UNITED in the States caught up with Rachel Viollet, daughter of Dennis Viollet, who is producing a documentary about her legendary father’s life.
Dennis Viollet is a Manchester United legend. An integral part of the Busby Babes, his contributions helped the club earn back-to-back championships in 1956 and 1957. He scored the opening goal in the 2nd minute of a 3-3 draw with Red Star Belgrade, the final match the Busby Babes would play together before the tragic Munich Air Disaster took the lives of eight of his teammates the following day. He would soon recover from his injures and assume the captaincy, helping steady the club through its darkest hours while also setting United’s single-season league goal scoring record, which stands to this day.
Rachel Viollet graciously agreed to be interviewed about her father and the upcoming Dennis Viollet Documentary.
WIL: Rachel, thank you very much for agreeing to this interview. Tell me about the genesis of the Dennis Viollet Documentary. What motivated you to tell the story of your father’s life?
RACHEL: I’ve always thought his story would make an interesting documentary. However, as I got older, I started to realize the magnitude of his influence in the United States, and that’s what really inspired me to do it.
WIL: You interviewed many of your father’s contemporaries for this documentary and they provided you with their insight on both the player and the man. Can you share with us an interesting fact or story about your father that you learned about as a result of this project?
RACHEL: Something I didn’t realize was how firmly he stood up against football’s maximum during his Captaincy with Manchester United. Another is his influence as a coach in America. The number of young players he mentored was staggering and continues to this very day.
WIL: Dennis grew up in a “blue” household and was expected to join Manchester City after leaving school, but he decided to join the youth movement that Matt Busby was pioneering at United. We know the impact that your father had at the club, but tell us about the impact that the club had on him.
RACHEL: This is something I explore a lot in the documentary. His years at United shaped him into the player and person he became.
WIL: The Munich Air Disaster is a defining moment in the history of Manchester United, a sort of romanticized tragedy that had a lasting effect on the club for many years. What were some of the lasting effects of the tragedy on your father, both personally and professionally?
RACHEL: I can tell you that the tragedy stayed with him his entire life. The Busby Babes were brothers in every sense. After Munich, my father never took a single day for granted.
WIL: Dennis scored 32 league goals for the club in one season, which is still a record nearly 55 years later. He is tied for fifth on United’s all-time scoring list and his average of a goal every 1.6 appearances is better than Charlton, Law, Best and Rooney. However, despite all of these accomplishments, your father doesn’t seem to get the same recognition as some of the more celebrated United legends. Why do you think that is?
RACHEL: I think the fact that my father’s accomplishments were pre-television had a lot to do with it. When TV came on the scene in the 60’s the game exploded. Football “stars” emerged for the first time. By 1962, my dad had transferred to Stoke City, and he retired in ’67.
WIL: Perhaps the most shocking fact about your father’s career is that he only earned two caps for England, despite being one of the best at his position. How did he feel about being overlooked at the international level?
RACHEL: My dad briefly talked about that with me. I could sense he was disappointed. The selection committee back then was very political, as I learned during my interviews in England.
WIL: Your father campaigned heavily for the abolition of the maximum wage, which was finally eliminated in the 1960’s. Tell me about the lasting impact of his efforts on the business side of both the English and global game.
RACHEL: My dad never set out to be a pioneer, he just did what he felt was right. He stood firm in his convictions as did many other players of his generation. During the maximum wage, my dad was earning thirty five dollars a week. United were drawing sixty thousand people a match. Somebody was making money, and it wasn’t the players. The players had to take a stand, and I’m proud my father was one of those who did.
WIL: The Men in Blazers like to joke that soccer has been America’s sport of the future since 1972. The groundwork for that future was laid by visionaries such as Dennis who came over to the United States to play, coach and develop grass root talent. What were some of the challenges that your father faced in those early years as the sport struggled to gain a foothold in the United States?
RACHEL: There were many! I think one of the biggest obstacles was getting the media to promote the game. They were very anti-soccer in the late 60’s, early 70’s. Another was finding a way to integrate young Americans into the professional game, something my dad was passionate about.
WIL: In 1996, over two decades after pioneers of the sport such as your father arrived in the United States to help grow the game, Major League Soccer began play. How did Dennis feel about the league and the future of the sport in the country?
RACHEL: He was very excited about the MLS, and loved the “soccer specific” stadiums that were implemented. In fact many of the player’s he coached during his spell with the Richmond Kickers, went on to have successful MLS & National Team careers. That pleased him immensely. Sadly he passed away in 1999, but would be proud of the league’s longevity.
WIL: Rachel, you were quite the accomplished athlete yourself. A collegiate all-American in tennis, you went on to become the #1 ranked women’s player in Great Britain. What influence did your father have on your athletic career?
RACHEL: Huge influence. He taught me there are no shorts cuts, that repetition is the key to success, and attitude can make or break you.
WIL: We have spent a lot of time talking about Dennis the athlete and the sporting man. What can you share with us about Dennis the husband, father and friend?
RACHEL: He taught me that being happy is everything. He was a very modest, caring individual who enjoyed the simple things in life. I’ve carried that with me every day.
WIL: This documentary could have not been made without the generosity of passionate Manchester United fans worldwide, particularly here in the United States. Tell me about the support you have encountered here in America, both for your father and the club.
RACHEL: My father always said, “I’m nothing without the fans.” Manchester United fans are the most passionate in the world. The support for the film, particularly in the UK & America has been amazing, and continues to grow. So many fans have generously contributed to the film, and continue to do so. It’s very touching. I realize this is not only a project about my father, but a film about United’s history, and I hope to make all the fans proud.
WIL: I know that many United supporters are looking forward to this documentary. Do you have a tentative release date for the film?
RACHEL: Yes, the film will be released in 2015. We will be making an official announcement soon.
WIL: Where can people go to learn more about this project?
RACHEL: Our website has all the current news and updates on the film: www.dennisviolletdocumentary.com
WIL: I appreciate your time. Thank you very much, Rachel.