In some ways the enjoyment of football is like seeking a perpetual return to the freedoms of childhood, with all its agonies and ecstasies. Perhaps that’s why I’m so pleased to see Blackpool FC back where they belong, in the top division, trying to play progressive, attractive football in the best traditions of the club, just like they did when I was a kid.If anyone had told me in the 1950s that there would be a 35 year gap between Blackpool v Manchester United league matches I would have thought they were ‘stark raving mad’. It would have seemed even more bizarre that the last such encounter for over three decades would be in the old Second Division, but that’s precisely what happened, in the 1974-75 season. At that time Tommy Docherty’s United comfortably won both fixtures, home and away, on route to winning the championship and hence a one-season bounce-back promotion to the top division.In truth by that time the Seasiders had become a sad shadow of their once glorious selves, having been ignominiously relegated at the end of 1970-71, when things had reached a very low ebb. Their come-back has been a long time a-coming,but no less welcome for that.
Here I want to celebrate Blackpool’s once distinguished history by reminding United fans of some pivotal moments in our own past when the two great Lancashire teams were linked, and not just on the pitch.
It may seem strange given my later devotion to the Red Devils but when I was very small I was probably more aware of Blackpool than other clubs, certainly until around 1957 when the legend of the Busby Babes was just beginning to penetrate my little part of the world down South. The reason for that is very simple: Stanley Matthews, the incomparable right winger, the spindly speedster, the magician on mud, the demon of dribble, the man with a mission, as everyone knew, to win an elusive FA Cup Winner’s medal.
It is hard to convey now just what a hold Stan had on the public imagination, going right back even before my time to the Thirties when he started out at Stoke City. Without any doubt he was the biggest and most enduring star in post-war English football, right through to 1965 when he finally hung up his clumpy old-fashioned toe-capped boots at the age of 50. By then he had returned for a last blaze of glory at Stoke, following his magnificent service at Blackpool, for whom he appeared in three FA Cup Finals, including two still considered among the greatest of all time. In some respects the adulation he inspired in children like me was almost as much about ‘the idea’ of the man, as about the reality, especially for those us unable to get to see him in action.Beyond his breath-taking skill he represented the highest standards of sportsmanship throughout a long and unblemished career. What’s more astonishing is that 45 years after his retirement from the game his name is still remembered, even by (perhaps especially by) those with no interest in football.
Bubble-gum and fag packets
When I was a child at the end of the forties and early fifties my first exposure to sport was probably through cigarette cards, which I would collect, frequently scouring for discarded fag packets in the street, to the despair of my Mum. There were also bubble-gum cards such as the Chix series of Famous Footballers, a couple of which I still own, one a crude sketch of United’s Jack Rowley, United centre-forward in the1948 FA Cup Final, the other a later and much classier product, with a colour photo of United defender Bill Foulkes. Some cards had cartoons, especially Turf cards which featured stylishly enlarged heads with grinning faces on tiny bodies. Of course people would do swapsies, and it soon became very obvious who the big stars were, whether it was cricketers such as Denis Compton and Len Hutton or footballers like Billy Wright, Tom Finney, Jackie Milburn (Bobby Charlton’s uncle) and, of course, Stanley Matthews. Somewhere along the line I also acquired a picture of Stan from 1949, advertising shin guards, made by Bean’s of Yorkshire (Mr Bean?). But best of all is my treasured little lapel badge from ’53 with a picture of the great man in his orange Blackpool shirt with the ball at his feet, poised as though about to accelerate past a floundering fullback.
Seeing the Big Picture
There was hardly any television coverage of football then, not that we had a TV, but big sporting events would get covered in Movietone or Pathe News at the cinema. My parents would take us most weeks ‘ to the pictures’ at the Regent in Amersham or the Astoria in Chesham, and I always hoped there’d be a bit of sporting action, even in things I wasn’t that bothered about, such as Gordon Richards winning the Derby. I remember the thrill of seeing the report on England spin bowler Jim Laker taking 19 wickets against the Aussies in an Ashes Test Match at ‘the other’ Old Trafford in 1956. I certainly recall the excitement of Roger Bannister running the first ‘Four Minute Mile’ in 1954, and seeing him on the big screen, breasting the tape almost on the point of collapse. ( I only discovered years later in the ’70s, that he’d made love to his wife in the changing room just before the race, as he cheerfully revealed to my father, who had MS and was seeing him in his capacity as a neurologist).
I saw many Cup Final highlights in the cinema , but precisely which is a bit blurred now, raising the doubt in my mind, what did I really see at the time, and which of those old black & white newsreel pictures did I only see years later replayed on TV? I’ve certainly convinced myself that I saw the legendary ‘Matthews Final’ of 1953 in the cinema ,when Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3 in a nail-biting thriller, because it made a huge impact on me at the time, when I was aged seven.
Another Final I certainly saw was when Manchester City’s German goalie Bert Trautmann broke his neck diving at the feet of an on-rushing Birmingham forward, when City won the cup 3-1 in 1956. I watched with slight disappointment when Bert merely rubbed the back of his neck when I had ghoulishly hoped to see his head lolling helplessly at right angles on his shoulder or snapped off completely. This desire was not because he played for City, by the way.
Regardless of what I saw when, there is absolutely no question that it was the FA Cup which stirred up public passions in those days, far more than the league title.Among my own circle of friends around Amersham, which is about 35 miles from London, and not near any big clubs, I can pretty well determine when they got into football from which team they later supported, which would be based on who got to the Cup Final when. So there was Ted, a Blackpool fan from ’53, Sunshine, WBA from 1954, Richard, Man City from ’55 or ’56, Dave, United from ’57, or John, Villa,also from ’57 (in his case because he had a ‘five bob ‘ bet on them beating United) and then Chris, Luton from ’59.
Footballers of the Year and the FA Cup
The dominance of Cup over League is also reflected in who was elected Footballer of the Year, awarded for the first time in 1948, inevitably to Blackpool’s Stanley Matthews, a Cup loser to United in that year, as we’ll see. The winning captain from ’48, United’s ‘Gentleman’ Johnny Carey actually won the following year. Then throughout the 1950s no winner came from the league champions, while eight came from FA Cup Finalists, three winners, and five losers.It was not until 1961 when Danny Blanchflower won the coveted award for a second time that it went to a player from the league champions, and then he was anyway captain of the Cup Winners, as Spurs did the Double. No-one had won it from outside the top division until 1963, when – who else? – Stanley Matthews won it again, for his part in helping Stoke City win the old Second Division title in his late-40s.
By that time, I was steeped in the folklore of the FA Cup, all those wonderful stories, such as ‘The White Horse Final’ of 1923, when the original Wembley Stadium was used for the first time, or the infamous ‘over-the-line’ final in 1932, when a referee’s error gave Newcastle United victory over Double-chasing Arsenal, and the ’34 Final when the giant 19-year-old goalkeeper Frank Swift fainted in his goalmouth when the final whistle blew, signalling that his team Manchester City had defeated Portsmouth, incidentally giving Matt Busby his only medal in senior football.
I even knew all about Stanley Matthews’ three Finals with Blackpool and his determination to get his gold medal..I knew that the 1948 Final against Manchester United was said to be the finest final of all time, a view that older folk would probably still stand by.By chance the other day I found myself in conversation with a delightful elderly Yorkshireman in a local cafe, sparked by my wearing Green & Gold and United scarves. He was eager to tell me how the only time he’s seen United in the flesh was when his team Halifax Town beat them in the Watney Cup in the 1970s. As we talked about the old days he suddenly started reciting United’s line-up against Blackpool in that classic Final of ’48, ‘Crompton, Carey , Aston…’ and as I joined in we went through the whole team in unison, ‘…Anderson, Chilton, Cockburn, Delaney, Morris, Rowley, Pearson, Mitten’.
My temporary coffee companion was delighted to find someone who appeared to remember an FA Cup Final from over 65 years ago that meant a lot to him, even though he hadn’t actually seen the game. What I didn’t mention was that this magnificent match happened when I was two. I had no direct memory of it. It all came from reading about it years later plus a few crudely edited newsreel pictures and a dozen or so still photos. My detailed interest in the match actually started ten years after the event.
Munich and Memory : ‘The “United” Story In Pictures’ (1958)
As I have recounted elsewhere, before the Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958, I didn’t support anyone in particular, I just loved football. When United lost 8 players killed and many more injured in the Crash, I was eleven years old and began to follow them in their famous ‘Phoenix from the Ashes’ recovery, which took the patchwork team of survivors and untried youngsters all the way to Wembley to meet Bolton Wanderers in the 1958 FA Cup Final, barely three months after the Crash. It was a romantic return by a team spurred by emotion, grief, shock , and growing if temporary public sympathy and admiration. I watched the final on TV at my grandfather’s and was deeply disappointed that the dream of triumph over adversity had evaporated when Nat Lofthouse scored two goals, giving him the winner’s medal he’d missed in ’53.
Defeat didn’t diminish my now deeply rooted commitment to United and when my pal Dave showed me a Cup Final brochure he’d bought for two shillings I just had to have it. After a bit of haggling I forked out the exhorbitant price of five shillings, which would be 25p today, although that gives no idea of how expensive it was then in relative terms to a boy just turned 12. To me now it’s beyond price.
The 50-page booklet was well produced with a superb selection of atmospheric photos from before the First World War through to the heroic post-Munich games that had taken United to the Bolton Cup Final. I avidly read the text and endlessly scanned the old photos trying to make sense of the history of the club and the tragic turn of events that had destroyed a great young team inspired by an idealistic vision of how football should be played. I was captivated by the acount of the 1948 FA Cup Final, which really brought into focus two conflicting retrospective desires, the wish that United should win everything plus the regret that Stanley Matthews didn’t get his winning medal.
It’s quite bizarre that in 1958, when I read The United Story and was taking in the gripping details of the Blackpool Final a mere ten years before, it already seemed impossibly remote to my childish mind, even then. No doubt some RoM readers feel the same about some of my tales of days gone by. Me reading about the ’48 Final in 1958 is probably like a twelve-year-old reading about the Treble Winners of ’99 today in 2010.
Of course the 1948 Final took place against a very different backdrop. When you look at photos of the crowd you see gaunt faces, missing teeth, shabby suits and a preponderance of flat caps, trilbys and military berets. Hardly a female in sight. This was the age of postwar austerity, rationing, unrepaired bombsites, including Old Trafford, shortages in fuel and resources, powercuts and continuing ‘waste not, want not’ exhortations to ‘make do and mend’. Typifying that spirit, it’s interesting to note that United’s left back, John Aston (father of the John Aston who was in United’s European Cup Winning team twenty years later) gave his hobby as ‘keeping poultry and mending my children’s shoes’, in the Player’s Brochure for the ’48 Final. Hard to imagine even a Gary Neville doing that today.
The Road to Wembley in 1948
Both teams were full of men who had served in the War, including United’s Allenby Chilton who’d been wounded on the D-Day Beaches less than four years previously. Before taking over the reins at Old Trafford in 1945 Matt Busby had played with Blackpool’s two Stans, Matthews and Mortensen in Services teams and they knew each other well and were full of mutual respect. It’s not widely known but Matthews actually played for United as a Wartime Guest player in 1940, a fact I find deeply pleasing.
The team the youthful Busby had now assembled was playing some of the best, most exciting football seen for years, full of swirling, inter-changing movements and sweeping attacks, just what was needed to lift spirits after the grim days of World War 2. On their way to Wembley United had beaten 5 top (old style) First Division division teams, scoring 18 goals in the process, conceding 6. In one of the finest cup-ties of all time they had beaten Villa 6-4, having gone a goal down after 13 seconds, all recounted in the United Story, blow for thrilling blow. Three players had already scored over 20 goals and they posed threats right across their five-man W-formation attack. This same team were runners-up in the league three seasons running, in ’47, ’48 and ’49, and again in ’51, and it seemed inevitable some time soon that they would win their first title since 1911, which they finally managed in 1951-52, with Blackpool in third place.
Blackpool were also famed for their fine attacking football, and even though they were slightly less successful in the league than United they were normally pushing somewhere close to the top. They not only had Matthews they had one of the most feared goal-scorers in Britain, England international Stan Mortensen,who had scored in every round to the final and had 29 goals so far for the season. They were captained by classy England regular Harry Johnson and had many other good players. Before the game people were salivating in anticipation of a classic feast of good football. And for once they got it.
The 1948 FA Cup Final: Blackpool 2 Manchester United 4
Of course United were anxious about how to deal with Matthews, but it was the other Stan that struck first, getting tripped by Allenby Chilton as he rushed into the penalty area. Later Movietone news footage showed the foul had come outside the box in the D, so the ref got it wrong (as Matt Busby pointedly showed in his 1957 autobiography, Matt Busby – My Story, when still frames from the penalty incident were reproduced to prove the point). Some even hint at that rare thing in the 40s, a dive. No matter, no protests as Eddie Shimwell blasted the penalty straight under the diving Jack Crompton. 1-0 to the Tangerines, and only 12 minutes on the clock.
The equaliser came16 minutes later when Jack Rowley, my Chix man, took advantage of a goalkeeping error by the Blackpool ‘keeper, Robinson, who’d called ‘Right!’ but failed to collect the ball, allowing the United man to flick the ball over his head and round him to walk the ball into the net, making it1-1.
Soon after the pendulum swung back and it was advantage Blackpool once more, when Matthews took a free kick which was headed on to Mortensen who fired home past a static defence: 2-1 to the Seasiders, and nearly an hour to go.
Both sides were attacking non-stop with incident piling on incident, with Blackpool probably closer to their best at that point, although John Aston was doing a good job marshalling Matthews.
It was at half time that Matt Busby and captain Johnny Carey made their famous calming speeches about keeping playing football, although some claim it was the old soldier Allenby Chilton, a future skipper, who stiffened morale with a somewhat earthier speech. Whatever, United had a motto in those days, that ‘the ball should never stop’, in other words go for first-time passing, which is what they got going in the second half much more effectively.
It had been agreed to keep the ball as far away from Matthews as possible, so for instance Crompton would always throw out wide to the opposite flank, setting up attacks quickly away from danger. United upped the tempo and got their pass-and-move game going more fluently, with time running out, still behind with twenty minutes to go.
Then United got a free kick, swiftly taken by by Johnny Morris and there was Rowley again with a diving upward header, almost before Blackpool knew what had hit them: 2-2. From that point United remorselessly took control, except for one heart-stopping moment when Mortensen burst through yet again and unleashed a fierce shot that seemed a certain goal but for a dramatic, full-length save from Crompton (always a popular character at Old Trafford, later returning as a trainer after Munich, a familiar figure in the dugout). The Blackpool players were virtually celebrating when the ball flew up field for the ever calm inside-left Stan Pearson to crack in a shot off the left-hand post, to put United in front for the first time. It all happened so fast the disconsolate Mortensen was still walking back from United’s area having seen his ‘cert’ saved. Typical high-speed counter-attack play from United, in a tradition that has continued now for over sixty years, if not back to the pre-World One days of Billy Meredith and the FA Cup winners of 1909, nine of whom were club guests at Wembley in ’48.
United had become the first team to come from behind twice in Cup Final and when John Anderson scored in the dying minutes with a 30-yard missile which took a slight deflection, it was all over. United had won the Cup for the first time for 39 years, and no-one could dispute their right to victory in a drama-filled match of the highest quality. But nor would anyone seek to diminish what Blackpool had contributed to the spectacle. Poor old Stanley Mortensen was the first man to score in every round of the cup, including a final, yet end up on the losing side. It was generally agreed that John Aston had played Stan Matthews superbly, so he could return to Manchester to repair son John’s shoes with a deep sense of satisfaction. United, runners-up in the league and FA Cup Winners were on the march again.
Among those listening to the match on the radio were Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles, both to play significant roles themselves in Cup Finals at Wembley twenty years later for United. Not to mention for England.
The 1951 FA Cup Final: Blackpool 0 Newcastle United 2
Stanley Matthews’ next shot at the Cup came in 1951. Sadly it was to end in disappointment again for the men in Orange , when they were well beaten by Cup giants Newcastle United, with Bobby’s Uncle Jackie Milburn leading the line and scoring two goals.
Here we must mention the first appearence in our story of the diminuitive Geordie inside forward Ernie Taylor, then playing for Newcastle but later to join Blackpool, where he played a vital role in the Matthews Final, which some say should have been dubbed the ‘Taylor Final’. However, it’s not for that which United fans should remember him, but as a tough-as-old boots midfield schemer was was later to play a small but dramatically important role after Munich, for which he should never be forgotten. Nor should we forget Blackpool’s part in enabling that to happen.
But to return to 1951. Blackpool’s two Stans played well, but the men in black & white stripes took charge early in the second half when ‘Wor Jackie’ scored twice in the space of five minutes. The second goal came when Ernie Taylor received the ball at the edge of the area and dragged the ball under foot before rolling it back to Milburn without looking round for the centre forward to hit a spectacular 25-yarder high into the net. Speed, simplicity and imagination had undone Blackpool again. Two Finals, two defeats. Would Stan never get his medal?
The ‘Matthews Final’ 1953: Bolton 3 Blackpool 4
When Stan finally completed his quest he was 38 and had been trying for 20 years.Here is not the place to go through every turn in the wheel of football fortune that day, except to remind readers that Bolton went 3-1 up after 55 minutes and the dream seemed as remote as ever, only for Matthews to turn on an extraodinary performance down the right wing, reducing the tough Bolton defenders to frightened rabbits.As we’ve seen, by now Ernie Taylor had joined Blackpool, perhaps with his exquisite ’51 performance in mind, and he again weaved his crafty magic on this day when the whole of Britain seemed to want to see Stan get his medal in this Coronation year of all years. It should not be forgotten that Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick in ’53, so it was far from a one -man-show, but in the end no-one who’s seen the footage could forget it as Blackpool turned it round to win 4-3 with a dramatic last minute winner from yet another Matthews cross from the right.
For those of you now getting impatient for more on United, this being a United blog, let Sir Bobby Charlton give some account of how much he admired Matthews, the ‘slim, coiled, and then darting figure who so mesmerised us’. This beautiful description comes from his superb award-winning autobiography and in many ways it gives a lovely insight into what inspired Bobby, telling us almost as much about our own great footballing knight as about Sir Stanley Matthews:
‘I have spent much of my life admiring the talent of great team-mates and opponents, but nothing has moved me more than the elusive genius of this frail-looking man. Whenever I go to the (National Football) Museum (in Preston) I insist on looking again at the refurbished film of the ‘Matthews Final’ in the 1953 FA Cup, when he systematically undermined that most formidable of Bolton full backs, Ralph Banks. It still makes the hairs on my neck stand up when he pounces, cat-like, on Banks and then strides into daylight. The Bolton man had a huge reputation for destroying wingers, but you cannot destroy a target that dissolves before your eyes’. (The Autobiography: My Manchester Unirted Years, 2007).
Blackpool v The Busby Babes 1955-56
Although Blackpool were always challenging for honours in the late-40s and early ’50s, they seldom went head-to-head with United in the League. The closest they came to that was in 1955-56, the year when the Busby Babes first really emerged to make their mark, fully fledged and all-conquering.
The season began slowly, with United taking only 8 points from their first seven games (two points for a win then) while Blackpool and Tom Finney’s Preston were making the running. But then in the late autumn United got into their stride, with names so familiar from the death-toll at Munich in their ranks, Tommy Taylor, Roger Byrne, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, Liam Whelan, David Pegg, and others who survived, such as Dennis Viollett, Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry.
By the end of February, United had 44 points from 32 games, Blackpool 38 from 31. The crunch came on April 7, 1956, at Old Trafford. Still a formidable attacking side, the Tangerines took a 1-0 half-time lead, but United hit back in the second half with a penalty from Berry and a terrific goal from Tommy Taylor, who was by now a regular for England at centre forward, which saw him line up with the immortal Stanley Matthews, naturally.
Bouyed by that victory in April, United won the league comfortably, eleven points ahead of Blackpool, a record margin at the time.
As it happens, although it wasn’t perhaps noticed at the time, the dominance of the FA Cup in the public mind was beginning to slip, although it’s striking how little Matt Busby writes about his three pre-Munich league titles in his 1957 book, having far more to say about the Cup Finals of ’48 and ’57, defeat in which cost United the first Double of the 20th century. But by now Busby’s rich vision of the future of football had been inspired by the European Cup, which that League Championship title of ’55-56 qualified United to enter. Just imagine if Blackpool had overtaken United. We might have seen Stanley Matthews up against Di Stefano, Gento and all the other superstars from Real Madrid. Not that they didn’t already know about Stan, who was still by far the most famous British footballer in the world.
Ernie Taylor and United
When United crashed at Munich airport in February 1958 when returning from a European cup match against Red Star, Belgrade, a whole team was wiped out, killed or injured. There were initially offers of help from round the country from Bolton, Preston, Man City, Liverpool, Grimsby and Northampton as United faced a full fixture list with only a handful of players who’d ever played in the first team plus a group of promising youngsters. Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg were the only crash survivors in any sort of shape for the first match, an FA Cup match against Sheffield Wednesday, but when it came to it the offers of help came to nothing, except in the case of Blackpool, who agreed to sell Ernie Taylor for £8000, a generous price for a two-time Cup winner and former England international, not to say one of the most skillful inside forwards in the game.
Acting Manager Jimmy Murphy very shrewdly saw that Ernie could become a mentor and guide to the shell-shocked kids who had to step up and get United back on the road.He had all the experience of pressure matches and exactly the right pedigree for a club like United, with its deep culture of imaginative, attacking football.
The road to Wembley 1958
Taylor helped steady the ship on that emotion-drenched night when United played their first match after Munich, just 13 days after the crash. As I remember well, as a schoolboy following from afar, they beat Wednesday 3-0 at Old Trafford in front of over 60,000 grieving but passionate supporters and well-wishers, desperate to see some hope for the future. Apart from Gregg and Foulkes, Ernie Taylor lined up with players he can hardly have heard of, including relative unknowns such as Brennan, Pearson, Dawson, Goodwin, Cope and Greaves, plus last minute signing Stan Crowther from Villa. Some detected the presence of a ‘higher power’ that night, but little Ernie certainly had his part to play. This was the moment when the famous Phoenix was beginning to rise from the ashes.
In the next round United faced West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns in front of 58,000 people, in what turned out to be a titanic struggle, full of incredible will-to-win from the boys in red. To give a flavour of just how vital to United Ernie Taylor was, here are some snippets of the match report in The Times (March 1, 1958) :
‘Only the darting little Taylor as the general of the attack and Charlton touched the peaks of sheer artistry.But what keeps United moving now is matchless, shining spirit’.
‘(United’s) masterplan plan revolved round Taylor. He was everywhere. For an hour or so he produced the game of his life until he finally played himself into the ground.’
‘After only five minutes the United swept into the lead as Taylor crashed in a left flank move between Crowther, Dawson, Pearson and Charlton… It was Taylor and Charlton, backed by Crowther and Goodwin, who made United play”
‘Once Taylor beat four men as if they did not exist…Taylor left Sander’s crossbar shuddering from 20 yaards and this time Dawson rose to head in the rebound amid an earshattering commotion’
The match, Bobby Charlton’s first since the crash, ended 2-2.
The replay under the floodlight s at Old Trafford was if anything even more exciting.
Again from The Times match report (March 5):
‘The ball came loose to Goodwin who found Taylor somewhere on the half way line . Taylor dummied, darted to the right like a little goldfish, and lofted a beautiful through pass to the last precise inch down the right touchline. And there already gathering momentum was the match winner. It was Charlton..’(whose pass picked out Colin Webster to score the last minute winnner)
‘Yet in the last analysis Manchester United , apart from their heart, had only two real artists in attack, one was Taylor, the other Charlton, and by some great act of justice it was these two who won an amazing victory.’
United’s 1-0 victory took them into the semi-final against Fulham at Villa Park. Two goals from Bobby Charlton gave United a 2-2 draw, the first one from a Taylor pass, the second, an equaliser following skilful prompting from the little schemer. The replay at Highbury in midweek daytime saw United run away with the tie when a series of goalkeeping errors by Fulham keeper Tony Macedo gifted a 5-3 victory, and an utterly improbable return to Wembley. Ernie commented on how the new Babes had risen to the task set by fate, saying admiringly, ‘These kids get better and better every time’. All the goals were illustrated in my United Story brochure, giving me the feeling that I’d been there too through this amazing journey.
1958 FA Cup Final: Bolton 2 United 0
On the day of the Final of 3 May, The Daily Telegraph said, ‘Ernie Taylor has already repaid handsomely the £8000 handed over to Blackpool for his services. History will show this to have been one of the shrewdest transfers of all time for there is no question that Taylor’s skill and generalship are mainly responsible for United’s wonderful recovery.’
Much attention was focussed on this being Ernie’s third Final in seven years, each with a different club.
The match was the first time I watched United live, albeit on television at my grandfather’s. It was a sadly deflating and disappointing experience. I was too untutored to grasp the technicalities of what was going on, but I knew United were second best, almost from the start. In fact Bolton had worked out that if you man-marked Taylor, United’s source of creativity was stifled, and the others were too inexperienced or over-awed to make up for it, even Bobby Charlton who did at least shiver the Bolton woodwork with one of his specials.
Danny Blanchflower, Spurs captain and Player of the Year, commented afterwards on the Final with a few strangely chosen words in The Observer, saying, ‘Manchester’s dreams went all astray. Ernie Taylor, that dwarf of football magic, must have felt like a giant of misery’. Certainly I think we can say he wasn’t Happy.
Ernie’s historic task accomplished, he left United the following season, after Albert Quixall, Sheffield Wednesday’s captain on that first emotional cup-tie night back in February, was signed for a record £45,000.
I hope Ernie’s brief and unique contribution to United’s history will be properly remembered, as the tragic and then uplifting events of 1958 inevitably fade from public memory. And we should also not forget Blackpool’s generosity in letting him go to United.
Matthews last days with Blackpool 1960-61
By the time I was regularly going to matches in the early Sixties Blackpool were in general decline, although they still had some good players, especially that most upright of right-backs, the marvellous Jimmy Armfield, who I saw many times for England. How much deserved pleasure he must now take from his team’s return to the upper echelons and the great reviews Ian Holloway’s exciting team are getting all round, with some very refreshing displays on TV.
Blackpool made a little bit of history in September 1960 when their 1-0 home defeat against Bolton Wanderers was screened live on ITV on a Saturday night, the first time a league match had been covered in this way. I remember the extreme excitement it generated in anticipation, only to find the reality was frankly dreadful.The football was dire and the coverage awful, as indicated in the scathing review by Frank McGhee in the Mirror, headlined :
THE SOCCER SHOCKER ON TELLY!
Reading the comments now, fifty years later, it’s uncanny how some of the faults of today’s TV coverage were there from the start. McGhee criticised ‘the wishy-washy, let’s-all-be-palsy-walsy commentaries’, saying, ‘We could all see that the game was a bad one. There was no point in Peter Lloyd and former England skipper Billy Wright continually trying to kid us – or maybe reassure us – that we were watching a “smasher”….When a game is as big a stinker as this one, it would have been fascinating to hear the man with a hundred caps telling the viewers WHY it was bad, what was wrong, what the players should do about it’.
Seeing Stanley Matthews in the flesh, at last
Sadly I never saw United play Blackpool live, but I did see them against other teams in London. One of my most vivid memories is seeing, at long last, Stanley Matthews in person aged 44, in a strangely unsatisfying 3-3 draw at West Ham in 1960-61. Stan was coming back from injury and made little real impact on the game, although I’ll bet many in the 21,000 crowd were like me,watching his every move. Noel Cantwell, a future United captain, was his direct opponent at left back, plus a 19-year-old Bobby Moore as part of a new-fangled and unconvincing 4-2-4 line up, which also featured Malcolm Musgrove, who scored for the Hammers and who later joined United’s coaching staff in the 1970s.
Blackpool were poor that day, I have to say, and hardly deserved their point, earned by two goals from Jackie Mudie and Ray Charnley. But then the Hammers weren’t much better
So, what was Stan like by that stage in his career? Well, he still had that delicate, bird-like, arms-out-wide posture on springy, shuffling feet, ready to go one way or the other, bewitching his opponent. In my scrapbooks I’d kept numerous photo sequences showing frame by frame how Stan skinned his fullbacks, and every defender in the land must have known exactly what he was going to do, yet ended up powerless to do anything about it. One of his less-known techniques was to stare intently into his full-back’s eyes, almost hypnotising him, distracting the defender from what he was doing with the ball. When I saw him at Upton Park he was slower than in his prime, of course, but one did see him turn on sudden bursts of speed to fly past a defender, still managing that characteristic little hurdling effect as he went over a desperately flailing leg. It wasn’t Stanley Matthews at his best, but it was Stanley Matthews, and I’m proud of being able to say, I saw him play.
When Old Trafford booed the Maestro
It wasn’t only fans like me who revered the Wizard of the Wing, however, it was players. There was a rather endearing article written by United’s young Irish left back Joe Carolan in Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly in July 1960, about an incident involving the veteran winger which clearly embarrassed the youngster. He wrote that ‘As a boy I dreamed of playing against Stanley Matthews. One day I did…and they BOOED MY IDOL!’
‘This unhappy incident does not reflect much credit on the Old Trafford supporters, I’m afraid.Normally they are a good crowd at Manchester United, but on this occasion they blotted their copybooks. And I’m sure many of them are ashamed of themselves for what happened when I and the great Stanley came tumbling down.The referee immediately awarded a penalty, from which they scored. Our supporters appeared to think that Matthews had gone down deliberately to make the tackle look worse than it was, and so gain a spot-kick. Well, I know this trick has been tried before, but not by Stanley Matthews. I was very upset to hear the crowd booing Stanley for several minutes for something of which he was entirely innocent. When you think of all the pleasure that Matthews has given to fans the world over, for so many years, it seems little short of heresy that some of them should have turned on him in this spiteful way. I hope that if Stanley appears at Old Trafford this season the crowd will try to make amends to one of our greatest Soccer wizards and cleanest sportsmen of our time’.
There is something very touching about the idealism and respect in these words from a United paler of half a century ago. It would be wonderful to see something of that same sportsmanship when Blackpool face Unuited again this weekend for the first time in 35 years. I wholeheartedly welcome Blackpool back to the top division in that spirit.
Although, having said that, do have to admit, I hope United squeeze the Tangerines till the pips squeak!
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