Football: No shame as tears flow for United

Action Replay: Wednesday 15 MAY 1968
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As Manchester United prepare to face Juventus for a place in the European Cup Final on Wednesday, we recall the memorable night in 1968 when Matt Busby's side travelled to Madrid with a slender one-goal lead to battle for a place in that year's final at Wembley. Desmond Hackett, one of the most colourful football writers of his generation, reported for the Daily Express.

A TEAM called Bobby Charlton battled last night into the European Cup final at Wembley on May 29.

The team, otherwise known as Manchester United, had played out one of the most bitterly fought games in the history of European football. To we privileged ringsiders it was a night of searing nerves and - I don't mind admitting it - damn-near tears.

Why should I be ashamed of tears when Matt Busby, the best-loved manager in football, himself wept unashamedly? After 11 years of campaigning, his team, his glorious Manchester United, had become the first English side to reach the European Cup final.

There was emotion, too, from Bobby Charlton who, when this night of stress had ended, collapsed to the ground over which United had spread the glory of English soccer.

It had looked in the first half as if Real would win handsomely. They had taken a 3-1 lead - 3-2 overall - and the Bernabeu stadium was in fiesta. But we got the message as soon as the second half started, that Un ited were still full of fighting soccer when brave Bobby came out with socks down to his ankles.

He was a general of glorious calibre, calming, soothing, and urging on a team that, for a spell, appeared to have lost faith in themselves. I was here last Wednesday, in the same seat, watching England thrash Spain. I thought that would be the height of my English pride, but that game had nothing to match tonight's splendour.

There were 120,000 fans. The noise would have shattered the courage of any other player but those of United. I have never known such sound and fury. United's plan was to contain Real for the first 20 minutes - and this they did with a high grade of competence. But after 31 minutes Real scored.

A highly suspect free-kick was lavished upon them. It was taken by Amancio and Pirri headed powerfully into goal. After 41 minutes the oldest man in European football, 35-year-old Francisco Gento, glided delicately along the left wing, evaded four fierce tackles, and scored a goal of superb brilliance.

The fireworks were exploding still when Zoco took the ball from Brian Kidd's feet and put it into his own goal. With the last kick of the first half Amancio raced through to score and put Real into a 3-2 overall lead. I was sufficiently churlish to think that United were playing without bravery. They made me a grim and false prophet.

After 72 minutes George Best put over a cross and David Sadler headed in to make it 3-3 on aggregate. Five minutes later Best cut through and who should score the winning goal but Old Man Bill Foulkes.

There were 14 minutes to go, but they belonged to United. They controlled Real, they silenced the crowd, and those who had not moved away stayed to applaud.

Matt Busby, with tears streaming down his face, said afterwards: "This is without doubt United's greatest night - our finest hour." Last word from Velazquez, Real's inside forward: "I hope United win the final. I would rather they won it than any other team - except, of course, Real."

Real Madrid: Betancort; Gonzalez, Sanchis, Pirri, Zunzunegui, Zoco, Perez, Amancio, Grosso, Velazquez, Gento.

Manchester United: Stepney: Brennan, Dunne, Crerand, Foulkes, Stiles, Best, Kidd, Charlton, Sadler, Aston.

United went on to win the final against Benfica of Portugal, who had qualified by beating Juventus 1-0 in Turin in the second leg of their semi-final. An omen for United on Wednesday, perhaps.