The day Eusébio applauded me for saving one of his shots | Alex Stepney

The Portugal player was a gentleman who respected football, says the former Manchester United goalkeeper

Eusébio was known throughout the world – that's the kind of guy he was. I was very fortunate and honoured to play against him.

In 1967 Manchester United played against him and Benfica in a promotional game in Los Angeles and he scored a couple of goals against me.

I didn't know then that what I learned that day would come in so handy at Wembley for the European Cup final the following May but what I picked up about him and the way he played certainly helped me in my performance. I did use that experience because how often do you play against truly great players?

I'd heard all about Eusébio, I'd seen him on TV – in the '66 World Cup and when United beat Benfica 5-1 the year before I came to the club [in 1966] – so I used that, too.

And all of this gave me a chance regarding the save in the European Cup final, towards the end when it was 1-1, and for which I'm still remembered.

Was I thinking: "It's near the end, I need to keep United in the Cup"? Well, you're lost in the moment. The Wembley turf in those days was slow, lush – when the ball was played through I thought it was probably a 55-45 ball for me but it slowed up and Eusébio was on to it. But this gave me the chance to stand up against him. I knew he wanted to burst the back of the net because that's the way he scored most of his goals. So that helped me.

After making the save I didn't quite follow what happened. I knew there were only a few minutes to go and I wanted to start a counterattack so I threw the ball to Tony Dunne. I saw something out of the corner of my eye but didn't quite understand what was happening. But I saw it on telly afterwards and what had happened was that Eusébio had stood there applauding. Well, that's the kind of man he was: the respect he gave to me and to football was tremendous.

For us in the final, it was a case of stop Eusébio and we'd have a better chance of winning the European Cup. In the first half he had a free-kick which hit the crossbar. He was one of these players, like Sir Bobby Charlton, who had a tremendously hard shot. I mean, the free-kick hit the crossbar and bounced back outside the 18-yard box. That was the power Eusébio had.

He was certainly one of the game's greats and to score over 700 goals for his club is incredible. I don't care who you are, what era you play in: to do that is some achievement. But especially in our day when the game was so different: the balls were heavier, the pitches weren't the same as they are today; it was an extraordinary record.

After the final we did meet again, three or four times. The last was when United played Benfica [two seasons ago] in the group stages of the European Cup. And, seven or eight years ago [in 2005-06], a few of us went over to Portugal as guests of Manchester United and of Benfica. We had lunch with some of the players from the '68 team. Eusébio actually came over here in the return game so it was great to see him and I've got the pictures of the European Cup with him beside me.

He was a gentleman. Once your career finishes, no matter what happened you get together and talk about certain things. When I left United and I went and played in America [for Dallas Tornado] I was in the same team as António Simões who played in the '68 Cup final. We had discussions and he would tell me what a great man Eusébio was, what a great player he was to play with.

Alex Stepney played in goal for Manchester United between 1966 and 1978, and won the European Cup in 1968 © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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