The mere mention of Dennis Viollet conjures up images of a clinical striker scoring goals for Sir Matt Busby’s Manchester United. The name of the Busby Babe is permanently etched in the Old Trafford club’s history books being the first player to score in European competition for United as well as holding the record for the most number of league goals in a single campaign, 32 in the 1959-60 season. It is a tally that has yet to be bettered.
He was the man Sir Matt Busby turned to and made captain of Manchester United after the Munich air disaster and he served the club with distinction scoring 179 goals in 293 appearances.
However Viollet’s soccer career was more than just his time as a Babe. He led Stoke City from the old Second Division to the First and most intriguingly left England for the United States to continue his soccer journey.
It’s a period of his life chronicled in “Dennis Viollet – A United Man” a documentary produced and directed by his daughter Rachel Viollet.
“I think he initially loved the enthusiasm surrounding the formation of the NASL. To be at the forefront of bringing pro soccer to America must have been very exciting! My dad loved new challenges,” she said.
Indeed Dennis was fond of America, having visited the US in the 1950s with Manchester United. “He really enjoyed the relaxed lifestyle,” revealed Rachel Viollet. So in hindsight it perhaps wasn’t surprising that the former United striker grasped the opportunity to start a new life in America.
Unfortunately for Dennis his first stint in America was somewhat of a false start. Viollet signed on in 1967 to play for the Baltimore Bays in the National Professional Soccer League but shortly afterwards the NPSL merged with the United Soccer Association to form the North American Soccer League. The instability surrounding the NPSL and the Baltimore Bays forced Viollet to return to England where he had an ill-fated tenure as manager of Crewe Alexandra.
It was a difficult period in Dennis Viollet’s life who reluctantly signed on for unemployment benefit to support his young family, an experience he found “humiliating” in the words of his wife Helen especially in the light of his illustrious playing career at Manchester United.
But Viollet had an opportunity to return to the US to coach the relaunched Baltimore Bays. There was the twin appeal of making a new start whilst being able to tend to some unfinished business.