Our first trip to Oz: Goals, gaffes & 'secret missions'
This month marks the 55th anniversary of Manchester United’s first tour to Australia – a destination we’ll return to in a matter of weeks.
Erik ten Hag will get to manage United for the first time, taking charge of the game against Liverpool in Bangkok before we fly to Australia for games in Melbourne and Perth against Melbourne Victory, Crystal Palace and Aston Villa.
In fact, the Reds played a total of 12 matches on an epic post-season jaunt, which began just four days after the team were crowned champions of England for the seventh time.
The first destination was the USA, where a somewhat fatigued United lost to Benfica in Los Angeles and Dundee in San Francisco. Next, the title winners headed to New Zealand, via a short stop in Hawaii, and played local sides in Auckland and Christchurch, beating them 8-1 and 11-0 respectively.
A gruelling but entertaining 24 days then ensued in Australia, as George Best and co ran wild, scoring 33 goals and winning seven of the eight games in front of a combined 191,759 supporters.
Read on for the full story of our Down Under debut...
UNITED 7 QUEENSLAND 0
Brisbane, 4 June 1967
The English champions kicked off the club's inaugural game on Australian soil in buoyant mood, having smashed 11 past a Christchurch XI in their final match in New Zealand, and they came fairly close to reaching double figures here.
Goals from Noel Cantwell, John Aston Jr and Best gave us a comfortable 3-0 lead before the break and, despite a superb performance from Queensland goalkeeper Ross Kelly in the second period, a further four were added. Bobby Charlton scored twice – delighting the locals with a trademark cracker from distance – before Aston and Best doubled their own individual tallies during the closing minutes.
UNITED 3 REPRESENTATIVE XI 0
Sydney, 7 June 1967
A rather more difficult encounter followed in New South Wales three days later, when our opponents began very brightly indeed, keeping Alex Stepney extremely busy in the game’s opening flourishes. But the gulf in class soon emerged, although Brian Kidd and Best both missed glaring chances to establish an advantage.
Denis Law spared his team-mates' blushes soon after by heading home a Kidd cross, but Best eventually found the net in the 25th minute by scoring from a ridiculously narrow angle. The Northern Irishman soon found his second, via a characteristically sensational dribble around two defenders and a cool finish. Paddy Crerand departed through injury after the interval, and the 3-0 scoreline remained fixed throughout a second half that flared only briefly – notably when Law clashed with Australian international Ron Giles, who had to be ferried to hospital with a fractured cheekbone.
UNITED 1 VICTORIA XI 1
Melbourne, 11 June 1967
United were shorn of Law, Crerand and Bill Foulkes for the third match in Australia, which would ultimately produce the only draw of the entire tour. Despite taking the lead through a Charlton shot in the opening stages, the Victorians drew level when the unfortunate David Sadler headed the ball into the wrong net.
UNITED 3 NORTHERN NEW SOUTH WALES 0
Newcastle, 12 June 1967
The Reds returned to New South Wales and winning ways the following day, despite a somewhat challenging trip to Newcastle. Former player-turned-trainer Jack Crompton told the Manchester Evening News that the journey was “like taking part in some wartime secret mission”. As detailed in Manchester United: The Forgotten Fixtures, Crompton recalled that the team “unloaded their baggage by the light of two torches” upon their arrival at midnight. “We found out afterwards that they had forgotten we were coming, and had closed down the airfield.”
A boggy pitch meant Busby’s charges never reached their fluid best, but they did enough to win 3-0, via two goals from the highly impressive young Brian Kidd.The Collyhurst-born forward, who had only turned 18 during the New Zealand trip, scored direct from a corner before tapping home United’s second towards the end. Best applied a third, before the locals responded to the full-time whistle by invading the pitch to try and get a closer look at their heroes.
UNITED 3 NEW SOUTH WALES 1
Sydney, 18 June 1967
A hugely welcome six-day breather before the next fixture helped the Reds produce one of the tour's best performances at the old Sydney Showground. There was an early reprieve when the referee disallowed an early NSW effort for handball, but United hit back with a sustained period of attacking creativity, and took the lead when Aston’s low centre invited Charlton to fire home.
Foulkes tapped in one of his infrequent goals to increase the lead, before a Charlton special added another. The Reds hit the woodwork on numerous occasions, but it was the home side who completed the scoring through their captain, Pat Hughes.
UNITED 4 VICTORIA STATE XI 0
Melbourne, 21 June 1967
Next was a return match against the Victoria State XI – the only side to deny United victory thus far in New Zealand or Australia. Law came back into the side for only his second appearance of the tour, having overcome his injury troubles, and netted twice, though Best stole the show once more, creating both Law goals and notching the Reds' fourth himself with a virtuosic solo effort. The visitors’ opener had been gifted by NSW defender Billy Cook – formerly of Kilmarnock – who mistakenly chipped his own ‘keeper.
UNITED 5 SOUTH AUSTRALIA 1
Adelaide, 24 June 1967
The penultimate match of the tour brought another comfortable win, with Brian Kidd again making it clear to Matt Busby that his was a talent that could not remain detached from competitive football for much longer. Kidd would make his first-team debut proper in August, but his case was surely furthered by his performances on the tour, notably the hat-trick he claimed here. Law and Charlton strikes opened the floodgates, but it was the Mancunian teenager who administered the decorative flourish to the scoreline, before Adelaide snuck a late consolation goal.
UNITED 7 WESTERN AUSTRALIA 0
Perth, 27 June 1967
Three weeks after arriving in Australia (and six after leaving home), Matt Busby's men finally waved goodbye in the same manner they’d introduced themselves – by romping to a 7-0 triumph. The performance's only blemish arrived just after the half-hour mark, when Law was dismissed for using bad language. Thankfully, United were already 3-0 up by this stage – with Law having already bagged one before his early bath – and going down to 10 men had little to no effect. Why would it, when you boast peak-era George Best in your team? The Belfast boy created two, scored three, and left no one in the stadium with any doubt that he was one of the great pearls of the world game.
It had been a hugely successful tour, and a highly important one for the development of football, aka soccer, in Australia and New Zealand. United returned home and featured in just one more friendly – an August meeting with an Italian Olympic XI at Old Trafford – before embarking upon what would be yet another famous campaign.
Inspired by Celtic, who had claimed the 1967 European Cup by beating Internazionale in Lisbon while United were in Hawaii, Matt Busby’s outfit would soon be embarking on their own journey to become kings of Europe.