On this day in 1939, Old Trafford’s biggest ever crowd (still stands) watched the FA Cup semi-final between Town and Wolves.
Although Wolves were clear favourites, confidence across Grimsby and the whole of North Lincolnshire was high.
It is impossible to calculate the number of fans from each club that attended as everyone was mixed together in those days, but at a guess, Town fans would at least match those from Wolves judging by the number of special trains that were run into Manchester. The ground filled, and still more came! Young boys were passed over the heads of the crowd so that they could get a good view of the match from near the front. The crowd was so large that the fence round the pitch was breached and good natured supporters were within a couple of feet of the touch lines right round the ground. The gates were closed 30 minutes before kick-off with thousands locked out!
At least in a crowd that size, everyone would keep one another warm, for the weather was cold, and dull, and sleet would sweep across the pitch.
The game began in bright sunshine. The Town team wore their numbers for the first time, with Moulson sporting a number "1" on his back, which may come as a surprise to those of us raised on 1950s football when keepers never wore a number.
The Mariners were so on top of their more illustrious opponents that it was only a matter of time before they scored the opener. Before five minutes was on the clock, Town had threatened with a Boyd free-kick from just outside the Wolves box, and from another free-kick taken by Vincent, Jones headed narrowly over.
Moulson was merely a spectator to the game, kicking his heels as he watched the threats at the far end. When eventually Betmead passed back to the keeper to give him "a touch," there was a huge roar from the crowd, so dominant were the Mariners.
When Town won the first corner of the game, policemen had to move the crowd back to give Crack sufficient space to cross the ball!
A quarter of the game had flown by and Town were cruising, even though the sun had given way to a sleet shower. Reports told of the Wolves being held prisoner in their own half.
On 23 minutes, Moulson was called upon for the first time in a serious Wolves attack. Diving at the feet of Dorsett, both players lay prostrate on the ground. The crowd went silent as trainers were called on, and then ambulance men. Each player was stretchered off. Full-back Hodgson went in goal, and Ted Buck dropped into the right-back slot. There were no substitutes allowed in those days.
Dorsett was able to recover and retake to the field, but Moulson lay unconscious in the dressing room, attended by four doctors, for almost the entire game, coming round a little towards the end of the match before being taken to Manchester Royal Infirmary where he remained for fully ten days!
With a man advantage, Wolves were now able to come into the game, though their first goal was hotly disputed following calls for off-side. He scored another before half-time.
A penalty to Wolves early in the second half seemingly killed the game though Crack, Boyd and Howe all went close. And so it remained at 3-0 until the last few minutes of the game, when Town defenders went upfield to try and retrieve something from the game, only to be caught on the counter by Wolves for two final nails in the Mariners Wembley coffin.
With a couple of minutes remaining, someone in the crowd blew a whistle, and there was a huge pitch invasion, which took a long time to be cleared before the game could be restarted and the 90 minutes completed.
Town's match at Charlton could now go ahead in midweek, as the replay at Hillsborough would not be required. With Town now two goalkeepers down, Pat Glover was used in goal, thus adding to his record by being the only Town keeper to score over 200 goals in all competitions! The following Saturday, A-teamer Anderson was used before Tweedy returned. Town had therefore used 5 different people as keepers in four matches!
The match set a new ground record for Old Trafford that has never been beaten - a record that would have been many more thousands higher had everyone been able to get in who wished to do so. It is the largest crowd that Town have ever played in front of.
And so we are left pondering the "if onlys." Had Tweedy not been taken ill, had Moulson not been concussed, had the game continued in the manner in which Town totally dictated the first quarter ………..
The game, the season, very possibly encapsulates the very peak of Town's playing record.
But one thing stands out. Then as now, Town fans were and are simply the best!
76,962 remains as the record attendance at Old Trafford.