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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Bestie in his own words

taken from

extracts from Hard Tackles and Dirty Baths: The Inside Story of Football's Golden Era

I was always determined to make my mark in this wonderful yet often so weird game of football. I had started my career at Manchester United in the ranks, the A and B teams, and thought I was lucky to be making such rapid progress when I graduated to the reserve side. But then not long after my seventeenth birthday, after only nine central league appearances, I became a full professional and stepped into the first team. I played against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford on 14 September, 1963 and I shall never forget it. I was at outside right and we won 1-0 with a goal from David Sadler. I dropped back into the reserves but just over three months later, on 28 December, I was brought in to play outside left, with another youngster, Willie Anderson, making his debut on the other wing.

Willie was even younger then me; he was just sixteen. Yet this was how the conveyor belt of talent operated at Old Trafford under manager Matt Busby. I managed to score in a 5-1 win over Burnley. Everyone was pretty pleased as the win was revenge for a 6-1 beating we'd received at Burnley just two days previously. Both Willie and I stayed in the side for our next game - an FA Cup debut in the third round at Southampton. Everyone keep asking me if I was nervous, particularly as our regular match-winner, Denis Law, wasn't playing. But I never seemed to suffer any nerves. We won 3-2 after a terrific fight back and I stayed in the side until the end of the season, contributing four goals in the league. Things just got better and better and after only twenty-one first-team games, I was honoured by Northern Ireland and won my first cap playing at outside right against Wales at Swansea.

I had travelled to Wembley the previous May with my father to watch United in the 1963 Cup Final. What an atmosphere. What an occasion. I instantly fell in love with the Cup Final and wanted to be part of it.

Manchester United were the outsiders against Leicester City, having finished a poor nineteenth in the First Division, while our opponents had finished fourth. But the excitement was gripping right from the start as United took control and reversed the odds. Within thirty minutes United took the lead when Denis Law cracked an unstoppable shot past Gordon Banks. Minutes later he almost made it two from an individual run that left three defenders trailing, and when he beat Banks his shot was cleared off the line. Fifteen minutes after the break United extended their lead when Banks could only parry a shot from Bobby Charlton and David Herd pounced on the loose ball to score. With ten minutes left, Ken Keyworth scored for Leicester with a diving header. That seemed only to sharpen United's appetite, and a header from Law rebounded off the post. Then Banks fumbled a shot from Quixall and Herd was there once again to complete the scoring. How could so much exhilarating football fail to !

My dad was there to check everything was okay with Matt Busby as I signed my professional forms for Manchester United. I had spent two years as an "amateur" when, in reality, I was an apprentice, but because of the rules of the day involving the Irish and Scottish Leagues, the club had to find me a regular job and I could train as an amateur only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Of course, my "job" just happened to coincide with working at the training ground from 9am, where I was able to conveniently combine my duties with a touch of er ... training. There had been a big debate about the draining of talent from Scotland and Northern Ireland and they tried to make it more difficult for the English clubs to take the boys as apprentices, but there was always going to be a way round it. Before the club worked the fiddle with my job I did some actual work for the Manchester Ship Canal Company - making the tea and running messages.

Back then every young boy's head was turned by the glamour and thrill of football. Never mind playing; you dreamed of just being in the big grounds to watch your heroes. Growing up in Belfast, my grandfather lived just fifty yards from the main entrance to the Glentoran ground. In those days the local club would attract big crowds, and he or my dad would take me along. Children went in free if they were accompanied by an adult. Those who didn't have an adult to take them would wait at the turnstiles and ask a stranger to take them in. You'd be lifted over the turnstiles as the adult paid. Once you were in you would ask the other people in the packed stand to lift you up and you'd be carried above their heads down to the front so you could see the game.

After the match on a Saturday evening it would be a thrill waiting for the Belfast Telegraph to publish its football special, the Pink. It came out around an hour after the match had finished and you could buy it on the street corner. I would take it home, cut out the Glentoran match report and paste it into my scrapbook. Then, I would flip the paper over, and on the back were reports of the best of the English football, and of course at this time, the headlines belonged to my favourite team, Wolves. Even then kids liked to follow the successful team: they always appear more glamorous for that reason. I must have filled up half a dozen scrapbooks, and I wish I still had them. It was reading those reports of the Wolves games that got me hooked. I became aware of the great traditions of the Wolves team and their exploits domestically and internationally.

For me as a lad in Belfast, I was able to watch the glamour players in English football because one of my near neighbours possessed a television, a rarity in our street. Certainly my family were too poor to afford one. The neighbour was just a couple of doors away. I was just a kid at the time but I was around his house whenever there was a game on. I didn't care who was playing, I just loved watching. In those days it was in fact rare to see any football on television. Match of the Day hadn't started yet, and most matches broadcast were international football. I was originally inspired by Wolves, because of the glamorous international ties they were involved in; playing a team from Moscow at that time was like playing a team from another planet. Wolves were one of the first to play under floodlights, and there was just an extra-special feeling about a game being played in the evening. It was sheer theatre.


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