THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Former captain died today aged 81

icon striker25 November ~ When Matt Busby's Manchester United trudged down the Bernabéu tunnel at half-time, 3-1 down on the night to a rampant Real Madrid in the second leg of their 1968 European Cup semi-final, there were not many in the stadium who would have bet on the second-half comeback they were about to witness. Real, 5-3 conquerors of United in their previous semi-final meeting 11 years earlier, were firmly in control and eyeing an eighth final appearance in 13 years. Yet what happened in United's dressing room has since entered football folklore, as one of the best half-time talks ever given.

Outplayed and seemingly beaten, Busby, following a long period of silence, told his team a simple truth that remotivated his men. "I reminded the players that the aggregate score was 3-2 and that we were in effect only one goal behind. I told them to get out and play. After all, if you are 3-2 down at half-time in an FA Cup tie you don't consider you are finished."

In the second-half United abandoned the cautious approach of the first half and went for Real. David Sadler pulled a goal back with 20 minutes to play and then, with ten minutes left and both teams seemingly guarded and frightened of losing, the unlikely figure of central defender Bill Foulkes popped up to score, making it 3-3 on the night and 4-3 on aggregate in United's favour.

It was fitting that Foulkes – who died earlier today – scored the goal that would take Manchester United to their first European Cup final. He was, at that point, England's most experienced player in Europe, a veteran of United's very first European Cup game against Anderlecht 12 years earlier, and a survivor of the Munich air crash. He had shared the whole trial and tragedy of United's quest with Busby.

Speaking to David Meek for the book Red Devils In Europe, Foulkes said of his goal, "Paddy Crerand was taking it [a throw-in] and no one seemed to want the ball. I shouldn't have done, but I called for it. Paddy looked and decided against. He threw it to George [Best] who promptly shot off down the wing and eluded three or four tackles. Perhaps it was with moving slightly forward to call for the throw-in that prompted me to keep running. Anyway, I reached the corner of the box and again I found myself calling for the ball. George saw me and I thought I was going to be ignored again. I thought George was going to shoot, but instead he cut back the most beautiful ball to me. It was perfect and I just had to side-foot it in at the far side."

The scenes in United's dressing room at full-time was in stark contrast to those just 45 minutes earlier. In his column the next day for the Manchester Evening News, United midfielder Paddy Crerand wrote, "Manager Matt Busby, unashamedly and understandably crying, hugged us all one by one. We all broke into a spontaneous round of clapping."

Matt Busby and Manchester United, backed by club chairman Harold Hardman, had the foresight to defy the insular English FA by entering the 1956-57 European Cup draw as champions of England. Chelsea spurned the opportunity the season before, and so it was that United became the first English team to compete against the continent's best. Then in 1968, ten years on from the Munich disaster, Busby, Foulkes and his team-mates followed up their Madrid comeback with a 4-1 victory over Benfica final at Wembley. Keegan Wilson

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