his own majestic style, rounding Giuliano Sarti in the Italians’ net, and sliding the ball into the open net.
After the final whistle, there was a pitch invasion by United’s travelling Red Army of fans, which meant that United could not be presented the trophy on the pitch. Some of the United players also had their shirts taken by jubilant United fans. Bobby Charlton, the United captain, captain had to be ushered around the outside of the stadium under armed guards to receive the trophy on a podium in the main stand. Matt Busby, the United manager, had tears in his eyes as he watched Bobby hold aloft the trophy nicknamed “Big Ears” high into the Lisbon sky. United’s triumph came just 9 years after eight of Busby’s Babes lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958 when returning home from a European Cup quarter-final second leg 3-3 draw (scorers: Charlton 2 & Dennis Viollet) against Red Star Belgrade, Yugoslavia which put United into the semi-finals of the tournament having won the home leg 2-1 (scorers: Charlton & Eddie Colman) three weeks earlier. It took almost a decade for the club to recover, with Busby rebuilding the team and winning the European Cup in 1967 with a new generation of “Babes.” John Aston Jr was 19 and George Best had just celebrated his 21st birthday three days before the final.
United Team: Alex Stepney, Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne, Noel Cantwell, Bill Foulkes, Paddy Crerand, Nobby Stiles, John Aston Jr, George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law.
It was official. Manchester United were the best team in Europe in 1967 and became the first team to win the coveted Quadruple of Football League Cup, English First Division Championship, FA Cup and European Cup. They also became the first British side to claim the European Cup.
Too good to be true? Well, yes it is. Unless you were a 4 year old kid growing up in Belfast during the 1960s who kicked a ball against a brick wall for hours on end each day after school and all day long at weekends and who at night loved nothing more than a game of Subbuteo with his mates. My United season in 1966-67 was played out on the floor of my bedroom in Craigleith Walk, Ballybeen Estate, Dundonald which is situated on the outskirts of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Back then there were no fancy computer games or gadgets about and if you weren’t out on the street playing some sport or other then you were probably in the house playing Monopoly or Subbuteo or Scrabble if you were really smart. A new football was always top of my Christmas list, an orange Wembley one, and a new Subbuteo team if Mum and Dad could afford it, Manchester United was my first choice of course although I was really adventurous the odd time and chose a Northern Ireland one but only because George Best played for them and I remember getting a Brazil team after I watched them win the 1970 World Cup.
However, not all of my Manchester United season in 1966-67 is pure fiction or a boy’s dream. Blackpool beat us 5-1 (scorer: David Herd) at Bloomfield Road in Round 2 of the League Cup and Norwich City knocked us out of the FA Cup, a 2-1 loss at Old Trafford in Round 4 (scorer: Denis Law). But, we did win the League in the manner which I described. Queens Park Rangers, a Third Division side at the time, lifted the Football League Cup by defeating all of the sides I mentioned we faced (all of the scores were correct). Tottenham Hotspur won the FA Cup and met all of the sides, including Chelsea in the final, which I said we played (all of the scores were correct). And of course, Glasgow Celtic became the first British side to win the European Cup in 1967 and they played all of the sides, and achieved the same results, for my made-up United European adventure. Incidentally, Celtic won every tournament they entered in season 1966-67, their very own annus mirabilis, including the Scottish League, Scottish Cup, Scottish League Cup, Glasgow Cup and the European Cup, an unprecedented Quintuple of silverware. Celtic defeated the mighty Inter Milan 2-1 in the 1967 European Cup final played in the National Stadium, Lisbon, Portugal with a team comprised of 11 players who were all born within a 30 mile radius of Celtic’s home ground, Celtic Park. The team, managed by the legendary Scottish manager, Jock Stein, are quite justifiably referred to as “The Lisbon Lions.” Glasgow Celtic were so good in 1966-67, they even won BBC Scotland TV’s “On The Ball” sports quiz competition! Remarkably three of the greatest ever managers in the history of British football Jock Stein, Bill Shankly and Sir Matt Busby were all born within a few miles of each other from Burnbank (Stein), Glenbuck (Shankly) to Bellshill (Busby), from Ayrshire and Lanarkshire and all into mining communities.
“No Scot ever made a bigger impact on a club than Bill Shankly. Others may claim an equal share of trophies and Matt Busby comes to mind with his wonderful record crowned by the European Cup, but not even Matt would claim the kinship with the fans that Bill Enjoyed. He was what football was all about. I can’t praise him higher than that.” – Jock Stein shortly after Bill Shankly died on 29 September 1981
“Mr TV Williams, Chairman of Liverpool said to me, ‘How would you like to manage the best club in the country?’
‘Why, is Matt Busby packing it up?’ I asked.” – Bill Shankly, December 1959
‘John, you’re immortal now’ – Bill Shankly to Jock Stein, May 1967
Subbuteo was created by Peter Adolph (1916–1994). The “Subbuteo” name is derived from the neo-Latin scientific name “Falco subbuteo” which is a bird of prey commonly known as the Eurasian hobby. Adolph lodged a trademark application to call his invention “Hobby” but this was refused and so he opted for Subbuteo. The availability of Subbuteo was first announced in the August 1946 edition of “The Boy’s Own Paper.” The advertisement offered to send details of the new game but no sets were actually produced until March 1947. During the early 1970s, toy manufacturers filled the TV advertisement slots for about two months in the lead up to Christmas. Many a child hurriedly got out their note to Santa and scribbled down the toy which they liked the most. I was no different. But my note to Santa changed almost on a weekly basis as new toy after new toy appeared on the TV screen. In the end I just settled for a new Subbuteo team and very often a new Subbuteo pitch, because the white lines on mine had become blurred as a result of the hundreds of matches I played on it. I can remember deliberately breaking the arm off one of my Brazil team players because the imbalance made him swerve that little bit more than the other figures when you flicked him.
I spent countless nights in my bedroom playing imaginary FA Cup finals with my mates and when one Christmas I got a set of floodlights, I thought I was the boy in the big picture. Off would go the “Big Light.” Yes, we called the main light in the room the Big Light long before Peter Kay had people in stitches about it. Mind you, I don’t recall eating any garlic bread when I was a kid, far too fancy that. My Dad spent a fortune on batteries to keep my floodlights going. There were five special shops where Mum and Dad would buy me my toys. Nabney’s was situated on the Albertbridge Road near my home in Harper Street in the Short Strand area of East Belfast where we moved to when The Troubles began in Northern Ireland in 1969, and was where I got the majority of my Subbuteo stuff. Even today I can see myself standing in the shop with my head almost touching my left shoulder as I attempted to read the names of the football teams on the hundreds of boxes piled up on the shelves. The Co-Op, High Street, Belfast was a huge department store which had a toy section and was where I first met Santa Claus when I was about 6 or 7. I can vividly recall the marvellous window displays which Anderson and McAuley, Royal Avenue, Belfast and Robinson & Cleaver, Donegal Square North, Belfast put on at Christmas time. Practically every toy available in these stores could be seen in their Christmas displays. It was a welcome distraction from the atrocities happening in my city and all over Northern Ireland at the time.
Christmas mornings in Harper Street were very special when I was growing up. You would be up at the crack of dawn to see what Santa had brought you for being a good boy. I never could work out how Santa got into our house because for a few years we had a gas fire which covered the fireplace, so he definitely didn’t get in by coming down the chimney. But then when you saw what he had left you then it didn’t really matter how he’d got into the house. Out on the street there was the sound of bicycle bells ringing and weird noises coming out of a variety of hand held toys. Whilst you were always more than delighted with whatever presents you got you still wanted to know what your mates got. Some of my mates and I used to plan our Christmas very shrewdly. We would agree that we would all go for the same toy line, in this case Subbuteo. We wanted our Subbuteo nights to be as realistic as possible, so one particular Christmas I agreed to ask for a set of floodlights, and Joseph McGouran (may he Rest in Peace) went for the latest thing in goalkeepers as Subbuteo had introduced a goalkeeper with a spring which made him push the ball out further when making a save. I also asked for some cups (FA Cup, Jules Rimet World Cup). Raymond Murray would get a few new teams, mainly South American because they had the best looking kits (Argentina, Peru etc.), and some new Subbuteo footballs. After a few visits from Santa we had just about all there was to have in the Subbuteo range. We even had advertising hoardings, an alphabet scoreboard, a TV gantry with a camera and a cameraman, dugouts and benches for the managers, fencing for around the pitch and a policeman plus an Alsatian police dog. We had loads of arguments and if you could see us now you would be laughing because as soon as an argument started we would lift up the individual pieces which belonged to us thereby bringing the game to an abrupt end. Great memories from my childhood days. And as I write this piece I am staring at a Subbuteo Premier League trophy which is sitting on my office desk at home. Old habits never die.
The Daddy of the five special shops was Leisureworld on Queen Street, Belfast. I went to Leisureworld many times, and on Saturday mornings you had to queue up to get in – such was its popularity. But kids weren’t allowed in unless they were accompanied by an adult, so my mates and I used to mooch up to a woman in the queue and stand really close to her. When we got to the top of the line we would hold on to the back of her coat ever so gently to give the security guard on the door the impression that she was our mum or auntie. Leisureworld had every toy under the sun and it also had a sports department. But those security guards who worked for Leisureworld were good, because you never really got more than 20 minutes inside before they booted you out on to the street when they saw you minus your bogus relative. But we had seen all we wanted to see by the time we were found out. And no matter what shop you went into you were searched in case you were carrying any explosives or incendiary devices.
Robbs Department Store in Castle Place, Belfast was also an amazing toy shop. Santa at Robbs was magical. A shop assistant brought you in one door, sat you down on wooden Church pews which were a giant pretend sled and you sat there watching yourself get projected on a journey through a forest onto a big screen at the front of the room as if you were actually travelling. Then you went out through another door to see Santa and got you photograph taken with him. On one visit I got my hands on an orange Wembley Trophy ball. But they never lasted too long before bursting as they were very susceptible to sharp objects. But the balls could sometimes be mended with a skillful mega steady hand and a hot poker! I always thought Santa was a United fan, after all he did wear a red and white suit and had black boots!
In fact, no matter what shop you went to in Belfast city centre you got stopped and searched at the door, and this was after you had already been stopped and searched by the security forces at one of their checkpoints: a steel ring enclosed the city centre shopping area. A good mate of mine got his first skateboard (the fibreglass one not the American wooden one) in Leisureworld but it got run over by the Lemonade Man’s lorry.
And in closing, Mum and Dad, thank you for a wonderful childhood. I miss you both with all of my heart. Your son, John.
If you liked the above story, please check out my book:
Kicking Through the Troubles : Football Book by John White
Kicking Through the Troubles – Author John White writes about how supporting Manchester United helped to heal ri…