02/03/2016 10:48, Report by Mark Froggatt

Dennis Viollet film premieres on Thursday

Rachel Viollet, daughter of Manchester United legend Dennis Viollet, has written, produced and directed a highly-anticipated documentary about her iconic father.

The film is called Dennis Viollet: A United Man and it will premiere at the Manchester Film Festival on Thursday night. Ahead of its first showing, ManUtd.com sat down with her to discuss the finer details...

Firstly, Rachel, how would you describe the film to United fans?
It is really the story of my father’s life and soccer career, his role in helping Manchester United become the club it is today and his role as a Busby Babe, the impact that team and experience had on his life and then his transition to America. That was really my inspiration to make the film because I grew up in the States and, as I got older, I started to recognise the influence he had on soccer. We explore all of that in the film.

What is your role in the film?
I was the producer, director and writer so I was pretty busy! It is the second film I’ve made and the first was about Althea Gibson, a tennis player who was the first black Wimbledon champion. I’ve wanted to make this film about my dad since I got the idea 10 years ago. When I moved to LA four years ago, things starting coming into place, I met the right people and it was a lot of work as part of a three-year project, raising the money to post-production, but it was definitely a passion project.

Who can fans expect to see on screen?
I spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson, Denis Law, Nobby Stiles, Paddy Crerand, Johnny Giles, Bryan Robson, Mike Summerbee and also Jeff Whitefoot, which is a name that people don’t hear a lot about today but he was one of the original Busby Babes and also one of the youngest players to make a first-team appearance for Manchester United. He and my father had a lovely relationship when they were youngsters. I went to the States as well to interview some American players from the North American Soccer League and who played for the national team. There are big names and great interviews.

All these years on, how proud of your father's Manchester United career are you?
As a person and his daughter, I am extremely proud of his accomplishments and it is overwhelming when you sit back to think about it. To be honest, he was so humble and modest about it, he didn’t actually talk about it a lot when I was growing up, so when I got older I started to ask him more questions about it. I am more proud of who he was as a person; he was just an amazing man who gave so much of himself to the game of football and didn’t ask for anything in return. I am very proud of his role at United and helping pave the way for soccer becoming popular in the US.

What impact did the Munich Air Disaster have on him?
Honestly, it stayed with him for his whole life, as it did for most of the players who were involved. It certainly had an emotional effect on him afterwards; I think he realised life could be taken away in an instant. He did change and he really did choose to live his life to the fullest. Growing up, I remember him waking up one morning and asking my mother and I what date it was. It was 6 February and he said he had a funny feeling that morning. It stayed with him. Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy were so influential and played such a huge role in his life. Those players, they were like brothers, they grew up together and there was a real bond there. It stayed with him.

One of the amazing things is that the disaster didn’t affect him on the pitch, because he set the record for most league goals in a season two years afterwards…
It is amazing. The year after the crash, which was the 1958/59 season, he scored 21 goals and he set the record with 32 goals the year after. But he said the year immediately after the crash was his best all-round year – we have that on film in the documentary – even though he didn’t score the most goals. The following year, he set the goals record and they were seventh in the league. He was top scorer in Division One that year. I actually think the crash relaxed him more. Something so dramatic like that gives you perspective on life and I think he tried to enjoy himself on the pitch even more.

The likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney – some of our greatest players – have all failed to break that record. That must make you proud?
It really does! What is more incredible is that he missed the last six games of the season though injury, so it could have been even higher. He said to my mum once that he just couldn’t do any wrong that season and everything he touched went in the back of the net. If he had played those last six games, maybe he would have scored 35 or 36 goals. Who knows?

Was it important for you to highlight his role in promoting football in the US?
It was, because he came over to America at a time when the game was in its infancy; it was just starting and he put everything he had into it. My dad saw the potential and that is one of the reasons why he stayed here. It was important for me to explore his role in the birth of professional soccer because now it is right up there with baseball, basketball and the top sports. He would be very proud of that. A lot of the youngsters in America were hungry to learn the game when my dad first came over and he relished that.

English football fans often point to David Beckham when discussing the growth of football in the US, but your dad was decades before him…
He was! He was one of the first big stars to come over. People ask me about Beckham and I always say my dad was well before! The difference was he stayed over here and he chose a different life to a lot of the players from his era, who ultimately went back home a short while after. He really enjoyed the lifestyle here and I was a tennis player at the time, which had something to do with it. He did love to go back to Manchester, though, and he loved going to the Former Players' Association dinners to see all of the lads. He loved that.

You actually saw a lot more of his work in America than you did in Manchester...
That’s true. I wasn’t born until 1972 and I was a year old when we left Manchester to move to America. I went back every summer with my parents, but that was largely the influence to do the film. He affected a lot of people in the States; he gave a lot of himself and it wasn’t about the money or the fame, he just wanted to grow the game. I was so wrapped up in my own tennis career when I was a youngster but, as I got older, I wanted to see more of what he had done. It was interesting to interview all of the players who he played with at Manchester United, who he had played against and his friends to get an insight into his career and that was fun for me because I wasn’t around then. I got the feeling from them all that he was a real players’ player and that was important to me.

When can fans watch the documentary in the UK?
It will premiere at the Manchester International Film Festival on 3 March and we are opening the festival. After that, it will be available on DVD and on digital platforms. Keep checking the website for more updates on when it will be available worldwide.

Fore more information on Dennis Viollet: A United Man, visit www.dennisviolletdocumentary.com.


Premier League