Stepney: 'We were a team but Busby made us a family'
Legendary goalkeeper Alex Stepney, pictured here watching Sir Bobby Charlton lift the silverware, looks back on that famous night at Wembley 50 years ago today when Manchester United became the first English club to win the European Cup...
“To this day, I still think we never realised the scale of what we achieved when we won the European Cup for Manchester United in 1968.We were a team, but the great man – Matt Busby – had made us a family. For us to accomplish that for him, and for all the other people caught up in the Munich tragedy, was so, so important.
“When we started out in the autumn of 1967, nothing was said about doing it for the lads who had died, but we all knew, without words, that there was this extra dimension because the manager and two of his most trusted players – Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes – had survived the crash. There was also the notion that, given Matt’s age and all he had been through, possibly it might be this side’s last chance.
“You have to remember that in those days you had to win the league title to get into the European Cup – fourth place didn’t do it then! – and while Bobby and Bill were still going strong, there was always a thought about Matt’s health. Whenever possible, he tried to train with us, often joining in five-a-sides, but to see the scars on his chest brought home to us the enormous trauma he had experienced at Munich.We started the campaign with a comfortable win over Hibernians of Malta, then came through extremely stern tests against Sarajevo from Yugoslavia and Gornik Zabrze of Poland before our epic semi-final victory over Real Madrid, snatching a 4-3 aggregate victory from the jaws of defeat at a seething Bernabeu Stadium.
“That set up an emotional final against Benfica on a punishingly humid night at Wembley. After a pretty even first half, Bobby put us in front with a glancing header, only for Jaime Graca to equalise at 1-1.
“It might have been worse when Eusebio escaped his marker, Nobby Stiles, for the only time in the match with four minutes left and bore down on my goal. At first, I thought I could claim the ball, so I advanced, but it was held up on the lush Wembley grass and the great Portuguese was through. Now all I could do was step back slightly so it would be harder for him to chip, and stand up straight. Instead of slotting it, he elected to try and burst the net, which he loved to do. His ferocious shot cannoned into my chest – I tell everybody that the Mitre logo is still imprinted on my skin! – and I managed to hold on to it.Looking back, I suppose that was a crucial turning point because I doubt if we would have recovered from 2-1 down at that late stage. As it was, I launched a drop-kick early into extra-time, Brian Kidd nodded on and George Best, with typical brilliance, put us in front. After that, Benfica collapsed, with Kiddo and Bobby scoring to make it 4-1. At the final whistle we all ran to Matt, Bobby and Bill. We had all pulled together, but deep down we all felt this was their night.