Willie Morgan After John Connelly
Willie Morgan After John Connelly
In April of 1964 England winger, John Connelly, was transferred to Manchester United for ₤56,000 from Burnley. The move to Matt Busby’s post-Munich rebuilding program at Old Trafford was interesting for a variety of reasons. Connelly had made his debut for Burnley on March 11, 1957, against Leeds United, although he didn’t make the right wing position his own until 1958-59, when he returned 12 goals from 37 appearances. In 1959-60 Burnley were league champions and Connelly, who could play on either the left or right wing, and as a right or left inside forward, scored 20 goals in 34 appearances. In 1961-62 Burnley reached the FA Cup Final but were beaten by Tottenham Hotspur, 1-3. In the 1963-64 season, the emergence of right winger, Willie Morgan, meant that John was asked to switch to the left wing, and Busby took him to ‘the theater of dreams’ where the Old Trafford club had won the FA Cup the previous season, 1962-63, with goals from David Herd (2) and Denis Law, as Leicester City were beaten, 3-1.
The objective at Manchester United was always to win the European Cup, but before the UEFA Champions league was established by 1997, in which multiple clubs could qualify from each nation through obtaining a high enough position in their respective leagues, it was necessary actually to win the English league title in order to qualify for Europe’s premier competition. Consequently, Connelly, with his experience of winning the league with Burnley, was perceived as a useful adjunct to a United side still recovering from losing eight players dead in the Munich air disaster upon their return from qualifying for a semi final of the European Cup against Real Madrid CF, after a quarter final draw with Yugoslavia’s (Serbia’s) Red Star Belgrade, 3-3, and going through on aggregate due to a home leg success, 2-1. A makeshift United team lost at home in the first leg of the semi final, 1-2, and in Spanish Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium, 0-4, to go out of the competition at the semi final stage, 1-6. With the players at the club already, Matt clearly felt that the addition of Connelly on the right wing would have the desired impact for a side desperate to win the league and compete amongst Europe’s top teams again.
By that time United had forwards, David Herd, Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton up front, with Paddy Crerand, Nobby Stiles and Bill Foulkes as a more or less fluid half back line that was moving inexorably to having Charlton in midfield alongside Crerand, as the side’s deep lying center forward, while Foulkes and Stiles were paired as central defenders, and full backs Shay Brennan and Tony Dunne were in front of Munich survivor, Harry Gregg, the ‘keeper. In many ways, 1963-64 should have been a great season for United, but it wasn’t. The team began by losing the FA Charity Shield between the FA Cup Winners and league championship winners, Everton, 0-4, and were knocked out of the FA Cup at the semi final stage, 1-3, by West Ham.
In the European Cup Winners’ Cup, a competition for clubs that had won their nation’s cup competition the previous season, United bizarrely lost in the quarter final to Sporting CP ‘Lisbon’ of Portugal, 0-5 away, after winning at home, 4-1, that is, losing, 4-6, on aggregate, so continuing the away hoodoo Portuguese teams have on foreign opponents, while demonstrating almost inexplicable ineptitude away from home. United finished runners up to Liverpool in the championship race on 53 points to Liverpool’s 57, largely owing to a home defeat, 0-1, to Liverpool on November 23rd, 1963, and away at Liverpool’s Anfield stadium, 0-3, on April 4th, 1964, so completing a season’s campaigning that promised much and delivered nothing.
Although no one doubted the talent at United in terms of the playing staff’s ability, it had begun to look as if the talent on display was there only for display purposes. Moreover, while John Connelly’s presence on the right wing had the desired effect in 1964-65, that is, United won the league title, they lost the FA Cup semi final to Leeds United, 0-1, after a replay, with the initial encounter ending in a draw, 0-0, and the club also lost the semi final of the UEFA Cup,1 against Hungary’s Ferencváros, 3-2, at home, with 2 goals from Herd, and a penalty from Law, and away, 0-1. Law and Herd would get 28 and 20 league goals respectively, as United’s twin strikers that season, and in the modern era Ferencváros would have immediately qualified for the Final. However, although UEFA’s later ruling was that away goals count double in the event of the number of goals scored being the same between the teams concerned, then a further game had to be played, which Ferencváros won at their stadium in Budapest, 1-2, with John Connelly, who finished with 15 league goals that season, getting United’s consolation goal. Although the Manchester outfit beat Leeds to the title, both clubs finished on 61 points, and United only took the championship on goal difference, that is, 89 goals for and 39 against (+50), compared to Leeds 83 for and 52 against (+31), which meant 1964-65 would probably have proven almost as disastrous as 1963-64 without Connelly’s firepower.
Season 1965-66 was more of the same. The team lost in the FA Cup semi final to Everton, 0-1, and in the semi final of the European Cup to Yugoslavia’s (Serbia’s) Partizan Belgrade, 0-2, away, while winning at home, 1-0, that is, losing, 1-2, on aggregate. Defensive midfielder, Nobby Stiles, got the goal for United against Partizan, which suggested United had problems bringing their firepower to bear on the big occasion, although Herd (24), Charlton (16) and Law (15) hit the target enough times for Manchester United to qualify for the 1966-67 Inter-Cities Fairs (UEFA) Cup in 4th place in the league. John Connelly was transferred to relegated Blackburn Rovers shortly after the start of the season, although he still managed to contribute 2 goals in 6 appearances. Moreover, the club went on to win the league title that campaign, with John Aston Jnr, son of Manchester United’s left back, and sometime center forward, John Aston Snr, who won the 1948 FA Cup Final with the club, 4-2, against Blackpool, on the left wing, and with Northern Irish genius, George Best, who’d score from anywhere, but had been nominally on the left wing, and would now equally nominally be on the right, at center stage.
Going out of the FA Cup in the 4th round, and the League Cup in the 2nd, there was nothing else left for United to do in the 1966-67 season apart from win the league, which they did. Law (23), Herd (16) and Charlton (12) were the main goal scorers, and the club qualified for the 1967-68 European Cup, which they’d eventually win against Benfica at England’s national stadium, Wembley, London, 4-1, to become the only English competitor to succeed to Europe’s soccer crown; until Liverpool beat Borussia Mönchengladbach, 3-1, in 1977, at the Stadio Olimpico, Rome, Italy. Although Denis Law was injured and couldn’t play, Charlton scored with a rare header, flicked on and past Benfica of Portugal’s ‘keeper Henrique, after a cross from the left, before midfielder, Jaime da Silva Graça, put through after good work by left winger, José Augusto, and center forward, José Torres, leveled the scoring for Benfica,1-1. The contest went to extra time, and in the 93rd minute England’s ‘keeper, Alex Stepney, took a long goal kick, which was headed on to Best by Law’s teenage England replacement for the evening, Brian Kidd. Best escaped the defenders to round the Benfica ‘keeper, and roll the ball on into an empty net, 2-1. A header from England center back, and sometime United center forward, David Sadler, was saved by Henrique on 95 minutes, but came to Kidd, who headed it in, 3–1. Charlton completed the scoring in the 99th minute, blasting home a pass from Kidd, 4–1. The club ought to have won the championship, but finished level on points with Manchester City, and despite Best’s top scoring with 28 goals, Charlton netting 20 times, and Kidd bagging 17 in his first season’s campaigning, City scored 86 goals for 43 against (+43), while United’s defense leaked in comparison, with 89 goals for and 55 against (+34) , so City took the title on goal difference.
With forward, David Herd, losing some of his formerly awesome reputation as a striker, and Denis Law injured, George Best had to shoulder more of the responsibilities of a main striker, so Scot Willie Morgan, who’d replaced Connelly on the right wing at Burnley, was bought for ₤110,000 by Sir Matt Busby, newly knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, to complement John Aston Jnr’s wing play on the left, with Best alongside Kidd and/or Law up front for the 1968-69 season’s assault on the league title and the attempt to retain the European Cup.
Willie Morgan’s value to the side was almost immediately apparent during the Intercontinental Cup Final of 1968, which was played between South America’s winners of the Copa Da Liberatadores, that is, ‘the cup of freedom’, and the holders of the European Cup. Estudiantes de La Plata of Argentina duly took the field on September 25th, 1969, against Manchester United and won, 1-0, through forward Marcos Conigliaro’s 27th minute strike. Juan Ramón Verón, the forward called ‘the witch’ in Argentina, and father of midfielder, Juan Sebastián Verón, who won a league title with United in 2002-03, opened the scoring in the 6th minute, 2-0, on aggregate, 1-0, on the night, but United’s right winger, Willie Morgan, replied for United in the 90th minute to give the team hope, 1-1, and although Brian Kidd seemed to have equalized, referee Konstantin Zečević of Yugoslavia indicated that he’d blown the whistle for full time, which was the reason why Estudiantes’ players hadn’t moved to tackle Kidd before he put the ball in the net.
The match was marred by violence. Charlton suffered a severe head wound that required stitches. Busby commented on Estudiantes’ midfielder, Carlos Bilardo, ‘holding the ball out there put you in danger of your life’. Nobby Stiles, England’s hard man, was targeted particularly; receiving punches, kicks and headbutts. At one point, the linesman reported Stiles to the referee for standing close to Bilardo. Stiles finally retaliated and was immediately sent off in the 79th minute, which meant he’d be suspended for the second leg at Old Trafford. Although midfielder, Néstor Togneri, headed home a corner from forward, Felipe Ribaudo, in the 27th minute to give Estudiantes the advantage going into the away leg at Old Trafford, the referee officially credited Marcos Conigliaro with the Argentine goal.
Pat ‘Paddy’ Crerand created the first real chance in the second leg at Old Trafford on October 16, 1968, with a long range strike that ‘keeper Alberto José Poletti did well to stop. Despite early pressure, Estudiantes surprised the crowd with that 6th minute goal from only the second free kick of the match. Silencing the crowd, Raúl Madero crossed for Verón to head the ball in past Stepney. Needing three goals to win, George Best forced Poletti into a spectacular save in the 12th minute. Moments later, Willie Morgan shot towards goal, and Sadler headed the rebound to Charlton, whose shot was saved. Estudiantes players resorted to kicking the ball out of play, and blocking long-range efforts. In the 34th minute, Law lost his marker, creating enough space for a shot, but it was blocked by Poletti at the edge of the penalty area. Injured, Law was taken off in the 38th minute, and substituted by Carlo Sartori. Marcos Conigliaro hit the crossbar with a shot while Law was being treated and Sartori was warming up. Three minutes of injury time passed before the referee blew the whistle for half-time.
Shortly after the restart, Manchester United’s Kidd hit the crossbar. In the 89th minute, Best punched defender, José Hugo Medina, in the face, and pushed Néstor Togneri to the ground in the Argentine half of the field. The referee sent off Best and Medina.
Although the Estudiantes team attempted it, the Stretford End and others threw coins, etc., and the proposed lap of honor was abandoned. Faltering in the league, and eventually finishing 11th, with George Best top scoring on 19, and Denis Law returning 14 goals for the season, United faced Italy’s A.C. Milan at the San Siro stadium in the European Cup semi final and lost, 0-2. At Old Trafford in the second leg, 1-0, to the home side, wasn’t enough to get them through to the Final. A.C. Milan went through to face Ajax of Amsterdam, and the inimitable technique of center forward, Johann Cruyff. He would win the European Cup three times straight with Ajax in 1970-71, 1971-72, and 1972-73, but on this occasion A.C. Milan proved too strong, and ran out winners, 4-1, while United would have to wait for Alex Ferguson, appointed on November 6, 1986, to manage the club’s second win in Europe’s premier competition, 2-1, against German Bundesliga side, Bayern Munich, in the 1999 Final.
Sir Matt Busby retired at season’s end, and coach Wilf McGuinness, who’d been a half back amongst the ‘Busby Babes’ that won the league in 1955-56 and 1956-57, and had won the FA Youth Cup in 1954, 1955, and 1956 as captain, was appointed manager for the 1969-70 season. Defeats in successive seasons in the League cup semi finals to Manchester City, 1969-70, 3-4, on aggregate, and to Aston Villa, 1970-71, 2-3, on aggregate, together with FA Cup semi final defeat in 1969-70 to Leeds in a second replay, 0-1, after the first two games had ended, 0-0, revealed flaws in the squad, although Wilf did bring center back, Ian Ure, from Arsenal to start the 1969-70 term. United finished 8th in the league with Best top scoring on 15 goals, Charlton and Kidd on 12, and Morgan hitting 7, his highest. In 1970-71 the club again finished 8th, and Busby was reappointed on December 29. George top scored with 18 and Denis got 15.
Leicester City manager, Frank O’ Farrell, was appointed for the 1971-72 season. By the time Frank O’ Farrell had the reins, a genuine influx of fresh talent was required at Old Trafford, and future Scotland and Manchester United captain and center back, Martin Buchan, was brought from Aberdeen for a then club record transfer fee of ₤120,000. Despite O’ Farrell’s promoting Northern Ireland striker, Sammy McIlroy, who billed as ‘the last of the Busby Babes’, on November 6th 1971 scored on his debut at Maine Road against Manchester City in a 3-3 draw, and finished with 4 goals in 16 appearances and 8 starts, the club would be relegated in 1973-74, partly because O’ Farrell’s other major signing from Nottingham Forest, winger Ian Storey Moore, who played 11 times that 1971-72 season for 5 goals, and 26 times for 5 goals in 1971-72, but incurred an injury that would cause his retirement, and incidentally would prolong Willie Morgan’s role at the club. Although the team began to gel, and the club were top of the league at Christmas, Manchester United finished 8th. Best got 18 goals, Law 13, Kidd 10, and Alan Gowling, who’d go on to play for Newcastle United alongside England’s devastating center forward, Malcolm MacDonald, where he’d get 16 goals in 41 appearances in 1975-76, made 35 starts for O’Farrell, and 2 substitute appearances, for 6 goals, but It was the last occasion Manchester United would flatter to deceive.
Frank O’ Farrell’s 1972-73 season’s campaign lasted until December 19, 1972, before he was replaced by Scotland manager, Tommy Docherty. The extent of United’s difficulties were evidenced in the fact that Charlton top scored with 6 goals for the season, and United finished 18th in the league. ‘The Doc’ inherited Wyn Davies, a Welsh forward bought from Manchester City on September 14, 1972, who scored on his September 23rd debut at home against Derby, 3-0, and prolific Scots’ striker Ted MacDougall, who O’ Farrell had brought from Third Division Bournemouth on September 27th, intending to pair him with Davies, and who also scored on his debut at home against Birmingham on October 14th, 1-0. However, after his arrival, Docherty brought Scots’ full back Alex Forsyth from Partick Thistle, future Scotland center back, Jim Holton, from Third Division Shrewsbury, center forward, Scot Lou Macari, from Celtic, Irish midfielder Mick Martin from Ireland’s Bohemians, and Scot George Graham from Arsenal, where he’d won the UEFA Cup in 1969-70 and the FA Cup and league championship ‘double’ in 1970-71, as a direct replacement for retired midfield maestro, Paddy Crerand. Davies and MacDougall managed only 9 goals between them, while Charlton, retiring at the close of the season’s campaigning, left Docherty with a further headache. Who now would fill the deep lying center forward role that had become an indispensable part of United’s game pattern?
Despite the team’s beginning to take shape in 1973-74, which was Docherty’s first full season in charge, the club were relegated, and Sammy McIlroy top scored with 6 goals, while George refused to go on. Another Scot, left full back, and sometime center half, Stewart Houston, arrived from Third Division Brentford; Irish left winger, Gerry Daly, came from Bohemians, and midfielder, Scot Jim McCalliog, from Wolves. The team reached the semi final of the League Cup against Norwich City in 1974-75, but despite two goals from Lou Macari, could only draw at home, 2-2, and lost at Norwich’s Carrow Road ground, 0-1, so losing the tie, 2-3, on aggregate. The only real change Docherty instigated, as United went on to win the Second Division title, was center forward, Stuart Pearson, bought for ₤200,000 from Second Division Hull City, where he’d proven he could score goals at that level, and who scored 17 league goals in the campaign to return United to the top tier of English soccer. Sammy McIlroy took the Charlton role in the diamond comprising Pearson up front, and Daly and Morgan on the wings. Willie captained the team for much of the season, until Steve Coppell arrived for ₤60,000 from Tranmere Rovers to play on the right wing, so leaving Martin Buchan to captain the team to the Second Division title, while Morgan was given the role of club captain for the remainder of the season, before he returned to Burnley, a club who’d effectively provided United with a bulwark on their right side for over a decade; first through John Connelly, and then Willie Morgan.
1 Before it became the UEFA Cup, it was the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (1955-71), and was competed for between European teams in cities where trade fairs were held, so had no relation to league position, or other qualifying format, for example, after 1971 England’s league title runners up qualified for the UEFA Cup, and also the winners of the League Cup. In 1999 the European Cup Winners Cup was amalgamated with the UEFA Cup, which became the Europa league for 2009-10, a format in which England’s fourth placed team in the previous season’s title campaign would still qualify, as well as the English League Cup winners, but the best losers in the opening rounds of the UCL would also qualify for entrance, and the Europa Cup trophy would be awarded on the basis of groups, winners and runners up, and a resultant knockout competition resulting in a Final with an overall winner.
2 Meek, David, and Tom Tyrrell The Hamlyn Illustrated History of Manchester United 1878-1996, London: Hamlyn, 1996, p. 81.