We’ve hand-picked half a century of the most iconic Red-letter days. These moments are in no particular order, but there can only be one place to start…
1. Sir Matt leads United to a first ever European Cup, 29 May 1968
The United story doesn’t start here, of course, but much of what the club has come to stand for can be traced back to this epochal moment. The 4-1 European Cup final victory over Benfica in 1968 was hugely significant. Not only were United the first English club to lift the trophy, it was the realisation of the long-held vision of Matt Busby. When Busby became United manager in 1945 he and his backroom team – his inestimable right-hand man Jimmy Murphy and those men of football science, Bert Whalley, Tom Curry and Bill Inglis – set their vision of youth as the way forward. Busby first took his young charges into Europe in 1956 (see number 2) but the tragedy of Munich in 1958 blew a hole in Busby’s masterplan. Busby’s side were aiming for a third consecutive league title and European glory when disaster struck, claiming the lives of eight of his braves and so nearly his own. Those who knew him best said he felt that he owed it to them to go on. A decade later, against Eusebio and co on a sweltering Wembley night, the United flag was finally planted at Europe’s summit. Vindication came courtesy of two goals from Bobby Charlton, fellow Munich survivor; and one apiece from George Best, the game’s first superstar, and Brian Kidd, who turned 19 that day. Busby’s glorious dream came at a terrible price, but this was a night where the guilt he felt was, in a small but significant way, assuaged.
2. United defy the Football League to enter the European stage, 22 May 1956
The stiff shirts at the Football League scoffed in 1955 when Frenchman Gabriel Hanot proposed a champions club cup for which the cream of Europe could compete. ‘Learn something from Johnny Foreigner? Pah!’ – or words to that effect – was the attitude of Football League secretary Alan Hardaker. If the Football League squeeze worked on Chelsea, champions in 1954/55, it didn’t affect Busby 12 months on after his swashbuckling Babes