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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.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Babes

by Tom Clare

Professional footballers today live a very privileged existence indeed. They are paid more money than Presidents and Prime Ministers, and lead a life in which their every whim is catered for. Even the majority of fringe players are paid more in a month than most working class people earn in a year. They have become very distant from the people who watch football week in and week out - the real fans. They seem to forget where they came from - the grass roots of the game. They forget that it's the efforts of a lot of other people, aligned to their own talent, that's puts them into those lofty positions that they enjoy so much today. For the past hour and a half, I have sat watching the video that somebody so generously, and anonymously sent to me, about the "Babes." There are some wonderful moments in it and some great stories.

Bobby Charlton tells of his time as a young boy just starting out in the game, and how he was embraced in friendship by Tommy Taylor and David Pegg. David and Tommy were already big stars by then, but the three of them were inseparable. Bob tells the story of how they would walk from their "digs" in Stretford, and on into Manchester city centre to go to the cinema. They walked because as Bobby described it; "we found it boring to go on the bus." Can you imagine star players doing that today? He also tells about the first time that he accompanied them on one of these trips. "I thought I'd better behave like a professional player. As we got to the cinema kiosk, I said "I'll get these lads - where are we sitting?" Tommy Taylor said "just get three in the best Bob" which I did - only to find that nearly all my first week's wages had disappeared!"

There is some footage showing Eddie Colman, Wilf McGuinness, and Bob Charlton leaving the Players entrance at Old Trafford. Wilf goes on to say; "We were just ordinary everyday fun loving lads who played football. Yes, we were the "Busby Babes" but to us, it wasn't like that, we didn't feel like "Busby Babes." We were just a team of pals who shared a love of life, and football." He tells of how Eddie Colman was the fashionable, and cheeky one, and the first of the players to wear "drainpipe trousers" and "winkle picker" shoes.

Marjorie English, who was Eddie Colman's girlfriend, tells of how they would all gather around the piano in The Bridge, on Dane Road, on some Saturday evenings. Eddie used to have a favourite song - "Pennies from Heaven" - and he really fancied himself as a pianist/crooner. The guy with the singer's voice, from what Marjorie says, was none other than Bobby Charlton! There is a lovely picture of Eddie at the piano surrounded by Duncan, Bobby, Tommy, David, Wilf, Billy - all the single lads! A pint and a sing-song with their girlfriends after a hard Saturday game - superstars, yes, but with their feet firmly on the ground!

Eddie's closest friend recalls nights out with Eddie, and how, when Eddie was asked by girls what he did for a living, he would just tell them that he worked in Trafford Park, or was a docker, or his favourite line; "I'm a painter and decorator!" He really was a little imp and had a devilish sense of humour.

Brian Hughes MBE (who has written some wonderful biographies of some of the "Babes") who is a really down to earth Collyhurst lad, tells of the atmosphere that abounded throughout the city in those heady days. As he said, some people used to say it was down to religion. Nothing of the sort " it was a religion - the Manchester United religion." As he said, in those days you didn't need drugs - the biggest narcotic you could get was "the Babes" - the city, and to some extent, the whole British sporting public, fed off them. He recalls a place that used to be in Livesey Street, Collyhurst, named "Harry's, The Barbers." This guy used to have pictures of all the players up on the wall, and people would go in and ask for a "David Pegg" or a "Tommy Taylor." They would then have their hair done in the same style as the named players.

Jimmy Saville makes an appearance in the first part of the programme, and passes opinions on "the Babes." He applauds himself for being the first to realize that the United lads were the first megastars outside of pop. I actually take issue with this, because I am more than certain that Jimmy Saville wasn't even around in Manchester during that "Babes" era. He did arrive around 1959, and for a short while was the DJ at The Plaza Ballroom on Oxford Street. But I am more than certain that he had no connection whatsoever with those lads.

Part Two of the video concentrates on United's entry into Europe, and it is interesting to listen to Bill Foulkes, Bobby Charlton, Wilf McGuinness, the late Ray Wood, talk about how it was perceived by the players at that time. They said that there was excitement at the thought of playing against foreign teams. Bill Foulkes makes some good points by pointing out that up to and including the first European experience, most of those foreign clubs were just names to the players. They knew nothing about them at all, and never ever saw any of the teams play before they actually stepped out onto the field to compete against them. In the middle fifties, there was little or no coverage at all of foreign football. Travel was very limited - people from Manchester traveled great distances to Blackpool, Morecambe, Southport, Rhyl etc for their holidays! Package holidays were unheard of in those days, and Spain was some hot country a long, long, way away! Wilf tells of the day they traveled to Bilbao, in northern Spain for the first leg of that famous quarter final tie. All of them were expecting to get off the aircraft and step into blistering sunshine, but when they arrived it was throwing it down with snow and was bitterly cold. Eddie Colman stepped through the door of the Elizabethan aircraft and uttered the words; "Caramba! Just like Salford!" The morning after the game, they arrived at Bilbao Airport to find the aircraft covered in ice and snow. Together with the Press lads, they pitched in, took brooms and shovels, and cleared the ice and snow from the wings and fuselage of the aircraft - how ironic. There is some wonderful footage of the actual game - footage that I had never ever seen before. I knew that the game was played in atrocious conditions, but I hadn't realized just how bad it was until I saw this video. Today that game would never have been started. There is a wonderful piece showing Billy Whelan scoring the third goal. I knew the story behind it, how he had run from half way, beating man, after man, before firing the ball home from just inside the area. When I actually saw this, it's amazing that after 89 minutes, in conditions that were ankle deep in mud, how he summoned up the strength to go on that run, and then have the power to hit the ball so hard (and this was the old leather ball with the lace) and accurately into the top right hand side of the net. For me, one of the all time great moments in United's history, because that goal gave those lads the belief that they could win the return game and make the semi-finals. Bob Charlton relates the story of the second leg - he was doing his National Service at the time, and couldn't get away to attend the game. That is, until an erstwhile Sergeant Major mentioned that he would love to see the game, and that if Bobby could get the tickets, he would make sure that they got time off to go and see the match. Again some wonderful footage of the return game, which for me, is without doubt the most memorable game of football that I have ever attended in my whole lifetime. The memories of that United versus Bilbao match will be with me until I draw my final breath.

Frank Taylor (who wrote the book "The Day a Team Died") talks about the relationship the players had with the Press Corps. As he said, there were times that the players were criticized, but never, ever, did they take it to heart. However, as he pointed out, in those days criticism always tended to be constructive, and the press lads reported about football. Private lives were private, and as far as the press lads were concerned, they were out of bounds. Henry Rose, who was a lovely guy, and wrote for the Daily Express, once wrote a piece attacking Duncan Edwards for what Henry thought was over-robust play. A day or two after the article appeared, United were leaving for Dortmund, and Henry cornered Duncan at the airport, and told him not to take the article to heart. Duncan stopped him dead in his tracks; "Never even read it Henry" he told him. "You have your job to do and a living to make, and I have mine - that's fair enough by me." Frank talked about how all the players and press lads gelled on the European trips, and the fun that they had together. How the likes of Eddie, and Tommy Taylor, used to plague the life out of Tom Jackson (M.E.N.) and Alf Clarke (M.E.C.) Ray Wood told about how when they first traveled, they were all worried about foreign food, so they took bags and bags of boiled sweets and chocolate with them. Bill Foulkes laughs recalling Johnny Berry taking a primus stove with him on every trip!

The third and last part of the video relates entirely to the accident, so I won't dwell on that as I think I have related events a lot in previous writings. The point that I am trying to make in posting this thread, is that as I said at the beginning, I do feel that a lot of today's superstars forget their grass roots. In reality, they don't know just how good they have it, and they tend to forget that although they may be talented, and turn into great players, they are given tremendous assistance along the way by lots of people not only at their clubs, by in different walks of life as well.

Harry Gregg comes out with some wonderful words at the end of the video;

"They say that they were the best team we have ever seen ? well maybe. They say that they may have gone on to be the best team that we have ever seen ? well maybe. But there is one thing for certain ? they were the best loved team that there has ever been."

That love came from their humility, sportsmanship, the way that they lived their lives, the respect that they gave to their opponents and to the people who they loved so much - the fans. Plus the fact that they never considered themselves to be special. As Wilf said; "just a bunch of pals that happened to play football." I only wish that some of todays players would watch this video and take a leaf out of their book.

For any of you that are interested, the programme was called "The Busby Babes" and was made by Granada in 1998.

Ronaldo interview

posted by tiptoe on the Red News forum

From a post on SEF taken from a magazine in porugal christiano ronaldo

Manchester still haven't managed to overcome Chelsea's superiority. Why?
A - Because Chelsea were more consistent. They performed better than us, so they fully deserved the championship they won. Despite the fact that Manchester finished the season very well.
Q - Can you find a reason why Manchester have gone so long without winning a championship?
A - That's a difficult question to answer. All clubs have good phases and poorer phases, and Manchester is no exception. I hope and I believe that Manchester will achieve stability to be a more consistent team. I hope this happens as soon as possible.
Q - Is there anyone in England able to dethrone Mourinho's Chelsea?
A - Of course. Chelsea aren't an unbeatable team. There's just one difference: consistency. Chelsea manage to keep the same performance level throughout the season, that's why they're champions.
Q - Do you believe you are missing a winner's medal in a big competition?
A - Of course. I hope and I believe that I will win one. Not only one but several and as soon as possible. I hope it's next season.
Q - What does it mean to you to be one of Manchester's biggest players, if not their biggest, while so young?
A - It's very important. It's a sign that people appreciate my work and like me. I believe I'm going to improve even more, win titles and help my club achieve its aims.
Q - Do you still remember the day you got to know the Manchester squad?
A [smiling] - I remember. I was calm. I was just a little nervous because I didn't know how to speak English, so when they spoke to me I didn't know how to answer. Apart from that, it was a special day for me.
Q - Today it's a very different situation.
A [smiling] - It's a bit different. I've been there for three years now; I've learned how to speak a bit more than the basics. I'm adapted now.

Q - Many critics say that you, like a lot of other young Portuguese footballers, left Portugal too early. What do you think?
A - When somebody leaves and things don't work out it's easy to criticise immediately. This is what happened, for example, with Hlder Postiga, Hugo Viana and even Quaresma. Things didn't go badly, but they didn't go as well as they would have hoped for, and the criticism came immediately. Straight away people started saying it was because they had left Portuguese football too young, that they weren't mature and experienced enough, among other things. In my case things went well and people now don't point the finger like they did at them. Age is a relative matter. If things go well, they talk you up; if things go badly, they start criticising. What I believe is that age isn't a factor to take on new challenges.
Q - You have enough quality to play in any position in midfield going forward, but it's still difficult to know what your favourite position is. Where do you most like to play?
A - I play regularly on the left wing and the right wing, but the position I prefer is a free role up front, like a second striker. At Manchester I haven't had the chance to play in this position yet, because there are a lot of players who do a great job there. For Portugal it's different: sometimes I play behind the striker, where things have gone well for me.
Q - You and Rooney have been competing for the best young player for two years. Who is better?A - We're different. Each one has his own characteristics, but we're both good.
Q - More than once you've said that you are going to be considered the best player in the world. When do you think this prediction will come true?
A - In a few years' time. I've still got 12 or 13 years ahead of me and I know that one day this will happen. At least I'm going to work towards this goal. I know I've got value and I'm at a great club and in a great national team, where anything can happen. Through work I hope to achieve this aim one day. I hope it happens as soon as possible.

Q - You were three goals away from winning your bet with Alex Ferguson, which happened for the second time.
A [interrupting] - And it was the second time I lost. That's not easy. Last year we bet that I'd score ten goals, and I scored nine. This year it was 15 and I scored 12.
Q - Will there be a new bet next year?
A - Very likely. [smiling] And he'll certainly raise the bar. He'll probably ask me for around 20 goals and maybe I'll score around 14 or 15. Let's see. But one day I'll win.
Q - And what's behind the bet? Money?
A - It's money. Not much, it's accessible. I'm able to pay.

Q - The press has already reported at least two spats between you and Van Nistelrooy. What really happened?A - Nothing much. Quarrels happen in all teams, in all professions. It's normal to have small disagreements. That's what happened, something perfectly normal. People are turning it into a storm in a teacup. I repeat that what happened wasn't anything special, and he's actually someone I get on particularly well with.
Q - How do you deal with the pressure from the English tabloids?A - Calmly. Nobody likes being rubbished or having your private life intruded, but with time you gain experience and realise worrying too much about this won't get you anywhere. So what you have to do is ignore it and carry on with your life and your work. That's exactly what I do.

Q - What was the worst moment of your career?
A - I've had a few, but perhaps the worst was when I lost the Euro 2004 final.
Q - And the best?
A - It was getting to the final of Euro 2004. On the one hand it was sad, but on the other it was also good, because it was a unique experience in my life. Playing in a final of that magnitude, knowing that all eyes were on our team... It was exciting, important, but also sad because of the outcome.
Q - What do you do away from football in England?
A - I try to spend my days calmly, doing what gives me pleasure: going on outings, being with my family, going to the cinema, shopping.

Duncan Edwards

posted on the Readers Forum by Tom Clare but so good we wanted to share with you out here

Seeing the thread posted by Electric Stapler regarding Nobby's comments on Rooney/Duncan brought the memories flooding back. I wrote this piece a couple of years ago for another forum, but thought I would share my memories of Duncan with you all.

"The best player that I've ever seen, the best footballer that I've ever played with for United or England, the only other player who ever made me feel inferior." Those are the words of one of the greatest players ever to grace the world football stage, one of the greatest ambassadors of the game, and most of all, one of life's gentlemen - Sir Bobby Charlton. The player that he was talking about? Well, he was a young man - just. He played the game until he was only 21 years and 143 days old. But in that so short career, he left such an indelible mark, both on the game, and for the people that were fortunate enough to have watched him, on their memories. It says so much about him, that even now, almost 47 years after his passing, he is still talked about and remembered, not only by the fans of the club for which he played and loved so much, who cherish that memory so guardedly, but also, by football fans throughout the British Isles and Europe. He was a household name by the time that he reached his eighteenth birthday. He was indeed world class, a colossus, a giant in the truest sense of the word, a great, and he has certainly become a legend. In the modern day, when those words are bandied about and bestowed upon players so freely and so easily, when put against this young man's profile, no other words could describe him more aptly - he is of course, Duncan Edwards.

During the last few weeks, the BBC has been running their "England Dream Team" competition. Of course, Duncan was amongst the nominations but never even got near to the team finally selected. There are a number of reasons for this, the main one being I suspect, would be the fact that the majority of the voters were too young to have watched him play. Others I also suspect, just can't accept that there was once a young player who was just so good. It's difficult for them to believe that there was ever "the perfect player." It must make them wonder just who this wonderful young man was? Could he have been the player that he was made out to be? Are the descriptions of him over-exaggerated? Over the years, much has been written about Duncan, some of it true, some of it myth. Those of us who were around during his time and did watch him play, know which is which.

I was fortunate to have watched Duncan for the majority of his first team career and have so many, many, memories of him. He was a wonderful human being as well as being a great football player. Let me tell you a few things about him, and then about my memories of him.

Duncan was born on October 1st, 1936, to Gladstone and Sara-Ann Edwards, in a little terraced house at 23, Malvern Crescent, in the Black Country town of Dudley, Worcestershire. They were a typical hard working, working class family, just like so many of their contemporaries of that time. His late Mum used to tell the story about Duncan being able to kick a ball before he could even walk! His parents had a set of reins which they would tie around his waist, and whilst Gladstone would hold him upright, Duncan would kick the ball up and down their living room, much to their amusement. He grew into a young giant for his age, a huge frame - much bigger than children of his own age. He loved to play football. His waking hours were spent playing the game whenever the opportunity would arise, and if he wasn't actually playing football, then he would dream about it. It was obvious to anybody watching this young man, that he was so gifted and skilful where football was concerned. At the tender age of eight, he was playing in his School team against boys two, and three years older than himself. By the time he was eleven years old, he was playing for his Town team, and also representing Worcestershire Schoolboys, his County team - he was three years younger than his team mates. Around that time, Duncan wrote an essay at school in which he recalled a conversation between his father and uncle. During that conversation, he had heard his father remark that England would be playing Scotland at Wembley Stadium, the following Saturday. Duncan plucked up the courage to interrupt the conversation and ask the question; 'where is Wembley Stadium?' His uncle told him that it was in London. Duncan related to him how much he would like to play there. Little was he to know at that time, just how soon his dream would come true. On April 1st, 1950, at aged just 13 years old, Duncan strode out from the tunnel and onto the hallowed Wembley turf, in front of 100,000 spectators, wearing the shirt of England Schoolboys, representing his country, playing at left half, against the Wales Schoolboys team. He played in every England schoolboy international fixture for the next three seasons, and was even made England captain at just 14 years old. That record of playing for three successive seasons for England schoolboys still stands today, as does his being the youngest ever captain, and I doubt very much if those two records will ever be broken.

Obviously, a talent such as this attracted a lot of attention. From the moment he became a schoolboy international, lots of the top professional clubs courted his parents in the hope that they would eventually land the signature of this remarkable young boy. All the big Midlands clubs were prominent, Wolves, Albion, Villa, Birmingham, as well as Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and Chelsea. A chance conversation between two old adversaries, as well as old army friends, was the beginning of the road to Old Trafford for Duncan. In 1950, Joe Mercer, then still playing for Arsenal, was doing some coaching with the England schoolboys team. After a game between United and Arsenal, Joe happened to remark to Matt Busby what a remarkable talent he had seen in the England schoolboys team, and that in his opinion; 'young Edwards is going to be some player'. This alerted Busby, and he sent his trusted chief scout, Joe Armstrong, down to Dudley to watch the young Edwards play. After just ten minutes, Armstrong had seen enough, and recommended that Busby should go and watch this young man for himself. The following week, both Matt and Jimmy Murphy slipped unobtrusively into Dudley and watched Duncan play. They too, did not have to stay for too long watching Duncan play, and on the way back to Manchester, Busby told Jimmy that this was one young player that United must not miss out on. For the next two years they kept an eye on things and at 2 a.m. on the morning of October 1st 1952, a bleary eyed Gladstone Edwards came downstairs to answer the knocking on the front door of his home. Stood there outside in the darkness was Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy. He invited both men into the living room, and called Sara-Ann. For the next hour the four of them talked about the possibility of Duncan joining Manchester United. Gladstone told both of them that the decision would be left to Duncan as to which club he would like to join - unbeknowns to him, Sara-Ann already knew the answer! Duncan had confided to her the previous morning. Gladstone called Duncan, and this big giant of a boy arrived in the living room wearing his pyjamas, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, and immediately upon recognizing Matt Busby said; 'Mr. Busby, there's only one club that I want to play football for, and that's Manchester United. I'd give anything to sign for them'. It was as simple as that - he'd followed the exploits of the United team that had won the FA Cup in 1948, the 1st Division Championship in 1952, and who had also finished runners-up in the league on four other occasions. Their brand of football had captivated him. He was a United fan! A few minutes after meeting Matt Busby, Duncan was a Manchester United player, and a few days later he left the family home for digs in Stretford, and a career in professional football.

Upon his arrival at Old Trafford Duncan was quietly introduced and within weeks it was apparent that here was somebody truly remarkable, with a remarkable talent, and one which hadn't been seen before. The coaches reporting back to Busby stated that there was absolutely nothing that they could coach into this kid. He was just so natural, and gifted, in everything that he did. Nothing fazed him, the surroundings, his team mates, opposing players - he just had the perfect temperament. In no time at all Duncan had been promoted into the reserve team and his performances belied his young years. Even at this youthful age, he had a superb physique. Players of his own age looked under nourished compared to him! But for a big lad, he was exceptionally quick over the ground, could turn either way with a devastating body-swerve, had two great feet, a tremendous shot in either foot, was exceptionally powerful in the air, so strong in the tackle, but most importantly, for one so young, his positional play was flawless because he read the game so well. It also soon became apparent that he could play anywhere in any position, and still be the most outstanding player on the park! Just six months after his arrival at Old Trafford, the day that he had lived and dreamed about arrived. On Saturday, April 2nd 1953, at the age of 16 years and 185 days, he appeared out of the tunnel wearing the number 6 shirt in Manchester United's first team playing against Cardiff City in a Football League Division One match.

My earliest recollections of Duncan are of seeing him play in a reserve team game at Old Trafford early in 1953. It was astonishing to see this young giant playing amongst men. In hindsight, it was his age that first attracted me to him being a favourite of mine. United?s reserve team wing halves in the second half of that season were two really young players - Jeff Whitefoot, who was younger than Duncan when he had made his first team debut, and Duncan himself. After he made his debut, Duncan hardly appeared in a reserve game again, although he did play in the Youth team, and won a winners medal in the inaugural season of the FA Youth Cup. In 1953/54, his reputation started to gain momentum, and even though he was just 17, he appeared for the England Under-23 team against Italy, in Bologna. He had already started to earn rave notices with his outstanding displays in the first team. In those days, there was some really outstanding players around who had huge reputations. They meant nothing at all to Duncan - even at such a young age, he just eclipsed them with the power and polish of his own performance.

The late Jackie Milburn used to tell the story of the day that he first came up against Duncan. He recalls early on in the game standing besides him and listening as Duncan told him; 'I know that you are a great player Mr. Milburn, and that you have a big reputation, but it means nothing at all to me. Today I am not going to allow you a kick at the ball.' This was from a young 16 years old boy - it wasn-t arrogance, or egoism, it was Duncan's inherent self-belief in his own ability. As Jackie was to say; 'the thing was, Duncan was absolutely true to his word, I hardly did get a kick throughout that game and United won 5-2. I just could not believe how mature this young kid was, and what ability and self-belief he had'. His reputation had already started to grow, but it never went to his head. He had his feet firmly planted on the ground. Duncan knew he was special, I don't think that he ever doubted that. He just loved to play, be it in the first team or even the Youth team, he ga!
ve each game the same commitment. His appetite for playing was voracious. Jimmy Murphy recalled another game, this time a Youth team match early in the stages of the competition against a well known London team. From the very start of the game, there was a loud mouth sat behind Jimmy who kept on baiting him by shouting; 'where's your famous Edwards then Murphy, where's this so-called superstar?' Jimmy just gritted his teeth and said nothing until about ten minutes into the game, a tackle was won in the centre circle, and the tackler was away with the ball and moving towards goal. Several of the opposition players tried to get within touching distance of him, but he was just too strong. From full 30 yards he unleashed a tremendous shot that hardly got off the ground. Before the home goalkeeper could move, it was past him and nestling into the back of the net. Jimmy just smiled, turned around, looked the loud mouth straight in the eye, and said; 'that's Edwards!'

The Youth team were formidable in those first years of the Youth Cup competition, and nigh on unbeatable - they won it for the first five years of its inception. I personally can recall a semi-final against the Chelsea Youth team. Ted Drake had also put together a really good team of youngsters in 1954/55. The first leg had been drawn at Stamford Bridge 2-2. In the return leg, played at Old Trafford on a Saturday morning in front of 30,000 spectators, Chelsea held the upper hand at half-time and led 2-1. In the second half, Edwards moved up to centre forward. Within minutes of the re-start, Terry Beckett floated over a cross from the right, and there was Duncan powering into the area, soaring above everybody, to really thump the ball with his head past the goalkeeper, and level the tie. Sometime later, there was a corner to United on the left hand side at the Scoreboard End. Denis Fidler floated it towards the penalty spot, and once again, Duncan's timing and power got him there b!
efore anybody could react, and another bullet header was planted into the net. He then moved back to left half, and his influence on the young kids around him, made sure that they were never going to lose that tie.

He was such a wonderful young boy. In those days, United players used to make their own way to the ground for home games. Duncan used to have an old Raleigh bicycle, and this was his mode of transport for getting to and from the ground. I would stand on the railway bridge and wait for him as he would come wheeling down what was then Warwick Road (now Sir Matt Busby Way). Once across the bridge he would turn left and free-wheel down to the old Ticket Office, with a stream of kids (me included) chasing after him. He would alight from his bicycle, prop it up against his leg, get all the kids to line up, and he would stand there signing the books and bits of paper before taking a piece of string out of his pocket, secure the bike to a drain pipe, and disappear inside to the dressing room. It was the same ritual in reverse after the game - out he would come, line up the kids once more, sign every book and bit of paper before untying the bike, climbing aboard it, and then he was off, back up Warwick Road, and on to his digs in Stretford.

In April of 1955, he was selected to play for England against Scotland at Wembley - he became the youngest player ever to play for his country at senior level at the age of just 18 years and 183 days. Unheard of in those distant days - teenagers just weren't good enough, nor experienced enough to play for England - or so the thought process went! He had in fact represented England at schoolboy, Youth, Under-23, and B-team level before then. He took to international football like a duck to water, and was never left out of England's team again. In the Autumn of 1955, England went to Berlin to play the then World Champions, West Germany, at the Olympiastadion, in front of 100,000 spectators. For the first 20 minutes of the game, the Germans had given England a torrid time, but then Duncan made a tackle midway inside the German half and won the ball. His acceleration was so quick, it just took him past two startled German defenders, and from 25 yards, he just bombed the ball into the back of the net before the 'keeper could move. Even today, the Germans remember him by the nickname that they bestowed upon him that day - "Boom-Boom!" The following winter, the Brazilians arrived at Wembley, testing the water for their assault on the World Cup Finals to be held in Sweden in the summer of 1958. Most of the players the Brazilians used in Sweden actually played in that game at Wembley. They were outclassed by an England team that won 4-2, and missed two penalties in the process. Tommy Taylor led their defence a merry dance, but Duncan eclipsed the man who was to be their big star in Sweden - Didi. Didi was made to look more than ordinary, and believe me, this fellow was up there with the best of them - Pele, Best, Di Stefano, Puskas. Edwards won 18 caps in total and scored 5 international goals. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have played for England for a very long time but for fate. I also believe that England, and not Brazil, would have lifted the 1958 World Cup but for Munich, and also the cruel loss of Jeff Hall, the Birmingham City full back, to polio. The very heart was ripped out of a very, very, good England team.

In 1955/56, Matt Busby's famous "Babes" team became of age and lifted the Championship with an average age of just 22 years, and by a margin of 11 points. They suffered a shock defeat in the FA Cup third round against Second Division Bristol Rovers at Eastville by the astonishing scoreline of 4-0. Last year, I had occasion to ask one of the 606 Substitute guys who lives in Bristol, to recall this fact to an old friend of his. This old friend looked at Steve when asked about that game and said; 'Aye, we won 4-0, but you have to remember that Edwards didn't play in that game'. That was the esteem that Duncan was held in by the British football fan.

From late 1955 to late 1957, Duncan also had to serve his National Service, and did so in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He hated having to do this time in the Services, but like most of the young men of that time, he took it on the chin and just got on with it. In 1956/57 he picked up another Championship winner's medal and also appeared in United's losing Cup Final team against Aston Villa. In that Final was the only time that he came close to losing self control on the football pitch. He was horrified to watch the vicious assault by Villa winger Peter McParland upon Ray Wood in the United goal, during the opening minutes of that game. It effectively put Wood out of the game with a fractured cheek-bone and reduced United to 10 men. As McParland lay on the ground Duncan strode over to him, but then held back before the red mist descended. He was scrupulously fair, and expected nothing less from opposing players.

He played in European competition that year also, My abiding memory of him during that European campaign was not of him in any of United's victories, but in the semi-final, second leg defeat by that great Real Madrid team of that era. Although that game had been drawn 2-2, United had been eliminated by 5-3 on aggregate. Over the two legs, the Spanish Champions had employed some really dubious tactics, and also United were on the end of some very suspicious decisions from the referee in the away leg in Spain. Twice they had what seemed legitimate goals ruled out for offside. As he came off the field that evening, I could see the hurt, and dejection etched in his face. He'd run his socks off that night, but even his superhuman efforts were not enough to pull of an almost impossible victory. It hurt him, you could see that.

The last time that I saw him play was on Saturday, January 25th 1958 in a 4th round FA Cup tie at Old Trafford, against Ipswich Town, which United won by 2-0. His last appearance in England was on February 1st 1958, against Arsenal at Highbury. It was fitting that it was a game that was an absolute classic, which United won by 5-4 and Duncan was outstanding, scoring very early in the game with one of his specials. The result was of little importance in retrospect - football won that day. It left a lot of fans with the memory of a truly outstanding young footballer who performed in a truly outstanding young team. His last appearance for United was on February 5th 1958 in the Army Stadium in Belgrade in the 3-3 draw with Red Star, and again, it was fitting that he gave another outstanding performance. On a treacherous pitch, he floated and glided over it with grace and power. In the second half, when United's defence was on the rack, he tackled like a demon and marshalled everybody superbly, again he was the outstanding player on the pitch.

Duncan was very reserved off the field, almost to the point where he was shy, and retiring. He just lived for football and would have played everyday if he had been allowed. Oh! yes, he knew that he was gifted, and he knew that he was special - but it never put an edge upon him. He didn't feel any different from his team mates. For his age he was so mature, nobody took liberties with him. Bill Foulkes recalls a tale from a game against West Brom in 1957. Maurice Setters (who was later to join United) was a really tough, abrasive, intimidating in your face, wing half. Early on in the game, he made the mistake of trying to intimidate Duncan by standing nose to nose with him as Duncan tried to take a throw-in. Duncan just looked down at this craggy crew-cutted man - there was a slight movement of Duncan's chest, and Setters went back 10 yards on his backside. It was as though he had just swatted a fly. Setters was nowhere to be seen after that. How many players have played for England at senior level one week, and their club's youth team the next? He did. How many players have played for the youth team in the morning, and the first team in the afternoon? He did. He was never in the media for the wrong reasons, and in fact the only time that he ever got into trouble was one Saturday evening after a "derby" game at Old Trafford in 1955. City had trounced United 5-0, and as usual, Duncan was on his way home on his bike. An overzealous policeman stopped him in on Chester Road, and booked him for riding a bicycle without lights. On the Monday morning he was fined 10 shillings in the Magistrate's Court, and upon arriving at Old Trafford, Sir Matt fined him two weeks wages for bringing the club?s name into disrepute! He lived his life as the professional should. He conducted himself impeccably, looked after his body, and just loved the club that he played for. He was an icon to young boys like me, and without doubt was the perfect role model.

He survived for almost 15 days after the tragedy. He fought, my how he fought to live. His injuries were so severe though, especially to his kidneys. Dr. Georg Maurer the eminent doctor and surgeon at the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich, where all the injured were taken and treated, said that any less mortal than Duncan could never have survived those injuries for as long as he did. His fitness, stamina and courage, were unquestioned. In the first few days after the tragedy, when Jimmy Murphy visited him as he lay there fighting for his life, his first words to Jimmy were; 'what time's the kick off against Wolves on Saturday Jimmy? I can't miss that one'. It must have broken Jimmy's heart to see his big champion lying broken and battered as he was. There was a very, very close bond between those two men. Jimmy tells a few stories about Duncan against himself. In an England v Wales game at Ninian Park in Cardiff, Jimmy as the Wales team manager was in the dressing room just prior to the game. One by one he was giving players their instructions on how to combat the England players. When he had finished, Reg Davies, the Newcastle United centre forward piped up; 'but Boss, you haven't mentioned this here fellow Edwards - what do we do about him? How do you want us to play him?' Jimmy looked Reg straight in the eye and said; 'stay out of his way son, stay out of his way. If you don't, you'll get hurt'. During the second half of that game, with England leading 4-0, Duncan had to collect the ball from close by the dugout so that he could take a throw in. Seeing Jimmy in there he looked up and said; 'hey Jimmy, what time's the next train back to Manchester? You're wasting you?re time here!' Jimmy exploded; 'wait till I get you back there on Monday young man - I might make you into a half decent player!' Yes, there was a special bond between them.

Not long before the tragedy, Duncan became engaged to a young lady named Molly. He also bought a car, even though he couldn't drive. Sunday mornings would see he and Molly outside his digs, busily polishing that car! It was his pride and joy. It must have been heartbreaking also for his parents, and young Molly, to listen to him as he lay in that hospital. He told his Mum; 'I've got better things to do than lie here Mum. We?ve got an important game on Saturday'. She reminded him that he also had a car waiting at home for him, an he just replied; 'keep it on the road Mum, keep it on the road'. At 1:18a.m. on the morning of February 21st 1958, this giant of a young man succumbed to those terrible injuries which he had received in the tragedy of two weeks before. When the news broke in the City of Manchester later that morning, once again a great pall of mourning enveloped the people.

My memories of him never dim. I can still see him today as he comes bounding out from the tunnel, taking those giant leaps into the air, heading an imaginary ball. Standing there in the middle of the pitch expanding his chest and shouting to his team mates in that thick Black Country accent; 'come on lads, we 'aven't come here for nuffink!' He was special alright - in some ways he was a freak, and I say that in the nicest possible way. He was the perfect human being, the perfect footballer with the perfect technique, temperament, the one player that I have seen that really did have everything and could play anywhere and still be the most outstanding player on the field. People often ask me today as to who would compare with him. Well, the honest answer is, I haven't seen anybody come near to him. To try and explain I tell them, take a little bit of Bobby Moore, a little bit of Bryan Robson, a little bit of Roy Keane, and a little bit of Patrick Viera - mix them together, and maybe! , just maybe, you may just get a little bit of Duncan Edwards. Have a look at the websites and and read the various newspaper reports and testimonials about him - it will give you an idea of just how gifted this young man was. There was a famous athlete years ago who used to proclaim 'I am the greatest, I am the greatest.' Well, unfortunately I have news for him, even he got it wrong. You see, "the greatest" was a young 21 years old wing half, who played for Manchester United and England, and in my opinion, was the most complete player the game of football has ever witnessed. Dear Dunc, I say it so often, the years roll by, but your memory never dims and your legend will live on forever.