How United Rebuilt and Conquered Europe

by | Feb 14, 2018 | Football |

It took a decade for Manchester United to rebuild their team after the devastating Munich air disaster of February 6th 1958. iNostalgia remembers some of the milestones on the way.

The mixture of exhaustion and emotion on the faces of United players as they trudge off the pitch says it all.

It is March 26th 1958 – barely a month after the Munich air disaster which claimed the lives of eight team mates.

United have just beaten Fulham 5-3 at Highbury in a gruelling FA Cup semi-final replay.

Manchester United v Fulham FA Cup Semi Final

Muddy and emotional, players trudge off the pitch after beating Fulham in March 1958.

There are hugs and heartfelt words from travelling fans and opposing players alike – Matt Busby’s patched-up side have made it all the way to Wembley .

It is little short of a miracle. Busby himself was read the last rites twice as he lay in a Munich hospital bed.

Doctors kept the awful news from him that 23 had perished in the crash, including players, officials, press and supporters.

He learned the truth from a Franciscan friar later in February when he asked how Duncan Edwards was faring.

Edwards, regarded by many as the finest player of his generation, had died.

Busby was so affected by the Munich tragedy that he nearly gave up football management altogether.

He blamed himself for pressing for United’s participation in the European Cup which saw the team taking trying to take off from a snow-bound Munich-Riem Airport.

But his wife Jean urged him to carry on with his duties in honour of the players who had died.

And carry on he did, right through the late 1950s and 1960s until the crowning moment when Manchester United became the first English team to win the European Cup in May 1968.Back in 1958, the FA Cup Final was to prove a bridge too far for brave United. They lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers with Nat Lofthouse scoring both goals.

In November 1960, United were facing European opposition again. This time it was Bayern Munich at Old Trafford. Our spectacular photo shows Alex Dawson leaping above Dennis Viollet for the second goal of his hat-trick.

Alex Dawson leaps up above Bayern's Dennis Viollet for the second goal of his hat-rick

Alex Dawson scores the second goal of his hat-trick against Bayern Munich, November 1960.

In 1962, fresh hope came to the team with the signing of Scottish forward Denis Law from Torino for a British record transfer fee of £115,000.

Law, nicknamed The King, made 404 appearances for United scoring 237 goals – the third highest total in the club’s history behind Wayne Rooney and Bobby Charlton.

Manchester City new signing Denis Law with Ken Barnes

Denis Law with Ken Barnes trying his new shirt for size. March 1960.

Law’s arrival helped United win the 1963 FA Cup with a 3-1 triumph over Leicester City. He scored one and David Herd two in the Wembley encounter.

Celebrating with the cup in our photo are, from left, Tony Dunne, Bobby Charlton, Noel Cantwell, Pat Crerand, Albert Quixall, David Herd and Johnny Giles.

Tony Dunne, Bobby Charlton, Noel Cantwell, Pat Crerand, Albert Quixall, David Herd and Johnny Giles celebrate with the trophy after the match.

Jubilant United players celebrate winning the FA Cup, May 1963.

The whole team were in party mood in May 1965 when George Best and Nobby Stiles paraded the League Championship trophy before the Inter Cities Fairs Cup quarter final at Old Trafford.

Smartly dressed in matching tracksuits, the players did a lap of honour before completing a 0-0 draw against Strasbourg. It was a formality though as United had won the first leg 5-0.

Manchester United footballers George Best and Nobby Stiles

George Best and Nobby Stiles parade the league championship trophy, May 1965.

Unfortunately United went out in the semi-final against Hungarian side Ferencvaros. It was all-square at 3-3 after two legs, so a third tie was played which United lost 2-1. There was no away-goal rule in 1965.

United reached the semi-finals of the European Cup in the 1965-66 season, going out to Yugoslav champions Partizan Belgrade. They finished 4th in the league.

Our photo shows Bobby Charlton in action against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in March 1966 with George Best in the background. United lost the match 0-2.

Bobby Charlton in action for Manchester United against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

Bobby Charlton in action against Chelsea, March 1966.

It was back to league-winning form in 1967. United sealed the Division One title with a thumping 6-1 victory over West Ham at Upton Park.

It was champagne all round in the dressing room with Law, Charlton and Best as United’s new team was hitting its peak.

Manchester United team celebrate with champagne in the dressing room

Champagne all round as United win the league after beating West Ham 6-1, May 1967.

The decade was close to coming full circle in May 1968 when United drew 3-3 with mighty Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.

It was the second leg of the European Cup semi-final. United had won the first leg 1-0.

It’s a different emotion etched on the faces of the exhausted players in the dressing room as trainer Jack Compton congratulates Brian Kidd on reaching the final.

European Cup Semi Final Second Leg match at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid.

Exhausted players relax at the Santiago Bernabeu after drawing with Real Madrid, May 1968.

Hope and optimism had risen from the tragedy and despair of Munich – an optimism that was confirmed a few weeks later when United beat Benfica 4-1 to win the European Cup at Wembley.