team spirit and a credit to all concerned.”
Old Trafford did not have floodlights so the return leg was played at Manchester City’s Maine Road, where heavy rain had created large pools of water on the pitch. But writing in his United Review programme notes, Busby explained fans would be delighted if the match was “only half as entertaining” as the first. Thankfully, the manager’s faith was repaid in spades.
United secured a 10-0 win via goals from Viollet (4), Taylor (3), Billy Whelan (2) and Johnny Berry in what remains the club’s biggest victory, inspiring Busby to describe the triumph as “the finest exhibition of teamwork I had ever seen from any side, either at club or international level”. Even Jef Mermans, the Anderlecht captain, was in awe of the Babes. “After United had scored their sixth goal, they still ran as hard as they had at the start," he explained. "We have played against the best teams of Hungary and Russia but never been beaten like this. Why don’t they pick this team for England?”
Further victories over Borussia Dortmund and Athletic Club set up a semi-final defeat to Real Madrid, who went on to win the cup for a second successive year. Undeterred, and having won the title by eight points, United returned for a second crack of the whip during the 57/58 campaign. But as everyone knows, that pursuit of glory was cut short by the Munich air disaster, a tragedy that denied Busby's Babes from reaching their immeasurable potential.
Weeks later, a depleted Reds side was beaten by AC Milan as Busby lay hospitalised in Germany. While the boss had considered quitting, wrongly blaming his own ambition for the chain of events that had ended in tragedy, his wife Jean and son Sandy convinced him to continue. “I need no reminding of the bitter sadness and suffering of Munich,” Busby later said. “I grieve still for my fine young players who lost their lives… Like the rest of life, we just have to do our best and do what seems right at the time.”
The rebuilding process began and 10 years later – on 29 May 1968 – United lifted the European Cup for the first time, bringing some semblance of closure to events 10 years prior. "When Bobby Charlton took the cup, it cleansed me," Busby said. "It eased the guilt of going into Europe. It was my justification.”