Stepney and Law recall '67 tour

Manchester United legends Alex Stepney and Denis Law look back on the Red Devils' 1967 trip Down Under.

In 1967, four days after winning a seventh English league title, Matt Busby's Manchester United side jetted off on a triumphant post-season tour.

Here, speaking exclusively to's Nick Coppack, goalkeeper Alex Stepney recalls a marathon trip that spanned 42 days, three countries and 12 matches...

“Even in 1967, going on tour was all about promoting the club. In places like America, Australia and New Zealand, there were a lot of people who had migrated there from England. So we went to give them their Manchester United fix.

The club would usually go to Belgium, Holland, Germany, Spain or Norway - somewhere nice and close - and only play one or two games. This trip, though, was a lot longer than most: 42 days in total.

The world seemed much bigger then. None of us had ever been to Australia or New Zealand and we only knew what we-d read in books. So, even though it was a long trip, there was no moaning: in our eyes it was a big adventure. We felt like explorers.

We got off to a bad start, mind you. We had to fly from Manchester to Los Angeles via New York, but there was heavy fog in New York, which meant our connecting flight couldn-t land. It took a long time before we were able to continue our journey. From memory, I think we reached Los Angeles almost 24 hours after we-d left home.

Once there, we played Benfica in the first game and it was quite a tasty affair. The year before, in 1966, United had beaten Benfica 5-1 in Lisbon at the Stadium of Light - I hadn-t joined the club at that stage - and the Portuguese side didn-t like that. It was the first defeat they-d ever suffered at home in Europe [their record was W18 D1 before Matt Busby-s side visited] and George Best had been crowned El Beatle on that trip.

Benfica really got the hump with that. So when it came to this friendly in Los Angeles it was more like a grudge match. We lost 3-1 and there was a lot of crowd trouble. At one point, there were a load of police and fans on the pitch. It was unfortunate, but we got our own revenge a year later when we beat Benfica at Wembley in the European Cup final.

We spent a few days in Los Angeles - we stayed on Wilshere Boulevard - before we travelled to San Francisco. In fact, it was a week before our second game, against Dundee United. So in San Francisco we visited the sights - we went to the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz - and we also spent some time with a few supporters clubs.

It wasn-t a holiday, though. We stuck to a strict regime and trained hard, even though we-d just finished a long season. Our trainer, Jack Crompton, had us out on the pitch every day.

There was no question of us relaxing or losing fitness. Even then, everybody wanted to beat Manchester United, so we wanted to stay in top shape. We had little outings here and there, but it definitely wasn-t a holiday.

From a sightseeing point of view, the highlight was probably the stopover in Hawaii, on our way from San Francisco to New Zealand. We landed in the morning and left at night, but we all got a few hours down at Waikiki Beach and had a look around.

There were a few ships from Pearl Harbour, so we checked those out and walked on the beach. Nobody went surfing, though: Jack Crompton wouldn-t have allowed that!

Eventually we made it to New Zealand and we played two games against local sides. We won 8-1 in Auckland and 11-0 in Christchurch. The standard of opposition wasn-t great, to be honest, and the weather wasn-t what we were expecting, either.

When you think of Australia and New Zealand you think of blazing sunshine. It was freezing in New Zealand, though, and it rained almost the entire time we were in Australia.

There was a brilliant moment in that game in Christchurch, actually. Their goalkeeper was wearing two under-shirts because of the cold, but because we were about 6-0 up he was really worked up. As he was trying to take off one of his shirts it got stuck around his head and we scored another!

After New Zealand we travelled to Australia to play eight games, beginning in Brisbane. WD and HO Wills were a cigarette company and they sponsored us in Australia. That wouldn-t happen these days, of course. Back then, though, most of us smoked so we were happy about it - they kept our supplies up!

We visited Surfer-s Paradise on the Gold Coast, which was good, but the memory that sticks in my mind of Queensland is a less happy one. News came through on the television that a plane, flying from Majorca, had crashed in Stockport.

Shay Brennan-s wife and daughter were travelling back from Majorca that day, so we were all very worried. The waiting was horrendous and it took ages before we got the all-clear - they weren-t on that flight. We were all so relieved.

In Australia, just about everybody that came to see us was an ex-pat. Everywhere we went we came across people who had tales of watching Manchester United back in England.

There wasn-t the sort of appreciation for football among the locals as there is today, although, in fairness, the Australian Soccer Federation treated us very well and there was plenty of media interest in us.

Stories appeared in the papers and Paddy Crerand, who injured his knee in Sydney, did all the TV appearances. That was great: we didn-t have to do any publicity!

Even though it was a long trip - and it did start to take its toll after a few weeks - I have some fantastic memories of that tour. Everybody looked after us so well and we visited some wonderful places.

We all came back with a lot of extra luggage, though. Everywhere we went people gave us gifts - plates, mugs, flags and pin badges.

One of the most incredible things I saw came right at the end of the tour, though. Our final game was in Perth and on the flight back we stopped to refuel in Delhi at 2am.

As we took off for the next leg, I remember being absolutely astounded by what I saw out the window. There, just beyond the end of the runway, were 20 or 30 Indians, all decked out with red-and-white scarves and rattles.

How on Earth did they know we were going to be there to refuel at two o-clock in the morning? That, for me, marked the start of Manchester United-s truly global following. It-s incredible to think how much it-s grown since then...”