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Murphy, Charlton and Busby

The night United conquered the Bernabeu

Today marks 50 years since one of the greatest nights in Manchester United's history, when Matt Busby's men held off six-time European Cup winners Real Madrid in the 1968 semi-final second leg to reach the final of the competition for the first time.

The Reds were 3-1 down at half-time, but second-half strikes from David Sadler and Bill Foulkes helped to secure a heroic 3-3 draw, in front of a daunting crowd of 120,000 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
 
“This is without doubt United’s greatest night – our finest hour,”
said Busby after the final whistle. In the dressing room, Paddy Crerand recalled the boss
“unashamedly and understandably crying”
and hugging the players one by one.
 
Bobby Charlton
An emotional Bobby Charlton is helped off the pitch by ecstatic supporters.

'Real were acting like they'd won'Video

Ten years on from the Munich Air Disaster, and against all odds, United were in the final of the continent’s premier football competition.
 
A solitary George Best goal had handed the Reds a slender victory at Old Trafford in the first leg, but the widespread feeling was that United had missed their chance.
“Manchester United toil for meagre reward,”
wrote football correspondent Geoffrey Green in the Times.
 
Optimism was not high as thoughts turned to the return leg in Spain, and those fears were soon confirmed as well-founded at the Bernabeu.

United earn narrow win to take to SpainVideo

“Madrid battered us in the first half,”
recalled Crerand.
“They played the ball around so quick that we couldn’t get close to them.”
 
Pirri’s header glanced Real into the lead, levelling the tie on aggregate, before Gento’s goal nudged Los Blancos ahead. An own goal by midfielder Ignacio Zoco levelled the tie within minutes, but the Spaniards’ creative lynchpin, Amancio, restored their advantage by making it 3-1 just prior to the interval.
 
“I was sick as I found my way to the dressing room at half-time. The players had their heads between their legs,”
admitted Busby.
“I put it to them very strongly that we were only one goal down on aggregate. We could not win if we were not venturesome, and it would not make any difference if we lost by more goals than the one we were behind if we lost at all. So we must not fear defeat. We must go at them.”
Matt Busby says

"We could not win if we were not venturesome. So we must not fear defeat. We must go at them.”

The Reds responded courageously to the boss’s instructions. David Sadler made it 3-3 on aggregate with 15 minutes remaining, before Munich survivor Bill Foulkes scored one of only nine career goals (from 688 appearances) to make it 4-3 across the two ties, and three-each on the night.
 
“My first reaction was: ‘What’s that idiot doing there?’”
remembered Crerand, of Foulkes’ uncharacteristic sally into enemy territory.
“But Bill knew best this time.”
 
“I reached the corner of the box and I found myself calling for the ball,
“ reminisced Foulkes. ”
George [Best] saw me and I thought I was going to be ignored again. You must appreciate that I was never famous for my attacking skills!
 
“I thought George was going to shoot, but instead he cut back the most beautiful ball to me. It was perfect and I just had to side-foot it in at the far side. There wasn’t a sound from the 120,000 Spaniards and my first thought was it couldn’t be a goal. My next recollection was trying to get bodies off me as the lads piled in. I was really worried about my knee [Foulkes’ knee had ‘blown up’ four days earlier during a league game against Sunderland].

Celebrating our heroes of '68Video

At full-time some of United’s travelling fans raced onto the pitch to embrace their heroes. Together, they ushered Bobby Charlton, who was in tears with the heavy emotion of it all, off the pitch.
 
“For Matt Busby, the man who has striven so long and so hard for success in Europe and who has never lost faith in his club’s ability to achieve it, this was the night on which a dream came true,”
acclaimed the Daily Mail’s Ronald Crowther.
 
It was, at the time, the greatest night in the club’s history, and granted United and their manager a shot at redemption, 10 years on from the crushing heartbreak of Munich.
 
A final at Wembley awaited, and only Benfica stood in United and Busby's way.
“We were on the last rung of the staircase to the sky,”
said the great man.

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