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Dennis Viollett 1952-1962 293 games 179 goals

November 15, 2009

Written by: Johnathon Rearden

Growing up in Manchester through the war years, and then the immediate post war years, Dennis became a prolific schoolboy footballer. His progression brought him to the attention of first the Lancashire County Schoolboy selectors, and after playing in the North versus South schoolboys game, the England Schoolboy selectors. He was a young player that had enormous potential to progress to the professional game, and during the six times that he played for England Schoolboys, there was no shortage of football scouts from England’s top teams sat there watching him perform with a hope that they could persuade him to sign for their club.

The opinion of that time was that he would sign for Manchester City, but Manchester United had other ideas, and Joe Armstrong was able to weave his magic and persuade the likeable young Mancunian to join United where Matt Busby’s youth policy was beginning to be implemented. On September 1st 1949, just three weeks prior to his sixteenth birthday, Dennis put pen to paper and became one of the original “Busby Babes.”
Turning professional at the age of 17, Dennis made his debut two years later against Newcastle United.

It was difficult for him to break into the first team as both Stan Pearson and Johnny Downie, United’s inside forwards, were on top form in a season which saw Manchester United lift the First Division Championship for the first time since 1911. However, that championship winning team was getting old, and the following season Busby experimented with different players – and especially after Tommy Taylor was signed and he tried to find the perfect foil for him. Frank Clempson, Eddie Lewis, and particularly Jack Rowley were all tried there.

The following season, 1953/54 was to be Dennis Viollet’s breakthrough season. He played in a couple of games earlier on, but then on October 31st 1953, in the famous game at Leeds Road, Huddersfield, when Alf Clarke christened the team Busby’s “Bouncing Babes” He was selected along with several other youngsters notably Edwards and Blanchflower. From that moment on he became first choice inside left and he forged a tremendous partnership with Tommy Taylor, one that was to produce a phenomenal number of goals between them. Their understanding became telepathic and they complimented each other so well. They could read each others play and dennis would profit from the many times big Taylor would hang in the air and nonchalantly nod the ball down into the space into which Viollet would ghost into. On the reverse side, Dennis was adept at slipping quick through balls between defenders from which would set Taylor free and it wasn’t very often that he missed.

A stylish player, with precise ball control, good vision, and the ability to pass well. He was a natural goalscorer of course and natural goalscorers ‘see’ situations that others can’t spot. He could read the game – the ebb and flow and pattern of it – and then decide where he HAD to be at the crucial moment. That just can’t be taught – you’ve either got it or you haven’t. If you haven’t got it, then you can never acquire it – it’s a born-with thing. Dennis had it in abundance. He was mercurial.

Dennis played a huge part in helping the “Babes” secure their first First Division title in 1955/56, and the following year scored 178 goals in 291 games for United. The partnership was destroyed at Munich, when Taylor was killed. Viollet survived, but with head injuries that kept him away from football for most of the remainder of that season.

Some of the boys of 58 lost their careers as a result of the crash. It wasn’t so with Dennis but It was always felt that he lost something special too. He lost the potential or the desire for true greatness that would and should have been his. He like other survivors played on through the dark days that followed Munich. However, even without his partner, Viollet continued to score goals. In 1959-1960 he scored thirty-two in thirty-six league matches, a league total for a season that remains a Manchester United record. Only Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Jack Rowley have scored more goals for Manchester United.

In 1962, Matt Busby surprisingly sold 28-year-old Viollet to Stoke City for £25,000 where he joined a team being re-built by Tony Waddington where the majority of his appearances were in midfield alongside Stanley Matthews. In his time at Stoke he made 207 appearances and scored 66 goals and was awarded a testimonial just before his retirement in 1967.

Once his playing career finished, he had spells coaching at Preston North End, and Crewe Alexandra briefly in 1971.

In the late 70’s Viollet was selected by his former United teammate, Noel Cantwell to serve as assistant coach of the New England Tea Men of the North American Soccer League. After three seasons in the Boston area, the team relocated to Jacksonville, Florida in 1981 where Viollet continued as assistant coach, ultimately becoming head coach. This led Viollet on to coach the Jacksonville University team in the early 1990’s and A-League side Jacksonville Clyclones in 1995 before his death from cancer on in March 1999 aged 65.

Dennis Viollet was inducted into the first class of the USL Hall of Fame in 2002. The annual University of North Florida/Jacksonville University soccer match has been contested for the Viollet Cup since 2001.

Wrote in 2006 by a United fan fortunate enough to see Viollet in action

“There have been so many players in my 55 years of watching Manchester United, some great, some not so great. Memories can fade quite quickly, some linger for a time and then fade away, but always with players of quality, the memory seemingly is as fresh today as it was those many years ago. Dennis Viollet fell into the quality category, for he was a player with presence and you NEVER forget the players that have that!”

One Comment leave one →
  1. adam (carpy) permalink
    November 18, 2009 5:50 pm

    once again a truely brilliant peice of work, from johnathon i think. i love reading this and have read it a few times now.
    it shows viollets class when his best mate and forward partner taylor was killed. it was ashame for poor old taylor to die as they could have had more years together, but despite losing taylor viollet still scored frequently, he was just class just like taylor.

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