The glamour of the FA Cup Final to supporters, certainly of a certain age such as myself, never goes away. For Manchester United supporters, it still has the magic and in 2016 we finally head back to Wembley after some barren seasons.
Being born in 1947, I was far too young to know what the 1948 final against Blackpool meant, although that was only the second time in our history that we had lifted the famous trophy. I have, however, seen all the finals since then either live at the ground or via television including 1956/7 which is where we’ll begin our journey.
On their way to this final, United played three away ties and one at home (besides the semi-final of course which was on a neutral ground). The three away matches were all at lower league sides in Hartlepool United and Wrexham from the then Third Division North league and Bournemouth from the then Third Division South league.
Such was the glamour of the FA Cup and of this fantastic United side, all three clubs had their record crowd for the visit of Matt Busby’s young team which still stands today.
The home match was the fifth round tie versus Everton with a sole Duncan Edwards goal settling the match. The semi-final had been played at Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground against Birmingham City, who had actually lost the previous seasons final against Manchester City, and they were to go out 2-0 thanks to two goals from little winger Johnny Berry.
This promised to be the day the famous ‘double’ of winning the Cup and League by a side was achieved for the first time in the Twentieth Century. Indeed, for the first time since Aston Villa, United’s opponents this day, had done it themselves in 1897.
The promise of Matt Busby’s ‘Busby Babes’ had been delivered having won their second successive League title as well as reaching the semi-finals of the relatively new European Cup and were in the FA Cup Final – one match away from achieving the double.
In later times, I had the real honour of meeting Sir Matt Busby on a few occasions having interviewed him for books I wrote and having been on testimonial committees for former players. His view of this day was quite clear:
“I only had one worry before the match, whether everybody woke up fit to play,” Sir Matt told me.
“If they did, there was only going to be one result. By 9am I had personally seen every player, they were all fine, let’s get on that bus and get the match won.
“Everything was fine until about six minutes into the match when from way outside the penalty area, Villa’s number 11 Peter McParland carried on running into the box and firmly planted his shoulder across our goalkeeper Ray Wood’s cheekbone.
“We were such a great side that even playing virtually the rest of the match with ten men, as there was no substitutes in those days, I felt we could give it a real shot and we did but in the end we lost 2-1 with, ironically, McParland getting the two Villa goals.”
I was nearly ten when this final was played but I can still remember watching it on our small black and white television set at home in Ordsall. United played in all white with red piping on their collar and down their shorts and it was very rare for me to see that side could lose a match because they were so good but McParland’s double, and the early injury to Ray Wood forcing Jackie Blanchflower to play in goal, condemned us to defeat and I had to wait to see my first FA Cup victory.
Next up in our FA Cup final series in 1957/8. It was an incredible achievement from Jimmy Murphy to steer Man United to the FA Cup final against Bolton Wanderers after the tragedy of the Munich Air Disaster, we hear from Roy on his memories from that game.