You’d be forgiven for not realizing that final week was the 50th anniversary of Waterford FC taking up Manchester United within the first round of the European Cup.
While it might appear unusual to individuals who have solely grown up with the Champions League, however again within the day, the European Cup was contested by way of 4 rounds of two legged ties that pitted the league champions from each nation in Europe in opposition to each other.
So within the first round of the 1968/69 European Cup League of Ireland champions Waterford have been drawn in opposition to European Cup champions Manchester United, in what can be United’s first European game since profitable the match at Wembley a couple of months prior.
They have been up in opposition to a Waterford team that had been on a job within the mid sixties, profitable two league titles after many years of close to misses.
Being drawn to play the defending European Cup champions was an enormous coo for Waterford, each financially and it additionally gave the likes of Alfie Hale, John O’Neill and Johnny Matthews to return up in opposition to the Holy Trinity of Best, Law and Charlton, how did they get on and what was the legacy each groups left behind.
Route to the 1968/69 European Cup
So how did each groups come to be drawn in opposition to each other within the first round of the 1968/69 European Cup.
As beforehand talked about solely league champions contested the European Cup, in England’s First Division Manchester United completed in second place to cross metropolis rivals Manchester City, shedding out on again to again league titles by solely two factors.
United certified for the 68/69 European Cup after profitable the European Cup at Wembley in May 1968 in opposition to Benfica.
Ten years after the tragedy in Munich, United and supervisor Matt Busby have been European champions, with Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes two of the survivors of the crash taking part in within the final, with Charlton serving to himself to 2 goals.
As they have been defending champions, United certified for the next year’s European Cup.
Waterford certified for the European Cup after profitable their second League of Ireland title in two years, profitable the league from Dundalk by 4 factors.
In Waterford’s solely earlier tour within the European Cup they lost 12-1 over two legs to Vorwärts Berlin in a preliminary round tie in 1966.
The story of how Waterford and Manchester United have been drawn collectively continues to be fondly remembered by individuals in Waterford immediately. After finding it tough to finance sending somebody to Geneva for the draw, Sean Power a younger administrator on the membership, volunteered to journey at his personal expense.
As the draw was happening and groups from throughout Europe have been being paired off, Waterford’s title remained within the hat.
Eventually it got here all the way down to the final two and Sean Power realised that solely two groups remained, his personal Waterford and defending champions Manchester United.
When Waterford performed Vorwärts Berlin two years prior the match came about at Dalymount Park, realizing that Dalymount wouldn’t be sufficiently big to accommodate the quantity of people that needed to see the likes of George Best in motion, Waterford needed to discover someplace else to carry the first leg.
Chairman of Waterford, Don Kennedy approached the IRFU for the usage of Lansdowne Road. The IRFU agreed and historical past was made, Lansdowne Road would host its first ever soccer game in September 1968.
So on 18 September 1968 a crowd of over 48,000 crammed into Lansdowne Road to see Waterford tackle the mighty Manchester United.
Waterford lost the game 3-1, however actually for the individuals in attendance it mattered little or no, with the event being greater than the match itself.
Denis Law, who had missed the European Cup final a couple of months prior resulting from harm, scored a hat-trick. George Best additionally scored an exquisite goal, which was dominated out for offside.
Waterford did handle to drag one again because of Coventry born winger Johnny Matthews, regardless of this United took a commanding 3-1 result in Old Trafford for the return leg two weeks later.
On 2 October 1968, Waterford travelled over to Manchester for the largest game within the historical past of the membership. A miracle was so as in the event that they have been to someway drag again United’s 3-1 lead from the first leg.
Sadly that miracle didn’t come to fruition, Waterford have been utterly outclassed at Old Trafford, shedding 7-1 on the day and 10-2 on combination, Al Casey scored Waterford’s solely goal in Manchester that day, tragically Casey would die in 1981 in a automobile crash on the best way again from a match in Limerick.
Denis Law who ran rampant in Dublin two weeks earlier did so once more, serving to himself to 4 extra goals as United cruised into the second round of the competitors.
For Waterford that journey over to Old Trafford and the joy of taking part in in opposition to Man United, stands out as one of many many highlights from their glory days within the 60s and 70s.
United would go on to achieve the semi-finals that year, shedding out to eventual champions AC Milan.
What occurred subsequent?
So 50 years have now handed since maybe the largest two weeks in Waterford’s historical past and each golf equipment have taken totally different paths over the past 50 years or so.
In the rapid years after this tie, Waterford would win way more silverware than United, 4 extra league titles over the subsequent 5 years and even reaching the second round of the European Cup in 1970, changing into the first Irish team ever to take action.
In that second round they’d face off in opposition to Celtic, have been they’d bow out 10-2 on combination.
In the years following their European Cup triumph, Man United would go right into a steep decline that will finally result in their relegation from the First Division in 1974.
They would return to England’s high flight a year later, as a succession of managers struggled to return United to their former glories, after which Alex Ferguson arrived.
What Ferguson achieved at Old Trafford is soccer folklore at this stage, and continues to be lauded to at the present time, Ferguson took on the system of selling youth players and excessive stress that Matt Busby made well-known all these years in the past and made it work even higher, some may say that system has been forgotten about since Ferguson left Old Trafford in 2013, however deep down its nonetheless within the bones of Manchester United as a membership and should return sooner or later.
While Waterford’s success continued into the 70s, because the 70s got here to an finish so did Waterford’s glory days. In 1982 the membership modified their title to Waterford United and because the League of Ireland expanded into two divisions, Waterford started to wrestle and have become a yo-yo team all through the 80s and 90s.
Jimmy McGeough was appointed as supervisor in 2002 and led Waterford to promotion to the Premier Division, the next season McGeough led Waterford to their greatest league end in a long time as they completed sixth.
Despite that good season McGeough was sacked and the followers have been baffled by the poor operating of the once nice membership.
After years of poor administration each on and off the pitch the membership wanted an enormous shake up, this got here within the type of Swindon chairman Lee Power who needed to return the membership to its former glory.
Power modified the golf equipment title again to Waterford FC and re-branded the membership crest and package. Under this new administration Waterford signed excessive profile players within the hopes of returning to the Premier Division.
They did so through the 2017 season, profitable the first division title with Alan Reynolds in cost and returning to the Premier Division for the first time in ten years.
As of writing, Waterford at present sit in fourth place within the Premier Division, degree on factors with Shamrock Rovers with three games to go, if Waterford can end in third spot they’ll qualify for the first Europa League qualifying round, which might be their first foray into Europe in over 30 years.
While each golf equipment have had their ups and downs over the previous 50 years, these two groups that took to the pitch in Dublin and in Manchester again in 1968 are nonetheless fondly remembered by each units of supporters to at the present time.