Old Trafford's best games: Sheff Wed (1958)

Sunday 24 March 2024 09:00

The fifth part of our series of Old Trafford's greatest matches looks at the first game after the Munich Air Disaster in 1958.

United 3 Sheffield Wednesday 0
Date: 19 February 1958
Competition: FA Cup fifth round

Pre-match context: United’s next fixture after the Munich Air Disaster took place less than a fortnight after the crash. The club was in absolute disarray, bereft of players and staff either killed or injured in Germany. Assistant manager Jimmy Murphy worked around the clock, later admitting: “I went through hell and back and I had no-one to talk to, really. I had to find a team of 11 to play. We didn't know what the team would be.”

Youngsters were promoted from within to join crash survivors Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg, while Murphy’s recruitment drive ended with Stan Crowther signing from Aston Villa 75 minutes before kick-off.

So was this Old Trafford's greatest-ever game?


It's a fair debate and one that needs to be had so United Review's Steve Bartram starts things off.

Rivalry: None of note. Sheffield Wednesday arrived in respectful mood, paying their respects like the rest of English football.

Atmosphere: Before, during and after the match, raw emotion was on show among the 60,000 supporters inside the ground and the thousands more who congregated outside, content to listen. The sombre pre-match hum made way for a defiant din after the first whistle, with Guardian journalist WR Taylor noting: “A roar greeted every United move, a scream every threat. Sheffield Wednesday must have thought they were playing about 60,000 people – and they were not far wrong.”

United’s performance: Murphy’s Marvels played infinitely beyond reasonable expectations, 11 unlikely heroes hurtling about the field intent on honouring the memories of those who had passed. That made for a hectic, blood-and-thunder showcase of sheer will and defiance to which Wednesday had no answer.

Plot twists: After all the pre-match tumult, United were mercifully able to take the linear route to victory. Youth team full-back Shay Brennan, suddenly in the role of senior winger, broke the deadlock by scoring direct from a corner just before the half-hour, then doubled his haul with a neat finish 20 minutes from time. When fellow graduate Alex Dawson rammed in a third, perhaps the most bittersweet night in Old Trafford’s history had its happy ending.

Significance: The front cover of United Review was adorned with a note from chairman Harold Hardman which included the lines: “Although we mourn our dead and grieve for our wounded, we believe that great days are not done for us… Manchester United will rise again.”

On an unforgettable night at Old Trafford, victory over Wednesday had planted a first foot on the long and rocky road ahead.