Written by John White for Manchester United Did You Know That
1967 may well have been the Summer of Love, but in May 1967, no Man Utd fans were sticking a flower in their hair and boarding a plane to make their way to San Francisco, USA. On 6 May 1967, they were wrapping a red, white and black scarf around their necks, pinned a badge to the lapel of their denim jacket which read ”Stretford Enders RULE OK!” and were making their way to Stratford, East London.
Going into the last few games of the 1966-67 season three teams all stood a chance of being crowned Champions of England. For their penultimate First Division game United had an away trip to West Ham United having played 40, won 23, drawn 11 and losing 6, with a goal difference of +38. The teams on their coat tails, Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur, had two and three League games respectively still to play. Forest, managed by the former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland captain, Johnny “Gentleman” Carey, were chasing their first ever English First Division Championship. Tottenham Hotspur, managed by Bill Nicholson, were chasing their second domestic double in six years after winning the First Division title in 1960-61 and the 1961 FA Cup final under Nicholson. On 6 May 1967, Forest’s second last game of the season was an away fixture at Southampton. They were three points behind United on 54, but with 2 points for a win and 1 point for a draw, they were very much still in the running with 22 wins, 10 draws and 8 defeats, and a goal difference of +23. Spurs were 6 point adrift of United on 51 and their feint hopes of winning their third League crown relied on them winning their last three fixtures, hoping United and Forest would trip up, and Spurs needed to score a bucketful of goals as they had a goal difference of +19. Spurs had won 22, drawn 7 and lost 10 of their 39 League games and a week after the season was due to end they had to play Chelsea in the FA Cup final. But the omens for the London side were not on the favourable side as their Star sign favoured years ending in “01” when it came to winning trophies. They won the FA Cup in 1901, 1921 and 1961 as well as the First Division Championship in 1961 and the 1961 FA Charity Shield. They went on to lift the League Cup in 1971 followed by two more FA Cup final victories in 1981 and 1991.
So when United arrived at West Ham United’s home ground on 6 May 1967, they knew a win would secure the title, regardless of what happened to Forest on the South Coast at The Dell, Southampton and even a draw would almost certainly be good enough to give Matt Busby his fifth League Championship as United manager. Manchester United’s +15 goal difference over Carey’s talented side looked insurmountable. The Forest side included a former United player, Jeff Whitefoot, and a future United player, Ian Storey-Moore. United looked like Champions from the opening game of the season when they smacked five goals past West Bromwich Albion in a 5-3 win at Old Trafford (scorers: Denis Law 2, George Best, David Herd, Nobby Stiles).
But it was the reigning Champions from the previous season, Liverpool, who made all of the early running and had a strong squad which would test any opponent. Liverpool had three players who were members of England’s victorious 1966 World Cup winning squad, Gerry Byrne, Ian Callaghan and in Roger Hunt, they had a prolific who scored goals for fun. Hunt, nicknamed “Sir Roger,” scored 29 goals in 37 League games during Liverpool’s Championship winning season in 1965-66. But United had a trio of players who every side in the League coveted and feared, George Best, Bobby Charlton who actually did become a “Sir” and Denis Law. In January 1967, Liverpool topped the First Division table but after United lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on 26 December 1966, they went on an unbeaten 20 games run up until the end of the season.
A verse from Scott McKenzie’s song “Are you going to San Francisco?” seemed quite apt by the time United arrived in London.
“All across the nation
Such a strange vibration
People in motion
There’s a whole generation
With a new explanation
People in motion
People in motion”
In season 1966-67, Manchester United sent a vibration through every side they met. They were a team in motion, a new generation of United players who in some games defied explanation beating Everton 3-0, Burnley 4-1, Sunderland 5-0, Blackpool 4-0, Leicester City 5-2 and Aston Villa 3-0 at Fortress Old Trafford. Every side which visited Old Trafford, yet to be dubbed “The Theatre of Dreams” by Bobby Charlton, faced a Theatre of Nightmares. Just 36 days before United arrived at the Boleyn Ground, West Ham United visited Old Trafford in the League on 1 April 1967. The visitors were captained by England’s 1966 World Cup winning captain, Bobby Moore, and had two other notable players on display who helped England defeat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time in the 1966 World Cup final, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. The United team also had World Cup winning players, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles, but the third Manchester United player who was a non-playing member of the 1966 England World Cup winning squad, John Connelly, left United before Bobby Moore held the famous Jules Rimet trophy aloft on 30 July 1966 at Wembley Stadium, London. Connelly signed for Blackburn Rovers in June 1966 but when England were crowned World Champions, he had not kicked a ball for his new club.
It may have been April’s Fool Day on 1 April 1967, but it was West Ham United who were made fools of on the day when United won the game 3-0. Moore, Hurst and Peters were household names throughout England but the three players who scored for Manchester United in their 3-0 victory were known across the globe. It was their famous trio of Denis “The King” Law, Bobby Charlton, a Busby Babe, and a 20-year old football rebel named George Best. West Ham United’s famous English trio were held in great esteem but United’s famous triumvirate of Law, Best and Charlton made April Fools of Moore and his fellow defenders when the three of them registered their name on the scoresheet with one goal each in United’s comfortable victory.
When Matt Busby threw the curtains wide of his bedroom in Manchester on the morning of the trip to play West Ham United, 6 May 1967, he surely must have woke-up after dreaming of guiding his beloved side to the First Division Championship title. His team were on the verge of winning the club’s seventh First Division title, his fifth in charge of the club he had managed since 1945. But his mind was not cast back to United’s last First Division Championship winning side under his stewardship two years earlier, 1964-65, he reflected on his First Division Championship winning side in 1956-57, his famous Busby Babes side, which saw 8 of his players perish in the Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958. And, one day, one game, one performance, one result would surely define Manchester United’s 1966-67 season. But, would his players once again deliver the goods for him? United had went top of the table on 11 March 1967 following a goalless draw against Newcastle United at St James’ Park and had not been off top spot since.
The team Matt Busby selected for the all important game was:
Alex Stepney, Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne, Paddy Crerand, Bill Foulkes, Nobby Stiles, John Aston Jr, George Best, Bobby Charlton, David Sadler, Denis Law.
In season 1965-66, Busby’s goalkeepers, Pat Dunne, David Gaskell and Harry Gregg and they conceded 59 League goals between them from the 42 games played. Gregg was the No.1 choice but his time at Old Trafford was fast approaching, as was his playing career, through injury. Busby did not have the faith in Dunne or Gaskell, who was injury-prone, to help United reclaim the First Division title in 1966-67 and so he dipped into United’s bank account and purchased Alex Stepney from Chelsea in August 1966, a £55,000 record transfer fee for a goalkeeper. Tommy Docherty was the Chelsea manager when Stepney moved to Old Trafford and the pair would team-up once again when Docherty was appointed the manager of Manchester United on 22 December 1972, after Frank O’Farrell was sacked.
The West Ham United versus Manchester United kicked-off in bright sunshine. The red half of Manchester invaded London, the attendance of 38,424 was a post-war record for the Boleyn Ground. The home side had lost their last five games starting with the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford and during this losing streak they flew to Houston, Texas, USA to play a friendly against the reigning European Champions, Real Madrid. The game was staged as part of several exhibition games to promote football (soccer) in the USA in advance of the United Soccer Association domestic League commencing that summer. The match was played in Houston’s Astrodome which was known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the first ever football match played indoors and on artificial turf. The Hammers lost 3-2 to Los Blancos, Real Madrid’s nickname as they wear an all white kit.
When West Ham United faced United on 6 May 1967, they knew they weren’t going to be relegated and so their manager, Ron Greenwood, decided to give two of their Academy graduates a game, 20-year old goalkeeper Colin Mackleworth for what was only his third senior game and 20-year old winger, Harry Redknapp. United were missing two players who had played key roles in getting United to within touching distance of winning the title. David Herd was still out after breaking a leg six weeks earlier and left-back Bobby Noble, who had played 29 times in the League that season, was involved in a horrific car crash on his way home from United’s 0-0 draw at Sunderland on 22 April 1967. Noble’s injuries were so serious he never played again, a career cut cruelly short at 21 years of age.
United took to the pitch in a gleaming all white kit and by the end of the game the West Ham United players who played against Real Madrid must have thought The Red Devils had been renamed El Diablos Blanco (Spanish for “The White Devils”). United were 1-0 up after only two minutes play with a goal from Charlton, 2-0 up after seven minutes with a headed goal by Paddy Crerand and 3-0 up after ten minutes when Bill Foulkes scored his sixth goal for the club. By half-time the Football League’s engraver could start etching the name of the world’s most famous club, “Manchester United,” on the base of the First Division Championship trophy as they led a mesmerised home side 4-0. Best scored his tenth League goal of the campaign in the 25th minute. The travelling army of United fans were in party mood. After the interval West Ham United pulled a goal back when full-back John Charles scored in the 46th minute. Charles won 5 caps for the England Youth Team and was the first black player to represent England at any level. Even the United fans cheered when Charles scored hoping that United would be stirred back into action and reproduce the kind of football they had been drooling over in the first half. The visitors then turned on the style with the mercurial Best goading the Hammers’ back four to try and get the ball off him as he turned one way, twisted another and spun around his opponents like a spinning top. No wonder Crerand once said that “George Best had twisted blood.” A penalty from Law in the 63rd minute followed by his twenty-fifth goal of the season in the 79th minute which sealed an emphatic 6-1 victory for the new Champions of England. The United fans invaded the pitch and some of them dug out pieces of turf to remember the occasion.
The Hammers were proud of their Academy which produced players such as Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters but in Law, Best and Charlton, United had three University graduates. Manchester United’s 6 Star performance was fit enough to be played across the capital in London’s Royal Albert Hall it was that commanding.
Forest lost 2-1 to Southampton and Spurs drew 0-0 away to Liverpool. But Spurs and United would soon be seeing one another again very soon in the FA Charity Shield final as Spurs beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final. Tottenham Hotspur had beaten Forest 2-1 in the semi-finals of the competition.
In the music charts Sandie Shaw was at No.1 with “Puppet On A String.” On 6 May 1967, Manchester United pulled all of the strings against West Ham United and produced a master class performance, particularly the Manchester United Puppet Master, George Best. Perhaps Manchester United were the Ninth Wonder of the World.
The Hammers had been well and truly hammered.
Did You Know That?
Bobby Moore holds the unique distinction of captaining three Cup winning teams at Wembley Stadium, London in three consecutive years. In 1964, the 23-year old Moore, was the captain of his club, West Ham United, and England. He skippered The Hammers to FA Cup success in 1964 when West Ham United beat Preston North End 3-2 at Wembley Stadium. Winning the FA Cup meant they qualified for the 1964-65 European Cup Winners’ Cup. West Ham United reached the 1965 European Cup Winners’ Cup final which was hosted by Wembley Stadium. They beat their opponents, 1860 Munich 2-0, and Moore proudly held aloft the club’s first, and only, European trophy. In 1966, Moore was back at Wembley Stadium for yet another final but this time he was captaining his country in football’s biggest final, the World Cup final. England defeated West Germany 4-2 after extra time and was carried around the pitch on his teammates’ shoulders as he held the famous Jules Rimet trophy in the air.