When Manchester United face Swiss champions Young Boys in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday night, it will be the first competitive meeting between the two clubs – almost 60 years to the day since we were supposed to face off in the European Cup.
United were of course under the interim management of Jimmy Murphy, while the great Matt Busby recovered from his injuries in hospital, and had finished ninth after losing eight players in the tragedy.
The club accepted the offer and were duly drawn to face Young Boys in the first round of the European Cup. However, the Football League objected.
There was history with the Football League, under Secretary Alan Hardaker, when it came to a dispute over European football. Matt Busby had famously insisted his side entered the 1956/57 competition, despite resistance from the authorities who had blocked Chelsea taking part in the inaugural competition in the previous season.
United won that battle in ’56, but had to concede defeat two years later.
The club appealed but the Football League wouldn’t back down and eventually United withdrew from the 1958/59 European Cup.
However, it was arranged to play Young Boys in home and away friendlies on the dates that the European Cup ties would have taken place.
The first leg took place at the Wankdorf Stadium in Bern on 24 September, when the Reds were beaten 2-0.
“For a friendly it was violent indeed,” was how a newspaper report described the game, calling the Swiss team
“amazingly tough, tackling like iron”.
Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet and Albert Scanlon were all missing for United but Albert Quixall was in the side, shortly after joining from Sheffield Wednesday.
The return leg at Old Trafford on 1 October was also less than friendly!
“More like a Teddy Boys’ reunion then a football match,” described journalist Frank Taylor in his official match report.
United’s Colin Webster was sent off but the Reds still turned the tie around to win 3-0, thanks to goals from Ernie Taylor, Dennis Viollet and Albert Quixall.
Young Boys had a bye to compete in the actual European Cup and reached the semi-finals, before eventually losing to the French club Reims.
United, meanwhile, didn’t play European football again until the 1963/64 Cup Winners Cup.
On Wednesday night, in the UEFA Champions League, the clubs will finally play a competitive game - just 60 years later than planned!