Manchester United players celebrate in the bath, with manager Matt Busby and captain Roger Byrne, after winning the 1956/57 league title

Glory Days: How the Busby Babes won the title in 1957

Monday 20 April 2020 13:00

As we enter what is normally the business end of the season, our new series will celebrate the calendar days that provided glorious scenes for Manchester United in years gone by. In this case, 20 April, was the date in 1957 when the Busby Babes sealed a second Division One title in a row for the Busby Babes…

The 1956/57 campaign was perhaps the first to give an insight into the gruelling schedule that would face United in some of the more storied seasons in Sir Alex Ferguson's reign, during which glory was regularly pursued on multiple fronts. 
In the days preceding squad rotation, Matt Busby's team played 56 times in a season that, with a little more luck, would have yielded the Treble, some 42 years before that incredible feat was achieved by Alex Ferguson's men on an unforgettable night in Barcelona.
When the dust settled, the Busby Babes had to make do with a single trophy, but 'bread and butter' success in the Football League was just as difficult to achieve – and repeat – as it is in the Premier League today. Ruling the roost in England was a rigorous business, and retaining the title was a titanic feat for such a young squad.
The team pose with the First Division trophy and the Charity Shield in autumn 1956.
That said, United, at times, made it look a breeze. Busby's vibrant side hit the ground running, victorious in 10 of the opening 12 matches. 
Enchanting neutrals with the flair on show, the Reds' free-flowing football yielded a stunning 103 goals as the century barrier was broken for the first time since World War II. 
Bobby Charlton contributed 10 goals in 14 league games during his debut season, including a brace on his first start against Charlton Athletic in October, but the competition for places was fierce, with Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan and Dennis Viollet all scoring at will.
As reigning champions, United were always going to be the team in everyone's sights. Tottenham Hotspur proved to be the Reds' nearest challengers (ultimately finishing eight points adrift), but this title success was effectively wrapped up by Easter.
The first loss of the campaign was a 5-2 home defeat by Everton in late October, but this proved a blip ­– albeit Bolton also defeated the Babes the following month. 
From January onwards, there were few doubts as to the likely destination of the trophy. A 4-0 hammering of Sunderland on 20 April 1957 allowed a packed Old Trafford to celebrate another title triumph, in spite of the inevitable fixture pile-up – the game against the Rokerites was the third of four matches played in nine days between two European Cup semi-final ties against Real Madrid, United winning all four.
Rising star Bobby Charlton shoots goalwards against Everton during a rare defeat.
Any thoughts of a Treble, though, would have been premature. Real Madrid ended our continental quest, with a 3-1 victory for Di Stefano and co in front of 135,000 fans at the Bernabeu, followed by a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford. Aston Villa then denied the Reds the Double in a controversial FA Cup final – the game-changing barge on keeper Ray Wood by Villa’s Peter McParland enrages older United fans still.

There would, of course, be no chance for Busby's young stars to set the record straight. The Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958 took the lives of eight first-team players and, though of comparatively little importance, ended any realistic chance of a third championship in a row. 
This 1956/57 title, then, was the high-water mark of Busby's great homegrown creation, the hot-housed flowers of the United youth system in full bloom. What they might have gone on to achieve in years to come remains a question for the ages.
Tommy Taylor scores United's third against Chelsea on New Year's Day.

Matt Busby:
"I have no doubt in my mind which was the greatest side [I managed], and that was the pre-Munich side. As even young boys, of 19 and 20, we were winning the English league championship by 11 points, eight points... staggering, actually. Staggering. They looked as if they were going to carry everything in front of them – for a few years anyway in English football."
Jim White, author, Manchester United: The Biography: "The year 1957 was Busby's annus mirabilis all right. In Europe, his team had announced themselves with a victory so significant that later that year Real Madrid were to offer him a jaw-dropping £100,000 a year to coach at the Bernabeu. At home they dominated in a way no other team had managed since the Invincibles of Preston North End in 1897."


In October 1956, one of the game's true greats, Bobby Charlton, made his first-team debut against Charlton Athletic. He scored twice, and would finish a breakthrough season with 12 from just 17 appearances in all competitions.
Only serial European champions Real Madrid could stop United in Europe.

Ray Wood, Bill Foulkes, Roger Byrne (c), Mark Jones, Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, Johnny Berry, Billy Whelan, David Pegg, Dennis Viollet, Tommy Taylor.

Taylor 34, Whelan 33, Viollet 26.

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