Written by John White
Carryduff Manchester United Supporters’ Club
John White was born and bred in the Short Strand area of east Belfast quite close to where George Best first kicked a football in the street and is a leading authority and historian when it comes to all things Manchester United related.
The author of 17 books about the club he has supported all of his life, once again John gives us a unique insight into a piece of Manchester United history and also provides us with some very interesting trivia.
On 26 September 1956, exactly 63 years ago today, Manchester United recorded their biggest ever win in Europe in what was only the club’s second European game. United beat the Champions of Belgium, RSC Anderlecht, 10-0 at Old Trafford (scorers: Dennis Viollet 4, Tommy Taylor 3, Liam Whelan 2 and Johnny Berry) in the 2nd leg of the Preliminary First Round of the 1956-57 European Cup.
In season 1956-57, Manchester United pioneered the way into European football club competition for English clubs. Matt Busby built United around a European odyssey when he entered the club into the European Cup in season 1956-57. The European Cup was only in its second year whilst the English First Division Champions in season 1954-55, Chelsea, had been ordered by the Football League not to enter the inaugural tournament in 1955-56 who regarded the tournament as a distraction to domestic football. But in Busby, Manchester United had a manager who was not a man to listen to orders barked at him from the game’s hierarchy and he defied them by playing in the competition.
His Busby Babes side were the dominant force of the 1950s having won the First Division title in 1951-52 and 1955-56 (they also went on to win it in 1956-57 and ended runners-up in 1958-59) as well as finishing runners-up in 1950-51. Added to the latter, his youth team at Old Trafford won the first four FA Youth Cup finals in 1953, 1954, 1955 and 1956 (they also went on to win it in 1957). Busby knew that he had to pit his young players against the best Europe had to offer if he was to make United a name in world football. In many ways Busby and Ferguson were quite similar in that they both knew the importance of a successful youth team but more importantly they did what they felt was right for the club regardless of what others thought or dared to tell them to do.
On 12 September 1956, Manchester United became the first English side to play a competitive game in Europe, a 1st leg Preliminary First Round tie versus RSC Anderlecht. United won the game 2-0 (scorers: Viollet and Taylor) at Stade Émile Versé Stadium, Anderlecht, Brussels, Belgium. The team that made history that evening lined-up as follows:
Team – Ray Wood, Bill Foulkes, Roger Byrne (captain), Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, Jackie Blanchflower, Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, David Pegg, Dennis Viollet and Tommy Taylor.
Manchester United reached the semi-finals of the competition at their first attempt, going out in the semi-finals 5-3 on aggregate to the inaugural winners and defending Champions, Real Madrid. United lost the first leg 3-1 in Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on 11 April 1957 (scorer – Taylor) and drew the home leg two weeks later 2-2 (scorers – Taylor and Bobby Charlton).
The participating clubs in the first five seasons of the European Cup were selected by French football magazine L’Equipe, on the basis that they were among the top rated and most prestigious clubs in Europe at the time. Chelsea, the English Champions, were replaced by Gwardia Warszawa from Poland. Hibernian Football Club became the first British side to play in the tournament and reached the semi-finals in 1955-56, losing 3-0 over two legs to the French Champions, Reims, who were beaten 4-3 by the reigning Spanish Champions, Real Madrid, in the inaugural European Cup final which was played at Parc des Prices, Paris, France. This was also the only UEFA tournament to include a representative of Saarland, 1. FC Saarbrücken. Saarland was unified into West Germany in 1957.
Sadly, six of the United players who played in Manchester United’s first ever venture into Europe versus RSC Anderlecht lost their lives in the 1958 Munich Air Disaster when United were returning home from a 3-3 draw with Red Star Belgrade, Yugoslavia in the 1957-58 European Cup, a result which put them into the semi-finals. The flight home from Belgrade included a stop-off to refuel in Munich, West Germany because a non-stop flight from Belgrade to Manchester was beyond the Elizabethan-class Airspeed Ambassador’s range. After attempting a third take-off, with snow falling, the plane veered off the runway after going through a layer of slush at the end of it. It ploughed through a fence and crashed when its left wing was torn off after hitting a house. The following Busby Babes lost their lives at Munich-Reim Airport on 6 February 1958: Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam “Billy” Whelan. Duncan Edwards survived the crash but died in hospital 15 days later. Gone but not forgotten. Jackie Blanchflower’s injuries were so serious, he never played again, he was just 24-years old.
Did You Know That?
The 10-0 win against RSC Anderlecht is also United’s record win in all competitions.
Record League win:
10–1 v Wolverhampton Wanderers, First Division, 15 October 1892
9–0 v Walsall, Second Division, 3 April 1895
9–0 v Darwen, Second Division, 24 December 1898
9–0 v Ipswich Town, Premier League, 4 March 1995
Record FA Cup win:
8–0 v Yeovil Town, 12 February 1949
Record European win:
10–0 v Anderlecht, European Cup Preliminary Round, second leg, 26 September 1956
Record Champions League win:
7–1 v Roma, Champions League Quarter-final, second leg, 10 April 2007
Record home win:
10–0 v Anderlecht, European Cup Preliminary Round, second leg, 26 September 1956]
Record away win:
7–0 v Grimsby Town, Second Division, 26 December 1899
8–1 v Nottingham Forest, Premier League, 6 February 1999
Record Score Chalked Off The History Books
On 9 March 1895, Newton Heath FC (they became Manchester United in 1902) welcomed Walsall Town Swifts to their Bank Street, Clayton home for a Division Two game. However, before the game kicked off the manager of the visitors complained to the referee about the state of the pitch which looked like a strange mixture of grass, mud and sand and very soggy in places. The groundkeeper reacted by spreading several wheelbarrow loads of sand over the pitch.
The visitors were still unhappy but the game went ahead and The Heathens won 14-0. However, Walsall Town Swifts registered their complaint about the state of the pitch with the Football League who upheld the compliant and ordered the score to be stricken from the record books and for the game to be replayed. The re-arranged fixture took place at Bank Street, Clayton on 3 April 1895 and this time Newton Heath won 9-0. The club finished third in the league this season.