THE FATAL EUROPEAN CUP TRIP
United's 57/58 European Cup Run
|Preliminary||1st Leg (A)||Shamrock Rovers||6:0||Whelan (2), Taylor (2), Berry, Pegg|
|Preliminary||2nd Leg (H)||Shamrock Rovers||3:2||Taylor, Webster, Pegg|
|1st Round||1st Leg (H)||Dukla Prague||3:0||Webster, Taylor, Pegg|
|1st Round||2nd Leg (A)||Dukla Prague||0:1||None|
|Quarter Final||1st Leg (H)||Red Star Belgrade||2:1||Charlton, Coleman|
|Quarter Final||2nd Leg (A)||Red Star Belgrade||3:3||Charlton (2), Viollet|
|Semi Final||1st Leg (H)||AC Milan||2:1||Taylor, Viollet|
|Semi Final||2nd Leg (H)||AC Milan||0:4||None|
After that symbolic game, all thoughts were now on Europe. Could United hold on to that slender lead from the first leg? For the supporters left behind it seemed a narrow margin, but they had faith in those young players - after all had they not proved themselves time and again in similar circumstances?
For the players the damp, gray smog of Manchester's winter was replaced by the fresh crispness of mid-Europe. They had seen snow on their journey to the Yugoslav capital yet they had been welcomed with warmth by the people of Belgrade who understood the greatness of Manchester United in the common language of football.
It was time for the game and as the two sides lined up in the stadium the roar of thousands of Yugoslav voices rang in the ears of the Babes. Cameras clicked as last-minute photographs were taken, and above the players in the press area British journalists filed stories which were to be read in England the following morning. Among them was Frank Swift, a giant of a man who had kept goal for Manchester City and England, and who had a reputation of being the gentle giant. Big `Swiftly' had retired from the game and taken a job as a sportswriter with the News of the World, and his role in Belgrade was to write a column for the following Sunday edition.
Frank had played in the same Manchester City side as Matt Busby and was a team-mate of the United manager when City won the FA Cup in 1934. The big goalkeeper had made headline news in that game when, aged just 19, he had fainted as the final whistle was blown, overcome with the emotion of such an occasion. Perhaps he, more than any other spectator, understood the feelings of the young players as they stood together for the last moments before the start of the game.
Also looking out from that crowded press box were journalists who had traveled to Europe for each of United's previous games: Tom Jackson of the Manchester Evening News and his close friend and rival Alf Clarke of the now defunct Manchester Evening Chronicle. Both men loved Manchester United and lived to see their every game. Alf Clarke had been on United's books as an amateur, and was with the club before Matt Busby arrived to rebuild it after the war.
Because Manchester was a printing centre for the northern editions of the national newspapers, and also because of the tremendous popularity of the United side, most other daily newspapers were represented.
From the Daily Mirror was Archie Ledbrooke, who had only just made the trip having been on the point of being replaced by Frank McGhee because he (Ledbrooke) had still to complete an outstanding feature only hours before the flight had left England. Others included Eric Thompson from the Daily Mail, George Follows of the Daily Herald - the daily newspaper which was succeeded by The Sun following its closure - Don Davies of the Manchester Guardian, Henry Rose of the Daily Express and Frank Taylor from the News Chronicle, another publication which has since gone out of existence.
Don Davies wrote under the pen-name of `Old International' and had been in the England amateur side which played Wales in 1914, having been a member of the famous Northern Nomads side. On 5 February 1958 this is the story Davies filed back to the Manchester Guardian office in Cross Street, Manchester:
"Who would be a weather prophet? At Belgrade today in warm sunshine and on a grass pitch where the last remnants of melting snow produced the effect of an English lawn flecked with daisies, Red Star and Manchester United began a battle of wits and courage and rugged tackling in the second leg of their quarter-final of the European Cup competition. It ended in a draw 3-3, but as United had already won the first leg at Old Trafford by 2-1 they thus gained the right to pass into the semi-final round of the competition for the second year in succession on a 5-4 aggregate.
Much to the relief of the English party and to the consternation of the 52,000 home spectators, Viollet had the ball in the net past a dumbfounded Beara in ninety seconds. It was a beautifully taken goal - a characteristic effort by that player - but rather lucky in the way a rebound had run out in United's favour. But, as Jones remarked, `You need luck at this game'; and he might have added, `a suit of chain mail also would not have come amiss'. A second goal almost came fourteen minutes later, delightfully taken by Charlton after a corner kick by Scanlon had been headed by Viollet, but this was disallowed, because of offside, by the Austrian referee whose performance on the whistle so far had assumed the proportions of a flute obligato. Thar was due to the frequency which fouls were being committed by both sides after Sekularac had set the fashion in shabbiness by stabbing Morgans on the knee.
But in spite of many stops and starts events in the first half ran smoothly for United, on whose behalf Taylor led his line like a true Hotspur from centre-forward. Other factors telling strongly in Manchester's favour at this time were the clean hands and sound judgment of Gregg in goal.
Further success for United was impending. Charlton this time was the chosen instrument. Dispossessing Kostic about forty yards from goal, this gifted boy leaned brilliantly into his stride, made ground rapidly for about ten yards, and then beat the finest goalkeeper on the Continent with a shot of tremendous power and superb placing. There, one thought, surely goes England's Bloomer of the future. Further evidence of Charlton's claim to that distinction was to emerge two minutes later. A smartly taken free kick got the Red Star defence into a real tangle. Edwards fastened on the ball and did his best to oblige his colleagues and supporters by bursting it (a feat, by the way, which he was to achieve later), but he muffed his kick this time and the ball rolled to Charlton, apparently lost in a thicket of Red Star defenders. Stalemate surely. But not with Charlton about. His quick eye detected the one sure route through the circle of legs; his trusty foot drove the ball unerringly along it. 3-0 on the day: 5-1 on the aggregate. Nice going.
As was natural, the Red Star players completely lost their poise for a while. Their forwards flung themselves heatedly against a defence as firm and steady as a rock; even Sekularac, after a bright beginning in which he showed his undoubted skill, lost heart visibly and stumbled repeatedly. Nevertheless there was an upsurge of the old fighting spirit when Kostic scored a fine goal for Red Star two minutes after half time. It ought to have been followed by another one only three minutes later when Sekularac placed the ball perfectly for Cotic. Cotic's terrific shot cleared the bar by a foot - no more. Next, a curious mix-up by Foulkes and Tasic, Red Star's centre-forward, ended in Foulkes falling flat on top of Tasic and blotting him completely out of view. According to Foulkes, Tasic lost his footing, fell over, and pulled Foulkes over with him. But it looked bad and the whistle blew at once with attendant gestures indicating a penalty. Tasic had the satisfaction of converting that one, although his shot only just evaded Gregg's finger tips.
The score was now 3-2 and the crowd broke into an uncontrolled frenzy of jubilation and excitement. So much so that when Cotic failed to walk the ball into a completely unprotected goal - Gregg was lying hurt and helpless on the ground - a miniature repetition of the Bolton disaster seemed to occur at one corner of the arena.
Down the terraces streamed a wild horde of excited spectators who hung limply along the concrete walls with the breath crushed out of their bodies, if indeed nothing else had befallen them.
A quarter of an hour from the end Red Star, with their confidence and self-respect restored, were wheeling and curvetting, passing and shooting in their best style, and the United's defenders had to fight their way out of a regular nightmare of desperate situations.
It was significant hereabouts that United's inside forwards were not coming back to chase the ball as they had done so effectively in the first half and this, of course, threw added pressure on the rearguard. As soon as this fault was rectified the Red Star attacks, though frequent enough, lost something of their sting. In fact, United began to pile on the pressure at the other end and once Morgans struck a post with a glorious shot.
The furious pace never slackened, and as England's champions tried to find their flowing, attacking play of the first half, they were pelted by a storm of snowballs. Two minutes from time Harry Gregg came racing out of his goal, and hurled himself full length at Zebec's feet. He grasped it safely, but the impetus of his rush took him outside the penalty area with the ball, and Red Star had a free kick some twenty yards out.
Kostic watched Gregg position himself by the far post, protected by a wall of United players. There was just a narrow ray of light, a gap, by the near post, and precision player Kostic threaded the ball through as Gregg catapulted himself across his goal. Too late. The ball eluded his grasping fingers, and hit the back of the net. The score was 3-3."
It had always been Davies's ambition to be a football writer. For most of his life he had worked as an education officer with a Manchester engineering firm, but after it was suggested that he should try his hand at journalism he had been taken onto the Guardian staff when the editor saw a report of a fictitious match. It was the key he needed to open the door to a career of full-time writing. His style was that of the essayist, ideally suited to the Manchester Guardian, and contrasting totally with that of Henry Rose, the most popular daily writer of that time - certainly with the Old Trafford supporters.
Rose saw the game from the same vantage point as Davies, yet his description was totally different:
Red Star 3 Manchester United 3
Star Rating ***
They had to fight not only eleven desperate footballers and a fiercely partisan 52,000 crowd, but some decisions of Austrian referee Karl Kainer that were double-Dutch to me. I have never witnessed such a one-sided exhibition by any official at home or abroad.
The climax of Herr Kainer's interpretations, which helped inflame the crowd against United, came in the 55th minute when he gave a penalty against Foulkes, United's star defender. Nothing is wrong with my eyesight - and Foulkes confirmed what I saw .... that a Red Star player slipped and pulled the United man back down with him. A joke of a ruling it would have been had not Tasic scored from the spot."
Later in his report, Rose wrote:
He described the United side as:
The game over and the work completed, it was time to relax, and the party of journalists joined the United officials, players and their opposite numbers from the Red Star club at a banquet in the Majestic Hotel in Belgrade. It was a friendly affair, despite the disappointment felt by the host club at losing such an important game. There was a great friendship between the clubs in those early years of the European competition.
In a moving scene the meal ended when waiters entered the dining room carrying trays of sweetmeats lit by candles set in ice. The United party stood to applaud the skill of the Yugoslav chef, and Roger Byrne led his colleagues in song:
We'll meet again, Don't know where, don't know when, But we know we'll meet again some sunny day. . . .
That scene was remembered clearly by Yugoslav writer Miro Radojcic in an article for his newspaper Politika, which he translated into English 20 years later for Geoffrey Green, and which was published in `There's Only One United' (Hodder and Stoughton, 1978). Part of it read:
"Then followed the simple warm-hearted words of Matt Busby and Walter Crickmer as they said: `Come and visit us, the doors of Old Trafford will always be open to you'.... and after that lovely, crazy night as I parted from `Old International' - Don Davies from the Manchester Guardian - he said to me: `Why didn't you score just one more goal then we could have met for a third time!"
Radojcic sat up throughout most of the night musing over a feature article he planned to write for his newspaper. Politika was not a sporting publication - in fact he was a political writer but he had a great love for football and the flair of Manchester United's young side attracted him.
After chatting and drinking with Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards in a bar named Skadarija, Radojcic was left alone with his thoughts. He decided that he would arrange to fly back to Manchester with the team, and write his story from the Manchester angle, a look at England's top team seen through the eyes of one of Yugoslavia's most celebrated journalists.
The players had gone off to bed when Radojcic came to his decision so he went back to his flat, packed a bag and made his way to the airport only to discover that he had left his passport at home. He asked the airport authorities to hold the aircraft for as long as possible while he took a return taxi trip back to his home. By the time he got back with his passport the twin-engined Elizabethan had taken off, bound for England via Munich where it was to stop to re-fuel.