Matt Busby and Bobby Charlton after the 1968 triumph.

How United made European history in 1968

Sunday 29 May 2022 10:00

The Manchester United fans reacted to the team making history by lifting the European Cup, a decade after Munich, as one. Manager Matt Busby's was the name that roared around Wembley Stadium after the final whistle.

A large group of supporters ended up in the West End, dancing in the fountains of Trafalgar Square, making their way down Whitehall and into Downing Street where, around midnight, chants of 'Wilson out, Busby in' were heard. Harold Wilson was, of course, the Labour Prime Minister at the time.

The United boss may not have got that job, but he was knighted for his achievement in rebuilding the club that was devastated by the Munich Air Disaster, an awful accident that came very close to costing him his own life.

Busby's Dream: The Triumph of 68 Video

Busby's Dream: The Triumph of 68

Featuring the players, fans' stories and unseen archive from the 1968 European Cup win...

It says much about the man that he refused Paddy Crerand and Alex Stepney's attempts to get him to join the team up the steps to collect the trophy he had chased for so long, and with such conviction.

His face that night, however, betrayed his emotions and how much being the first English club to land Europe's biggest prize meant to him; an honour that was dedicated to those who were tragically killed when attempting to conquer the continent in the late 1950s.

"When Bobby [Charlton] took the cup, it cleansed me," said the manager. "It eased the pain of the guilt of going into Europe. It was my justification.

“This is the most wonderful thing that has happened in my life.

“I have had a lot of disappointments but this has made up for everything. At the moment, I’m the proudest man in England."

Video
Just want to watch the goals? This video has all five of them.

Busby needed all his powers at the end of normal time after United were pegged back by Jaime Graca's equaliser to Charlton's goal. The Reds, playing in blue, looked to be fading on the sapping Wembley pitch.

It had been a bruising encounter - there were 31 free-kicks in the first half alone - but this was when a top coach earns his corn.

"Only a man like Busby could have recreated that fire and fury when they were all in," wrote Malcolm Brodie later that night. "He inspired confidence although, inwardly, he feared the worst - for the life had gone from this side in the final 20 minutes."

Matt Busby rallies his troops at the end of a tough 90 minutes.

The Daily Mirror's Ken Jones agreed, stating: “Busby hovered over them, hen-like, encouraging but anxious and fearing perhaps that the worst was to come."

Any fear quickly evaporated as the game was soon out of Benfica's reach. Three minutes into extra-time, George Best scored a fine solo goal, with teenager Brian Kidd then adding the Reds' third. Charlton glanced in a header and it was all over.

"I am proud of them all," enthused Busby. "I think they tease me a little. I thought we would win in extra-time for we were in good heart. They did it against Real Madrid [in the semi-finals] and they came back with heart again and showed what Manchester United are made of."

Busby denied suggestions he would quit, having, as Jones put it, 'finally conquered his Everest', and said: "There has been a lot of talk about this. At the present, I am staying where I am until people get fed up with me or I get tired."

Nobody could ever get fed up with Matt, who was knighted soon after. When everybody sang at the banquet at a London hotel that evening: 'For he's a jolly good fellow', it was the biggest of understatements.

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