‘He’s been under the radar’: Daughter of Manchester United legend Dennis Viollet makes film about his career

The daughter of Dennis Viollet has said she thinks the Manchester United legend should be held in the same regard as players like George Best and Bobby Charlton.

Rachel Viollet has made a film about her father, A United Man, which premiered as part of this week’s Manchester Film Festival, and explores the life and achievements of one of the lesser known Busby Babes.

The film details Dennis’ distinguished career as a player and a pioneer of the game in the USA.

Dennis survived the Munich air disaster of 1958, in which he lost eight of his teammates, and went on to set a single-season goal-scoring record for United, finding the net 32 times in 36 games just over a year later.

His name still sits 5th in United’s all-time leading scorers chart.

Having terrorised First Division defences for over a decade, Dennis jetted off to the States, becoming one of the first foreign professionals to ply their trade in the North American Soccer League.

Rachel Viollet told MM about her dad’s impact on the game at home and across the Atlantic, and why his name isn’t mentioned as often as other highly-regarded former Reds.

“I’ve always felt that his accomplishments have been a bit under the radar when you compare him to the likes of George Best and Bobby Charlton,” she said.

“I think a lot of it had to do with him setting these records in the pre-television era.

“Once television became a part of the game in the late 60s, the notoriety of players skyrocketed.

“But my dad was breaking all these records at a time when United were rebuilding after Munich.

“The year in which he set the single-season goal-scoring record they were 7th.

“It was a very difficult time for him [after Munich]. He suffered very serious injuries and the doctor told him he might not play again.

“To come back from that to set the record took a lot of courage.”

Dennis left United in 1962, and spent five prolific years at Stoke City before deciding to take his career overseas, joining Baltimore Bays in the newly-formed North American Soccer League (NASL).

“There were two professional soccer leagues in the late 60s – the National Professional Soccer League and the NASL – and that caused a lot of problems,” she said.

“At the time, the US was barely ready for one league, let alone two, and so they decided to join forces.”

In the years since, American soccer has grown exponentially, and Rachel believes much of its success is owed to the contribution of her father.

“I grew up in the states, and saw the influence my father had on so many people and players, both young and professional.

“He really helped pioneer not just the professional game, but also from the grassroots level.

“He forged a path for many kids who may not have otherwise had the chance to go on and play professionally.

“It was really inspiring to me to hear the stories of people who had been mentored by him.

“That was really the driving influence for me to do the film.”

Dennis came home to see out his playing days at Witton Albion and, finally, Linfield in Ireland.

But having been so well received in the US, a return was always on the cards.

With a firm belief in the potential for the growth of professional soccer, he returned to coach the Washington Diplomats in 1974, a year after Rachel’s birth.

“After that there was a huge influx of stars – George Best came over, as did Pele and Franz Beckenbauer,” she said.

“A lot of those players came over, but my dad stayed and really helped to develop the game.

“It wasn’t just about him coming over, playing and then going back – he really felt that soccer could take off in America.”

A second showing of A United Man will be screened at The AMC on Sunday.

Image courtesy of Rachel Viollet, via YouTube, with thanks

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