I’ve now the greatest respect for those people on the Guardian or at the BBC who do those minute-by-minute text updates of matches: I tried to do the same thing with the DVD of the 1957 FA Cup Final and simply couldn’t keep up.
So this isn’t a liveblogging of the 51 year old game, just thoughts.
Peter McParland can have had no idea of the significance his shoulder-charge of Manchester United keeper Ray Wood would have for future generations. As Ken Wolstenholme noted at the time, the Villa man’s charge was perfectly within the rules, for all that it looks like plain assault to modern eyes. Wood’s injury means that we only have about six minutes of film of the Busby Babes playing at their height against English opposition. For the rest of the game, they were effectively a man down, and we are denied a “typical” Babes performance (if such a thing could be seen at a Cup Final with all that was at stake, of course).
Furthermore the Babes responded to Wood’s withdrawal by pulling Duncan Edwards back into the centre of defence. This had the effect of taking Edwards out of reach of the camera for long periods. It goes without saying that this is another significant loss: Edwards – along with about half of his colleagues from the ’57 Final – would be dead within a year.
For those first six minutes, however, Manchester United were quite astonishingly good. They attacked with the ball kept on the ground, through the middle, and Villa scarcely touched the ball. Indeed, had Tommy Taylor, 25 at this point, and Bobby Charlton, a coltish 19, had a better mutual understanding, United would have scored twice in the opening period.
Charlton was bubbly, fast, able to beat men for speed, but seemed unaware of his colleague’s movement around him. My notes of the match contain two phrases which repeat themselves over and over: “Charlton loses possession” is one of them. I’ll come to the other later.
The first few minutes took place in what comes across as a marvellous, safe, friendly, fun atmosphere. No chanting, no banners, no football shirts on men old enough to know better. Just 100,000 people having a good day out. There was football-related violence in the 1950s, of course, but nothing on the scale that would come with the 1960s and 1970s. Most of it took place on trains, which could be stripped out by a contingent of fans then as now. In among the pleasant hum of conversation, the odd bell or rattle could be heard.
1957 Wembley was as neat as a pin. A picket fence ringed the pitch; when the ball went out of play, ball-boys got it back with an alacrity now more typical of Wimbledon. Throw-ins and free kicks were taken immediately – play hardly paused – and the defending team passed the ball to their opposition politely rather than using modern delaying tactics.
By comparison, the modern Wembley looks like the set of Bladerunner.
In 1957, there was no dissent shown to the referee.
After Ray Wood had been stretchered off, Bill Foulkes of United went on a one-man mission to exact revenge. The other comment that gets repeated in my notes is “Foulkes flattens Villa player” – usually McParland. Simple, straightforward, deliberate and repeated violence of the kind shown by Foulkes is gone, by and large, from the modern game, or at any rate its perpetrator doesn’t stay on the pitch for very long.
On the day, McParland was the difference between the two sides. Even with United down to ten men, Villa found it hard to impose themselves. United had the ability to move players around total-football style, so that, for instance, Whelan and Coleman could take turns at the heavy lifting in central midfield, whilst never offering Villa the same problem twice. Likewise, David Pegg and Johnny Berry would swap wings.
So McParland’s fantastic header in the second half was crucial to the result. United slumped quite clearly for about five minutes afterwards. At the end of those five, McParland scored again, and only then did United pull themselves together.
The catalyst for their revival was Ray Wood, who proved that Manchester United’s goalkeeper, given a broken jaw, was a perfectly adequate inside forward, once Busby allowed him back on in the second half. At one point late on he executed a mirror-image near facsimile of the Ricky Villa goal from 1982, except of course in the essential point of scoring.
And, yes, famously so, Jackie Blanchflower was quite superb in goal. Wood went back between the sticks late on, allowing a relatively fresh Blanchflower to run at Aston Villa. Tommy Taylor’s late looping header, an unsatisfactory and weak kind of goal, was followed by a siege on Villa’s goal, but to no avail.
Two things about the end of the game. One: McParland and Wood shook hands and went off together. Two: the United players applauded Villa off. No Chelsea-style Champions League Final antics for them.
I consider Villa’s victory to be fortunate in the extreme – apart from their goalscoring spell, they were always very much second best to a United side perhaps young enough to run off the one-man disadvantage. United’s close control – with the exception of Roger Byrne – was always superior.
But Wood was luckier than Villa. Lucky in that he only broke his jaw. Had his been a neck injury, the treatment he received on the pitch in 1957 might well have crippled or killed him, as Trautmann’s so nearly had a year earlier.
The sadness is that there were so many players on the pitch that day that you’d want to see in full cry. Taylor, Colman, Edwards.. We get to see plenty of David Pegg, of Liam Whelan and Roger Byrne, which is something.
Overall, I’d rate the United side of 1957, on the inadequate basis of six minutes at the start of a cup final, as very similar in ability to the Keane-Giggs-Scholes-Beckham side of the late ’90s. Neither of those teams had quite the attack that the 65-9 United had with Law, Charlton and Best. But the ’57 team were three or four years away from their peak. I shudder to think what George Best might have won in the 1960s with colleagues of the ’57 calibre.
Ken Wolstenholme complained in his commentary that the Wood injury would bring the whole substitution thing back onto the agenda. He wasn’t wrong, was he?
The complete match I’ve watched is in monochrome. Here’s a Pathe News excerpt in colour:
and, with sound, in monochrome: