Watch: The rare colour footage of when Wales played Manchester United
George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law are not names that would normally be associated with Bangor City. Yet the European Cup-winning superstars once graced the turf of Farrar Road Stadium.
Sadly demolished in 2012, the legendary stadium hosted a friendly match between a select Wales XI and a star-studded Manchester United, a side that had become the first English team to lift the European Cup at Wembley just a year before.
The fixture took place on 26th July 1969 to commemorate the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, a divisive event that had taken place at Caernarfon Castle a few weeks previously on 1st July 1969.
Managed that day by Dave Bowen, the Welsh XI fielded a strong-looking team including the likes of Mike England, Wyn Davies and former Spurs great Cliff Jones.
However, the 12,000-strong crowd were there to witness the legendary United team, featuring the renowned Holy Trinity of Best, Law and Charlton. The aforementioned, all winners of the prestigious Ballon d’Or (in 1968, 1964, and 1966, respectively) turned out in the iconic blue shirt that they had donned on that special night at Wembley in May 1968 when they beat Benfica 4-1 to lift the European Cup.
Best, who was now wearing the unfamiliar number 11 shirt, dazzled and delighted the Bangor crowd. However, it was the new number 7 at United that really shone that day.
Willie Morgan, who had been signed by the recently departed and legendary manager Sir Matt Busby in 1968, had cheekily requested the legendary number 7 following his then record £117,000 move from Burnley.
The flying Scottish winger, who went on to make 236 appearances for the Red Devils, says that the mercurial Best was unperturbed about losing his number 7 shirt.
“George didn’t mind at all. I had asked Sir Matt for the number 7 during negotiations and Bestie wasn’t bothered in the slightest. There was no animosity.
He wore the 11 shirt for the rest of his time at United. We were great friends until he died. We knocked around together – me, Bestie, Crerand, Law, Stepney – that was our little group, we went everywhere. We were fantastic friends.”
Morgan doesn’t recall too much of the exhibition match that was played over 50 years ago, so much so that he even struggles to remember the opening goal – one that he scored!
“I watched the clip to jog the old memory. I was initially surprised to see it was me who scored! Honestly, it’s so long ago,” chuckles the affable 77-year-old, “but, having watched the clip, it was a nice finish, even if I say so myself!”
The match, which had been sold out for months, was not short of controversy. Not welcomed by many in Wales due to its link to the Royal Investiture, the match is also remembered for the sheer number of United fans who descended on Bangor that day.
A report in The Chronicle the following day describes the chaos that came to the small Welsh town (Bangor officially became a city in 1974).
“Long-haired Manchester United supporters had made their way to Bangor by train, bus, car and thumb,” arriving as early as 5am in a riotous and “rather rowdy fashion.”
The notorious Red Army, so renowned for following their heroes up and down the country, even began a mass and impromptu game of football at the playing fields in Beach Road. Some locals would have gone without their morning cup of tea due to “milk bottles being taken off doorsteps by the dozen.”
Some over-excited United fans also managed to break into the stadium to “acquire” six touchline flags, which were luckily replaced before kick-off.
According to Morgan, this was the norm for the United away support.
“When we played away from home, there were more United fans than home supporters. They travelled all over. It was like playing for a circus team, there were always thousands wherever we went. That didn’t happen when I played for Burnley.”
The previous record attendance at Farrar Road had been 11,000, but in a time where “jibbing” (football slang for getting into a stadium without a ticket) was commonplace, it is estimated that there were at least 12,000 in attendance.
Indeed, the gates at the High Street side of the ground had been forced open, with hundreds of people storming in, much to the exasperation of Club Secretary Lal Jones.
Lal’s son Aled, who was eight years old at the time and went to Farrar Road every week with his Dad, remembers the day fondly.
“For us in the surrounding villages, Bangor City was the glamour club, and Farrar Road a real stadium with stands! The prospect of the most well-known footballer in the world coming to the ground was amazing. Best was the real superstar of world football.”
Following the disturbances, the match finally kicked off at 3pm to the delight of the expectant crowd, whose spirits weren’t dampened by the inevitable Welsh rain.
In what was a frenetic start, United took hold of the game early on.
“The thing is, we played against all the Welsh lads week-in week-out anyway, so it’s not like it was something out of the blue,” remembers Morgan. “It’s one of those games you take seriously enough, but you’re not going to try to hurt somebody. It was a showpiece that’s all. They are nice to play in, they’re friendly, so it’s nice.”
Although United were dominant from the start, Morgan reserves special praise for the Welsh team.
“They had some great players. Cliff Jones was a great little left-winger. Wyn Davies, who eventually joined us (Utd) for a while. Gary Sprake was a good goalkeeper and Terry Hennessey was a great defender.”
Morgan chuckles when he talks about his good friend who played that day, former Wales defender and manager Mike England.
“I’m still very friendly with Mike, he recently celebrated his 80th birthday. We became great friends, which is quite ironic, as my first sending off was for chinning him! It was during a derby game between Burnley and Blackburn in 1966.
“I was dancing in front of their fullback and Mike took exception. He slid in and put me up in the air. I got up first and he was still on the floor, so I chinned him and got sent off. We laugh about it now. He was a super player and had a great career. One mistake Utd made was not buying him. I think we tried, but it fell through. He would’ve been great for United.”
Manchester United’s first goal came in the sixth minute, the move inevitably started with a lovely backheel from Best to fullback Tony Dunne, who passed it on to the omnipresent Charlton. The United captain whipped in a brilliant cross from the left-wing which was duly despatched with a deft flick from Morgan.
Utd piled on the pressure, with the Welsh side looking disjointed, despite their array of talent. Wales were thankful for Terry Hennessey (a distant cousin of current Welsh Goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey), who along with Mike England, put in a stellar performance at the back to avoid a pummelling for the men in red.
Denis Law wasn’t his usual ruthless self, spurning a few gilt-edged opportunities. However, The King did manage to assist Brian Kidd for his goal in the 34th minute. Despite slipping as he teed up to shoot, his misplaced shot fell to Kidd, who finished from five yards out.
A mini-pitch invasion followed, the enthusiastic crowd using the opportunity to meet their heroes. Two minutes later Charlton saw a 20-yard screamer disallowed, Law’s miserable day continuing, the goal chalked off as the Scotsman was called offside by the brilliantly named referee from Rhyl – Ken Dodd.
Seemingly not tickled by the friendly occasion, Dodd then disappointed the Welsh fans, disallowing Gil Reece’s neat finish, again for offside, much to the dismay of the Wales team.
In the 71st minute Utd were awarded a penalty, Mike England bringing down substitute Don Givens. However, Law’s North Walian nightmare wasn’t quite over, the all-time joint leading scorer for Scotland smashing his penalty against the crossbar.
With the game ending 2-0, it was a welcome win for new Utd manager Wilf McGuinness. In a twist of fate, it was also not Bobby Charlton’s last appearance in Bangor. The World Cup winning midfielder would later make a guest appearance for The Citizens in the Anglo-Italian Cup in 1978 (at the time he was a director of the club).
After the game, Utd and Welsh players signed autographs and posed for photographs with local fans. In true superstar fashion, George Best was ushered off to the Bangor University playing fields, where a helicopter was waiting to take him to London to film a television commercial.
It was not all Hollywood though, with Best being driven to his chopper in Lal Jones’ clapped-out Morris 1100.
“My Dad had driven George to his awaiting helicopter,” remembers Aled. “On returning to our village, the news spread quickly that George Best had sat in our car and kids came to queue up to sit in the seat themselves! I was the first to sit in the passenger seat after George Best. How much closer could anybody get to a superstar than that?”
Morgan has fond memories of his friend Best and insists none of the Utd players would’ve batted an eyelid at Best’s extravagant exit.
“We would’ve gone home on the coach, but there was never animosity towards George flying off to London. It wouldn’t matter who it was. There was a great camaraderie at the club. The younger players tended to go out on the town, the older players were married and had to go home.”
The jet-setting lifestyle wouldn’t have been for everyone. As Morgan laughs, “I wouldn’t have got into a helicopter anyway!”
The match between Wales and Manchester United may have only been a friendly, but those 12,000 spectators who crammed into Farrar Road will never forget the day they witnessed the skills of the Holy Trinity – George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton.
Gary Sprake (Leeds United), Peter Rodrigues (Leicester City), Rod Thomas (Swindon Town), Terry Hennessey (Nottingham Forest), Mike England (Tottenham Hotspur), Ollie Burton (Newcastle United), Gil Reece (Sheffield United), Cliff Jones (Fulham), Wyn Davies (Newcastle United), John Mahoney (Stoke City), Ronnie Rees (Nottingham Forest).
Manager: Dave Bowen
Alex Stepney, Tony Dunne, Francis Burns (Shay Brennan), Paddy Crerand, Bill Foulkes, David Sadler, Willie Morgan, Brian Kidd (Don Givens), Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, George Best.
Manager: Wilf McGuinness
Referee: Ken Dodd (Rhyl)
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Small pedantic point; Bangor has been a city “since time immemorial”. In 1974 the rights of the city were reaffirmed by letters patent given to the new Bangor Community Council created by the Local Government Act (1972)