Old Trafford staged its first European Cup tie on 25 April 1957...
The Background: Such was Matt Busby's haste to enter United into the European Cup, he did so while Old Trafford was still without floodlights and therefore incapable of hosting evening matches - hence the Maine Road ties against Anderlecht, Borussia Dortmund and Athletic Bilbao. But by the semi-finals, OT was ready to stage the Reds' second leg against the mighty Real Madrid. In the first leg, United had been devastated by Alfredo di Stefano and Francisco Gento as the Spaniards built a 3-1 lead at the Bernabeu.
The Occasion: Old Trafford bulged with 65,000 supporters, all eager to see the Reds defeat the white-clad conquistadors. For hours before kick-off, the ground rumbled with intent. “If noise could have served their purpose, United would have won hands down,” reported The Guardian. Unfortunately, wonderful team goals, finished off by Raymond Kopa and Enrique Mateos, had the tie all-but over after little more than half an hour. However, United bounced back after the break, roared on by the home support. “The crowd created a surge of desire to show Real that we could play at their level,” said Bobby Charlton, who followed up Tommy Taylor’s goal to make it 2-2 on the night in the 85th minute. The Reds continued to believe but ultimately tumbled out 5-3 on aggregate.
The Aftermath: A first taste of European football yielded mixed emotions - disappointment as a first-leg deficit proved insurmountable but excitement at entering a brave new world. In the following season, 1957/58, the visitors came from Ireland (Shamrock Rovers), Czechoslovakia (Dukla Prague), Italy (AC Milan) and fatefully Yugoslavia (Red Star Belgrade), from where some of Busby's players never arrived home after the second leg.