Whenever Manchester United and Aston Villa meet, my mind invariably goes back to the very first FA Cup Final that I have a clear memory of. United were the newly crowned League Champions and just 90 minutes away from completing the first League – Cup double of the century, a double deemed by most pundits at the time as no longer being possible to achieve. But it was not meant to be.
FA Cup Final 1957
Manchester United 1 v Aston Villa 2
There can be no doubt that the injury suffered by United’s goalkeeper Ray Wood in an eighth minute collision with Peter McParland materially affected this Final. It must remain a matter of opinion whether it affected the result.
Although on the defensive, United never let their opponents dominate the game. Duncan Edwards was uncompromising at centre half, and Roger Byrne played a real captain’s game at left back. Villa were reduced to long range shots which Jackie Blanchflower, stand in goalkeeper for Wood, fielded without too much trouble.
United still held the upper hand as the second half began and when Wood returned to play on the right wing, their chances seemed even brighter. But it was not to be. Les Smith slipped a pass to Johnny Dixon in the sixty eighth minute, the Villa captain’s centre drifted into the penalty area and McParland raced in to head a great goal. Five minutes later the irrepressible McParland scored again, making no mistake after Dixon’s shot had crashed against the bar and bounced back straight to his feet.
United had been the season’s outstanding team, were more dangerous when two goals down than at any other time in the match. The only reward for their efforts came in the eighty third minute when Tommy Taylor headed over Nigel Sims and into the net from Edwards’ corner. It was small consolation.
Villa’s win was their seventh FA Cup success – a record at the time. In December 2007, BBC Four screened a documntary called A Game Of Two Eras which compared the 1957 final to its 2007 counterpart. Using the latest technology, the programme showed how the game had changed over 50 years.
Eric Houghton stayed on as Villa manager until 1958 before becoming a club director – the only man ever to do so at Villa Park. Mr Aston Villa had played for the club for 20 years having joined them as a 17-year-old in 1927. He took over as manager in 1953 and this Cup triumph – his only honour with the club – was a fitting reward for his years of service.
Villa’s defence of the trophy ended at the first hurdle the following year, as they lost to Stoke in a second replay at the third round stage. Miraculously, United did return to Wembley the following season, just weeks after the Munich Air Disaster but they again finished as FA Cup runners-up, this time losing 2-0 to Bolton.
Aston Villa – Sims, Lynn, Aldis, Crowther, Dugdale, Saward, Smith, Sewell, Myerscough, Dixon, McParland – GOALS: McParland (68, 73)
Manchester United – Wood, Foulkes, Byrne, Colman, Blanchflower, Edwards, Berry, Whelan, Taylor, Charlton, Pegg – GOAL: Tommy Taylor (83)
Referee – F Coultas Attendance – 99,225
Are there any readers who were at Wembley that day?