A unique friendship between two clubs, a friendship that took hold and blossomed during the late 1950’s.
The Red Devils enjoy a good relationship with most clubs in world football and have done so for many years. One of those clubs is Red Star Belgrade of Serbia, however the close links and friendship between these two clubs is quite unique in football, a friendship that took hold and blossomed at the time of the Munich air crash in 1958. Being the largest club in their respective countries, and having the same team colours aren’t the only things the two clubs have in common. They share a history of highs and lows, both clubs founded in difficult times that would test the character of the two clubs. Both United and Red Star have featured heavily in the greatest games of European football and both clubs know what it’s like to hit the absolute pinnacle. clubs go, Red Star aren’t that old. The club was founded in 1945 during the closing months of the Second World War by a company of men from the Serbian United Antifascist Youth League. It was an organisation that would go on to be the Red Star Belgrade sports club. At the end of the war, a number of Yugoslav football clubs were put out of business by the communist authorities. Two of these clubs were BSK Belgrade and SK Jugoslavija. The remnants of the BSK team would go on to form Metalac, these days known as OFK Beograd. Those former Jugoslavija teams would go onto establish Red Star Belgrade, a club that would become one of Europe’s biggest clubs.
As far as my research will tell me, the first ever meeting of Manchester United and Red Star Belgrade took place at Old Trafford in 1951, as part of the Festival of Britain. In serious competition United and Red Star first crossed swords during the European Cup of the 1957 – 1958 season. United had ended the previous season well, finishing as Champions and recording their best ever points total. They would go on to wallop Aston Villa in the Charity Shield 4 – 0, Busby’s young team were justifying their early promise and were now threatening to steam roll their way to years of league and European domination. As we all know that European Cup quarter final two legged tie would end in tragedy. The news would spread fast and wide of the Munich air crash, everyone and anyone who had either watched the Busby Babes at Old Trafford or heard about them on the radio or read about them in the newspapers felt the full weight of this tragic loss of life, the Babes touched the lives of tens of millions of people. As United began their European campaign for that season, the European Cup (the Champions League as we know it today) had only been going for three seasons. The fledgling tournament would go on to be the most important intercontinental club trophy in world football. Back in those early days teams had to first negotiate a preliminary round and what’s more, those teams entered into the competition had to be the champions of their domestic league. There were no runners up, 3rd and 4th place teams in the tournament. The draw for the preliminary round consisted of teams going into one of three “pots”. Those three pots were for Western European teams, Eastern European and central European.
United’s preliminary game for that season was against Shamrock Rovers of Dublin. That season Shamrock mirrored the Manchester United of a couple of season’s previous, creating a piece of history for themselves by becoming the first side from their country to play in the European Cup. The first leg with United took place at Dalymount Park, today the home of Bohemians FC.
United strolled to victory winning 6 – 0. With the tie pretty much done and dusted the formality of the second leg took place at Old Trafford a week later, a much closer game saw United win the game 3 – 2. In the first round proper, United were drawn against Czech champions Dukla Prague. The first leg took place at Old Trafford before a crowd of around 60,000, United would take a 3 – 0 advantage over to Prague thanks to goals from Colin Webster, Tommy Taylor and David Pegg. A fortnight later in Prague, Dukla sneaked the game 1 – 0 their goal scored by Milan Dvořák. United were in the next round winning on aggregate 3 – 1, next stop was the quarter final against Yugoslav champions Red Star Belgrade. Red Star’s preliminary game gave the Belgrade club its biggest win in European competition, Stade Dudelange of Luxembourg being the lambs to the slaughter. It was a walk in the park for the Yugoslav side as they ran out 14 – 1 winners on aggregate, winning 5 – 0 in Luxembourg and 9 – 1 at home. Red Star’s first round proper game was against IFK Norrköping of Sweden, not surprisingly this would be a much closer tie. The first leg took place in the November of that season at Norrköping’s Nya Parken stadium, it ended in a 2 – 2 draw, Red Star’s goals coming from Ivan Toplak and Red Star legend Bora Kostić. Three weeks later the Swedes arrived in Belgrade for the second leg. Red Star defender Ljubiša Spajić supplied his club with its goals as they ran out 2 – 1 winners. That result meant that for the first time in the history of European competition, Manchester United would meet Red Star Belgrade.
The first leg of the quarter final took place at Old Trafford on the 14th of January 1958. Sir Matt’s team that day… Big Irishman Harry Gregg was in goal, less than a year at the club Harry would go on to guard United’s net for the best part of a decade. Team Captain Roger Byrne was on the pitch too, Roger was from my home town, Gorton in Manchester, he won 33 caps for England. Bill Foulkes was there at the back with Roger. Foulkes was from nearby St Helens and did the United shirt proud for 18 years. He first signed for United as an apprentice in 1950, quickly impressing and signing full professional terms a year later. Eddie Colman was another local lad, from Ordsall in Salford, he was a member of the United side that won the first ever FA Youth Cup in 1953. Mark Jones took to the pitch too, the big Yorkshireman had already been at the club a decade and was a valued and popular member of the team. One little thing about Jones that I want to mention, is that his team mates nicknamed him “Dan Archer” after the character in the long running radio drama “The Archers”, Mark, like the Dan Archer of the radio show liked his pipe.
Duncan Edwards was also on the pitch, a man who would go down in history as one the greatest United and England players of all time. Born in Dudley in the Midlands Edwards would go on to become the youngest player to turn out for a club in the First Division when he made his full team debut against Cardiff City in the April of 1953, but not before distinguishing himself (like Eddie Colman), being a member of the United team that won the first ever FA Youth Cup. Kenny Morgans, a native of Swansea, was the only non-English outfield player on the pitch that day, only making his debut for United a month before in a league game against Leicester City. Another player on the pitch for that first leg quarter final match against Red Star needs no introduction. Bobby Charlton, originally from Ashington in the North East, first signed for United in the January of 1953 and was an FA Youth Cup winner with the club in 1954. Playing up front with Bobby against Red Star was Tommy Taylor, Taylor came from Smithies near Barnsley in Yorkshire. Tommy Taylor was a prolific centre forward, scoring himself a brace during his full debut for United against Preston North End in the March of 1953, by the end of the season Tommy had scored himself seven goals, helping take United to the league title in ’56 and ’57. Wearing the number 10 shirt was Denis Viollet, another locally born player. Viollet was from Fallowfield in Manchester, in later years he would enjoy a successful career managing in the North American Soccer League. Last but certainly not least was Albert Scanlon playing down the left. Another Mancunian, Scanlon hailed from Hulme. Albert Scanlon signed professional terms with United in 1952 after being in the youth set up for a couple of years, he made his full debut for United during the November of 1954 in a 2 – 1 victory over Arsenal.
They were Matt Busby’s team. So much has been written about Busby, his difficult start in life and being raised in a coal mining town in North Lanarkshire. His parents Alexander and Nellie were Lithuanian emigrants. Alexander was a miner at a time when coal mining was the only real employment prospect for kids leaving school. Busby was only 5 years old when the First World War broke out, it was a conflict that would have a devastating effect upon his family. His Father was killed during the battle of Arras in 1917, the young Busby also lost three of uncles during the Great War. The young Scot did indeed find work as a miner but he had long held ambition of becoming a footballer. Busby was playing for Stirlingshire Denny Hibs when he was a miner, it wasn’t long before Manchester City noticed his talents and signed him up. He was at City for 8 years before moving to Liverpool and was at Anfield until 1941. Interestingly, only a couple of years into his stay at City, he was a transfer target of Manchester United. Busby remained at City and played over 200 games for them.
During the Second World War Busby served in the Army Physical Training Corps, when the war came to a grateful end he was made team manager at Manchester United. Quite rightly he is often referred to as the Father of Manchester United, he steered the club through the hardest days the club would ever experience. You can’t talk about the United of those times and not mention Jimmy Murphy, a Welshman from Ton Pentre. During his playing career of ten years or so he played for both West Bromwich Albion and Swindon Town and represented Wales, winning 15 international caps. Matt Busby had witnessed Murphy giving an impressive talk to a company of soldiers during the war, Murphy was Busby’s first great signing for United. Murphy was Chief Coach for many years before being named assistant manager in 1955, he would go on to prove himself a godsend to Manchester United, more on that later. For that 1958 European fixture, Red Star Belgrade also had a team with many locally born players. Of the Red Star team that took to the pitch in that first leg, 5 were from Belgrade. In goal for Red Star was Vladimir Beara from Zelovo in Croatia. Beara would enjoy a long career earning 59 international caps with Yugoslavia, he would later go into management with many clubs even winning silverware in Africa. The back four consisted of team captain Rajko Mitić. Mitić, from Dolac in south east Serbia, was Red Star Belgrade’s first ever team captain and is easily one of the Belgrade clubs best ever players, a legend of Red Star Belgrade. Rajko Mitić would spend 14 years at Red Star, winning 5 league titles and 4 National Cup’s.
Joining Mitić at the back was Miljan Zeković from Nikšić in Montenegro, a strong left back who spent 9 years with Red Star, also in there was two of the Belgrade contingent, Novak Tomić and Ljubiša Spajić. In the midfield was Ranko Borozan, a Bosnian from Mostar. Borozan hadn’t been at Red Star long, having moved to Red Star from city rivals Partizan only months before, he would later go on to manage the Yugoslav Under 21 team. Also in midfield was Dragoslav Šekularac, a Macedonian. Šekularac was a short but skillful player, known for his technique and skill on the ball.
Two more of the local Belgrade players made up the rest of the midfield, Vladica Popović and Lazar Tasić. Popović is another great name of Red Star Belgrade, years later he would return to Red Star as team coach and lead them to victory in the Intercontinental Cup in 1991. Tasić would spend seven years at Red Star, first joining them in 1954 from neighbouring club Omladinski Fudbalski Klub, he represented Yugoslavia for 8 years until 1960. The forward line for Red Star in that first leg was Ivan Toplak from Belgrade and Bora Kostić of Obrenovac, southern Serbia. Toplak’s career took him far and wide from the USA to Indonesia. Bora Kostić was a Red Star striker for 14 years in total, winning a clutch of winner’s medals. In 1961 he moved on for a season to Italian club Vicenza Calcio, he then moved back to Red Star for a further 4 years. The Red Star manager was Milorad Pavić, the former player, not the well-known Serbian novelist of the same name. He first took control of team affairs in 1957 until 1964, he would go on to have a career managing clubs all over Europe. Refereeing this game was Frenchman Marcel Lequesne, the only European cup match he would ever referee. That full house of 60,000 fans at Old Trafford that night must have felt an air of cautious unexpectancy, United were doing good things on the pitch but this Red Star side was admired and respected all over Europe. It’s a well-known saying that United like to do things the hard way, a club with a history of hard fought victories and they had it all to do a little over a half hour in to the game when Belgrade born Lazar Tasić scored for Red Star. Halftime came, the Yugoslav visitors were in the lead. United got to work in the second half equalizing in the 65th minute courtesy of a Bobby Charlton goal, another goal came about 15 minutes later from Salford boy Eddie Colman. At the end of an entertaining game it was Manchester United 2 Red Star Belgrade 1, the second leg would take place a little over a fortnight later in Belgrade.
Red Star’s stadium couldn’t host the home leg as it didn’t have the correct pitch lighting. Their home was the Marakana, so named because the locals claimed the football there was just as good as the football plated at the Brazilian Maracana stadium. The match would take place at the Jugoslavenska Narodna Armija stadium, now known as the Partizan Stadium, home of Partizan Belgrade. It was close contest but it started well for United when Denis Viollet put United 1 – 0 up in only the second minute of the match. After just over 30 minutes United were 3 – 0 up, a dream start for the Red Devils. The first few minutes of the second half saw Red Star gain parity with United as a goal from Lazar Tasić and two goals from Bora Kostić made it 3 – 3 with still about 30 minutes of the match remaining. However, both sides failed to score again, so United were through to the European Cup semi final defeating Red Star Belgrade 5 – 4 on aggregate. A bitter pill to swallow for the side from Belgrade after playing so well throughout the tie. However, a friendship was forged between the two clubs, Red Star Belgrade hosting the United team at a dinner party before the United team made its way home.
As we know the team’s aeroplane had made a fuel stop at Munich Reim airport, the aircraft was an Airspeed Ambassador, part of the British European Airways fleet. A non-stop trip from Belgrade to Manchester was out of the aeroplane’s fuel range, so a stop to refuel would be necessary. The pilots started to experience problems immediately after refueling, having to abandon take off twice because of a problem with the boost of one of the engines. On the third attempt the aeroplane came into contact with the snow and slush that had been falling heavily whilst the aircraft was at the airport. The resulting crash claimed the lives of 20 people, it wasn’t only our young footballers that perished but journalists and others were also among the fatalities. Flight crew members Kenneth Rayment and Tom Cable were lost, Mr. Rayment succumbing to his injuries in hospital a short while later. Henry Rose of the Daily Express, George Follows of the Daily Herald, Eric Thompson of the Daily Mail, Alf Clarke of the Manchester Evening Chronicle, Archie Ledbrooke of the Daily Mirror, Donny Davies of the Manchester Guardian, Tom Jackson of the Manchester Evening News and former footballer Frank Swift then working for the News of The World. Bela Miklos working as the travel agent was also killed in the crash.
Willie Satinoff also lost his life, Willie was a successful horse racing businessman, a huge United fan and a good friend of Matt Busby’s. Walter Crickmer the United club secretary, Bery Whalley a club coach at Old Trafford and Tom Curry also a coach were also among the fatalities. Eight Manchester United players would lose their lives in the tragedy. Club captain Roger Byrne, aged 28. David Pegg, aged 22. Geoff Bent, aged 25. Tommy Taylor, aged 26. Eddie Colman, aged 21. Liam “Billy” Whelan, aged 22. Mark Jones, aged 24 and Duncan Edwards passed away a few days later in hospital aged only 21. Goal keeper Harry Gregg proved himself a hero, his actions undoubtedly helped to save lives. Upon recovering consciousness Gregg kicked his way out of the stricken aeroplane and proceeded to help people from the aircraft. It would be some time before Matt Busby would return to full managerial duties. Now without an active manager Manchester United turned to Jimmy Murphy to take charge of team affairs, Murphy would do a brilliant job as caretaker manager of Manchester United. Despite facing the difficult obstacles of keeping the club on its feet following the Munich tragedy, Murphy immediately faced the almost impossible task of putting a team together in time for the next match, a 5th round FA Cup tie with Sheffield Wednesday and then Nottingham Forest four days later in the league. Murphy pulled the rabbit out of the hat, bringing in new faces to the club whilst keeping the ship steady, presenting an iron strong front to the world. That first game following the air crash at Munich ended up in a 3 – 0 victory against Sheffield Wednesday in the cup, the goals coming from Alex Dawson and Shay Brennan scoring a couple.
Brennan had worked his way through the ranks at United beginning in the Youth team in 1953, he would go on to play a major part in United’s revival. The match with Forest in the league ended in a 1 – 1 draw, the 18 year old Scottish striker Alex Dawson again getting himself on the score sheet, Dawson had only recently signed for United the year before. The Red Devils would finish that season in 9th position. However, the FA Cup would give United a platform to show the rest of the world its resilience and strength in the face of adversity. After that 5th round victory over Sheffield Wednesday it was on to the quarterfinals and a game with West Bromwich Albion, a replay would be needed as the teams played out a 2 – 2 draw, in the replay United were the victors. Fulham awaited the Red Devils in the semifinal and this tie like the one before, would need a replay. The first game took place Villa Park, the match ending in a 2 – 2 draw, both United’s goals scored by Bobby Charlton.
The replay was to take place only 4 days later at Arsenal’s Highbury stadium. United made sure this time with a convincing 5 – 3 win over their west London opponents, the young Scot Alex Dawson scoring a hatrick and Shay Brennan and Bobby Charlton chipped in with a goal each to ensure a great night for United. In the FA Cup final United faced Bill Ridding’s Bolton Wanderers, a team captained by the late, great Nat Lofthouse. Jimmy Murphy led his team out in front of 100,000 fans, the fact that United had made the final was huge victory in itself for Manchester United and Murphy could take massive credit for his hard work following Munich. Bolton lifted the cup, defeating United 2 – 0, both goals scored by team captain Nat Lofthouse. The cup final side of 1958 was made up of Munich survivors and new faces. Four survivors of the Munich tragedy were on the pitch for United that day. Harry Gregg stood firm in goal, Bill Foulkes was now team captain, Bobby Charlton took to the field well on his way in proving a legend of Manchester United and Mancunian Denis Viollet would join his team mates on the Wembley turf.
Ian Greaves played in defence, he was brought into to play in the left back position as replacement for the recently deceased Roger Byrne. Freddie Goodwin was another player who was brought into the first team from the youth squad by Jimmy Murphy, he played in the midfield for United in the cup final. Stan Crowther was another new face, as was striker Ernie Taylor. Completing the lineup for United was the young Scottish forward Alex Dawson, originally from Aberdeen, Dawson was at United for 4 years, he was sold to Preston North End in 1961. Thankfully Jimmy Murphy didn’t travel to Belgrade with United, he had been with the Welsh national squad, their team manager and as yet remaining the only manager to take Wales to a world cup tournament. During his time with United Murphy worked in numerous roles, chief scout, assistant manager and reserve team manager being only a few of them. He thrived as scout, it was mainly because of Jimmy that United Greats Gordon Hill and Steve Coppell arrived at Manchester United. Jimmy Murphy passed away late in 1989, he was superb servant to Manchester United and Welsh football, a man never to be underestimated. In honour of Jimmy the Old Trafford club established The Jimmy Murphy Award given to the best player of the youth team every season.
Matt Busby would return to the helm of Manchester United and lead the club to magnificent resurgence, rebuilding the club and laying the foundations for what it is today, the biggest football club in the world. During the 1960’s United would lift many a trophy, league title, FA Cup and the European Cup. 1968 saw Matt Busby complete his work as his team, led by Bobby Charlton, claimed the European Cup on an emotionally victorious night at Wembley Stadium. United’s friendship with Red Star Belgrade would endure but it would be a further 33 years before United and Red Star met again in European competition. Red Star Belgrade returned to prominence during the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, culminating in their European Cup final victory of 1991 when they defeated Marseilles of France in a penalty shoot-out. Red Star’s path to that European Cup final was impressive, enjoying some comfortable wins over major European competition. In the first round they swept aside Grasshoppers of Zurich 5 – 2 on aggregate, their second round tie with Glasgow Rangers proved just as one sided as the Belgrade club won 4 – 1 on aggregate, waiting for them in the quarter final was German club Dynamo Dresden. Belgrade romped to victory in the first leg winning 3 – 0, the goals scored by Red Star legend Robert Prosinečki, Dragiša Binić and Dejan Savićević.
Two weeks later Red Star had traveled to Dresden for the second leg at Dynamo’s Rudolf Harbig Stadion, now known as the Glücksgas Stadium. It was a game that would see crowd violence have a major impact on the eventual outcome. Chasing an unenviable three goal deficit, the game started well for Dynamo Dresden when Torsten Gütschow opened the scoring via a penalty for the German club in only the 3rd minute. In the second half Red Star, playing some great football put themselves in the semi final following two goals from Savićević and the brilliant Darko Pančev. That 71st minute goal by Pančev was the final straw for the Dynamo fans, who had been in uneasy mood since the start of the game, with full time edging ever nearer unrest within the Dynamo Dresden fans spilled over witnessing trouble in the terraces including stadium being ripped up and thrown onto the pitch. The referee saw fit to halt proceedings with more than 10 minutes of the game to go, the Spanish referee no longer prepared to allow the game to go on in front of the rioting Dresden fans, UEFA saw fit to award Red Star a 6 – 0 victory in the tie.
In the semi final the Belgrade club met another German team in the form of Bayern Munich. The first leg of the semi took place at Bayern’s then home the Olympiastadion, on the evening of the 10th of April 1991. It was a night that would give Red Star one of its best ever nights in European football. Red Star came from behind to defeat the giant German club in its own backyard, inflicting a very rare home defeat in European competition for Bayern. Roland Wohlfarth had put Bayern 1 – 0 up about half way through the first half, the Belgrade club equalised right on half time. The Red Star players were putting in a very good performance, particularly Pančev and Savićević. The second leg was just as closely fought as the first, Bayern took Red Star close as the game ended in 2 – 2 draw. Siniša Mihajlović made it 1 – 0 to Red Star in the 20th minute and it stayed 1 – 0 to Red Star until the 65th minute when Klaus Augenthaler equalised for the Germans. Augenthaler would have a night of very mixed emotions. About 5 minutes later Bayern were in the lead thanks to a goal from Manfred Bender yet after experiencing the joy of scoring for Bayern, Klaus Augenthaler’s world came crashing down around him as his own goal late in the game gave Red Star semifinal victory. In the final Red Star’s opponents were French club Marseilles who had defeated Spartak Moscow in the other semifinal, the venue for that season’s European Cup final was the Stadio San Nicola in Bari, Italy. As a spectacle it wasn’t the greatest of European finals, but it would see Red Star Belgrade enjoy the greatest night in the clubs history. The game would finish 0 – 0 after extra time, the European Cup now depended on a penalty shoot. Red Star didn’t miss any and won the shoot-out 5 – 3, the European Cup was theirs.
The early 1990’s were an exciting time to be a United fan, it was when United began to really assert themselves with Alex Ferguson at the helm. The seeds of success that were planted by Ferguson early into his stay at Old Trafford were beginning to blossom. After a rough start for Alex Ferguson as United manager the Red Devils lifted the 1990 FA Cup by defeating Crystal Palace after a replay, the London club then managed by former United star Steve Coppell. The only goal of the game scored by Lee Martin, gave Ferguson his first trophy as United boss. The season after United beat tournament favourites Barcelona in the final of the European Cup Winners Cup at Feyenoord’s De Kuip stadium, therefore becoming the first English club to win a European trophy following the lifting of the Heysel ban which meant the next UEFA Super Cup match would be contested by Red Star Belgrade and Manchester United.
That fixture wouldn’t arrive until the November of the following season, a much anticipated match, I remember it being a bit of a drag waiting for that November to arrive. Owing to the troubles that were occurring in the Balkans back then UEFA stated that only one leg of the usually two legged competition would take place, so Old Trafford would be the venue for the 1991 UEFA Super Cup. The game took place on the 19th of November, the day after Terry Waite was released from incarceration in Lebanon. That Red Star side of ’91 was packed with world class players. Dejan Savićević, Darko Pančev and Siniša Mihajlović to name only three, they arrived at Old Trafford on that Tuesday night a formidable team, clearly the best team in Europe, incidentally they later claim the World Club title beating Colo Colo of Chile 3-0 in Tokyo. So on to that Tuesday night. Whilst I was sipping coffee stood outside the ground before the game I remember seeing the Red Star fans arriving in dribs and drabs. The main contingent of traveling Red Star fans arriving in Manchester that morning for only the third meeting of the two clubs. The fans of both clubs are known to be passionate about their teams, both United and Red Star often the recipient of unwanted attention in the past regarding the behaviour of their fans. However, I don’t think it would be right if those little unenviable events in the history of both United and Red Star were ignored. Like it or not, the hardcore traveling fans whose behaviour often has let their club down are part of the identity of teams, particularly Manchester United and Red Star Belgrade.
The “escapades” of both United and Red Star fans in Europe is well known, historically both sets of fans have “reputations”. It’s been many years since United have been sanctioned resulting from the behaviour of the clubs fans in European football. United first came under the spotlight, although it had nothing at all to do with the behaviour of United fans. Apparently the Football League held an inquiry into the finances at Manchester United, the main protagonist Burnley Football Club’s chairman Bob Lord who was a business rival of the then United chairman Louis Edwards, also taking part in the inquiry Sam Bolton, chairman of Leeds United. The outcome of the inquiry resulted in United charged with a number of “offences”. Even though the Old Trafford club had not qualified for European competition, United’s punishment was a ban on any European fixtures and financial penalty of around £7000. So not surprisingly, the Football League inquiry headed by the board members of United’s biggest domestic rivals, led by Burnley’s Bob Lord, really made an effort to go to town on United. Bob Lord was an interesting individual to say the least, as I said a business rival of then United chairman Louis Edwards. After the building of a stand at Burnley, Lord named it after himself. He was against televised football, fearing it would have a detrimental effect on attendances therefore he would lose out on financial gain. He reneged on a promise to help out neighbouring club Accrington Stanley. Accrington were in dire financial turmoil, Lord did indeed join the Accrington board, but after a short time he withdrew from his position. Accrington had no alternative but to resign from the football league after being led to believe they were on the road to a better future. Lord was also a very vocal critic of the football authorities he was often a part of. The regularity and the stupidity of his complaints over one thing or another to the Football League led the Football League to record in one meeting that… “It was decided unanimously that the Committee could not tolerate the irresponsible comments of Mr. Lord.”
United were also the subject of another European ban not that long after winning the 1977 FA Cup. Beating Liverpool at Wembley that sunny Saturday afternoon meant the Red Devils were entered into the following seasons European Cup Winners Cup. In the first round they were drawn against French club, Saint Étienne managed by Robert Herbin. The French had emerged victorious from the 1977 Coupe de France, the French FA Cup after defeating Stade De Reims at the Parc Des Prince in Paris. By now Tommy Docherty had departed and United were now managed by Dave Sexton. Under Docherty United’s young side had become something of a powerhouse again, well on the way to emulating those days of the 1960’s. They had stormed back to the First Division after spending a season in Division Two. United had a team full of great players such as Gordon Hill, Stuart Pearson, Brian and Jimmy Greenhoff, Steve Coppell and Martin Buchan. However, as we all know Docherty was sacked not long after that FA Cup final victory and replaced by Sexton. Under Sexton United lost a great deal of their attacking verve, Sexton preferred a much more conservative playing style, a more defensive approach that really stifled United’s cavalier, attacking style, something United had become very much admired for. Sexton also saw fit to sell Gordon Hill to Derby, another bad move.
So, the 14th of September of 1977 saw United in south east France, at the Stade Geoffroy – Guichard to take on their French opponents. That day leading up to the game in the evening, the United fans had gathered within the city centre. With United scarves wrapped around wrists and necks, they were well behaved, loud yes, high spirited yes, but there were no reports of any trouble before the United fans entered the stadium. And that’s where the trouble began, about forty five minutes before the teams were due out on to pitch to start the match. There was poor segregation at the compact Stade Geoffroy – Guichard ground, the two opposing sets of fans could get to each other quite easily, so as mentioned, less than an hour to go before kickoff fighting had broken out, glass bottles were thrown, it did indeed get a bit messy with fans spilling on to the pitch and over thirty people being taken to hospital. Obviously the police were called into action, making arrests and ejecting people from the stadium. Eventually, in front of over 33,000 fans, the game did indeed go ahead. It was fairly even and open game, both teams having their chances, Saint Étienne going close a couple of times from long distance. The game finished 1 – 1, United’s valuable away goal supplied by the soon to be gone Merlin himself, Gordon Hill, the goals came late in the game, only a couple of minutes or so after Merlin’s goal the French club equalized. As you can imagine the UEFA authorities took a very dim view regarding the behaviour of the United fans, as the years would go on, football violence would escalate in European competition, it would also go on to be named “the English disease”, which was a bit out of order seeing as teams from all over Europe were having their own problems with fan violence which had nothing to do with English clubs. So it was quickly decided that United would be thrown out of that competition, before the second leg was played, Saint Étienne receiving a bye into the next round. In UEFA’s press release they were quoted as saying…
“The ban was imposed to safeguard the interests of European football and the security of football spectators.”
This lead to United successfully appealing. However UEFA made it a condition that United would have to play the second leg away from Old Trafford, if I ain’t wrong, I think UEFA said the “home” tie for the Red Devils would have to take place at least a hundred miles away from Old Trafford. So, a little over a fortnight later both United’s and Saint Étienne’s team buses pulled up outside Home Park, the home ground of Plymouth Argyle, about 280 miles from Manchester. It was Saint Étienne who started the brighter, happily though United won the game 2 – 0 thanks to goals from “Pancho” Pearson in the first half and Steve Coppell in the second, United winning the tie 3 – 1 on aggregate. As you can imagine it was a strange experience for the United players having to play a “home” fixture in unfamiliar surroundings. Not long ago, United Great Arthur Albiston spoke to United’s official website about that game at Plymouth Argyle…
“Home Park was packed to the rafters, they were all United fans – 35,000 or 36,000 of them, I think. We had to play over 200 miles away from Manchester and the authorities felt Celtic Park in Glasgow would’ve been too much like a home game! When you’re younger, you don’t think about it but, looking back now, it was a little strange to play a Manchester United home game at Plymouth. We were penalized for the trouble in the away leg but managed to get through. We beat a good St Etienne side 2-0. We went back to play St Etienne a week before Christmas as a goodwill gesture and that was a good game – I think it ended in a draw [the score was 0-0]. It was nice to play on the pitch at the Parc des Princes.”
In the next round United took on Portuguese team Porto, eventually losing narrowly in a high scoring tie 6 – 5. Porto progressed to the quarter final but lost to Belgian club Anderlecht 3 – 1 on aggregate, Anderlecht would go on to win the competition, beating Austria Vienna 4 – 0 in the final in Paris.
Red Star Belgrade’s army of fans are known as the “Delije”, meaning “heroes”. It’s a word to cover any fan of the Red Star Belgrade sports organisation. It’s an organisation that see’s Red Star compete in a wide range of sports not just football, such as basketball, water polo, volleyball and ice hockey to name only a few, but yes, football is the sport that see’s the Delije really come alive. The fans of Red Star Belgrade football club are notorious to say the least. If there is one word to describe the Delije, it’s organized. Those fans come from many places, before the formation of the Delije in the late 1980’s, they’ve had quite a few separate groups of fans that made up the Red Star Belgrade army of fans, having such names as The Ultra’s, The Belgrade Boys, The Zulu Warriors and even The Red Devils.
Red Star also have their hardcore fan contingent and that’s putting it mildly. Widely speaking Serbian domestic football is full of violent altercations between rival sets of fans, often with the police as well. The many instances of violent incidents between rival sets of fans in the former Yugoslavia is something that has involved fans of many clubs. Back in 2008, a fan was killed during a running battle between the fans of Partizan Belgrade and Vojvodina, that incident was only hours away from an incident that included fans of Red Star Belgrade and neighbours Partizan in a Yugoslav cup game which saw a number of people taken to hospital and a bus totally destroyed by fans. In the same year a fan was sent to jail for ten years following a violent attack on a police officer during a game between Red Star and Hadjuk Kula. Then there was the infamous clash that took place at Dinamo Zagreb’s 35,000 capacity Makarios stadium between fans of Red Star and Dinamo during the May of 1990. Back then, and for many years after, Yugoslavia was a very volatile place, for those that are old enough, I’m sure they will remember the news bulletins on TV night after night about the troubles within Yugoslavia, the war, the destruction and huge loss of life, football playing a big part in the surge of nationalistic conflict and ill feeling. The hours leading up to the game between Dinamo and Red Star witnessed fighting in the streets of Zagreb. Media reports were saying that as many as 3,500 Red Star fans had traveled the 245 miles or so North West to Zagreb from Belgrade.
Orchestrating the Red Star fans was Željko Ražnatović, otherwise known as Arkan, a convicted criminal and the leader of the Serbian Volunteer Guard, he was subsequently assassinated in 2000 inside the Hotel Intercontinental in Belgrade. Once in the stadium the Dinamo fans, known as the Bad Blue Boys, had pelted the Red Star fans, known as the Delije, with stones and other objects. The Delije responded by ripping up seating and advertising hoardings, chanting “Zagreb is Serbian!” at their Croatian opponents. In answer the Dinamo fans made an attempt to storm the pitch before being pushed back the police who resorted to using tear gas and batons. The situation soon spiraled out of control, the sheer numbers of Dinamo fans were too much for the police. As the fighting increased between the Bad Blue Boys and the Delije, the police saw no alternative but to bring in extra baton wielding officers and water cannon, it took the police more than an hour to control the situation. Amazingly, despite all the trouble going on around them, a number of Dinamo players had remained on the pitch, including the team captain Zvonimir Boban. He became a Croatian national hero after an incident where Boban attacked a policeman that was striking a Dinamo fan with his baton, Boban dived in kicking and punching in an attempt to help the stricken Dinamo fan. The Bad Blue Boys in turn came to Boban’s aid as they gathered around him, screening Boban from any retaliating attacks from the police. Boban was banned for six months for actions, but like I said, he became a figurehead and hero for his actions in his native Croatia.
The Red Star team that walked out onto the Old Trafford turf that night back in ’91 was slightly different to the one that had marched to the European Cup final only months before. There were a handful of players that by the time the UEFA Super Cup game with United came around had left the club for pastures new. Probably the biggest loss to Red Star after that victorious night in Bari was Robert Prosinečki. During his playing career Prosinečki was a midfield general of the highest order. He began his career in the youth set up at Dinamo Zagreb. An interesting little episode occurred when Prosinečki was still at Dinamo, still aged only 18 years of age. Prosinečki’s father, Đuro, took it upon himself to personally address the powers that be at Dinamo Zagreb to give his son a full professional contract. However, the then Dinamo team manager, Miroslav Blažević, pointedly refused, saying he would eat his own coaching diploma if the young Prosinečki ever became a successful professional footballer! Understandably, not happy with the response Mr. Prosinečki then approached Red Star Belgrade, with the same request. When Red Star were in Zagreb to play Dinamo in the league, Đuro Prosinečki found out which hotel the Red Star team were staying in, it was the Esplanade, a hotel with strong connections with the famous Orient Express. Anyway, Đuro strode right up to the then Red Star football director, Dragan Džajić, and asked Mr. Džajić if Red Star could give his son a trial, going on to explain his son wasn’t happy at Dinamo Zagreb. So to cut a long story short, the young Prosinečki was invited for a trial at Red Star where he impressed the on looking Red Star coaching staff, football director Dragan Džajić was also in attendance for that trial. Džajić began at once to initiate contract proceedings, the deal was done. As soon as the young Prosinečki began playing for Red Star it was obvious to all that Red Star had acquired a class player. A couple of months into his stay with Red Star Prosinečki was in Chile, as a member of the Yugoslavia youth team that went on to win the World Youth Championship, beating West Germany after a penalty shoot-out, incidentally Prosinečki walked away from that youth tournament with the Golden Ball award, deemed the best player in the tournament.
Whilst he was at Red Star Belgrade, Prosinečki helped them to three league titles, a Yugoslav FA Cup and the European Cup. During the summer of 1991 Prosinečki was sold to Spanish club Real Madrid for around 15 million euro’s, a massive amount back then. In 2010 he was appointed team manager of Red Star Belgrade and was there until 2012, he is now the team manager of the Azerbaijan national team. Another notable Red Star absentee from that UEFA Super Cup game was the European Cup winning club captain and world class goal keeper Stevan Stojanović, he moved to Belgium after being transferred to Royal Antwerp, spending four seasons at the Bosuilstadion. Stojanović wasn’t finished with European finals however, he played in goal for Antwerp in the 1993 European Cup Winners Cup final at Wembley stadium, unfortunately for Stojanović he ended up on the losing side as Royal Antwerp were beaten in the final 3 – 1 by Italian club Parma. So in goal for Red Star Belgrade for the 1991 Super Cup game was Zvonko Milojević. He began his football career in the youth set up at FK Jagodina before joining Red Star in 1989. He was brought in as a replacement for the departing Stojanović. Milojević played in goal for Red Star until 1997 when, like Stojanović, he made his way to Belgium to join Anderlecht of Brussels where he spent five years, winning a clutch of Belgian silverware. He then took the forty five mile journey to Lokeren, where he spent the next four years keeping goal for KSC Lokeren. Slobodan Marović missed the game through injury, only a few months later he was sold to IFK Norrköping. Interestingly, Marović spent a couple of seasons as assistant manager to Robert Prosinečki at Red Star between 2010 and 2012. Another player absent from the Super Cup game was Refik Šabanadžović, one of the best defenders Yugoslavia has ever produced, yet criminally only earned a handful of Yugoslav international caps. He picked up winners medals everywhere he went with his club football. Apart from a European Cup winner’s medal, Šabanadžović won two Yugoslav league titles and a Yugoslav cup winner’s medal with Red Star. He was sold to Greek club AEK Athens not long after that European Cup final win. At AEK, he won three Greek league titles (Super League) on the bounce in ’92. ’93 and ’94, he also won another cup winners medal when AEK thrashed Athens neighbours, Apollon, in the final at the Olympic Stadium. In 1996 he moved to Olympiakos of Piraeus, there Šabanadžović won a further two Greek Super League titles. Dragiša Binić was also missing from that Old Trafford encounter with the Red Devils. He only spent a couple of seasons at Red Star, which were split by spells at Spanish club Levante and French club Brest. He knew where the net was though, in his 54 games for Red Star he scored 27 times. Shortly after the European Cup win he was sold to Slavia Prague, he would later go on to play in Cyprus and Japan, finding the net regularly.
The then Red Star manager was Vladica Popović, a football man who seen as a hero in his homeland. He started his career in 1953 and spent the next 12 years at Red Star playing in midfield, before going on to the city of Stuttgart, playing for VFB and Kickers. After hanging up his boots, Popović went onto manage teams in South America, before returning to Yugoslavia and winning the European Cup and World Club title as manager of Red Star that ensured his legendary status. Right from kick off Red Star began to dominate the game. For large sections of the game, United were second best, being out passed and out fought. I have never seen a United side, before or since, that has been dominated as much as they were against Red Star on that November evening. Yes, United had their moments. The game had only just started when United were awarded a penalty, when Belodedici handled the ball in his own 18 yard box. However, a well struck penalty from Bruce was matched by a fine save from 19 year old goalie Zvonko Milojević.
The penalty aside, the first half was a lesson in football for the reds dished out by the Yugoslav artisans. Red Star went close a good few times in the first half, including two near misses by Darko Pančev. Clayton Blackmore was particularly busy that night, at one point clearing off the line to deny Belgrade, but when the Dutch ref blew for half time, to everyone’s surprise it remained goalless. The second half came and Red Star continued where they had left off. However, about 10 minutes into the second half, United were able to start making inroads to the Red Star goal. Indeed, about a quarter of an hour or so in the second half Neil Webb’s shot came back off the post only to find Brian McClair well placed to convert United’s goal from about 6 or 7 yards out. United were in the lead, and despite the continuing pressure from Red Star, that’s how it ended. United had won its first UEFA Super Cup, yes they had just been given a lesson in total football by the best side in the world, but United had just won its second European trophy in 6 months. Steve Bruce received the trophy with his typical modesty, after the trophy lift, the Red Star players joined the United players on a lap of honour, the friendship between these two clubs known to all. It was a fantastic night for United and for football, a night unique in so many ways.
The friendship between United and Red Star has endured under some of the most turbulent times, both clubs having a huge amount of respect for each other. The Red Star club museum is a testament to the strong bond between the two clubs. The museum holds many commemorative Manchester United memorabilia, often donated by fans to the museum. One of more interesting items in the museum is the actual match pennant that was given to Red Star Belgrade during their first trip to Old Trafford during the January of 1958, as is the pennant given to them by United for their 1991 UEFA Super Cup match. Another eye catching exhibit is the golden football that was gifted to Red Star by Manchester United back in 2003 for the 45th anniversary of the Munich tragedy, inscribed upon it “Friends Forever”.