click to go to homepage
Matt Busby smiles for a photo in 1968

'One of the finest nights in the history of our club'

One of the finest nights in Manchester United's entire history was how Matt Busby described the 1-0 defeat to Gornik Zabrze on this day in 1968.

A difficult European Cup tie in Poland may have ended in a loss but a 2-1 aggregate triumph, after success in the first leg, was secured, and a place in the semi-finals beckoned.

'A vital step on the road to the Holy Grail' article

Fifty years ago, Matt Busby's United left it late to beat Polish champions Gornik Zabrze en route to the European Cup.

After flying to Krakow, a two-hour coach ride in blizzard conditions was required to reach Chorzow, where the game had been relocated to the spacious Slaski Stadium. Despite the snow, the fixture was given the green light on an icy surface and the Reds' date with destiny was set in front of an estimated 105,000 fans.

Denis Law was still absent so John Fitzpatrick was introduced in midfield, while veteran David Herd was preferred to John Aston. It soon became a backs-against-the-wall battle for United in temperatures dipping as low as minus 15, particularly after Tony Dunne was forced to soldier on with an ankle injury.

A ticket for the 1968 European Cup quarter-final second leg between Gornik Zabrze and Manchester United
A ticket for United's 1968 European Cup quarter-final second leg against Gornik Zabrze

A breakthrough finally arrived with 18 minutes left, when keeper Alex Stepney was harshly penalised for retaining the ball for too long. An indirect free-kick was initially cleared, only for Wlodek Lubanski, Gornik's star man who looked a threat at Old Trafford, flashed home when the ball was headed into his path.

The Polish side went all out in search of another goal that would level the tie but the Reds stood firm amid the onslaught as the wintry weather worsened, with Herd making one desperate clearance.

The front cover of the matchday programme for the 1968 European Cup quarter-final second leg between Gornik Zabrze and Manchester United
The front cover of the matchday programme for the game in Poland
The joy at progressing in the competition was obvious. Assistant manager Jimmy Murphy commented:
“That must rate highly among the club's great performances.”
The boss, Busby, was equally jubilant.
“I feel the warmth of our dream living on,”
he smiled.
“I've a feeling this is our year. This is one of the finest nights in the history of our club.”