‘AN EMOTIONAL WEDNESDAY.’
One of the saddest matches in Manchester United’s history is probably the F.A.Cup 5th Round tie in February 1958 against Sheffield Wednesday. From the Manchester side this game has been well documented; however captaining the Sheffield team that emotional night, the first match after the Munich Air tragedy, was a player who himself, was to become a part of the United rebuilding plans, ALBERT QUIXALL.
The draw had already been made before the crash and Albert was devasted by the disaster.
“I was at home in Warley Road, Sheffield, listening to the radio, when this news flash came on about the crash. Immediately my first thoughts were, what the hell is going to happen to the match the following week, little realising the gravity of the situation. Naturally, when the grim news came through about the players, it left me very sad indeed. You see, these were great pals of mine, from International, Army and Schoolboy days, such as Roger Bryne, Tommy Taylor, Duncan Edwards, David Pegg and Mark Jones. When the match came around nearly two weeks later there was no way Sheffield Wednesday could have won, the whole country was behind United, and I suspect so were the rest of my own side. Before the game I had a quick word with Bobby Charlton who had just returned from Munich and I led my team down the tunnel after the United side, never could the emotion of the evening have hit anybody harder. Two of the United side, Mark Pearson and Shay Brennan were actually playing their first matches in the first team and incredibly it was the pair of them, who caused all the problems. Shay scored the first goal straight from a corner and I am sure the massive crowd blew it in! Brennan also got the second, before Mark Pearson, who was a Sheffield lad incidentally, opened us up for Alex Dawson to make it three. The actual game was a blur; United somehow managed to play some football, despite the emotion and deservedly knocked us out.”
Seven months after this match, Albert Quixall was signed by United in a transfer deal of £45,000, which beat the British record by £10,000. He was labelled the ‘Golden Boy’ of British football and soon realised the enormous publicity that would bring.
“Harry Catterick, who was then manager of Sheffield Wednesday, called me in to his office one Thursday to meet Matt Busby. I signed without knowing the size of the fee and went off to play a round of golf. Soon all hell broke loose with hordes of reporters and photographers chasing me from hole to hole. Later that evening I went to Manchester to appear on the ‘Tonight’ programme with Cliff Michelmore, which was when the record transfer tag really hit me. It seemed for a while as if the world was on fire. Running out for my debut against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford on the Saturday, brought back memories of that Cup tie seven months earlier and my thoughts were that, Roger, Duncan, Tommy, David ,Mark and the other lads should have been there as well”.
Quixall was a superb ball player whose prompting led to many goals. In his first two seasons at Old Trafford, United scored over 100 goals in each of them, with Dennis Viollet breaking the clubs scoring record in one of them. Dennis gave a lot of credit to Quixall’s openings.
“I could never have got so many goals without Albert’s fabulous skills. He really was the most unselfish player I ever played with”, was the Viollet tribute.
Helping teammates break scoring records was nothing new to Albert, with Derek Dooley having similar success at Sheffield Wednesday playing alongside him. Besides helping others, Albert was the finest penalty taker I ever have seen, with one in particular standing out .
He recalled the event, “We were playing Manchester City at Maine Road, near the end of the 1963 season, with both clubs struggling near the foot of the table. A defeat for either side could have meant relegation so you can imagine my feelings when Denis Law was adjudged to have been brought down by Harry Dowd with about five minutes left and City leading 1-0. It was the only time in my career that I felt apprehensive about taking a penalty but luckily it went in and the draw kept us up with City being relegated”.
A couple of weeks after this match, Quixall played his part in United’s F.A.Cup win over Leicester City at Wembley, having scored in all the earlier rounds, except the semi final, a game he missed due to injury.
“Every footballer knows that the F.A.Cup final is the biggest day of their career, especially if you win! We stopped at a lovely hotel in Weybridge before the final against Leicester City, the preparation was just perfect. At our team talk, Matt Busby, said for us to go out and enjoy ourselves and not get ruffled to play the ball about on Wembley’s open spaces and make Leicester do the running. It helped that Leicester were actually the favourites, but we had played well in the cup rounds and were quite confident. As it turned out, it was a much easier match than we could have imagined, just like a practice match at times. After the first five minutes you could sense it was our day, all the team were on top form. Denis Law scored a marvellous goal after about fifteen minutes and then David Herd made it two just before half time. Even though Leicester pulled a goal back, David Herd got his second goal to give us a 3-1 win.”
Two members of that side against Leicester were Bobby Charlton and Denis Law who would be joined in United’s first team the following season by a young Irishman, George Best. Albert Quixall assesses them.
“All three were marvellous world class players, different in styles making it very hard, indeed impossible, to separate. But thinking back, George seemed to have more actual tricks than either Bobby or Denis. In my career I was fortunate to have played against Di Stefano, Puskas, Matthews, and Finney etc, although when they appeared on the same pitch as myself they never seemed as good at close quarters as they did when I watched them. One player who did impress though was John Charles, then of Leeds United. He had everything, once at Sheffield he marked me out of the game at wing half; whilst in another he scored a hat trick against us. I nearly joined John in Italy when Genoa made me an offer in 1962 but I always felt England is the only place for football.”
Certainly, Manchester United fans remember Quixall’s marvellous skills, at a time of United’s rebuilding. It is appropriate to end with Munich as the theme of his role at United by recalling his best (and quickest) ever goal.
“We played Bayern Munich in a pre season friendly, and I noticed their goalkeeper liked to wander off his line. So, at half time I told Dennis Viollet to pass the ball to me straight from the kick off and I lobbed him from the centre circle! It was timed at four seconds. However, late on in the game I stupidly slapped a Bayern player across the face, after he had been kicking me all the game and was sent off. This probably took my goal away from people’s minds, with the stories concentrating on the sending off.”
After his Old Trafford days, Albert Quixall went to play at Oldham Athletic and Stockport County, before working with that well known character Freddie Pye in the scrap metal business in the Old Trafford area. In his day, Albert Quixall of Manchester United, Sheffield Wednesday and England had been the ‘Golden Boy’ of English football.