“The road is long There are mountains in our way But we climb a step every day”
The first three lines from the song “Up Where We Belong” sung by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes.
In season 1974-75, United found themselves in the English Second Division after being relegated at the end of the previous season. They had not played in the second tier of English football since season 1937-38 when they finished runners-up to Aston Villa and won promotion back into the top flight where they had remained until the ignominy of relegation in season 1973-74.
Gone were away trips to Anfield (Liverpool), Arsenal Stadium (Arsenal), Elland Road (Leeds United), Goodison Park (Everton), Maine Road (Manchester City), St James’ Park (Newcastle United), Stamford Bridge (Chelsea) and White Hart Lane (Tottenham Hotspur). These were replaced with road trips to play Blackpool at Bloomfield Road, Bristol Rovers at Eastville Stadium, Hull City at Boothferry Park, Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road, Millwall at The Den, Notts County at Meadow Lane, Oxford United at Manor Ground and York City at Bootham Crescent.
The road back to the First Division was going to be a long one for United, they had several mountains to climb but they had to take things game by game and let the players express themselves. The Board of Directors at Old Trafford did not panic and sack Tommy Docherty when United were relegated. They kept faith in The Doc winning promotion at the first time of asking and Docherty knew his job was on the line if he did not deliver First Division football for season 1975-76. Following United’s relegation he bought a player who would help propel United back into the First Division with his goals and his menace in front of goal. In May 1974, Docherty purchased Stuart Pearson from Hull City for £200,000 with Paul Fletcher, a Reserve Team player at United, also forming part of the transfer as he went in the opposite direction. It proved to be not only money well spent but an inspired signing. The 24- year old Pearson, no relation to previous United players with the same surname, Mark and Stan, played for The Tigers (Hull City’s nickname) from 1968-74 and scored 44 goals in 129 League games, all in the Second Division. He was Hull City’s top League goal scorer in seasons 1971-72 (15 goals) and 1972-73 (17 goals) and joint- top goal scorer in his final season at Boothferry Park with Roy Greenwood on 12 goals. Pearson was a player accustomed to the hustle and bustle of a 42 game campaign in the Second Division.
On the opening day of the 1974-75 season, United travelled to East London to play Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road on 17 August 1974. The Three Degrees had just gone to No.1 that very same day in the UK Singles Charts with their song “When Will I See You Again.” The United fans who made the four hour coach trip to the game must have been thinking when they were going to see the First Division again.
United won the game 2-0 with goals from Willie Morgan, United’s first goal in the Second Division for 36 years (William McKay scored in a 2-0 win over Bury at Old Trafford on 7 May 1938) and Stuart Houston. Stuart “Pancho” Pearson made his
I will be honest and say that I am not Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s biggest fan in his role as our manager, but I am not prepared to sit back and allow an ex-Scouser and ex-City Blue to say what he said about Ole without responding in defence of Ole, a Manchester United Legend.
He also said that The Theatre of Dreams was The Theatre of Nightmares.
Who does “Didi” as he was known, think he is? And when did he become a football commentator or pundit because up until today, I have never really heard from him (I am not on Twitter)? I do recall him criticising Ronaldo for “showboating” against his country, Germany, in an international fixture.
I was livid with what he said about Ole, and I hope my fellow Reds, are too.
This half red/half blue is totally out of order. What right does he have to talk about Ole, Manchester United or Old Trafford when he was never good enough to play for us?
Who is he?
Oh, I remember him now. He won the Mickey Mouse Treble (FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup) with Liverpool in season 2000-01, two years after Ole won the “Real” Treble with us in 1999. Hamann joined Liverpool from FC Bayern Munich in the summer of 1999 and left them in 2006.
In June 2006, Hamann actually signed a pre-contract to become a Bolton Wanderers player but then had a “change of heart” and was with Bolton Wanderers for less than a single day before he changed his mind and signed for Manchester City. He played for the third best team in Manchester (United were Top Dogs and then they had their Reserve Team) from 2006-09, the pre-oil days, and won absolutely nothing with our neighbours. What a difference he made. Not!
His full name is Dietmar Johann Wolfgang Hamann. The famous German composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s most famous composition is “Requiem,” and the story told in “Amadeus” isn’t true. Mozart’s Requiem is still one of the most moving pieces in all of classical music. The fact that he wrote it on his deathbed and it had to be completed after he died only makes it that much more impressive. Didi was far from impressive and he was most definitely not regarded as a classic player.
As far as I am concerned, Didi is a Dodo, he’s extinct in the history of the world’s biggest and most famous football club, MANCHESTER UNITED.
Auf Weidersehen Didi.
And in case you cannot recall your German roots, that mean’s Goodbye!
It was 65 years ago today that Bobby Charlton made his first team debut for Manchester United.
“Doing easily what others find difficult is talent: doing what is impossible with talent is genius.” (Henri Fredric Amiel) Bobby Charlton did things with a football that came so naturally to him, whilst others less gifted thought was pure genius. He was given a talent and for 19 years he devoted that talent to Manchester United Football Club.
He had United running through his veins, the club was part of his DNA, having signed for them in January 1953 aged 15 after he left school. On his 17th birthday, 11 October 1954, he signed professional terms with United and after helping the Manchester United Youth Team win the FA Youth Cup in 1954, 1955 and 1956, scoring in the latter two finals, Matt Busby decided that it was time to give an 18-year old Charlton the opportunity to see if he could handle the professional game.
In their opening 9 games of the 1956-57 English First Division season, United, the defending Champions, were unbeaten, winning 7, drawing 2, scored 23 and conceded 10. It was very tight at the top of the table. United led the way on 16 points, closely followed by Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United who both had 15 points but each had played one game more than United.
Busby never changed his side once: Ray Wood, Bill Foulkes, Roger Byrne (Capt), Mark Jones, Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Dennis Viollet. The front pair of Taylor and Viollet had plundered 14 League goals between them. But for United’s tenth game of the League campaign, an away game versus Arsenal on 29 September 1956, Busby decided to hand Ronald Cope his debut and rested Jones.
Six days before his 22nd birthday, Cope who was a member of United’s successful 1952-53 FA Youth Cup winning side, played in United’s 2-1 win (scorers: Berry & Whelan). Three days before the trip to London, Jones picked up a knock in United’s 10-0 mauling of the Champions of Belgium, RSC Anderlecht, in the 2nd leg of their Preliminary Round tie in the European Cup (scorers: Viollet 4, Taylor 3, Whelan 2, Berry).
Having won the 1st leg 2-0 (scorers: Taylor & Viollet) in Belgium two weeks earlier, the 10-0 home win (played at Maine Road as Old Trafford did not have floodlights at the time) gave United safe passage into the First Round of the competition with a 12-0 aggregate victory.
United’s next League game was at home against Charlton Athletic on 6 October 1956. As United had a European adventure to juggle along with their domestic commitments, a distraction Spurs and Leeds United didn’t have, Busby decided to rotate his squad with one eye on the visit of the West German Champions, Borussia Dortmund, for the 1st leg of their European Cup First Round match-up on 17 October 1956.
Busby gave Geoff Bent his seventh game in place of Byrne, Wilf McGuinness took the place of Edwards in the side to make his fourth appearance and Bobby Charlton was handed his first team debut. Matt Busby’s maxim was always the same when it came to making decisions about his team selection: “If they are good enough, they are old enough.”Although Bent was 24-years old, Charlton was just five days shy of celebrating his 19th birthday and McGuinness would turn 19 exactly a fortnight after Bobby.
McGuinness had played in the same three FA Youth Cup winning teams as Charlton. Busby’s philosophy was to develop his young players in the United Youth System to get them to learn the “United Way.” Then, when he decided to place his trust in one of them and call them up to play for the senior side he was confident in the knowledge that his young charge would be able to fit seamlessly into his team and repay his manager’s trust in his abilities.
If a young player was told by Matt Busby that they were good enough to play for his team it made that player walk a little taller. Busby had no time for Prima Donnas, players’ egos or tantrums. He wanted his players to do exactly what he asked of them, nothing fancy, just play each game as one solid unit and not as eleven individuals. Just as the Dalai Lama’s young priests gave him their undivided attention, Busby’s players would walk through walls for him.
When Bent made his debut on 11 December 1954, aged 22, he had one of the biggest pair of boots to fill which he helped to clean in the Old Trafford Boot Room. He stood in at left-back for the club captain and England international, Roger Byrne, and helped United to a comfortable 4-2 win over Burnley at Turf Moor, Burnley in the English First Division (scorers: Colin Webster 3, Viollet). He had not let his manager down and similarly when the 17-year old McGuinness made his first team bow in place of Fred Goodwin, he too never failed his manager’s faith in him.
United defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers 4-3 at Old Trafford in the League on 8 October 1955 (scorers: Taylor 2, John Doherty & David Pegg). Faith is about believing. You don’t know how it will happen. But you know it will. It comes from within.
Now it was the turn of Robert Charlton to repay his manager’s faith in him when he pulled on the famous red Manchester United No.9 jersey which had been worn by United’s, and England’s prolific centre forward, Tommy Taylor, in United’s previous 10 League games of the season plus their two matches in Europe in which he scored 9 times. No pressure then on the young boy who was born in Ashington, Northumberland and who came from a football dynasty of a family on his mother’s side, Elizabeth Ellen “Cissie” Charlton (née Milburn).
His Uncles were George Milburn (Leeds United & Chesterfield), Jack Milburn (Leeds United & Bradford City), Jim Milburn (Leeds United & Chesterfield) and Stan Milburn (Chesterfield, Leicester City & Rochdale Rovers). His Mum was a cousin of the legendary Newcastle United and England international striker, Jackie Milburn. Milburn was nicknamed “Wor Jackie” and scored 177 League goals for Newcastle United in 353 appearances from 1943-57 and 10 times for England in 13 international appearances (1948-55).
After leaving Newcastle United he signed for Linfield in Belfast, Northern Ireland where he continued to leave the back of the opponents’ net bulging, scoring a remarkable 68 goals in the Irish League in only 55 appearances during the three years he was there. Charlton always credited his football achievements to his Grandfather, Tanner, and his Mum. Bobby’s older brother, John “Jack” Charlton, worked down the pits at the Ashington Colliery as a miner before applying to join the police, only to also become a professional footballer with Leeds United.
His father, Robert “Bob” Wallace Charlton was also a mine worker. Things did not come easy to the Charlton family. The team Busby selected to play Charlton Athletic was:Ray Wood, Bill Foulkes (Capt), Geoff Bent, Mark Jones, Wilf McGuinness, Eddie Colman, Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet, David PeggThe visitors took a shock lead in the 24th minute with a goal from Fred Lucas but straight after the resulting kick-off Berry made it 1-1 (25th minute), scoring his fourth League goal of the season.
Charlton then made it a debut to remember scoring a brace of goals in the 32nd and 37th minute to put United 3-1 up. But the visitors weren’t giving up and pulled a goal back in the 40th minute. Whelan, who had been United’s star performer all season, sealed victory for United in the 65th minute when the Republic of Ireland international winger scored for the sixth League game in a row, his eighth League goal of the campaign.
In United’s 4-1 win over Charlton Athletic, the young Charlton had slotted into the United team like a hand slipping into a silk glove. He, like so many Youth Team players before him, didn’t let Jimmy Murphy, who was in charge of United’s Youth Team, or Busby down. Charlton played a further 13 League games in season 1956-57, scoring another 8 times, to help United win back-to-back English First Division titles.
He also made one appearance in the 1956-57 European Cup, scoring in United’s 2-2 draw with the defending Champions of Europe, Spain’s Real Madrid, in the 2nd leg of the semi-finals at Old Trafford (Taylor also scored). However, the result wasn’t good enough to reach the final of the competition having lost the away leg 3-1 (scorer: Taylor).
Over the following 17 seasons Charlton starred for club and country helping United win 3 English First Division Championships, 1 FA Cup, 4 FA Charity Shields and the European Cup in 1968.
In 1966, he played in the FIFA World Cup final with his brother, Jack, and his United teammate, Nobby Stiles, when England were crowned World Champions after defeating West Germany 4-2 after extra-time at Wembley Stadium, London. In 1966, the movie “A Man For All Seasons,” was screened for the first time.
The title reflects the playwright, Robert Bolt’s portrayal of Sir Thomas More, the 16th Century Lord Chancellor of England who refused to sign a letter asking Pope Clement VII to annul the marriage of King Henry VIII of England to Catherine of Aragon and to take an Oath of Supremacy which declared King Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church of England, as the ultimate man of conscience. More remained true to his principles and religion despite the circumstances at all times.
Bobby Charlton was a man of conscience, his Oath of Supremacy was to Busby and United and he stuck to his principles throughout his career.Bobby Charlton was Manchester United’s “Man for 17 Seasons.”
The German Press nicknamed Bobby Charlton “Boom Boom” because he had a cannon of a shot. Duncan Edwards was also known by the Germans as “Boom Boom,” a nickname he received after scoring a thunderbolt of a goal against West Germany at the Olympiastadion, Westend, Berlin, West Germany on 26 May 1956. Edwards was still only 19 when he played against the reigning FIFA World Cup holders alongside his United teammates, Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor, and despite it only being his ninth cap for his country he ran the show from start to finish.
In the 26th minute Edwards collected the ball and bulldozed his way through three German defenders before unleashing a 30-yard shot which almost put the netting in the stand behind it. England won the game 3-1 and Edwards was carried off he pitch by several of the 50,000 troops among the 100,000 in attendance who were stationed in the British occupied zone of Berlin. United’s Ray Wood and Johnny Berry were among the unused substitutes.
The next morning the German Press likened Edwards to a tank whilst one writer called him “Boom Boom” writing that he had a shot which was as powerful as “Big Bertha,” the German siege Howitzer light naval cannon which the Imperial German Army used to bombard British fortifications during the First World War. A while later the England captain in the game, Billy Wright (Wolverhampton Wanderers) wrote: “There have been few individual performances to match what he produced that day. Duncan tackled like a lion, attacked at every opportunity and topped it off with that cracker of a goal.”
Duncan Edwards was born on 1 October 1936 at 23 Malvern Crescent, Woodside, Dudley, Worcestershire (registered in Dudley, December 1936), to Gladstone and Sarah Anne (née Harrison) Edwards. He weighed 9lbs 8oz at birth, which was a good start to life for him given the living conditions in the coal and iron producing market town of Dudley. Many babies born at the time were simply just too frail to survive life in a post Great Depression world with many succumbing to pneumonia and typhoid, two of the biggest causes of deaths in infants in the late 1930’s. Not long after he came into the world, Duncan and his family moved to the nearby Priory Estate and their new home, which in comparison to many others in the town, was relatively luxurious in that it had a garden front and back, a bathroom and an indoor toilet. However, his father ensured that his son never thought of himself as being better than any of the other children he played with or went to school with. Respect played a major part in Duncan’s life long before he kicked a football for the very first time.
He attended Priory Primary School and Wolverhampton Street Secondary School, Dudley. And, like so many other young boys did on their way to and from school, Duncan dribbled a football along the pavement, in the school playground and on the streets near his house from morning to night at weekends. He was in love with football and even at an early age he set himself on a course to becoming a professional footballer.By the time he was playing for his junior school his football talent was already being noticed. One of his schoolmasters, Geoff Groves, was watching the 11-year-old Duncan one afternoon and noted that during a school training match that his pupil: “Told all the other 21 players what to do and where to go and that included the referee and linesmen!” That same schoolmaster later wrote to a friend: “I have just seen a boy of 11 who will play for England one day.” How right Mr Groves prophecy proved to be. When he was 13, Duncan wrote a school essay in which he spoke about “playing at Wembley Stadium.”
The young Edwards played school football with Wolverhampton Street Secondary School, where his skills and talent were harnessed and he was soon playing regularly with Dudley Schoolboys, where his cousin Dennis Stevens was captain, and his teammates were three years older than him, then Worcester County XI followed by the Birmingham and District team. Despite being the youngest player on the pitch in most of the games he played in, he dominated his opponents. He was a man in a young boy’s body which was still developing. Still not a teenager, his mature physique was backed up by an extraordinarily self-confident mentality. In 1950, he was invited to play for the England Under-14s against Northern Ireland Under-14s at Boundary Park, Oldham, England where he was played up front. Every time he received a junior call-up to the England ranks, his schoolmates would tease him, but in a good-natured way, ruffling his hair as he cowered, embarrassed at his fame amongst his peers.
Duncan was fearless in the tackle and with legs like oak trees he was remarkably very light and nimble on his feet. He seemed to glide across the grass or, more often than not, skim across the mud. His superb balance may have been down to the fact that when he was very young he had taken an interest in the less macho activities of Morris and sword dancing, which led to his Arts & Folk teacher, Mrs Cook, saying of her former star pupil: “He was so light on those feet with bells on the ankles; so beautifully balanced, so dainty.” But dainty was not a word anyone could use about Duncan’s style of play.
Shortly after he penned his essay, he was selected to play for England Schoolboys before a crowd of 100,000 fans. He was still only 13-years old, two years below the age group for that junior level of schoolboy international football. All of the top scouts from the leading clubs in England were at the game hoping to be the man who would be credited with spotting the next Tom Finley, Nat Lofthouse, Stanley Matthews, Jackie Milburn or Billy Wright. And, it was the youngest player on the pitch, Duncan, who was the game’s outstanding player that day on the hallowed Wembley turf. One scout was heard to remark: “By God, they’ve got a good ‘un there!” Duncan played for England Schoolboys for the next two seasons. On 7 April 1951, he won his second cap for England Schoolboys versus Wales Schoolboys with his name appearing in the match programme as: “Left-half, D. Edwards (Dudley).” Another crowd of 100,000 fans were in attendance, the vast majority of them young schoolboys who looked on that day in the hope that they would become the next Duncan Edwards. England’s outside-left that afternoon was “D. Pegg (Doncaster).” David Pegg had signed as an apprentice with Manchester United on 20 September 1950, the day of his 15th birthday. Duncan and David would go on to become Busby Babes and play in the same team together and sadly, both young men would lose their lives in the Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958. In 1952, the same year he signed as an apprentice for Manchester United, Duncan captained England Schoolboys. Although he was originally an inside-forward, Edwards’ favoured position was left-half where he could control the flow of games with his dominant style of play.
Given his meteoric rise through the junior ranks, Duncan was a marked man. The coaches of opposing teams would single Duncan out telling his young charges that if they could take him out of the game then they stood a chance of winning it. However, saying it was one thing but achieving it was something completely different. Trying to negate Duncan’s style of play was like trying to put a forest fire out. You could dampen down parts of it and even quell it for a while before it came raging back at you with greater intensity than before. His ability and willingness to take on any challenge, no matter how tough, was all about bettering himself, never about humiliating opponents for the sake of it. Even throughout his many battles he maintained the manners and honesty his parents had taught him. “Admittedly he had a big mouth, coming from a rough background, but I do not think anyone ever took exception as his advice, like his play, was so impressive. He had quietened down considerably by the time he reached 14,” Mr Groves once said. Indeed, later in his career, when he was lining up alongside Newcastle United’s legendary striker Jackie Milburn, he leaned over to him in the tunnel before a game and said: “I’m a big follower of your career, but reputations mean nothing to me, and if I get a word out of you I’ll kick you over the stand. Ok chief?” To say that to any fellow professional would be unthinkable, but to do so in the face of such an established star at such a precocious age was bordering on the arrogant – except Edwards was not a bragger. He backed up any claim he made on the pitch, and that was where it was left as far as he was concerned. He was the ultimate professional, a teetotaller. Outside football he was known to be a very private individual, whose interests included fishing, playing cards and visiting the cinema although he did also enjoy going along to the occasional dance.
Two ever presents watching his early games, apart from his family, were Joe Armstrong, one of Manchester United’s leading scouts and the club’s Midlands scout, Jack O’Brien. Armstrong realised Edwards’ talent as soon as he saw the teenage star trap a football with consummate ease despite the fact that the pitch beneath the young boy’s feet resembled a quagmire and when the leather laced football fell down from the sky, it practically weighed the same weight as a bowling ball. Duncan knew Jack and Joe were watching him but the fact that he was being eyed-up as a potential Busby Babe by two of Manchester United’s top scouts in the country, Edwards did not try to impress his onlookers with any party tricks or fancy play. Duncan was never a showman. He didn’t need to try and emphasise his talent by attempting something foreign to his style of play, because he was, despite his young age, the finished article as a player.
However, O’Brien and Armstrong were not the only scouts showing a keen interest in Duncan as several clubs, including clubs close to his home, Wolverhampton Wanderers situated just six miles away and the Birmingham based trio of Aston Villa, Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion. But Duncan had always set his heart on playing for Manchester United and it was O’Brien and Armstrong who helped the young boy from a modest upbringing in the Black Country to fulfil his dreams and become a Manchester United player.
The day after the game in which Duncan captained the England Schoolboys side, O’Brien placed a handwritten letter on Busby’s desk at Old Trafford. It simply read: “Have today seen a 13-year-old schoolboy who merits special watching. His name is Duncan Edwards, of Dudley. Instructions please.” Busby put pen to paper and instructed his leading Scout, Bert Whalley, to “Please arrange special watch immediately – MB (Matt Busby).” Whalley did as instructed and when he saw him play, he could not believe the talent the young Edwards possessed and the maturity of his play despite his tender age.
On 31 May 1952, Jimmy Murphy and Bert Whalley, secured the 15-year old schoolboy’s signature as an amateur at Duncan’s home on the Priory Estate, Dudley. Acquiring the prestigiously talented Edwards was a major coup for Manchester United. It sent out a message to every other club in the land that a young player’s place of birth, or his support for his local hometown club, meant nothing if the boy had his heart set on one day pulling on the famous red jersey of Manchester United. Schoolboys up and down the land wanted to follow his path to Old Trafford.
Before she died aged 93, Duncan’s Mum told how the Wolverhampton Wanderers manager, Stan Cullis, used to call round to the Edwards’ family home quite regularly in the hope that he could persuade Duncan to sign for Wolves. “He used to sit outside the house in his car, waiting for Duncan to come home from school. Wolves were a big club then. It was always them and United trying to outdo one another in those days. Mr Cullis was a lovely man, but I think he knew all along that he was wasting his time. My Duncan only ever wanted to play for United. I don’t know what it was about Manchester United. He seemed to be attracted to them for some reason. It’s lovely that they still remember him, isn’t it? Whenever I visit his grave there are always some messages and flowers from supporters who have been to the graveyard.”
At the 1976 Summer Olympic Games hosted by Montreal, Canada, the Romanian gymnast, Nadia Comaneci, became the first gymnast in Olympic history to be awarded the perfect score of 10.0 for her performance on the uneven bars. Omega SA, the Swiss company which manufactured the electronic scoreboards for the Games, were led to believe that no gymnast would ever be awarded the perfect score and therefore their numbering system only went up to 9.9. Thus, when her score was displayed it came up as 1.0 which was the only way the panel of judges could show that the 14-year old had in fact reached perfection. She went on earn a further six 10.0’s at the XXI Olympiad.
Whenever Duncan took to the pitch, Armstrong had already scored him a perfect 10 before he even touched the football because it was impossible for Duncan to try and up his game to try and impress. He was like a Rolls Royce as he cruised his way through any obstacle in front of him. Even the legendary Bobby Charlton, a former teammate of Duncan, once said of him: “He was the best player I’ve ever seen and the best footballer I ever played with. I always felt I could compare well with any player – except Duncan. He was such a talent, I always felt inferior to him.”On 1 October 2016, Sir Bobby Charlton unveiled a plaque at a ceremony in Dudley, close to Duncan’s home and told those in attendance that Duncan’s death was “the biggest single tragedy ever to happen to Manchester United and English football.” In a moving tribute from the United great he told the crowd in attendance that Duncan had been “like a brother” to him. The event took place on what would have been Edwards’s 80th birthday. The blue plaque features the words: “Duncan Edwards, Footballer of genius, b Dudley 1934 d Munich 1958, Player for Manchester United and England, Grew up on the Priory Estate and attended Priory Primary School.” It also includes the famous quote from Edwards’ primary schoolmaster in Dudley, Geoff Groves: “I have just seen a boy of eleven who will play for England one day.”
Aged 16 years and 185 days old, Busby knew he could no longer hold back Duncan’s progression to the first team. On 4 April 1953, Busby handed him his first team debut but it wasn’t a game Duncan cared to remember as United were beaten 4-1 at Old Trafford by Cardiff City in the English First Division (scorer: Roger Byrne). He did not feature again in Busby’s side for the remaining five League games. Duncan subsequently signed his professional contract with Manchester United on 1 October 1953, the day of his 17thbirthday. Duncan’s reward was a paltry £15 weekly pay packet during the season reducing to £12 a week during close season. After his death, neighbours of Duncan’s parents told a story that a new washing machine was delivered to the Edwards’ house on the day that Duncan signed for Manchester United. These were the pre-big signing on fee days of the beautiful game which was, in many ways still enjoying a certain degree of innocence and lack of corruption, although a washing machine in 1952 was considered to be a luxury item.
After arriving at Old Trafford, the young Edwards quickly settled in with his landlady at 19 Gorse Avenue, GorseHill, Stretford, Manchester. Today a blue plaque is on the wall of the house which reads:
“DUNCAN EDWARDS (1936-58), Manchester United and England footballer lived here. He was one of eight “Busby Babes” who lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster.”
During his childhood his family couldn’t afford a summer holiday, money was tight in the household, but after he arrived at Old Trafford, Jimmy Murphy took him under his wing and became like a second father to him. During the close season the Murphy family would take Duncan and his colleague Wilf McGuinness to the Emerald Isle, with the seaside town of Bray in County Wicklow, Republic of Ireland a favourite destination. Murphy was the Patriarch to all of Manchester United’s youth team players. The boys idolised him and his love for them showed no bounds. Although Jimmy would always say that he did not have a particular favourite young player, Duncan was always very special to him and remained close to his heart until Jimmy died on 14 November 1989.
“He might have been the Koh-i-Noor diamond among our crown jewels, but he was an unspoiled boy to the end, his head the same size it had been from the start. Even when he had won his first England cap but was still eligible for our youth team, he used to love turning out with the rest of the youngsters. He just loved to play anywhere and with anyone.” – Jimmy Murphy
Duncan won the FA Youth Cup with the club’s Youth Team in 1953, 1954 and 1955.
Although he owned a car, he could not drive and instead he would cycle to and from Old Trafford on his Raleigh bike. Following a game which United lost, he was cycling home and was stopped by a policeman for not having lights on his bike. He was fined 10 shillings in Manchester Magistrates Court and a further 2 weeks’ salary by Matt Busby for bringing the club’s name into disrepute. In one season he played more than 100 games – Manchester United, England and his National Service Regiment.
Duncan won the first of his 18 full international caps on 2 April 1955, in a 7-2 mauling of Scotland at The Empire Stadium, London in the British Home International Championships. His club captain, Roger Byrne, also played in the game. He was aged just 18 years and 183 days.
“I played for Scotland when Duncan Edwards made his debut for England as an eighteen year old at Wembley Stadium in 1955. England won 7-2 and Dennis Wilshaw of the Wolves scored 4 goals – but it was Duncan Edwards who was the star of the show. Duncan was the complete footballer and there is.”
Tommy Docherty, Preston North End
The loss of 8 Busby Babes in the Munich Air Disaster also affected Armstrong immensely but the United scout knew that the club needed him to be there to help Murphy rebuild a team as Busby lay in a hospital bed in Munich, West Germany fighting for his life following the horrific injuries he sustained in the crash. Busby had not long been out of hospital before the trip to play Red Star Belgrade in the Yugoslavian capital on 5 February 1958. He had undergone a minor operation on his legs. Murphy missed the trip to United’s European Cup, quarter-final, second leg tie as he was in charge of Wales that same evening United played in Belgrade. The Welsh were playing Israel in Cardiff, Wales in a play-off game for the 1958 Fifa World Cup finals hosted by Sweden. Murphy later said: “I usually sat next to Matt on the plane and had the next room to his at the hotel whenever the team went away and I had suggested that I went to Belgrade, with it being such an important European Cup game. He had said, “No, Jimmy, you have a job to do,” so (the coach) Bert Whalley went to Belgrade in my place.” Bert lost his life in the air disaster.
“The name of Duncan Edwards was on the lips of everyone who saw this match; he was phenomenal. There have been few individual performances to match what he produced that day. Duncan tackled like a lion, attacked at every opportunity and topped it off with that cracker of a goal. He was still only 19, but was already a world-class player.” – Billy Wright
Billy Wright, England captain was speaking about Duncan’s performance on 26 May 1956 in an international versus the reigning Fifa World Cup holders West Germany, at the Olympiastadion, Berlin. With the score standing at 0-0 with 25 minutes to go, Edwards produced his finest strike on the highest stage of elite football. Duncan gained possession halfway inside the German half and set off on a run, cutting through the German defence like a hot knife going through butter, before he unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot from 20 yards out which almost ripped the back of the net off its fastenings. England went on to win the game 3-1 with the German press nicknaming Edwards “Boom Boom” such was the accuracy and velocity of his strike at goal. Back home he was simply known as “The Tank,” an apt description for an unmovable object who was a colossus of a footballer. Roger Byrne also played in the win over West Germany whilst two other United players were unused substitutes: goalkeeper ray Wood and Johnny Berry.
On 29 April 1958, Murphy wrote to his trusted friend, Armstrong, to thank him for everything he had done post Munich. Joe had been like a rock to Jimmy during the club’s darkest hours. The letter reads:
“My Dear Joe,
Do hope all is well with your good self and Sally.
I wish to sincerely thank you Joe for all the grand work you have done for me. I really mean this, without you around I could not have carried on.
As you know there are a hundred problems to sort out every day and you know the answer to most of them.
Have Enclosed 2 15/~ tickets which no doubt you will be able to use.
The two tickets were for the 1958 FA Cup final on 3 May 1958, which Murphy, aided by Armstrong, incredibly helped Manchester United reach just 86 days after the club’s darkest day when seven Busby Babes were killed instantly in the air crash in Munich on 6 February 1958, whilst an eighth Babe, unquestionably the greatest of them all, Duncan Edwards lost his own brave battle for life fifteen days after his teammates.
“He fought for his life, you know. He really fought. He was strong but, in the end, his injuries were too much. With modern medicine, he would have been kept alive, but they told me he would never have been able to play football again. And I don’t think he could have lived with that.” –Sarah Anne Edwards, Duncan’s Mum before her death in 2003
Duncan was well liked by all of his teammates. They all knew he was a better player than them but Duncan never disrespected any of them. If anything, he was like a junior coach to them, always willing and able to pass on a training tip or two. Indeed, a few days before he flew to Belgrade, the manuscript of his book entitled “Tackle Soccer This Way,” was delivered to his publishers and it was later printed word for word as he wrote it. In his book Duncan offers young players hundreds of football tips such as: “Always respect the referee and be reasonable at all times.” Sound advice from such a young player himself.
Johnny Giles (Manchester United 1959-63) Giles, once told a story about arriving in Manchester as a youngster from Dublin, Republic of Ireland in 1955 and taking the bus to Old Trafford with Joe Armstrong. “As the bus stopped outside Old Trafford we got off and sitting on top of the post box waiting for his bus home eating an apple was Duncan Edwards. He was eighteen years of age, already an England international, and widely regarded as the best young footballer of his generation. He said ‘hello’ and then continued eating his apple. That was Duncan.”
More than 5,000 people turned up for Duncan’s funeral in Dudley on 26 February 1958, where a heartbroken and tearful Jimmy Murphy addressed the congregation and said: “If I shut my eyes I can see him now. His pants hitched up, the wild leaps of boyish enthusiasm as he came running out of the tunnel, the tremendous power of his tackle – always fair but fearsome – the immense power on the ball. In fact the number of times he was robbed of the ball once he had it at his feet could be counted on one hand. He was a players’ player. The greatest English footballer of all time… that was Duncan Edwards.”
Duncan’s mother stood shoulder to shoulder with the thousands who turned out to pay their respects to her son, still her little boy aged just 21, as his cortege made its way to St. Francis’s Church, Dudley. Back in Manchester, the United fans paid their own condolences to one of their own where it seemed like the sky was weeping for the loss of 8 young men.
Prior to the disaster, Duncan’s father worked at the local Beans Industries factory in Tipton, just a short work from the Edwards’ family home. However, after Duncan’s death, Gladstone never went back to work in the factory. Instead, he went to work at Dudley Cemetery where Duncan and his sister Carol Anne, who had died in 1947, aged just 14 weeks, were buried. His job was to maintain and clean the gravestones including those of his daughter and son.
In 1961, Matt Busby unveiled a stained glass window in St. Francis’ Church which depict Duncan in his Manchester United and England shirts. There is also a coat of arms of Manchester United and Munich. Tens of thousands of United fans have visited the Church to view these memorials whilst many fans travel to Munich every year on the anniversary of the disaster. Duncan’s grave lies in Section C, Plot 722 of Dudley Cemetery and more than 63 years later, there are fresh flowers laid at his grave every day which has a six-foot black granite headstone. The headstone bears an engraving of Duncan taking a throw in and, on the grave, is a black granite vase and another vase in the shape of a football. There are usually a fresh bunch of red and white carnations filling the black granite vase. John Phillips, Dudley Borough Council’s Assistant Cemeteries and Crematorium Manager, said: “Visitors come to the grave all through the year. It is still a shrine. It is hard to put a figure on the numbers who come here each year. It’s not only individuals who come to stand in silent respect at the grave, but whole parties, as if on a pilgrimage.”
“The bigger the occasion, the better he (Duncan) liked it.” – Sir Matt Busby
There is also a permanent Exhibition dedicated in memory of Duncan Edwards in Dudley, The Duncan Edwards Museum, which features his trophies, medals and newspaper cuttings. His England caps and shirts are on display in the Old Trafford Museum. On the top step reads the name of captain Roger Byrne. Inside the museum takes you through Duncan’s early life from 23 Malvern Street to 31 Elm Road; the walls are filled with original photos of his favourite footballers from the 1940s and hanging from the bed is a gas mask, reminding people this lad grew up when the world was still at war. There is a dedicated area to the Munich tragedy and a memorabilia-filled cabinet dedicated to each of the Busby Babes. The museum also covers Duncan’s time performing National Service with many testimonies, including from Walter Winterbottom, who described Duncan: “as the spirit of British football.” It was Winterbottom who awarded Duncan all 18 of his senior England caps. Also featured is the Coronation Street creator Tony Warren who was Duncan’s friend, together the pair jived in the dance halls of 1950s Manchester.
During the 1956-57 season, several of Busby’s young stars, notably Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards, were encouraged by their manager to follow in his footsteps and do their National Service. Charlton aged 19 and Edwards aged a year older like many professional footballers from the Midlands and north-west, were posted to Nesscliffe, Shropshire and played for the Nesscliffe Army Royal Army Ordnance Corps football team.
Duncan finished his National Service in 1957 and Bobby left Nesscliffe in 1958.
Prior to the 60th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster Derek Thorpe, who served with the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry at Copthorne Barracks, Shrewsbury was asked about his memories of the famous United pair when he played against them. “Because they were just up the road from us, we would play each other a lot. They were a cut above the rest. They had a lot of players from different clubs, there was a player from Everton, and another one from Blackpool,” said Derek who himself was a nippy winger. Derek recalled one game in particular between the two army sides when his sergeant-major warned his team that the Nesscliffe lads had a few tasty players in their side. Not long into the game Derek was bearing down on goal when he was dispossessed by a strapping defender. Derek immediately set about paying his opponent back saying: “He tackled me early on, and I thought ‘I’ll get have you next time’. I didn’t half know about, I landed about two yards further up the pitch than I did the first time.” The player was none other than Edwards who was already a leading figure in the United side and had been capped by England three times. Derek said he was in total awe of the power, skill and speed of the Busby Babe. “Him and Bobby Charlton were both in the same team, and they really stood out. I thought Duncan Edwards was better than Bobby Charlton, and I later read that Bobby Charlton also thought he was. They were such great lads. Duncan was from Dudley, and I was from Dawley, so the lingo was pretty similar. After he had knocked me flying with his tackle, he came over to me, and said ‘you all right, kid?‘”
Brian Griffiths who played at full back for Shrewsbury Town also played for the Nesscliffe Army Royal Army Ordnance Corps football team. Charlton arrived at the Nesscliffe depot shortly after Brian and the pair were in the same platoon, 3 Platoon, and they shared the same platoon billet. “Duncan was already there. He was a PTI, a physical training instructor. He was a corporal. We had a good old natter and he explained everything to us. I knew him as Dunc. He was a smashing lad. He was big, and so gentle, and yet when he said something, you automatically did it. He was not aggressive, and his football capabilities were just unbelievable,” said Brian. The platoon trained at Shropshire Racecourse, Monkmoor Road, Shrewsbury. “We would do the normal training the soldiers did – marching, ammunition and so on – and then after that the footballers would do the football training. We were all mates and it was a good atmosphere,” said Brian. Charlton played at inside forward or centre forward but Brian recalls that it took Edwards to get the best out of his United teammate. “Bobby does owe Dunc quite a lot. Over the time I knew him he improved to A1. He did not use his body, like a defender does. He was always looking to try and pass people, even if they had the ball. He had no aggression – we used to say to him: ‘Bloody get in!’” added Brian.
Derek was impressed with how the Busby Babes slotted in very easily to army life, and got on with all the other soldiers during their Shropshire army days. “They were great lads, they really were. You could talk to them easily, it was just normal army chat. At one point I was injured, and I finished up in the medical centre at Nesscliffe, and I remember Duncan and Bobby Charlton coming to visit me. They mucked in with everything and they never thought they were any higher than anybody else,” added Derek.
There is also a Duncan Edwards Close, a Duncan Edwards Way and a Duncan Edwards Games Area, which was opened by Sir Bobby Charlton in 2006.
In 2002, Duncan Edwards was inducted into the inaugural English Football Hall of Fame at the National Football Museum in Manchester.
During his career he played 177 times for Manchester United and scored 21 goals (1953-58). Between 1949-52, he represented England Schoolboys on 9 occasions: played 4 games for the England “B” team from 1953-54: was awarded 6 England Under-23 caps from 1954-57, scoring 5 times and was capped at full international level 18 times and scored 5 goals (1955-57).
Many football pundits have said that had Duncan survived the Munich Air Disaster and was able to play again after recovering from his injuries, then it would have been him, and not Bobby Moore, who captained England to Fifa World Cup glory in 1966. Bobby was 25 when England defeated West Germany 4-2 in the final at Wembley Stadium on 30 July 1966, whilst Duncan would have been 29.
“When I used to hear Muhammad Ali proclaim to the world that he was the greatest, I would always smile. The greatest of them all was a footballer named Duncan Edwards.” – Jimmy Murphy
For all Manchester United fans everywhere, Duncan Edwards is a Light that will never go out.
Did You Know That?
Speaking before her own death in 2003, Duncan’s mother, Sara Anne, recalled her son’s last words to her which were: “Come on Mum, get me home. I can’t miss Wolves on Saturday.”
This season, the whole of Manchester is once again tense in anticipation. Manchester United strengthened a lot in the summer. By signing Raphael Varane, they solved the issue of defense, and Jadon Sancho and Ronaldo in particular made the attack very powerful. Solskjaer’s team looks like a serious contender for the Premier League and Champions League. Manchester City will try to defend their title.
Guardiola’s team has been seriously claiming the treble for many years, but something is constantly bothering them. Meanwhile, Manchester United remains the only team in England to win 3 trophies in a season. While other teams in England are trying to replicate this achievement, we will remember the legendary team of Alex Ferguson and its great season.
Manchester United fans continue to live on that huge success 22 years ago. Their team is the first in the history of the country to take three major trophies in a season (Champions League, EPL and FA Cup).
In the 1997/1998 season, the red devils were left without trophies. The championship was lost to Arsenal two rounds before the finish. The Mancunians were eliminated from the national cups in the early stages. And hopes of competing for the Champions League were dashed in the quarterfinals about Monaco.
Manchester United spent a lot of money in the offseason. At that time, few teams could spend 50 million pounds. The main acquisitions were three. Forward from Aston Villa, Dwight Yorke, defender Yap Stam from PSV and Swedish winger from Parma – Jesper Blomqvist.
Satisfied Ferguson did not hide his satisfaction from such infusions. As for the rest, the backbone of the team remained the same. The Neville brothers in defense, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes in midfield, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham on the flanks. Plus Roy Keane and Andy Cole, whose experience you could rely on.
However, the beginning of the new season was not happy. First, Manchester United got in the teeth in the August match for the FA Super Cup at Wembley, losing 0: 3 to the sworn Arsenal. And secondly, at the start of the Premier League United scored two gray draws with Leicester and West Ham.
Well, in the fifth round, Ferguson’s team again received three unanswered goals from Arsene Wenger’s brigade, at Highbury. After that United ranked 10th in the table. Did anyone believe at that moment that by the end of the season this team would win everything?
The more wonderful the story turned out. After all, this is not the whole negative of September 1998. At the start of the Champions League group stage, Manchester United grabbed a first half lead 2-0 against Barcelona at Old Trafford, thanks to goals from Giggs and Scholes. But in the end, the scoreboard was a draw 3: 3. On the road against Bayern, Ferguson’s team again failed to keep the winning score.
Forward Teddy Sheringham comes in to help the defense at the last minute and throws the ball into his own net after Peter Schmeichel’s exit error. Who knew then that the future finalists of the tournament had come together in the group and Sheringham’s revenge in the spring would be deafening.
Against the background of September failures, a confident victory over another principal rival Liverpool arrived just in time. United is back on the winning path. Very soon the team climbed to second place in the Premier League, in the Champions League the “reds” took second place in the group, leaving Barça behind.
But in the winter, Manchester United stalled again. A complex calendar affected. So out of 8 December matches, Ferguson’s team won only one, having played 5 draws. Also, the team was eliminated from the English League Cup. However, not a trophy to grieve. But as soon as the new year comes, United becomes a real monster. West Ham gets 4, Leicester 6 and Nottingham Forrest all 8.
It was a match when Solskjaer set his unique record by scoring 4 goals in 11 minutes as a substitute. And what match was won against Liverpool in the FA Cup. Until the 88th minute Manchester United was losing, but York and Solskjaer decided the outcome of the meeting. This victory at Old Trafford is also remembered to this day, because in the script it was similar to the upcoming Champions League final.
Having already become the leaders of the Premier League, the mankunians broke off the winning streak. Against Arsenal, Ferguson and company are tied at home. And in March, the “reds” faced difficult cup trials. The first home match of the Champions League quarterfinals with Inter was pretty smooth. Dwight Yorke scored a double before the break. After 4 days, Ferguson has to shuffle the squad for the FA Cup home match with Chelsea.
The main forwards were resting in the reserve, and Solskjaer did not take out at the start. It is much easier for a Norwegian to get off the bench. But in the match at Stamford Bridge, the ubiquitous York reigns again, scoring another double. The return match against Inter was not easy. At the end of the hour of the game, the Nerazzurriscored 1 goal.
The guests were rescued by Scholes, who equalized the score in the end. And in the first semifinal match against Juventus, another Ferguson’s favorite, Ryan Giggs, came to the aid of Manchester United, who scored the return goal in 91 minutes. Captain Roy Keane later said that this match was one of the most difficult for him in his career. In the first half, they scored 1 goal for us, although they could have 2 or 3. “We were lucky to equalize in the end” (C) Roy Keane.
And here are the memories of Nicky Butt, who went to the return match in Turin with a personal assignment – to neutralize Zinedine Zidane: “Sir Alex said before the game that he was soon 30 and he is not the same. I’ve played against many incredible players in my life, but Zidane was unstoppable. It feels like he is covering his boots with glue. I admire Zizu’s game”. (C) – Nicky Butt.
By the 11th minute of the return game, Manchester United missed two from Inzaghi. And when everyone began to estimate the chances of Juventus in the final, the captain of the guests Keane revived hope. Soon, York equalizes the score and is already 2: 2 at half-time.
Such a result was in the hands of Manchester United, and the Old Lady did not get away from the shock. Towards the end of the match, York and Cole finally beat Juventus. 3-2 and United in the Champions League final with Bayern Munich.
Between the matches against Juventus there was a semi-final match in the FA Cup against Arsenal. Wenger was Fergie’s main rival at that time, and after two games the Scot outplayed the Frenchman. Schmeichel’s save after Bergkamp’s penalty kick, as well as the legendary race and goal of Ryan Giggs, lead Manchester United to the FA Cup final.
By the 33rd round of the championship, United is losing the lead, drawing with Leeds. Arsenal was also not stable, so the teams were constantly losing leadership positions to each other. Manchester was one point ahead of the final round.
In the last round against Tottenham, Manchester United missed first, which made his fans nervous. But just before the break, Beckham evens the score, and in the second half, Cole scored the championship goal.
Newcastle was in the Cup final. At the start of the match, the Manchester United captain is injured. Sheringham took his place. This replacement worked brilliantly. Within a couple of minutes, Teddy opened the scoring. At the beginning of the second half, Sheringham made an assist to Scholes. 2-0 and Manchester United takes their 10th FA Cup.
Manchester United Close In On The Treble
On May 26 at Camp Nou, the mankunians cannot count on the main link in the center of the field. Keane and Scholes miss the meeting due to suspensions. They were replaced by Beckham and Butt. Giggs Ferguson sends right, and Swede Blomqvist comes out on the left. Well, in the attack, Sir Alex trusted the Cole-York duo.
Everyone knows the course of that great game. Even those fans who were born in the 21st century. But all the same, it is fashionable to revise this miracle endlessly. Manchester United conceded a free-kick by Mario Basler already on the 6th minute. The reds did not succeed. Bayern were calmly in control of the match. They still had chances for goals, but the ball flies into the post, then into the crossbar. But here three fateful changes take place.
Ferguson first releases Sheringham instead of Blomqvist, then Solskjaer instead of Cole, and at the same time the Munich coach removes Lothar Matheus from the game. The main time expires, the judge shows the added minutes. The Germans are already counting down and preparing glasses for the holiday. And then two corners, which turned the world upside down.
Sheringham corrects a shot from Giggs, who unsuccessfully struck with his right foot, and while Bayern tried to recover, United earned a new corner. Beckham routinely serves to the near, where Sheringham wins the top, and the Norwegian ferries the ball into the net. By the way, at this time, ribbons in the colors of the German club were hung on the Champions League trophy, and the president of UEFA went downstairs to present the award to Bayern.
It seems that in 100 years such a victory will not lose its colors. Ferguson has created a truly great team. There were also individual successes. Dwight Yorke became the top scorer of the season with 29 goals in all competitions. Andy Cole scored 24 times. The 1999 championship line-up will collect many more trophies, but that’s another story.
It was the story of how Alex Ferguson, along with his phenomenal team, won the treble and at the same time earned himself the title “Sir”.
1967 may well have been the Summer of Love, but in May 1967, no Man Utd fans were sticking a flower in their hair and boarding a plane to make their way to San Francisco, USA. On 6 May 1967, they were wrapping a red, white and black scarf around their necks, pinned a badge to the lapel of their denim jacket which read ”Stretford Enders RULE OK!” and were making their way to Stratford, East London.
Going into the last few games of the 1966-67 season three teams all stood a chance of being crowned Champions of England. For their penultimate First Division game United had an away trip to West Ham United having played 40, won 23, drawn 11 and losing 6, with a goal difference of +38. The teams on their coat tails, Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur, had two and three League games respectively still to play. Forest, managed by the former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland captain, Johnny “Gentleman” Carey, were chasing their first ever English First Division Championship. Tottenham Hotspur, managed by Bill Nicholson, were chasing their second domestic double in six years after winning the First Division title in 1960-61 and the 1961 FA Cup final under Nicholson. On 6 May 1967, Forest’s second last game of the season was an away fixture at Southampton. They were three points behind United on 54, but with 2 points for a win and 1 point for a draw, they were very much still in the running with 22 wins, 10 draws and 8 defeats, and a goal difference of +23. Spurs were 6 point adrift of United on 51 and their feint hopes of winning their third League crown relied on them winning their last three fixtures, hoping United and Forest would trip up, and Spurs needed to score a bucketful of goals as they had a goal difference of +19. Spurs had won 22, drawn 7 and lost 10 of their 39 League games and a week after the season was due to end they had to play Chelsea in the FA Cup final. But the omens for the London side were not on the favourable side as their Star sign favoured years ending in “01” when it came to winning trophies. They won the FA Cup in 1901, 1921 and 1961 as well as the First Division Championship in 1961 and the 1961 FA Charity Shield. They went on to lift the League Cup in 1971 followed by two more FA Cup final victories in 1981 and 1991.
So when United arrived at West Ham United’s home ground on 6 May 1967, they knew a win would secure the title, regardless of what happened to Forest on the South Coast at The Dell, Southampton and even a draw would almost certainly be good enough to give Matt Busby his fifth League Championship as United manager. Manchester United’s +15 goal difference over Carey’s talented side looked insurmountable. The Forest side included a former United player, Jeff Whitefoot, and a future United player, Ian Storey-Moore. United looked like Champions from the opening game of the season when they smacked five goals past West Bromwich Albion in a 5-3 win at Old Trafford (scorers: Denis Law 2, George Best, David Herd, Nobby Stiles).
But it was the reigning Champions from the previous season, Liverpool, who made all of the early running and had a strong squad which would test any opponent. Liverpool had three players who were members of England’s victorious 1966 World Cup winning squad, Gerry Byrne, Ian Callaghan and in Roger Hunt, they had a prolific who scored goals for fun. Hunt, nicknamed “Sir Roger,” scored 29 goals in 37 League games during Liverpool’s Championship winning season in 1965-66. But United had a trio of players who every side in the League coveted and feared, George Best, Bobby Charlton who actually did become a “Sir” and Denis Law. In January 1967, Liverpool topped the First Division table but after United lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on 26 December 1966, they went on an unbeaten 20 games run up until the end of the season.
A verse from Scott McKenzie’s song “Are you going to San Francisco?” seemed quite apt by the time United arrived in London.
“All across the nation
Such a strange vibration People in motion There’s a whole generation With a new explanation People in motion People in motion”
In season 1966-67, Manchester United sent a vibration through every side they met. They were a team in motion, a new generation of United players who in some games defied explanation beating Everton 3-0, Burnley 4-1, Sunderland 5-0, Blackpool 4-0, Leicester City 5-2 and Aston Villa 3-0 at Fortress Old Trafford. Every side which visited Old Trafford, yet to be dubbed “The Theatre of Dreams” by Bobby Charlton, faced a Theatre of Nightmares. Just 36 days before United arrived at the Boleyn Ground, West Ham United visited Old Trafford in the League on 1 April 1967. The visitors were captained by England’s 1966 World Cup winning captain, Bobby Moore, and had two other notable players on display who helped England defeat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time in the 1966 World Cup final, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. The United team also had World Cup winning players, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles, but the third Manchester United player who was a non-playing member of the 1966 England World Cup winning squad, John Connelly, left United before Bobby Moore held the famous Jules Rimet trophy aloft on 30 July 1966 at Wembley Stadium, London. Connelly signed for Blackburn Rovers in June 1966 but when England were crowned World Champions, he had not kicked a ball for his new club.
It may have been April’s Fool Day on 1 April 1967, but it was West Ham United who were made fools of on the day when United won the game 3-0. Moore, Hurst and Peters were household names throughout England but the three players who scored for Manchester United in their 3-0 victory were known across the globe. It was their famous trio of Denis “The King” Law, Bobby Charlton, a Busby Babe, and a 20-year old football rebel named George Best. West Ham United’s famous English trio were held in great esteem but United’s famous triumvirate of Law, Best and Charlton made April Fools of Moore and his fellow defenders when the three of them registered their name on the scoresheet with one goal each in United’s comfortable victory.
When Matt Busby threw the curtains wide of his bedroom in Manchester on the morning of the trip to play West Ham United, 6 May 1967, he surely must have woke-up after dreaming of guiding his beloved side to the First Division Championship title. His team were on the verge of winning the club’s seventh First Division title, his fifth in charge of the club he had managed since 1945. But his mind was not cast back to United’s last First Division Championship winning side under his stewardship two years earlier, 1964-65, he reflected on his First Division Championship winning side in 1956-57, his famous Busby Babes side, which saw 8 of his players perish in the Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958. And, one day, one game, one performance, one result would surely define Manchester United’s 1966-67 season. But, would his players once again deliver the goods for him? United had went top of the table on 11 March 1967 following a goalless draw against Newcastle United at St James’ Park and had not been off top spot since.
The team Matt Busby selected for the all important game was:
Alex Stepney, Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne, Paddy Crerand, Bill Foulkes, Nobby Stiles, John Aston Jr, George Best, Bobby Charlton, David Sadler, Denis Law.
In season 1965-66, Busby’s goalkeepers, Pat Dunne, David Gaskell and Harry Gregg and they conceded 59 League goals between them from the 42 games played. Gregg was the No.1 choice but his time at Old Trafford was fast approaching, as was his playing career, through injury. Busby did not have the faith in Dunne or Gaskell, who was injury-prone, to help United reclaim the First Division title in 1966-67 and so he dipped into United’s bank account and purchased Alex Stepney from Chelsea in August 1966, a £55,000 record transfer fee for a goalkeeper. Tommy Docherty was the Chelsea manager when Stepney moved to Old Trafford and the pair would team-up once again when Docherty was appointed the manager of Manchester United on 22 December 1972, after Frank O’Farrell was sacked.
The West Ham United versus Manchester United kicked-off in bright sunshine. The red half of Manchester invaded London, the attendance of 38,424 was a post-war record for the Boleyn Ground. The home side had lost their last five games starting with the 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford and during this losing streak they flew to Houston, Texas, USA to play a friendly against the reigning European Champions, Real Madrid. The game was staged as part of several exhibition games to promote football (soccer) in the USA in advance of the United Soccer Association domestic League commencing that summer. The match was played in Houston’s Astrodome which was known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the first ever football match played indoors and on artificial turf. The Hammers lost 3-2 to Los Blancos, Real Madrid’s nickname as they wear an all white kit.
When West Ham United faced United on 6 May 1967, they knew they weren’t going to be relegated and so their manager, Ron Greenwood, decided to give two of their Academy graduates a game, 20-year old goalkeeper Colin Mackleworth for what was only his third senior game and 20-year old winger, Harry Redknapp. United were missing two players who had played key roles in getting United to within touching distance of winning the title. David Herd was still out after breaking a leg six weeks earlier and left-back Bobby Noble, who had played 29 times in the League that season, was involved in a horrific car crash on his way home from United’s 0-0 draw at Sunderland on 22 April 1967. Noble’s injuries were so serious he never played again, a career cut cruelly short at 21 years of age.
United took to the pitch in a gleaming all white kit and by the end of the game the West Ham United players who played against Real Madrid must have thought The Red Devils had been renamed El Diablos Blanco (Spanish for “The White Devils”). United were 1-0 up after only two minutes play with a goal from Charlton, 2-0 up after seven minutes with a headed goal by Paddy Crerand and 3-0 up after ten minutes when Bill Foulkes scored his sixth goal for the club. By half-time the Football League’s engraver could start etching the name of the world’s most famous club, “Manchester United,” on the base of the First Division Championship trophy as they led a mesmerised home side 4-0. Best scored his tenth League goal of the campaign in the 25th minute. The travelling army of United fans were in party mood. After the interval West Ham United pulled a goal back when full-back John Charles scored in the 46th minute. Charles won 5 caps for the England Youth Team and was the first black player to represent England at any level. Even the United fans cheered when Charles scored hoping that United would be stirred back into action and reproduce the kind of football they had been drooling over in the first half. The visitors then turned on the style with the mercurial Best goading the Hammers’ back four to try and get the ball off him as he turned one way, twisted another and spun around his opponents like a spinning top. No wonder Crerand once said that “George Best had twisted blood.” A penalty from Law in the 63rd minute followed by his twenty-fifth goal of the season in the 79th minute which sealed an emphatic 6-1 victory for the new Champions of England. The United fans invaded the pitch and some of them dug out pieces of turf to remember the occasion.
The Hammers were proud of their Academy which produced players such as Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters but in Law, Best and Charlton, United had three University graduates. Manchester United’s 6 Star performance was fit enough to be played across the capital in London’s Royal Albert Hall it was that commanding.
Forest lost 2-1 to Southampton and Spurs drew 0-0 away to Liverpool. But Spurs and United would soon be seeing one another again very soon in the FA Charity Shield final as Spurs beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final. Tottenham Hotspur had beaten Forest 2-1 in the semi-finals of the competition.
In the music charts Sandie Shaw was at No.1 with “Puppet On A String.” On 6 May 1967, Manchester United pulled all of the strings against West Ham United and produced a master class performance, particularly the Manchester United Puppet Master, George Best. Perhaps Manchester United were the Ninth Wonder of the World.
The Hammers had been well and truly hammered.
Did You Know That?
Bobby Moore holds the unique distinction of captaining three Cup winning teams at Wembley Stadium, London in three consecutive years. In 1964, the 23-year old Moore, was the captain of his club, West Ham United, and England. He skippered The Hammers to FA Cup success in 1964 when West Ham United beat Preston North End 3-2 at Wembley Stadium. Winning the FA Cup meant they qualified for the 1964-65 European Cup Winners’ Cup. West Ham United reached the 1965 European Cup Winners’ Cup final which was hosted by Wembley Stadium. They beat their opponents, 1860 Munich 2-0, and Moore proudly held aloft the club’s first, and only, European trophy. In 1966, Moore was back at Wembley Stadium for yet another final but this time he was captaining his country in football’s biggest final, the World Cup final. England defeated West Germany 4-2 after extra time and was carried around the pitch on his teammates’ shoulders as he held the famous Jules Rimet trophy in the air.
It was 58 years ago this week that a certain young man from east Belfast made his debut for Manchester United. His name is George Best.
“To me, a genius is someone with a brilliant mind who has had great accomplishments in a challenging field, and changed the world in some meaningful way. As vague as this definition may seem, the essence of genius is limitless. There appear to be no bounds to what geniuses can accomplish. To define it much further, is to limit something that is supposed to be limitless.” (I. C. Robledo). George Best was a Genius.
On a bright sunny day on Wednesday 22 May 1946 a baby boy was born in Belfast who would literally change the face of football forever. In June 1945, Dickie Best married his sweetheart Anne Withers and eleven months later the couple witnessed the birth of their first child and named him George after Anne’s father. Has any footballer ever been born with a more suitable name and into such a humble background? Dickie was a modest working class man and a hugely respected figure in the local community of Castlereagh in East Belfast where the Best family lived at Burren Way. Dickie worked at an iron turner’s lathe at the world famous Harland & Wolff shipyard at Queen’s Island, Belfast where the Titanic was built. Anne worked on the production line at Gallaher’s tobacco factory, the largest tobacco factory in the world, located in North Belfast. Dickie was 26-years old when Geordie, as the family called him, was born and played amateur football until he was 36 whilst George’s mum was an outstanding hockey player. From the moment he could walk all George ever did was play football and it was his Granda George who would kick a ball about all day with his grandson. On the other side of the family it was his Granda James “Scottie” Best, who took him to his first football match to see Glentoran play at The Oval in East Belfast, close to James’s house. Well there wasn’t much else for the kids growing up on the streets of post war Belfast to do except play football as very few families had a television set at the time and the only “net” young boys were concerned about in the early 1950s was a make shift goal net made from placing jumpers on the ground.
“In school, children learn that there is only one answer for each question and are requested to conform to conventional social wisdoms. The difference between geniuses and most of us is that they managed to not lose their childhood creativity.” (Andrii Sedniev).
The young George attended Nettlefield Primary School in Radnor Street, Belfast and on his way to and home from school he took a tennis ball out of his coat pocket and dribbled it along the pavement, throwing his hips from side to side as he weaved in and out of men and women on their way to work. These unsuspecting early morning workers were in George’s mind defenders he had to snake past enroute to the goal. When the bell rang to announce the mid-morning break no one at the school had to go looking for George as he was the first out on the school playground waiting for one of the older boys to produce a football for a kick-about. Lunchtime was the same at school, a game of football with jumpers for goal posts, and after school George played football on a strip of grass near his home. It was no wonder George was a skinny kid with all that running about he did and food was the last thing on his mind when his mum had to go looking for him at tea time. It was usually quite dark by the time George got home, perhaps having played football for 4 hours or more at the end of the school day. When all the other kids had been dragged home by their parents George improvised and kicked his tennis ball against the kerb so as it would bounce back to him with George controlling it and passing it against the kerb again. Shooting practice for George was placing the tennis ball on the ground and aiming for the handle of a garage door. George loved Christmas time because that was when he would either receive a brand new football from his parents or a pair of football boots depending on whether his current ball had seen its best days or if his feet had grown too big for the football boots he was wearing at the time.
However, despite football taking up all of his spare time George was an excellent pupil and a very quick learner. He passed the 11-plus and went to Grosvenor Grammar School on the Grosvenor Road, Belfast. George hated the school but not for academic reasons, none of his mates were at the school and worst of all, Grammar Schools in Belfast played rugby, not football. In his first year at Grosvenor George found himself running with an oddly shaped ball in his hands rather than having a football at his feet doing whatever he wanted it to do. But George gave rugby a go and was a half decent fly-half although for George no sport could replace his love for football. George hated going to the school and used to trick his teachers into sending him home thinking he was ill as the shrewd young Best used to suck on a certain brand of “hot” sweet which made his throat turn red. When George started to “go on the beak” (Belfast slang for playing truant) at Grosvenor his parents, sensing he was unhappy there, managed to get him into Lisnasharragh High School. And whereas other young boys at the time, including Alex “Hurricane” Higgins, who were similarly avoiding a school day would make their way to a nearby snooker hall, the young Best made his way to a patch of grass to kick his ball about. Away from school Higgins frequented the Jampot Snooker Club in the Sandy Row area of Belfast whilst George could find a makeshift football pitch almost anywhere. The Hurricane like George was born in Belfast but three years after George and in many ways the lives of the two ran parallel with the highs the duo achieved during their careers followed by the unbearable lows. Alex was as mercurial with a snooker cue as George was with a football, the “George Best of the green baize,” a pair of geniuses although the latter description did not do either man true justice.
George’s new school was in Stirling Avenue and much closer to his home than Grosvenor but more importantly to George Best, all of his mates attended the school and they played football there, not rugby. Despite rugby being the number one sport at Grosvenor High School their rugby team only ever won the top prize in Northern Ireland Schoolboy Rugby on one occasion, lifting the Ulster Schools Challenge Cup in 1983, long after the best days of George’s playing career were well and truly a distant memory. Goodness only knows how many times Grosvenor Grammar School would have won the Ulster Schools Challenge Cup had George chosen rugby ahead of football. And so when George walked out of the gates at Grosvenor for the last time, little did the school know it at the time but they were effectively giving a free transfer to a teenager who would go on to become the greatest ever footballer in the world; a player who in today’s crazy football transfer market would cost well in excess of the world record fee of £198m paid to FC Barcelona by Paris Saint-Germain for Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior in August 2017.
Apart from his local team, Glentoran, when George Best was a young boy he also supported an English League side but it wasn’t Manchester United. He supported Wolverhampton Wanderers who were as successful in the 1950s as Manchester United was in the 1990s. Managed by the legendary Stan Cullis, and captained by the England international team captain Billy Wright, Wolves won the First Division Championship in 1953-54, 1957-58 and 1958-59 (Runners-Up in 1954-55 & 1959-60). Cullis invented the famous “kick and rush” style of football. In the summer of 1953, Wolves became one of the first clubs to install floodlights at their Molineux ground which enabled them to play some very high profile friendly games against some of the world’s best teams. Clubs such as Real Madrid (Spain), Racing Club of Argentina (Argentina), First Vienna (Austria), Spartak Moscow (USSR) and Honved (Hungary) all visited the Black Country to take on Cullis’s all-conquering side. The Wolves v Honvéd FC game was televised by the BBC on Monday 13 December 1954 and a 7-year old George Best sat in front of the black & white television set at home cheering his heroes in gold and black on. At the time the national game in England had taken a bit of a battering having been knocked out of the 1954 Fifa World Cup Finals after a 4-2 defeat to Uruguay in the quarter-finals and earlier in the year, Hungary embarrassed England in Budapest (23 May 1954) putting on a master class of football winning 7-1 (scorers: Lantos, Puskás 2, Kocsis 2, Hidegkuti & Toth). Hungary’s international side at the time were known as the “Mighty Magyars” and had finished as runners-up to West Germany in the 1954 Fifa World Cup Final. Seven months before the hammering they gave England in Budapest they beat England 6-3 at Wembley Stadium (scorers: Hidegkuti 3, Puskás 2 & Bozsik). Honvéd’s team which ran out at Molineux to face Wolves before a crowd of 55,000 included 5 of the Mighty Magyars who had humbled the English on both occasions; József Bozsik, Gyula Lóránt, Sándor Kocsis, Ferenc Puskas & Zoltán Czibor. The nation watching on TV, including the young Best, held their breaths in anticipation wondering how the pride of England, Wolves the reigning English First Division Champions, would fare against the winners of the Double in Hungary in 1953-54, a team regarded by most sports writers at the time as the best club side in Europe. From the outset George was completely captivated by the Hungarian’s style of play which was centred around their two magnificent strikers, Puskas and Kocsis, and driven on from midfield by the majestic Bozsik. The Hungarians just seemed to be moving that much quicker than their hosts and led 2-0 at half-time with goals from Kocsis and Machos inside the first 15 minutes of play. Would this be another dent in the already frail football suit of English body armour or could Wolves rise to the occasion led by Wright who had tasted defeat captaining England in both losses to the Hungarians? Incredibly whatever Cullis said to his players at half-time, or whatever pick-me-up he put in their cup of tea, worked wonders and Wolves scored three times (Roy Swinbourne 2 and a penalty from Johnny Hancocks) to win the match 3-2 before a delirious partisan Molineux crowd. George danced around the living room with delight whilst Cullis hailed his team as the “Champions of the World.” This game is widely believed to have been the inspiration behind the suggestion made by Gabriel Hanot, the French sports journalist and editor of L’Equipe, for Uefa to host a club competition to be competed in by the various League Champions of a number of European countries. In season 1955-56, Uefa inaugurated the European Champions’ Club Cup (now called the Uefa Champions League).
When he was 13-years old George played for his local youth club, Cregagh Boys. The team was run by Bud McFarlane, a close friend of Dickie Best, and he was also coach of the Reserve Team at Glentoran. McFarlane knew from day one that this young skinny boy from Burren Way had what it took to become a footballer and mentored the young Best. Bud would constantly offer George advice on all aspects of his game and on one occasion he told George that he felt he was concentrating too much on playing with his right foot and suggested that he practice playing with his left foot. George took Bud’s advice on board and over the following week he never touched the ball with his right foot; he was still practising with a tennis ball at the time. When he turned up for Cregagh Boys next match he only brought one football boot with him, his left one. George put the boot on and wore a guddy (Belfast slang for a plimsole) on his stronger right foot. Best scored 12 goals in the game and never once used his right foot to kick the ball. Quite amazingly someone, somewhere decided that George was not good enough to represent Northern Ireland at Schoolboy level! And this unbelievable decision was actually taken after George played for his youth club against a Possibles Northern Ireland Schoolboys XI which the kids from the Cregagh won 2-1 and George was the best player on the pitch by a country mile. No one really knows why George was excluded from the Northern Ireland Schoolboys set-up, some claimed it was because Lisnasharragh High School did not play in any competitive games whilst others cite George’s frail looking 5 foot high, 8 stones frame as the main reason. Either way it was the country’s loss at this level of football. Even his local side, Glentoran, thought he was too small and too light to make it as a footballer.
Bob Bishop was Manchester United’s Chief Scout in Northern Ireland from 1950 to 1987 and in his early years Bishop helped coach the famous Boyland Youth Club football team which earned a reputation as nursery club for many teams in the English First Division. Bud McFarlane was a close friend of Bob and he persuaded him to take George away for the weekend to one of the many football training camps Bishop held at Helen’s Bay, County Down. Bishop agreed and so George set off from his home making the short journey to the camp which was located just outside Belfast. George was an extremely shy lad, not at all extrovert, but Bishop liked what he had seen and decided to keep a close watchful eye on him. Leeds United had a useful scouting system in Northern Ireland at the time but according to their scout George was far too skinny to cope with the demands of life in the English Leagues. But McFarlane believed in George and refused to give up on securing his young charge a trail with a major English club. Bud asked Bishop to organise a friendly match between Boyland FC and McFarlane’s Cregagh Boys Under-16 team. At McFarlane’s request the Boyland team was made up of their best 17-18 year olds. Bishop stood on the sidelines watching the 15-year old Best weave his magic on the pitch scoring twice in a 4-2 win against his much bigger and stronger boys. It was at that moment that Bishop realised that McFarlane had been right all the long, the young dark haired skinny kid had what it took to become a professional footballer and he sent his now infamous telegram to the Manchester United manager, Matt Busby, with the message reading: “I think I’ve found you a Genius.”
Matt Busby invited George over to Old Trafford for a trial in the summer of 1961 during the school holidays. Best, and another young player who Bishop thought could make the grade at United, Eric McMordie, boarded the Belfast to Liverpool ferry in June 1961. George wore his best clothes for the journey, his school uniform! Speaking shortly after George died in 2005 Eric fondly recalled that journey to Manchester: “I’d played for a club in East Belfast called Boyland since I was 11. There was a man called Bob Bishop who spent his days watching Boyland and sent kids from there to the big clubs. It was like a nursery for Manchester United. George became one of the first to go to United who didn’t play for Boyland. Bob’s eye for talent was equal to none – he was a very special man. But a match between us and Cregagh Boys, who George played for, was set up. I’ve never seen a player with so many bruises on his body as George. He was picked on not just because he was wee but because he was so talented. But he fought back and that’s what made George the great player he was.” None of the boys were accompanied by any of their parents or a guardian for the trip and were simply told to make their way to Lime Street Train Station in Liverpool and take the train to Manchester where a taxi would be sent to meet them and take them to Old Trafford. The entire journey was a terrifying ordeal for two kids from the streets of Belfast who had never been out of Northern Ireland before. When the boys arrived in Manchester there was nobody holding a sign with either of their names on it and so they jumped in a taxi and asked the driver to take them to Old Trafford. Unknown to George and Eric there was two Old Traffords and the driver took them to Lancashire County Cricket Club as the football season had ended and the cricket season had just begun. The taxi driver thought the two boys were just young cricketers hoping to join Lancashire County Cricket Club. When the pair finally made it to United’s home ground they were met by the club’s Chief Scout, Joe Armstrong, who took them to the Cliff training ground. At the Cliff they met a number of the first team players including Northern Ireland’s Harry Gregg and Jimmy Nicholson before being taken on to their digs. Armstrong drove the two bewildered young boys to a terraced house in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, a suburb of Manchester, and introduced them to Mrs Fullaway. Little did George know it at the time but Mrs Fullaway’s house would be his home on and off for the next 10 years. The Belfast boys were homesick on their first night away from their families and when Armstrong called at Mrs Fullaway’s house early the next morning to pick them up George told him that both he and Eric wanted to go home. So the boys made their way back across the Irish Sea to their Belfast homes. Sometime later in life McMordie, who went on to play for Middlesbrough (1964-75) winning 21 caps for his country, recalled the journey: “It was an incredible time. There was George in his Lisnasharragh school uniform with his prefect’s badge and me. We were just a pair of kids who had never been out of Belfast. It was like another world. But it all became too much and we ended up back home in less than a couple of days. We were both overawed. A short while later George went back and the rest is history.”
Dickie telephoned Busby to find out what had go on and Busby persuaded George’s Dad to send his boy back over again to see if he possessed the necessary talent and ability to become a professional footballer. George had planned to take-up an apprenticeship as a printer in Belfast when he left school but thankfully Busby persuaded him to sign amateur forms at United in August 1961 and George ended up keeping printers all over the country busy over the following 12 years and more. It took the young Best a while to get over the homesickness and to keep him occupied after training United got him a job as a clerk at the Manchester Ship Canal. George hated the job, having to make countless cups of tea all day long. On 22 May 1963, the day of his 17th birthday, George signed professional forms with Manchester United. Three days after celebrating his birthday and becoming a professional footballer, George was sitting in the stands at Wembley Stadium, a member of United’s travelling non-playing party at the 1963 FA Cup Final versus Leicester City, a game United won 3-1 (scorers: David Herd 2, Denis Law). Goodness knows how many United fans brushed past George that day without even knowing who the skinny dark haired kid was. However, exactly five years and six days later George would be back at Wembley and this time he’d be out on the pitch playing in Europe’s premier club competition, the European Cup Final. And everyone who followed football knew exactly who he was that night in 1968.
Speed, athleticism, bravery, cunning, dare, agility, timing, skill, all words to sum up what the perfect athlete would require to be the best in the world at their sport. And yet all of these attributes were mere strands in the DNA of George Best. Paddy Crerand, a teammate of Best, once said that “George was a God.” Paddy wasn’t far off the mark in his high praise of the Belfast Boy but George was much more than a God in the Roman mythology meaning of a God. George’s team-mates who made up the United Trinity, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, may well have been Gods to all United fans. Bobby could probably be best summed up as being like Apollo, the God of music playing a golden lyre; the archer, far shooting with a silver bow, the God of light and the God of truth, who cannot speak a lie. One of Apollo’s more important daily tasks was to harness his chariot with four horses and drive the Sun across the sky. Bobby played a sweet tune on the pitch, possessed a ferocious shot that arrowed into the net and drove his team-mates on when things were not going well for the team on the pitch. Denis could probably be best summed up as being like Mars, the God of war whose many attributes included terror, anger, revenge and courage. Mars was the most prominent of the military gods that were worshipped by the Roman legions. The Romans considered him second in importance only to Jupiter. Denis terrorised defences all across Europe striking the fear into defenders when he bore down on goal; he was a goal scoring machine idolised by all United fans who nicknamed him “The King.” And so to George, but what Roman God could possibly be worthy of being associated with the enigma that was George Best? If George had to take the mantle of a Roman God then it surely must be Jupiter, the ruler of the Gods. Jupiter is the God of sky, lightning and thunder. His principle attribute is the lightning bolt and his symbol the eagle, who is also his messenger. George possessed lightning bolts in his feet and in many ways his play resembled the habitual actions of the Golden Eagle. The Golden Eagle is a bird of prey, a bird which mastered the skill of soaring, riding the warm flows of air and can speed up to twenty miles per hour almost without effort. It is quick and clever and its eyesight is quite astonishing, possessing vision about eight times sharper than a human. When a Golden Eagle sees its quarry on the ground below, it does not attack immediately. Instead, it soars high above the unsuspecting target to size it up and then swoops down in one long but swift strike falling right on to the spine of the escaping animal. Wasn’t George just like a Golden Eagle, weighing defences up with his watchful eyes before collecting the ball and accelerating across the blades of grass attacking his prey mercilessly before claiming his prize, a goal for United? A mesmerizing dribbler of the ball who, when he was in the mood would beat a defender with ease and then stop and do a U-turn just to show the same opponent he could beat him again at will. No wonder his close friend Crerand famously remarked that George had “twisted blood.” United’s famous No.11 was blessed with pace, precision passing, accuracy, immaculate ball control, the ability to see a gap in a defence and exploit it, flair, charisma, both on and off the pitch, and a vicious body swerve that resembled a Rivelino free-kick. It was Rivelino’s teammate, the legendary Brazilian, Pele, who said that George Best was the greatest player in the world. And who was going to disagree with Pele? No United fan that was for sure because they already knew George Best was “Simply The Best.” But football’s first superstar, dubbed the Fifth Beatle by the press who reported on his every move, had a rollercoaster of a career.
George made his debut for Manchester United aged just 17 on 14 September 1963, a 1-0 English First Division victory over West Bromwich Albion (scorer: David Sadler) at Old Trafford. Best and Sadler, who was 3 months older than George, were part of Manchester United’s 1964 FA Youth Cup winning side. Best scored in the 1-1 draw away to Swindon Town and Sadler grabbed a hat-trick in United’s 4-1 victory at Old Trafford (John Aston Jr. also scored).
Manchester United: Harry Gregg. Tony Dunne, Noel Cantwell (Capt), Bill Foulkes, Maurice Setters, Paddy Crerand, Nobby Stiles, Philip Chisnall, David Sadler, Bobby Charlton, George Best The young shy Belfast teenager took the place of the fans’ cult hero in the side, Denis Law, who was ruled out of action with an injury. Bobby Charlton played in the game and not before long the names of Law, Best and Charlton would not only sound shivers down the spines of the players of English clubs when the opposing players glanced at the Manchester United team sheet, but this famous trio was feared throughout Europe. They were liquid, crushing, potent, forceful, lethal, devastating and merciless in front of goal. The world’s most famous front trio scored a staggering 665 goals for Manchester United: Charlton 249, Law 237 and Best 179.
However, whereas many of the game’s true greats began to mature and reach their peak as professional footballers in their mid-20s, George packed the game in aged just 26. George once famously said: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” Two English First Division League Championships medals with United in 1965 and 1967, a European Cup winner’s medal in 1968 and Manchester United’s top goal scorer on four occasions, George had the world at his feet. After playing his last game for United on New Year’s Day 1974, a 3-0 English First Division loss away to Queens Park Rangers, George turned his back on football.
And as for fortune, and as for fame, George never invited them in, though it seemed to the world they were all that he desired. His ability with a football was what opened that particular door to the sponsors and reporters who clamoured for his attention. Apart from an odd deal or two with a chewing gum company or a hair cream manufacturer, footballers were not targeted by companies to help promote their products before George Best burst on to the scene. The world of personal sponsorship deals was the domain of movie stars and pop artists. But Best changed all that at a time when English football did not have any sponsored competition or a club had a sponsor other than sponsoring the match ball Indeed, the first English Football League tournament whereby clubs could sell their naming rights was the Watney Cup, sponsored by a brewery company, Watney Mann, which was played from 1970-73. Best played in United’s first ever Watney Cup game, a 3-1 away win over Reading on 1 August 1970 (scorers: Charlton 2, Paul Edwards). But by his time, the face of George Best had already adorned millions of fashion and glamour magazines around the world, his signature appeared on Fore aftershave and Stylo football boots. In his native Northern Ireland he appeared in a television advertisement sitting down for a meal with his Mum, Dad and siblings when the family were eating Cookstown Family Sausages. Best’s strapline was: “Cookstown are the Best family sausages.” George was football’s first Superstar.
The press hounded his every move. They devoured his every action. True creative geniuses are those who understand that a stage or a paintbrush is not required for making the highest art of all. George Best expressed his art on a football pitch where he painted many masterpieces. But for Best the fame and fortune he had achieved playing football were merely illusions, not the solutions they promised to be. And so, the most gifted player ever to play the beautiful game, decided to bring the curtain down on his glittering, yet so unfulfilled to its full promise, career in 1974 aged just 27. He had entertained United fans in 470 appearances for the club scoring 179 goals: English First Division 361 games/137 goals, FA Cup 46 games/21 goals, League Cup 25 games/9 goals, Charity Shield 2 games/1 goal, European Cup 21 games/9 goals, European Cup Winners’ Cup 2 games/0 goals, Inter-Cities Fairs Cup 11 games/2 goals, Inter-Continental Cup 2 games/0 goals.
Over the following eight years George flirted with comebacks including a season, 1976-77, in the English Second Division when he and another football maverick, Rodney Marsh, along with England’s 1966 World Cup winning captain, Bobby Moore, packed Craven Cottage with their entertaining football. Best scored for The Cottagers on his debut after only 71 seconds to give them a 1-0 win over Bristol Rovers. In one game in particular played on 25 September 1976 at Craven Cottage Best tackled Marsh in their own half during their 4-1 victory against Hereford United. Best also played in the North American Soccer League (NASL) for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Los Angeles Aztecs and San Jose Earthquakes. But his football away from Manchester United never quite touched the same highs.
And of course, George reached some lows: constant battles with alcoholism, marriage splits, a liver transplant and a 12-week jail sentence in 1984 for drink-driving, assaulting a police officer and failing to answer bail. But it is the good times that fans will forever remember George for which was what George himself wanted to be remembered for. His magical performance in 1966 against SL Benfica in their own backyard when he scored twice in United’s 5–1 win, a performance that earned him the nickname El Beatle. Or his six goals for United in the FA Cup against Northampton Town, and who will ever forget that night at Wembley on 29 May 1968, when George scored in the European Cup final in their 4–1 win over SL Benfica of Portugal. In season 1967-68, George, a member of United’s famous triumvirate along with Denis Law (European Player of the Year 1964) and Bobby Charlton (European Player of the Year 1966) scored 28 times in the League, 1 goal in the FA Cup and 3 times in United’s successful European Cup campaign. United’s Holy Trinity of Law, Charlton and Best had delivered the Holy Grail, the European Cup, for their manager, Matt Busby to help United erase the memory of the Munich Air Disaster some ten years earlier. George was voted European Player of the Year in 1968.
On 20 November 2005, the News of the World newspaper published a photograph of a very seriously ill George Best lying in his hospital bed at the request of the Manchester United legend. The caption with the photograph read: “Don’t die like me.” Sadly George died in Cromwell Hospital, London five days after the photograph was published but the shy Belfast boy will forever have a special place in the hearts of every Manchester United fan. After George passed away his long-time friend and former business partner, Manchester City’s Mike Summerbee, was asked to describe George in three words. His responses summed up George’s life exquisitely: “A genius but quiet and shy.” “One of the strongest characteristics of genius is the power of lighting its own fire.” (John W.Foster).
When George Best had a football at his feet he could set fire to the rain. He could thread a needle with his toes.
Did You Know That?
A 17-year old George Best made his debut for Northern Ireland in the British Home International Championships on 15 April 1964. The Irish travelled to Swansea to play Wales at The Vetch Field, home to Swansea City. Pat Jennings, the legendary goalkeeper, also made his international debut in the game aged 18 which the Irish won 3-2. Pat paid a beautiful tribute to George after the United legend’s death: “He was the finest player I ever played with or against. I treasure my memories with him even though on occasions he made me look rather foolish.” However, whereas Jennings went on to win a record 119 caps for his country and play at two World Cup final tournaments (1982 and 1986), George only managed 37 caps, scoring 9 times, and football fans around the world never saw him display his skills on the international world stage at any major finals.
Following the loss of eight Manchester United players in the Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958, which also claimed the lives of fifteen other passengers, including three members of the Old Trafford staff, Manchester United were a club sitting on the edge of a cliff made of sand. It just seemed like their whole world was crumbling away with a seemingly impossible task of keeping the club alive falling upon the broad Welsh shoulders of Jimmy Murphy, Matt Busby’s right hand man who missed the trip to play Red Star Belgrade away in the second leg of the European Cup quarter-finals. United were participating in the European Cup for the second successive season, having lost out to Real Madrid in the semi-finals the previous season, 1956-57. However, Murphy was not only Busby’s second in command at United, he was also in charge of the club’s Junior Athletic Club which spawned the world famous Busby Babes, and he managed the Wales international football team from 1956-64.
The away tie against the Yugoslavian Champions was being played on the same night that Wales had a crucial game versus Israel in a 1958 Fifa World Cup qualifying match played at Ninian Park, Cardiff. The Welsh won the first leg 2-0 in Tel Aviv, Israel and just had to avoid a loss by three goals or more to join England at the 1958 Fifa World Cup finals which were being hosted by Sweden. Wales won the home leg 2-0 and qualified for the tournament with a 4-0 aggregate victory.
The day after the disaster, Murphy flew to Belgrade along with the wives of the players and family members of those who were on-board the fateful flight to check on Busby, who was in a coma, and the players who survived the crash, including Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards. Sadly, Duncan succumbed to the terrible injuries he received and died in his hospital bed in the Rechts der Isar Hospital, Munich, West Germany on 21 February 1958. He was aged just 21 years, 4 months and 21 days. Regarded by many Manchester United fans, including those who were not alive when he played 177 times for the club, scoring 21 goals, as the greatest ever Manchester United player of all time, he made his senior debut on 4 April 1953. He was aged 16 years, 6 months and 3 days old when he played in Manchester United’s 4-1 loss at home to Cardiff City in the English First Division Championship on 4 April 1953 (scorer: Roger Byrne).
Born in Dudley on 1 October 1936, at 23 Malvern Crescent, Holly Hall, Dudley, Worcestershire, England, he played schoolboy football with Wolverhampton Street Secondary School, where his skills and talent were harnessed and was soon playing regularly football with Dudley Schoolboys and Worcester County XI. Despite interest from several clubs, Duncan always wanted to play for Manchester United, and on 31 May 1952, that wish became a reality when Jimmy Murphy and Bert Whalley (coach, who died in the Munich Air Disaster) secured his signature as an amateur, at his Dudley home. He eventually signed his professional contract on 1 October 1953. 23145376 Lance Corporal Edwards D also served in the Army for two years doing national service, serving mostly at the Ammunitions Depot at Nescliff, Shropshire, England.
Quite sadly, Duncan had announced his engagement to his girlfriend, Molly Leach, a few days before he played his last ever for Manchester United.
Duncan had already played 18 times for England and scored 5 international goals. He made his debut for England on 2 April 1955, England 7 Scotland 2, a British Championship match at The Empire Stadium, Wembley, London, aged 18 years 183 days.
When Murphy walked into Busby’s room at the hospital, he could literally feel his brain shutting down accompanied with the equivalent feeling of a dagger being thrust deep into his heart, as he saw his close friend lying in an oxygen tent. Busby had inhaled the fumes which came from the aircraft’s burning fuselage as he lay motionless, strapped into his seat on the slush covered runway at Munich International Airport. Jimmy sat on a chair beside Matt’s bed, just like the two had sat side-by-side for many games in the dugout since 1945 when Busby was appointed the manager of Manchester United and made Murphy his first ever signing. Jimmy hoped that maybe his Welsh brogue, as opposed to the German voices of the hospital’s doctors and nurses, would stir Matt from his coma but he was so badly injured he would be given the Last Rites twice. In many ways Jimmy found a little bit of solace in knowing that Matt had no idea about the enormity of the tragedy as the deaths of 7 of his Babes (Duncan became the eighth) were still as of yet unknown to him. The eventual bearer of that heart breaking news would fall upon Matt’s wife, Jean, who never left his bedside. If Matt was going to wake from his slumber then her face was the first she wanted her husband to see. Murphy left the room in tears to visit his boys in their rooms and although they were not as badly injured as their manager, it was all too much for a man who grew up in Pentre, a tough coal mining village in the Rhondda Valley, South Wales.
As he walked out of the hospital the enormity of the job he faced when he returned to Manchester suddenly hit him. How could he possibly go on? He had no manager, he had lost his coach and trainer and an entire team was effectively lost. But he had to do it for his close and personal friend, for his manager, Matt Busby. Jean said to Jimmy: “Keep the Red Flag flying Jimmy. It’s what Matt would want you to do.” How could he possibly refuse? Her words proved to be the motivation he needed to be able to set aside his own grief and get Manchester United playing again in memory of the seven boys he could no longer hand a red jersey to.
To read the rest of this remarkable story, please visit John’s Facebook page:
The 1892-93 season was Newton Heath Football Club’s first in the English Football League, they were in the First Division. It was an eventful season on and off the pitch. They drew two and lost four of their opening six League games and in Game No.7, they not only recorded their first ever Football League victory but they also set a club record score when they beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 10-1 at North Road, Newton Heath. The 1892-93 campaign was only the club’s fourteenth year in existence, founded in 1878 as Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Cricket and Football Club, and it proved to be a hugely unsuccessful season as they finished rock bottom of the League.
At the time, the Football League had a Test Match game in place, a modern day play-off game. Newton Heath faced a Victorian two-legged tie which would decide their Football League status for season 1893-94, and their opponents were Small Heath.
Small Heath (later became Birmingham City) won the English Second Division Championship in season 1892-93 and thereby secured the right to play the team which finished bottom of the English First Division Championship table in a two-legged encounter. That team was Newton Heath Football Club.
The winner would be playing their football in the English First Division Championship the following season. The Heathens escaped relegation by the skin of their teeth, winning the two legged tie 7-3.
The highest home attendance of the season was a 5-0 loss to Sunderland on 4 March 1893. However, Sunderland went on to clinch their second English First Division Championship at the end of the season. The lowest home attendance of the season was 3,000 fans and was set twice: a 7-1 mailing of Derby County on 31 December 1892 and a 3-3 draw versus Accrington Stanley in the final League game of the campaign, which was the club’s last ever game at their North Road, Newton Heath home on 8 April 1893. Accrington Stanley ended the season one place above Newton Heath in 15th place in the table (16 teams made up the Division) whilst Derby County finished in 13th position. Just as The Heathens had to do, Accrington Stanley played in a Test Match at the end of the season to determine their League status for 1893-94. They lost 1-0 to Sheffield United at The Castle Ground, Nottingham in a one-off game and rather than play a season in the lower tier of English football, Accrington Stanley tendered their resignation from the Football League, thereby becoming the first of the twelve founding Football League clubs in season 1888-89 to leave the League permanently (Stoke City failed to achieve re-election for season 1890-91 after finishing the previous season in last place, but rejoined the Football League a year later).
Bob Donaldson was the club’s leading goal scorer in all competitions with 16 goals, all in the League. The club lost 4-0 away to Blackburn Rovers in Round 3 of the FA Cup and 4-0 away to Bury in the First Round of the Lancashire Cup. On the bright side, Newton Heath beat Bolton Wanderers 3-1 in the final of the Manchester Senior Cup.
At the start of the season the club removed Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Cricket from their name and at the end of the season the club’s landlords evicted them from North Road and they moved to Bank Street, Clayton in time for the start of the 1893-94 season.
Did You Know That?
During their inaugural season in the English First Division Championship, Newton Heath had to play a League game with only ten men. On 7 January 1893, the team played Stoke City away but they were without their goalkeeper, James Warner, who failed to meet-up with the team for the train journey to Stoke. Warner joined the club from Aston Villa in July 1892, and played in all 20 of their League matches prior to the encounter with Stoke City. In his absence, half-back William Stewart went into nets and conceded seven times in a 7-1 defeat (scorer: James Coupar in the opening minute of the game). Warner only played twice more for the club following his no-show and in September 1893, he moved to Walsall Town Swifts.