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Thursday, May 29, 2008

'68 - some memories

To put the event into proper context, you have to try and place yourself in the very emotional circumstances leading up to the final. On the last day of the league season, City had won the championship and we were runners up. On that last league day, we started with equal points, but City had the edge with goal average, so a win for them at Newcastle meant they were champions. At the same time, we had Sunderland at home. City won and amazingly we lost. So-----

Quite despondent, at not being able to add to our 1965 and 1967 titles, which along with the 1963 cup win represented the silverware post Munich. In terms of the European Cup, the real drama started in the quarter finals. We had a tough draw against what was then a crack Polish side known as Gornik Zabrze. We won 2-0 at home, but in appalling weather in Poland, managed to survive with a 1-0 defeat. Agony again in the semi with Real Madrid the opponents. The first game was at OT. What an incredibly tense evening!!! We won 1-0 with a quite fabulous George Best goal, which lives vividly in my mind. There was a crowded penalty area and demonstrating incredible skill, he actually drew the ball backwards in the penalty area before unleashing a fabulous match winning effort. There was great anxiety about the second leg. It seemed to be 'curtains' when miserably we were 3-1 down at half time. In those days, there was no live TV coverage. I remember being huddled over the radio, desperate - quite desperate for something special to happen. (In those days I was absolutely fanatical). I was studying for 'A' levels in the 6th form and the thought of going into school with United having lost was unbearable. However, like the roller coaster world that following United always is, this was destined to be a very special 'high'. In the second half, United pulled it back to 3 all with the unlikely goal scorers being David Sadler and Bill Foulkes. To be honest, we were poor, very poor in that second leg in Madrid (nothing like the fight back against Juventus in Turin, decades later in 1999), but somehow you got the feeling that someone was looking out for us from the Heavens above.

The build up to the Final was all-consuming for the country as a whole. This game was shown live, albeit it was strange to see United all in grey (blue actually, but colour TV was not yet widely available - certainly not in the Dale household). For the days leading up to the game, every time you switched the TV on there were interviews with players, players' wives, past United heroes with many links being made to Munich. The 'King' (alias Denis Law) was recovering in hospital from a knee operation. Benfica arrived with great stars including Eusebio, who like Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law had been a European Footballer of the Year. They had a very talented and very tall centre forward called Torres (long before Liverpool's version was born, but in his own way, equally as good). They also had players like Graca and Simoes and a defender called Cruz, all of whom came with great reputations. The first 90 minutes were extremely tense and in football terms, you would have to say rather poor and dull. The occasion had got to both teams. In normal time, Bobby Charlton scored for United and then time seemed to take an eternity. I am sure that the team was holding its breath, just desperately hoping to get to the finish line. Quite unsurprisingly, Benfica equalised through Graca - not a particularly brilliant goal - but it had been coming. Worse still, Eusebio broke clear and threatened to win the match. It was a quite outstanding superlative save from Alex Stepney, which I think ranks up there with Gordon Banks in Brazil and some of Peter Schmeichel's exploits. Then came extra time. I have relived those 30 minutes more than anyone would ever believe. Just 2 minutes in, George Best quite fabulously broke clear and jinked round the keeper in exemplary style. I remember thinking 'Why couldn't he have done it 5 minutes earlier?'. United found new heart, legs and energy. They were superb. No more so than Brian Kidd (the Colleyhurst Kid), who was celebrating his 19th birthday. He got a magnificent header and I will never forget him hurdling a tackle like a steeplechaser to cross for Bobby Charlton to get the 4th. United were rampant, Wembley had never seen anything like it --- literally, because on this occasion there were just so many fans for one club - probably 70,000+ wearing red. The noise was bedlam, the scenes unforgettable. There were tears in the Dale household. It started a tradition with me of taking cakes to the place of study (then work) on every occasion United win silverware. The banners were terrific. Not only the legendary - 'Man United - the Religion',but also 'Sir Matt for Prime Minister'. Whilst United had by 1968 started to lose some of their country-wide admiration which had arisen post Munich, I think it is fair to say that most people in England were ecstatic. In Manchester, when the team arrived home, the celebrations all along the routes to the city centre and outside the Town Hall represented a city paying tribute to its heroes and remembering all that playing in the European Cup and the sadness of Munich represented.

John Aston was marvellous and for the likes of Bill Foulkes and Bobby Charlton it obviously had that special dimension. In a slightly different sense, Shay Brennan (who had been catapulted into the first team as a winger after Munich as just a young lad) represented continuity between '58 and '68. I also think that this entire experience made Pat Crerand the legendary Red he has since become. Thinking about it, the same would have applied to Nobby Stiles as Shay Brennan, and of course much was made of Bobby and Nobby adding to their 1966 World Cup triumph, but for true Reds, you will understand there is absolutely no question as to which trophy matters most!! I have metioned most of the team but the part played by Tony Dunne (always a classical fast fullback), David Sadler, Alex Stepney can never be forgotten.

Mr Dale

A few memories of 1968.

I managed to get 2 tickets for ther final from our postman ( a Spurs supporter but with some good contacts ). My best mate Dave & myself bunked - off work and travelled to London from our Cambridgeshire home on my old Lambretta Scooter for the 60 mile trip down the A1 to London bedecked with assorted red/white scarves. After a couple of liquid refreshment stops !!! on the way we arrived outside Wembley around 3pm (some 4 1/2 hours ahead of kick off). We settled in on the grass outside the ground on a lovely sunny afternoon and were amazed at the friendliness & hospitality of the Benfica fans. Bearing in mind this was the 60's and opposition fans were a breed to be avoided !!! The food & drink flowed freely & we heartily enjoyed the company of the group from Lisbon plus some North East reds who joined us. We took our place right at the front of the stand near the corner post , the opposite side to the Royal Box. An ideal vantage point for the Extra Time goals. The match was enjoyable & then, suddenly Charlton's balding head rose like a phoenix to head home. From that point we could see no other outcome than a United win and duly celebrated until the Graca equaliser. At this stage the whole stand seemed to go quiet & very nervous. You could hear a pin drop as Alex Stepney made that remarkable save from Eusebio near the end. Extra time was different, United fans suddenly found their voices and I am sure contributed to the 3 goals.After Georgie's goal there was only going to be one result.By the end we we could hardly speak , & just enjoyed being there & taking in the fabulous atmosphere. I stood to make some money from getting onto the pitch at the end if we won. However, the police & stewards were just too good on the night so I missed out on some cash!! On the way back, we eventually ended up at an all-night transport cafe on the AI in Bedfordshire. Still trying to sing but voices unwilling. We seemed to amuse the lorry drivers who were also there. Eventually arrived home about 5am tired but happy. Even work was enjoyable the next day !!! So a United journey that began for me in 1958 (away v Arsenal) followed by the Munich Final reached a memorable peak & contunues to this day. Being a long term United supporter is a bit like the 68 Final, high's , lows but always entertaining with lots of Trophies being lifted. We never seem to do things the easy way.
Long may it continue.



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