The following article is reproduced with the kind permission of John White, Branch Secretary of the Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club. You can visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/carryduffmusc
On 15 March 1958, Mark Pearson became the first Manchester United player to be sent off in over three years. Allenby Chilton was sent off in United’s 2-0 loss away to Manchester City on 29 January 1955 in an FA Cup Fourth Round tie.
The inside forward was dismissed during United’s 3-0 loss to Burnley at Turf Moor in the English First Division.
Mark was born in Ridgeway, Derbyshire on 28 October 1939. In July 1955, aged 15, he signed for United as a trainee and two years later he signed as a professional.
Mark, nicknamed “Pancho” because some said he looked like a Mexican with his long dark sideburns, was a Busby Babe and made his debut for the club in United’s first game after the tragedy of the Munich Air Disaster. On 19 February 1958, 13 days after seven of his teammates perished on a slush covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany, United faced Sheffield Wednesday in Round 5 of the FA Cup.
The United side was decimated to such an extent that the section in the match programme for the game where you would normally see the United team was left completely blank. Matt Busby was still lying injured in his hospital bed in Munich leaving his trusted aide, Jimmy Murphy, in charge of first team affairs. Jimmy missed the trip to Belgrade as he was in Cardiff at the time coaching the Welsh national team (manager of Wales from 1956-64) for an important Fifa 1958 World Cup play-off game against Israel. The Welsh won the game 2-0 on the same night United drew with Red Star Belgrade and progressed to the finals for the first time in the Principality’s history having lost the away play-off 2-1 on 15 January 1958 in Ramat Gan giving the Welsh a 3-2 aggregate victory. Murphy’s seat on the ill-fated flight was occupied by United’s chief coach Bert Whalley who lost his life in the disaster. Harry Gregg, who survived the Munich Air Disaster and performed heroics by saving people from the burning fuselage, told Murphy he wanted to play against Sheffield Wednesday as did fellow Munich survivor Bill Foulkes.
And so, on a solemn night under floodlights at Old Trafford a young and inexperienced Manchester United side which included five Reserve Team players, ran out of the tunnel at Old Trafford. The game also marked the debut of a young man born in Manchester to Irish parents, Seamus Anthony “Shay” Brennan, and he scored twice in United’s 3-0 victory. Perason had an outstanding game and played a part in setting up two of United’s goals. Alex Dawson also scored. The sports reporter from The Times at the game wrote the following: “But it was the performance of two young men, Cope at centre-half and the 17-year-old Pearson at inside-left, that left us rubbing our eyes in astonishment. Their maturity, polish, and skill left one wondering what other magic is hidden away in Old Trafford.”
The wave of emotion which poured down on the pitch from the Main Stand and terraces that evening from 60,00 fans gave the Sheffield Wednesday players no chance of winning the game. In the lead-up to the Cup tie British football fans regardless of their club affiliation were so overcome with grief for the terrible loss of so many innocent lives in Munich that when United met The Owls it seemed like everyone, including fans from the Steel City, were willing Manchester United on to win. The players from both sides and fans at Old Trafford that night wore black armbands in memory of the 22 people who died in the Munich Air Disaster (Duncan Edwards died two days after the game). It is believed that not long after the game Manchester United introduced black into their strip to forever remember the 8 United players whose promising careers where brought to such a tragic and premature end. Murphy remained in charge of the team for the rest of the season and had the impossible task of replacing those Busby Babes whose careers ended in Munich. Busby’s trusted right hand man brought in Ernie Taylor from Blackpool for £8,000 (February 1958); Stan Crowther from Aston Villa for £18,000 (February 1958) the hard-tackling wing half who had helped end United’s FA Cup dreams at Wembley the previous May (Villa won 2-1); Warren Bradley from Bishop Auckland (February 1958) and Tommy Heron from Portadown (March 1958). When the Aston Villa manager, Eric Houghton, told Crowther that United wanted to sign him he said he not want to leave Villa Park. Houghton then asked Crowther if he would go with him to watch United play their FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday and he agreed. On their journey from Birmingham to Manchester Houghton said to Crowther: “You ought to help them.” But Crowther told his manager that he did not have his football boots with him. Houghton looked at his player and said: “I’ve brought them with me.” The pair met Murphy at United’s hotel and Crowther was persuaded to sign after a fee of £22,000 was agreed, less than an hour before he played in the match. To help United, the Football Association had allowed them to rearrange the Fifth Round tie and they also waived the rule that prevented a player from representing more than one club in the FA Cup in any one season.
The Daily Express’s sports reporter, Mike Dempsey, recalled “a night of incredible emotion; weeping, wailing, and even fans shouting inadvertently the names of dead players when the excitement overtook them.”
Ian Greaves was one of the reserves who played versus Sheffield Wednesday and recalled the game: “When we beat Sheffield Wednesday it was an electrifying night, but there was no cheering going on in the dressing room afterwards. We were all sad. I always felt as if we were cheating somehow. Stepping into other people’s shoes.”
Looking back Murphy also attempted to bring in a player who would have been the club’s first ever overseas player when he heard that the player was so touched by what had happened in Munich that he wanted to come to Manchester and play for United. The player was Ferenc Puskás and he had just finished serving a two-year ban imposed by Uefa for not returning to his former club, Honved, in 1956 after most members of the Hungarian team decided to stay in Spain following a European Cup tie versus Atletico Madrid. The Hungarian Revolution had just erupted and the players seized the opportunity to start a new life for themselves away from a Communist state. When his ban was lifted he looked for a new club in Italy but Italian sides snubbed him, concerned about his age, 30, and weigh. Murphy then expressed an interest in signing Puskás but FA rules at the time concerning signing foreign nationals coupled with the fact that he could not speak English meant that United missed out on securing the services of arguably one of the greatest players of all time. Puskás signed for Real Madrid and helped them clinch La Liga titles in 1960–61, 1961–62, 1962–63, 1963–64 and 1964–65 and the European Cup in 1959, 1960 and 1966.
United were swept all of the way to the 1958 FA Cup final on a huge wave of emotion. However, Pearson never played in the game which United lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers.
Over the next five seasons, Mark faced regular competition for a starting place in the team from Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet and Albert Quixall (who captained Sheffield Wednesday in the 1958 FA Cup tie) and when he was transferred, quite ironically to Sheffield Wednesday in October 1963 for a fee of £17,000, he had made 80 appearances for United and scored 14 goals.