Manchester United have produced many excellent sides, some being of true world class standard. In the mid 1950’s, a side built on young players coming through the club’s system was created which, but a truly horrific air crash at Munich on the 6th February 1958, could possibly have been one of the world’s greatest ever football sides, they were known as the BUSBY BABES.
To be part of that side would have meant you were a top class player, to be an integral part of that side marks you out as a football great. DENNIS VIOLLET was all that, a top class footballer and a true football great. I think he is a true legend, towards the end of this article the word gets well used!
Over the years I have had the pleasure of penning biographies of DUNCAN EDWARDS, EDDIE COLMAN, LIAM (BILLY) WHELAN and of DENNIS VIOLLET. The one on Dennis was originally going to be called ‘A Manchester Lad’ to complement my book on Eddie Colman which had been called ‘A Salford Lad’ but I discovered that a famous boxing trainer called Brian Hughes MBE was already thinking of doing such a book, thankfully, we agreed to do it jointly and decided on the simple title of ‘VIOLLET’ It was such a success due to the popularity of one of Manchester United’s finest players that it did very well on the bookshelves coming number two in the Times behind Seabiscuit, a story about a truly amazing race horse.
That the book on Dennis did so well is no surprise really when you look closely at what Dennis achieved, which included playing a vital part in the two Championships of Manchester United in 1956 and 1957, being still the leading goal scorer in a season for league goals for Manchester United, 32 in 37 appearances in 1959/60 season, and missing the last 5 games! In the 1956/7 season Dennis also became the first Manchester United player, indeed the first ever English player, to score a goal in the European Cup, a competition where he helped the club reach two semi final’s, also helping the club reach two successive FA Cup Finals. Sadly, Dennis was suffering from an injury so missed the 1957 final against Aston Villa with Bobby Charlton replacing him, although, having just returned from his injuries at Munich, he did play in the 1958 final against Bolton Wanderers.
He had a great link up with Tommy Taylor and it is a real surprise that he only played twice for England. He was a teammate of legendary players such as Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton, before leaving United to help Stoke City return to the old First Division. I have to say though that there is a massive anomaly in how Manchester United did not record Dennis’s fantastic career with them. For some reason, there is not a single mention in the club programme, the United Review, for the remainder of the 1961/62 season after his January 1962 transfer to Stoke City. Why? He was a legend.
Dennis Viollet carved out a legendary status for himself when he moved to Stoke City. Also in that Stoke team was the equally legendary Stanley Matthews, before Dennis then carved out not just a career but a life style in America. There he had a big influence on the progression of the sport, with another legendary figure of world football, Pele being involved in the progression of the sport.
His daughter, Rachel Viollet, was one of England’s finest lady tennis players and in recent years has worked very hard to represent Dennis Viollet’s brilliant life by producing a DVD on him and also runs an interesting twitter account.
So, Edwards, Charlton, Matthews and Pele all footballers who would agree that Dennis Viollet was as good as anything they played with or against. That is what deserves legendary status.
Written by Roy Cavanagh MBE. Follow him on Twitter.
Watch the special United In Focus / Gordon Hill Show dedicated to Dennis Viollet, featuring United legend Gordon Hilland Dennis’ daughter Rachel here :