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Manchester United Roy Cavanagh MBE

 

“WOULD YOU GO TO A FOOTBALL MATCH ON A CHRISTMAS DAY NOW?”

Until Wednesday 25th December 1957 that was an excepted part of the way of life. It was the last time that it happened though for Manchester United, and I was fortunate enough to have been there, and still remember most of it!

Luton Town were the opposition that day, with a Manchester United side carrying the average age of only 23. Two of the United team were actually making only their second appearance for the club. Harry Gregg the charismatic goalkeeper just signed from Second Division Doncaster Rovers for the then record fee of £23,000 after a sensational display the month before for his native Northern Ireland against England at Wembley, when the Irish had won a famous victory 3-2. The other player making just his second appearance for United was an 18 year old Welshman, Kenny Morgans. He had replaced Johnny Berry at outside right the week previous for his (and Gregg’s debut) against Leicester City when United had won 4-0.

These changes were unusual for United, as Matt Busby kept a tight ship and unless International calls or injury intervened he picked his best side. Simple!

Digressing slightly, it is really hard to believe now that if an International came on a Saturday, teams had to release players and just put the direct reserve in. United for instance, would often lose Byrne, Edwards and Taylor with such as Bent, McGuinness and Webster or Charlton stepping in.

Back to 1957.Manchester United had made a great start to the season chasing a 3rd successive title. Injury, illness and a loss of form, interrupted the flow and in successive home matches Tottenham Hotspur (3-4) and Chelsea (0-1) came to Old Trafford and won. I went to the Spurs match when young David Gaskell stepped in for the injured Ray Wood and was in a side 1-4 down at half time! A great fight back could only make it 3-4, and following the Chelsea shock Matt Busby acted. Out went Wood, Berry, Whelan and Pegg, with newly signed Gregg, Morgans, Charlton and Scanlon stepping in.

Christmas Day 1957 I was 10. My late Father, who had a terrible time as a Japanese Prisoner of War, took me, walking over the Trafford Road swing bridge from Ordsall Lane, near to the old Colgate Palmolive factory where we lived .My upbringing was great because you knew nothing different. The old Docks, now Media City home to the BBC and the fantastic Quays. I vividly remember men standing outside the dock gates every day, waiting for a day’s work, hoping a foreman would offer it to them.

They sold the programme. ‘United Review’ on that bridge, the Luton one being the regular issue costing 4d (2p) in those days. I collected programmes most of my life, having all but four of United’s homes at one time. Imagine having the real honour of writing in that programme in the late 70’s early 80’s including the Barcelona 3-0 match. Happy days!

The kick off this last Christmas Day match was 2.45pm, even though floodlights had now arrived at Old Trafford nine months earlier. We stood in the old paddock running from the player’s tunnel centre line towards the Stretford End. As you looked around, both ends were uncovered, the Stretford End stretching right back whilst the other end only had the scoreboard at its back. Joining them down the United Road side was a massive standing area with only a roof going from penalty area to penalty area, and then you came round to where I was, the main stand with cover. Football crowds varied massively in those days .You could get 60,000 or 25,000, this match there were 39,444 including me and me dad! Jack Crompton was the Luton trainer that day, I remember Jack well captaining the Central League side in the mid 50’s before he gave training a chance. Within two months he would be back at Old Trafford due to an unimaginable disaster...

Christmas Day is not a day for disasters, although I seem to remember getting something stuck in my throat later that night and going to hospital to get it removed!

Manchester United was starting to get back into a swing and Luton were very easily beaten 3-0 with goals by Edwards, Charlton and Taylor. In those days teams then played each other 24 hours later and a 2-2 draw was achieved at Luton. The same score happened at Maine Road on the Saturday, 3 games in 4 days no team changes!

Into the New Year, wins over Workington and Ipswich put us comfortably in the 5th round of the FA Cup, a draw in the league at Leeds followed by a 7-2 win over Bolton and a famous 4-5 win at Arsenal put us back much closer at the top of the table. In between all this, Red Star Belgrade arrived at a very foggy Old Trafford for a European Cup quarter final 1st leg tie, and although leading 0-1, United won through 2-1. Eddie Colman scoring a rare goal, Eddie lived near me off Ordsall Lane...

That was the world a little 10 year old Salford lad was living in, everything grey except for the red shirts of the famous Manchester United. Thursday 6th February 1958 my life changed forever at about 4.30pm English time. I never will forget...

The line up for the last Manchester United Christmas Day fixture;

GREGG, FOULKES, BYRNE, COLMAN, JONES, EDWARDS, MORGANS, CHARLTON, TAYLOR, VIOLLET and SCANLON.

 

Roy Cavanagh MBE

Roy's latest book - THROUGH TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPHS: WE ALL FOLLOW UNITED! is now available from Amazon priced at just £2 http://www.amazon.co.uk/THROUGH-TRAGEDY-AND-TRIUMPHS-FOLLOW-ebook/dp/B00GA6QZY8

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