Monday, 1 August 2011

Manchester United become the first English team to win the European Cup A.D. 1968

On completion in 1962, The CIS Building was the tallest building in the UK and, at 118m, the third tallest in Western Europe. By a strange quirk of fate, the top two belonged to cities whose teams had beaten Manchester United in the semi-finals of the European Cup. The tallest was the Torre de Madrid (1957, 142m) which, standing alongside the Edificio Espana (1953, 117m) overlooking the Plaza de Espana, was a dominant symbol of Franco's Spain. The second tallest was the Pirelli Building (1960, 127m) near Milan's Central Station, still one of Europe's most elegant skyscrapers. In the area covered by today's European Union, the Palace of Science and Culture (1955, 231m) in Warsaw, a symbol of Stalin's influence in the Eastern Bloc, would have dwarfed all of them. The Cuban Missile Crisis took place in the same year as the completion of the CIS Tower and served as a reminder of the climate of fear that surrounded the politics of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear armageddon still seemed a very real possibility.

In 1960, the year of the first episode of Coronation Street, a rock n roll group from Liverpool decided to change their name to The Beatles. In June 1962 they changed their line-up: John Lennon (guitar), Paul McCartney (bass), George Harrison (lead guitar), Ringo Starr (drums). In July 1962, Denis Law signed for Manchester United from Torino for 115,000, a British transfer record. In March 1963, The Beatles released their debut album Please Please Me, which went straight to number one. In September 1963, George Best made his Manchester United debut, aged 17, as Harold Wilson spoke of a Britain that was going to be forged in "the white heat of the technological revolution". The first episode of Top of the Pops was broadcast on 1st January 1964 from the BBC's Manchester Studios in Rusholme. Denis Law won the Ballon d'Or (European Footballer of the Year award) in the same year and The Beatles released their third studio album, A Hard Day's Night. In 1965, George Best appeared on TOTP as Manchester United won their sixth league title and with The Beatles releasing Help! and Rubber Soul.

1966 was an important year for British music and football. Manchester United were in their third European Cup and, on 9th March, they beat Benfica 5-1 away to reach their third semi-finals (which they would go on to lose to Partizan Belgrade). The scorer of the first two goals, George Best was dubbed "O Quinto Beatle" by the Portuguese press. As England was preparing to host the 1966 World Cup, Manchester group The Hollies released their single 'Bus Stop', written by Graham Gouldman who would go on to to form 10CC. Brought up in Collyhurst, Manchester United's Nobby Stiles was to play a decisive role in England's World Cup campaign, playing in front of the back four. His performance against Portugal in the semi-finals was particularly important as he man-marked Eusabio out of the game. After winning the World Cup, Bobby Charlton became the second Manchester United player to win the Ballon d'Or. In the music world, The Beatles released Revolver and The Twisted Wheel nightclub moved to Whitworth Street, kickstarting 'Northern Soul'.

Manchester United won their seventh league title in 1967, the same year The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart Club Band, and in March 1968 they beat Gornik Zabrze to progress to their fourth European Cup semi-finals in as many tournaments. On 13th May, the last day of the season, Manchester City won their second league title (with a team featuring Mike Sumerbee, Colin Bell and Francis Lee), two points ahead of second place Manchester United. Two days later, United faced one of their toughest challenges, taking a 1-0 lead to the Bernabeu. In front of a crowd of 125,000, they earned a 3-3 draw against Real Madrid to reach their first European Cup final. On 29th May, they beat Benfica 4-1 (after extra time) at Wembley to win the tournament, ten years after the Munich Air Disaster, the first English side to do so. They joined an illustrious list of teams in having won the tournament: Real Madrid (6), Benfica (2), Internazionale (2), Celtic (1), Milan (1). Of the other English teams to have played in the tournament, two had reached the quarter finals (Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1960 and Burnley in 1961) and two had reached the semi finals (Tottenham Hotspur in 1962 and Liverpool in 1964). The Beatles released The White Album in November and, in December, George Best became the third Manchester United player to win the Ballon d'Or.

The success of The Beatles in this period frames the rise of George Best, the 'fifth Beatle'. Much more than Denis Law and Bobby Charlton (his fellow Ballon d'Or winners), Best represents the spirit of the age, the birth of the celebrity footballer and possibly the icon of the permissive society itself. As well as providing a cautionary tale about the dangers of excess, the story of his downfall in the 1970s perhaps reflects a wider darkening mood of disillusionment after the highs of the late 1960s. There are other similarities between Best and The Beatles, relevant to The Ascent of Manchester. They both moved from their hometown at a young age to pursue their careers in a bigger city and it was in their adopted homes that they invested the money they earned. George Best opened nightclubs and fashion boutiques in Manchester at a time when TOTP and The Twisted Wheel were also putting the city on the musical map. Peter Hook's The Hacienda: How not to run a club describes how The Beatles shaped attitudes of Manchester's next generation:

One thing that was certain and propaganda-free was the collective desire to give something back to Manchester, to inject something into the city - whatever that something might turn out to be. All were horrified by The Beatles model: you made it, go to London and spend your money there. The Beatles' Apple HQ on Savile Row was the antithesis of the Factory way.

'The difference is Manchester,' said [Tony] Wilson. '10CC, for example, made a load of cash and built Strawberry Studios in the early 1970s, so when Factory came on stream we had an international recording facility just around the corner from us. Similarly, New Order make a pile of money and together with a load of other people they're able to build the Hacienda...'

Hook 2009 (24)

The Beatles are often cited as the band that made Liverpool great (or something to that effect), but if we think about it, they really belonged to London - in the same way that George Best belonged to Manchester. The relatively much less successful 10CC did so much more for Manchester than The Beatles did for Liverpool by investing their earnings back into the city. But this should come as no surprise. Manchester in the 1960s had, for a time, the fourth tallest building in Europe; the nation's most-watched TV programme (Coronation Street); TOTP; three winners of the Ballon d'Or and the most successful English football team in Europe; Northern Soul. New Order were to show a similar (if slightly misplaced) loyalty to their hometown in the 1980s. But there were tough times ahead for the city, as the post-war consensus began to fall apart.

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