Football: United's destiny needs help

The trouble with trebles is that, once you have completed the first two legs, it is tempting to think you are owed the third leg by virtue of having been so clever already. Consider the punter who had a treble with Ladbrokes yonks ago, betting that, by the year 2000, Cliff Richard would be knighted, an Englishman would have been world heavyweight boxing champion, and a female jockey would have won the Grand National. Before this year's National, he offered various trainers a handsome slice of his prospective pounds 70,000 winnings if only they would plonk a woman on a decent horse. And after getting the first two predictions right, he must have felt he deserved his treble.

So it is with Manchester United. They must feel entitled to their treble now, after all that hard work, but should beware the conviction that it is theirs by divine - or even Fergie's - right. I was in Manchester on Friday, and every United fan I met was brimming with confidence. Neither Newcastle United nor Bayern Munich would stop them now, they assured me. Even the wise David Sadler, a member of the 1968 European Cup-winning team, told me he believed the trophy was destined for Old Trafford again.

Much has been written about United's triumph in 1968, when they beat mighty Benfica at Wembley to become the first English winners of the European Cup. We have read about the heart-stopping moment late on, when, at 1- 1, Eusebio seemed certain to score, only to be denied by Alex Stepney. In extra time United scored another three, presenting Matt Busby with his Holy Grail. But, in some respects, the more significant game was the semi-final, against Real Madrid. For Real - while no longer the team of Puskas and Di Stefano - were still the most successful club side in Europe. Yet they had a healthy respect for Busby's team. Indeed, before the Munich air disaster 10 years earlier, the powerful Real president, Senor Bernabeu, after whom the stadium is named, had tried to make Busby his manager.

In the first leg, at Old Trafford, United beat Real 1-0. The goal was scored by the man David Sadler describes as the most talented footballer he has ever seen, let alone played alongside, a wizard, a sorcerer, a genius - the incomparable Nobby Stiles. Just kidding. It was, of course, George Best, with whom Sadler had a special relationship, for they were in digs together for years, with the indomitable Mrs Fullaway in Chorlton.

Those of a certain age, though agog at the skills of Giggs and Beckham, are adamant that Best played at a more rarefied level. "In training," Sadler told me, "they had to devise ways to get the rest of us involved. In five a side, nobody could get the ball off him. So we played two-touch, where he had to pass the ball, or even one-touch. But, even in one-touch games, he would knock it against you, which would count as your touch, and then pick it up again."

Not even the remarkable Best could lift United in the first half of the second-leg of the semi-final, though. "Depending on what book you read, the crowd at the Bernabeu was anything from 125,000 to 145,000," said Sadler. "The atmosphere was unbelievable. They were the kings of Europe, in all their white splendour, and they had a great team. Gento was getting on, but still a wonderful player. In the first half they murdered us. We were 3-1 down at half-time, and even our one had been an outrageous own goal. We were numb. Even Matt's assistant, Jimmy Murphy, an incredible character who was never short of a word, most of them not in the dictionary, couldn't think of anything to say.

"But I do remember Matt pointing out that we were still only 3-2 down overall, so it wasn't the mountain it seemed. And he made some adjustments. I'd been in a kind of holding position in midfield, but he told me to move up a bit." In the second half, United came out fighting. And it was Sadler who scored the goal which levelled the aggregate score, before Bill Foulkes, improbably, bagged the overall winner. "I somehow managed to nick it," Sadler told me, with characteristic modesty. "I scarcely remember scoring. But I know the momentum carried me past the goal, and remember thinking that it was as if someone had turned a radio off. One second it was blaring away, the next second there was total silence."

The Nou Camp this week will be less intimidating than the Bernabeu 31 years ago. But the match is in Spain, against formidable opponents. So let's hope a bit of history repeats itself on Wednesday, and that a bit of history is made.

Voices
voices
News
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
newsBumping fists rather than shaking hands could reduce the spread of infectious diseases, it is claimed
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
newsHad asteroid hit earlier or later in history, the creatures might have survived, say scientists
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

year 5 teacher

£21000 - £32000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wo...

Supply Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a b...

Supply Teacher - Chelmsford

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We urgently require Primar...

Year 5 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to wo...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried