United on tour: Tales from our travels

Saturday 17 July 2021 18:00

While Manchester United will be playing pre-season games closer to home this summer, we’d like to share with you some of the most interesting objects collected during our trips and tours of the past.

From the gruelling schedule of rail travel in the 1920s, crossing borders in military trucks in 1946 to week-long cross-Atlantic steam liner voyages in the 1950s, United's travel diaries are full of exciting stories.


As a reward for winning the first League title in the club’s history, the team was offered a unique opportunity to visit the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the close season. With overseas travel regarded as a novel experience, it was the first time many United players had travelled abroad. 

Itinerary from United tour of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1908.

Organised by Thomas Cook & Son, then the country’s biggest and most respected travel operator, the tour lasted four weeks and included an overnight stay and sightseeing in Paris, Zurich, Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, where the team played their first friendly match against S.C. Slavia. The Reds had an opportunity to play six matches in total during the tour, which for many was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see some of Europe’s most iconic cities.


The Reds' exciting style of football introduced by Matt Busby meant that the team was in great demand to participate in friendly fixtures. Eager to increase the sport’s profile in North America, the club accepted the American Soccer League’s invitation to visit the USA and Canada in 1950. After a week on-board a steam liner, the players’ arrival across the pond created quite a stir.

Despite a fun-packed itinerary full of matches, radio and television interviews, and garden parties in Hollywood, the team suffered a major blow as a result of the tour: the loss of their star winger, Charlie Mitten. Having caught the eye of South American club Independiente Santa Fe, Mitten was lured away from United by the promise of a £50 per week salary, which was several times higher than the maximum wage in English football at the time. Labelled the ‘Bogota Bandit’ by the press, Charlie accepted a £2,500 signing-on fee and handed his resignation to Busby.

Charlie Mitten in action for United during the 1940s.

Unfortunately, Mitten’s South American adventure didn’t last long. After only a year of playing for the Bogota club, he came back to England to receive a £250 fine by the FA and a six-month suspension. His decision to leave the Reds for the riches of a foreign club cost Charlie his United career. Despite his absence causing the team a loss of form on the pitch, a dissatisfied Busby sold Charlie to Fulham for £22,000 soon after his return to Manchester.


Two years later, United returned to the USA and Canada for the longest tour in the club's history. Comprising 12 matches over a period of two months, the 1952 close season tour saw goals galore coming from Jack Rowley, Johnny Downie and Frank Clempson, who all scored a hat-trick against Montreal All Stars. The performance against the Canadian team was soon topped by Jack Rowley, who scored an astonishing seven goals in United’s 11-1 win over Fall River.

Unfortunately, the players’ incredible experience while on tour was soon interrupted by a fiery encounter against Atlas Club, in which a punched referee and pitch invasion spoiled the enjoyment.

A flyer advertising a friendly match between Manchester United and Atlas Club during the 1950 tour.

With newspaper headlines reading ‘Fists Fly As Manchester Beat Atlas’ and ‘Free-fight Fiasco As United Win’, doubts were cast as to whether the Reds' second match against the Mexican team would go ahead. Convinced by his players who claimed ‘they were able to look after themselves’, Busby made a decision to honour the fixture. A week later, a hat-trick from Pearson and a goal from Byrne secured United’s double victory over Atlas as the game, much to everyone’s relief, passed without major incident.


Having defeated Everton 1-0 in the FA Cup final five days earlier, United headed off to the Caribbean for a couple of end-of-season fixtures. The tour started off on the right foot after a message from the cockpit confirmed a gold medal would find its way to Kevin Moran, regardless of his red card at Wembley.

Unfortunately, the first game of the tour provided little excitement to 19,000 spectators as United lost 0-1 to Southampton. Despite the uninspiring performance on the pitch, our Cup final scorer Norman Whiteside made a lasting impression on a local barman, who developed a cocktail named in his honour.

A Norman Whiteside-inspired cocktail, created during the team's visit to Trinidad and Tobago in 1985.

The ‘Norman Whiteside Goal Punch’ original recipe, and a clay mug in which the drink was serve,  found its way to our museum in 2019 and is regarded by the curators as one of the most unusual items in the club’s collection.

Here's to the foreign adventures resuming again next year!

To see our amazing collection in person, book your visit to the Musuem & Stadium Tour at Old Trafford.

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