THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Manchester Utd equal highest ever winning points margin. By Neil Rose

The long-term significance
Unlike Chelsea the previous season, Manchester United refused to bow to Football Association pressure not to compete in the fledgling European Cup after winning the league. However, on May 15, 1956, Birmingham City became the first English club side to compete in Europe, taking part in the International Inter-City Industrial Fairs Cup, for cities that hosted industrial and trade fairs. Games coincided with fairs and thus the tournament took three years to complete. In 1957 Birmingham lost in the semi-final to eventual winners Barcelona after a play-off in Basle in the days before the away-goals rule (which would have benefited Barça anyway). The competition evolved into the UEFA Cup. In a game dubbed “Old World meets the New”, England beat Brazil 4-2 at Wembley, during which the Brazilians – two years away from their first World Cup win – briefly walked off the pitch in a dispute over a penalty. Stanley Matthews, recalled at the age of 42, gave a virtuoso performance. His opponent on the flank, Nilton Santos, whom the Brazilians had said was unbeatable, reportedly told him at the end of the game: “Mister Matthews, you are the king.”

Story of the season
A good year for Manchester, with City winning the FA Cup against Birmingham in the final made famous by Bert Trautmann’s broken neck. United started the season slowly, losing four matches by November, but ran away with the league after Christmas. The Busby Babes were really coming into their own. With an average age of just 23, the line-up included only two members of the team that had last won the League in 1952, and they were to win it in 1956-57, too – the last full season before Munich. In the Cup, however, United were sensationally bundled out 4-0 at Bristol Rovers of Division Two. The first post-war winners, Derby, newly relegated to Division Three (North), were humiliated 6-1 at home by non-League Boston United.

For the record books
United’s 11-point winning margin equalled the record set in the 19th century and was never matched again under two points for a win. There were plenty of high-scoring matches, with Wolves’ 9-1 win at Cardiff equalling the biggest away victory in the history of the top division. Another record yet to be broken came to an end, as Harold Bell finally missed a league game for Division Three Tranmere after 401 consecutive appearances stretching back to 1946-47. Both Blackpool and Birmingham achieved their best-ever League finishes, and the latter reached the Cup final without a single home tie. 

Same place today
Fourteen teams are in the Premiership today, although only Arsenal and Everton have not been relegated since 1956. Man Utd and Spurs have both had just one season out of the top flight.

Moved furthest away
With six teams in the Championship, only Blackpool and Huddersfield are two rungs away. But in the past 50 years, both them and eight others – Bolton, Burnley, Cardiff, Luton, Portsmouth, Preston, Sheffield United and Wolves – have spent time in the bottom division.

Went on to greater things
Floodlights ~ A February 1956 game between Portsmouth and Newcastle was the first League game to be illuminated, while the Wembley floodlights hand an inaugural run-out for the last 15 minutes of a 4-1 win over Spain in November 1955The Charltons ~ Shortly after making his Leeds debut in 1955, Jack disappeared for National Service. His return conincided with younger brother Bobby breaking into the Manchester United first team.
Brian Clough ~ One of the most remarkable scoring records in English football (251 goals in 274 games) began at Middlesbrough. 

Disappearing from view
The London XI ~ While Birmingham choe a club to play in the Fairs Cup, London, like several other cities, put together a select XI, with players from across the capital's teams. They were the first English side in European competition, playing their opening game almost a year before Birmingham City did.
Roy Bentley ~ John Terry's predecessor as a Chelsea title-winning captaiin was sold to Fulham for £8,500.
Sam Bartram ~ Charlton's legendary goalkeeper finally retired at the age of 42 after a cereer spanning both sides of the war, The next season Charlton were relegated after 21 years in the top flight.

From WSC 227 January 2006. What was happening this month

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