Ray Woods

How United dragged English football into Europe

In a week when Manchester United begin another Champions League campaign, we should remember one of the most blinkered decisions ever taken in the history of English football. When Chelsea won their first ever League title in 1955 they were forced to withdraw from the inaugural European Cup competition by the then Football League secretary Alan Hardaker who feared that the new competition would create too much fixture congestion. That shameful decision was not surprising because the British had a history of being suspicious of international football as shown by the fact that none of the home teams entered the World Cup until 20 years after its inception.

The 60 years old Busby vision

Back in the early 1950’s Manchester United made a far sighted decision which had major ramifications for the club at the time and has continued to produce handsome dividends until this very day. Their legendary manager Sir Matt Busby had concluded that rather than spend large sums of money on big name players, better long term results would be produced by recruiting youngsters just out of school and developing them himself.

The plan proved to be successful beyond his wildest dreams. The famous Busby Babes were born and went on to win the league by an 11 point margin in 1955-56 with an average age of only 22. Not only was that Championship retained in the following season, the Babes also reached the FA Cup Final where they were beaten 2-1 by Aston Villa after goalkeeper Ray Wood suffered an eight minute injury following a collision with Villa’s Peter McParland. As no substitutions were allowed in those days Woods was forced to move into the right wing position leaving the youngsters to battle with virtually 10 men and no recognized goalkeeper.