A while back, I wrote a piece for Pue’s Occurrences, sadly a now defunct history website, about the football programme as historical source. Amongst my prize possessions are the programmes for the two legs of Waterford’s European Cup tie with newly-crowned European Champions, Manchester United, in 1968.With the first round of qualifiers for next season’s European football currently underway in Ireland, we thought it would be fun to look back at the year when Manchester United visited Dublin to play the men from the sunny south-east, Waterford FC.
In 1968, Manchester United won the European Cup by defeating Benfica soundly 4-1. This made them the first English winners of the European Cup and brought to an end a story that began with a plane crash a full decade earlier. That Manchester United team, probably one of the most celebrated in the history of the game began the defense of that title on the 18th of September 1968 in Lansdowne Road against Waterford Football Club.
Waterford FC was entering something of a golden era all of its own when they drew the men from Manchester, who had won the cup in blue. Having won the League of Ireland title in 1966 and the season just gone in 1968, the team would win the Shield in the new 1968/69 season along with the League title and win it again the following season in 1970. In a report of Waterford’s AGM in August of 1968, the club were perfectly well aware of their good fortune. Speaking of the intervention of “Lady Luck” in drawing Manchester, the directors could confidently assert that
this all added up to a very healthy position and looks now as if the club can forget money worries for a year or two (Munster Express, August 2 1968)
As well as being to the benefit of the club coffers, the offshoots to other businesses was just as eagerly anticipated for the return leg of the match at Old Trafford. The “Shipping Notes” of the Munster Express show an eagerly anticipated journey for both people and for profit, for a “genuine passenger excursion from the port of Manchester via Holyhead”. As part of their preparations for the new season and especially for the European Cup tie, Waterford played Chelsea in a friendly at Flower Lodge in Cork.
Further excitement was lent to the coming occasion when “the Knight-Errant of soccer himself, Sir Matt Busby arrived unheralded in KIlcohan Park on Sunday last to run an eye over his European Cup opponents”. When word finally got round of his appearance, he was “accorded a warm welcome” from the fans as they watched their beloved Blues beat Cork Hibernians 5-0 in the opening game of the season. After a good start to the season, Waterford though were worried about their Dublin-based rivals, Shamrock Rovers who had taken some 21 goals in their opening five games and had that “unstoppable look” about them. They beat rovers 4-2 at home, giving them serious confidence going into the tie with Manchester United.
Something of the historic nature of the tie was also the fact that it was at that time only the third ever game of soccer to take place at Lansdowne Road and was very much the home of rugby then. The trip by train for the first leg was sold at a special rate of 22/- return, or £1 and two shillings. For the match at Old Trafford, the return price was £12 including a stand ticket for the match. The first of the two legs, played in front of a sell-out crowd, was won by a Denis Law hat-trick although Waterford registered a score themselves in front of an audience the Irish Times described as
swelled considerably by many hundreds more who scaled walls and risked injury on the barbed wire, threatened at times to overflow onto the playing pitch (September 19, 1968)
The away leg, although a brilliant trip for those who made it over to support the Blues was a complete white-wash, Manchester United registering a comprehensive 7-1 victory over Waterford. Nevertheless this was only the beginning of the Waterford sides dominance of the domestic league and more European Cup nights lay ahead for them.