The 1957 FA Cup Final On Film

I’ve now the greatest respect for those people on the Guardian or at the BBC who do those minute-by-minute text updates of matches: I tried to do the same thing with the DVD of the 1957 FA Cup Final and simply couldn’t keep up.

So this isn’t a liveblogging of the 51 year old game, just thoughts.

Peter McParland can have had no idea of the significance his shoulder-charge of Manchester United keeper Ray Wood would have for future generations. As Ken Wolstenholme noted at the time, the Villa man’s charge was perfectly within the rules, for all that it looks like plain assault to modern eyes. Wood’s injury means that we only have about six minutes of film of the Busby Babes playing at their height against English opposition. For the rest of the game, they were effectively a man down, and we are denied a “typical” Babes performance (if such a thing could be seen at a Cup Final with all that was at stake, of course).

Furthermore the Babes responded to Wood’s withdrawal by pulling Duncan Edwards back into the centre of defence. This had the effect of taking Edwards out of reach of the camera for long periods. It goes without saying that this is another significant loss: Edwards – along with about half of his colleagues from the ’57 Final – would be dead within a year.

For those first six minutes, however, Manchester United were quite astonishingly good. They attacked with the ball kept on the ground, through the middle, and Villa scarcely touched the ball. Indeed, had Tommy Taylor, 25 at this point, and Bobby Charlton, a coltish 19, had a better mutual understanding, United would have scored twice in the opening period.

Charlton was bubbly, fast, able to beat men for speed, but seemed unaware of his colleague’s movement around him. My notes of the match contain two phrases which repeat themselves over and over: “Charlton loses possession” is one of them. I’ll come to the other later.

The first few minutes took place in what comes across as a marvellous, safe, friendly, fun atmosphere. No chanting, no banners, no football shirts on men old enough to know better. Just 100,000 people having a good day out. There was football-related violence in the 1950s, of course, but nothing on the scale that would come with the 1960s and 1970s. Most of it took place on trains, which could be stripped out by a contingent of fans then as now. In among the pleasant hum of conversation, the odd bell or rattle could be heard.

1957 Wembley was as neat as a pin. A picket fence ringed the pitch; when the ball went out of play, ball-boys got it back with an alacrity now more typical of Wimbledon. Throw-ins and free kicks were taken immediately – play hardly paused – and the defending team passed the ball to their opposition politely rather than using modern delaying tactics.

By comparison, the modern Wembley looks like the set of Bladerunner.

In 1957, there was no dissent shown to the referee.

After Ray Wood had been stretchered off, Bill Foulkes of United went on a one-man mission to exact revenge. The other comment that gets repeated in my notes is “Foulkes flattens Villa player” – usually McParland. Simple, straightforward, deliberate and repeated violence of the kind shown by Foulkes is gone, by and large, from the modern game, or at any rate its perpetrator doesn’t stay on the pitch for very long.

On the day, McParland was the difference between the two sides. Even with United down to ten men, Villa found it hard to impose themselves. United had the ability to move players around total-football style, so that, for instance, Whelan and Coleman could take turns at the heavy lifting in central midfield, whilst never offering Villa the same problem twice. Likewise, David Pegg and Johnny Berry would swap wings.

So McParland’s fantastic header in the second half was crucial to the result. United slumped quite clearly for about five minutes afterwards. At the end of those five, McParland scored again, and only then did United pull themselves together.

The catalyst for their revival was Ray Wood, who proved that Manchester United’s goalkeeper, given a broken jaw, was a perfectly adequate inside forward, once Busby allowed him back on in the second half. At one point late on he executed a mirror-image near facsimile of the Ricky Villa goal from 1982, except of course in the essential point of scoring.

And, yes, famously so, Jackie Blanchflower was quite superb in goal. Wood went back between the sticks late on, allowing a relatively fresh Blanchflower to run at Aston Villa. Tommy Taylor’s late looping header, an unsatisfactory and weak kind of goal, was followed by a siege on Villa’s goal, but to no avail.

Two things about the end of the game. One: McParland and Wood shook hands and went off together. Two: the United players applauded Villa off. No Chelsea-style Champions League Final antics for them.

I consider Villa’s victory to be fortunate in the extreme – apart from their goalscoring spell, they were always very much second best to a United side perhaps young enough to run off the one-man disadvantage. United’s close control – with the exception of Roger Byrne – was always superior.

But Wood was luckier than Villa. Lucky in that he only broke his jaw. Had his been a neck injury, the treatment he received on the pitch in 1957 might well have crippled or killed him, as Trautmann’s so nearly had a year earlier.

The sadness is that there were so many players on the pitch that day that you’d want to see in full cry. Taylor, Colman, Edwards.. We get to see plenty of David Pegg, of Liam Whelan and Roger Byrne, which is something.

Overall, I’d rate the United side of 1957, on the inadequate basis of six minutes at the start of a cup final, as very similar in ability to the Keane-Giggs-Scholes-Beckham side of the late ’90s. Neither of those teams had quite the attack that the 65-9 United had with Law, Charlton and Best. But the ’57 team were three or four years away from their peak. I shudder to think what George Best might have won in the 1960s with colleagues of the ’57 calibre.

Ken Wolstenholme complained in his commentary that the Wood injury would bring the whole substitution thing back onto the agenda. He wasn’t wrong, was he?

Video Footage

The complete match I’ve watched is in monochrome. Here’s a Pathe News excerpt in colour:

and, with sound, in monochrome:

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3 responses to “The 1957 FA Cup Final On Film

  1. Did you see the BBC4 programme comparing the 1957 final with the 2007 one? Some interesting things emerged, obvious ones about the pace of the game but also about how players know how they look on camera these days, hence the difference in the goal celebrations of McParland (effete skipping) and Drogba (alpha male).

    When did dissent to the ref start? It was common in the Sixties judging by footage I’ve seen. It was a feature of Roy Of The Rovers by the 1970s, and that was usually a decade out of kilt.

    I recently read an article by Peter Ball in Time Out from 1974 in which his complaints about the modern game – overpaid players, too much diving and dissent, lack of respect for referees, alienated supporters – could have been written yesterday.

    One request: can we leave the kneejerk Chelsea knocking? One of the reason I enjoy this site is it allows me to get away from all that partisan F365 bullshit.

  2. I did see the ’57-’07 programme. What I took away from it was, chiefly, what a good bloke Peter McParland was. Had I not seen the programme, I might have been willing to believe darker things about the shoulder charge. I’d forgotten that point about player camera awareness – didn’t they point out something about players running AWAY from their colleagues more to celebrate a goal to avoid having to share the spotlight?

    I don’t know about dissent. I think it might be unknowable. So much more football was filmed in the ’60s, and filmed in a different manner from before: violent, cynical play also shows up more, although if the various autobiographies are anything to go by, that might have peaked in the ’10s, ’20s or ’30s rather than in more recent times.

    I’m not anti-Chelsea – read my Mourinho stuff – the impression you’re getting is purely coincidental.

    However, I do believe what I say about John Terry. He and Lampard seem to have made different decisions about life since the World Cup, and I think Lampard’s the one getting it right. Something about clarity regarding who you really are and what you can, and can’t, achieve – rather like Beckham’s dark night of the soul in Madrid when he worked out that he would never be a Zidane or Figo and learned to be happy with what he could bring to a team, with what he really could provide. Mine is a particularly useless crystal ball, but I think Lampard’s next three seasons will be his best, and, for him, the most satisfying.

    We’ll know who Capello’s captain will be in a very short while. It’ll be interesting to see how John Terry reacts, whatever the decision is.

  3. James, I know you’re not anti-Chelsea.

    This is an interesting subject. I think players start to believe what they read about themselves and Lampard was being written about as the ultimate goalscoring midfielder, which he isn’t really. So he started to shoot every time he got the ball rather than pick out clever passes, and forgot to come deep and help start moves rather than just finish them. He became increasingly selfish and suffered as a result.

    Terry’s similar. As you’ve commented before, he’s not a Stuart Pearce type player – in fact, I think if it wasn’t for injuries he might have been more like a slower Sol Campbell, because he reads the game well and has decent distribution for an English centre-half (it’s not a coincidence that Wenger wanted to sign him a few years ago). But the press told him he was a have-a-go-hero and he believed it, became it and declined.

    In his autobiography Charlie Cooke talks about how he used to be a goal-scoring midfielder, but the press described him as a schemer, a creator, and that’s what he became, to his detriment. It was only in his later career that he realised he was trying to play as others expected him to, rather than to his own actual strengths.