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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Tom Clare on Tommy Taylor

50 YEARS ON – “The Smiling Executioner”

His smile would have brightened even the darkest room. With his black curly hair, mischievous eyes, that smile and good looks, Tommy Taylor, standing at 6’1” tall and weighing in at 13 stones, he was the epitome of the professional athlete. Like the “Bestie” of a few years hence, it is true to say that Tommy Taylor would not have looked out of place on a Holywood film set. It is also true to say that the female contingent of Manchester United’s following back in the 1950’s looked upon him as a replica of Adonis!

Tommy Taylor was born on January 29th 1932, in Barnsley, Yorkshire, into a working class mining family. The details of his early life are rather sketchy and buried in the mists of time. From what I remember, Tommy didn’t actually take to playing football seriously until his early teens. He wasn’t a schoolboy international, and I am pretty certain that he didn’t even play for the Barnsley Boys team. Football to the young Tommy Taylor was just a game to be enjoyed with his contemporaries, nothing more, nothing less. He certainly had no aspirations at that early age for a career in the professional game. But as he moved towards his middle teens, he grew and filled out physically. He started playing for a local pub team when he was seventeen years old named “Smithies United.” Tommy started knocking in goals for them and soon came to the attention of the local Barnsley Football League Club. His progress was fairly rapid as he continued to find the back of the net on a regular basis.

He made his debut in the Barnsley first team and the goals continued to flow. Being a local lad, Taylor was blissfully happy playing for his home town team. Everybody knew him, he could live at home, and he was able to stay around his close circle of friends. But as the goals flowed, so his reputation was enhanced, and scouts from the top First Division clubs began to be seen at Oakwell, Barnsley’s home ground in large numbers. It didn’t faze him and he had no intentions of moving on – he was happy.

Manchester United at this time was in a period of rebuilding after their First Division Championship win in season 1951-52. A lot of that team was the wrong side of 30 and United were having trouble finding a goal scoring centre forward. Jack Rowley had filled a few positions in the forward line but mainly operated no in one of the inside forward positions.. Busby had experimented with playing John Aston Senior in the pivotal forward position, but this could only ever be considered a short term project. Eddie Lewis filled the spot for a dozen or so games and wasn’t unsuccessful in that he found the net 6 times. However he was still young and raw. In the reserves, United were also experimenting with playing Bill Foulkes at centre forward and he was having quite a time. Bill hit the net regularly, and in one reserve game up at St. James’s Park in Newcastle, he scored four times! Busby was about to give Foulkes his head in the first team but an untimely ankle injury put paid to that plan. So in March 1953, he decided to take the plunge in the transfer market.

In the previous few months, Busby had sent Jimmy Murphy to watch Taylor closely in Barnsley’s matches. Both knew that there was a bevy of First Division clubs watching this exciting, athletic, young centre forward. On Murphy’s last visit to the Oakwell, he informed Busby that there had been more Managers, Chairmen and Scouts from other clubs in attendance, that he thought that there had been a general meeting of the Football League. Busby decided to strike. Both he and Murphy made contact with the Barnsley club, and were allowed to speak to the young Taylor. It was a hard job because Tommy was so settled and did not want to leave his native surroundings – he was settled and happy. One of their biggest problems was trying to convince the boy that he was good enough to play in the First Division. He was such a modest young man. It was the charm of the mercurial Busby that eventually turned the tide as he outlined the future plan that he had for Manchester United. Busby sold him on the prospect of being part of a very young team, and a club full of home grown young players – one of them, Mark Jones, also hailing from the Wombwell area of Barnsley. He convinced him that should he join United, the sky was the limit as to what he could achieve on the football field.

He sold Manchester United to Tommy with not only his charm, but his charisma as well. It’s well documented that he pulled off a coup in beating the other chasing clubs for Taylor’s signature. But the mark of Busby’s managerial qualities also came out in the finalizing of Taylor’s move. Barnsley wouldn’t settle for less than 30,000 pounds, which in 1953, was an astronomical figure. The British transfer record at that time was for inside forward Jackie Sewell who had moved in 1951 from Notts County to Sheffield Wednesday for 35,000 pounds. Busby did not want to burden young Taylor as being a “30,000 pounds player” so taking out his wallet, he pulled from it a 1 pound note and handed it to the lady who had been serving up the teas in the Boardroom. The transfer went ahead for the agreed sum of 29,999 pounds and finally, Taylor’s signature was secured.

He moved over to Manchester and was placed into digs with David Pegg in Stretford. It was the beginning of a strong friendship that would only end for them both at the end of a snow bound Munich runway just less than five years ahead. Young David had made his debut for United in the December of 1952 away at Middlesborough and had begun to make the outside left position in the team his own. So it was that on Saturday, March 7th 1953, in front of 52,590 fans at Old Trafford, Tommy Taylor made his debut in the red shirt of United against their Lancashire rivals from Deepdale, Preston North End. It’s interesting to look at the team that lined up that afternoon; Crompton; Aston (Snr), Byrne; Carey, Chilton, Cockburn; Berry, Rowley, Taylor, Pearson, Pegg. Seven members of that team were over 30 years of age! However, it was a great introduction for the young Yorkshireman as he scored twice, his new friend Pegg scored twice, and the “Gunner”, Jack Rowley completed a 5-2 rout for United.

For the United fans of this era, it was the beginning of the club’s ascendancy to the summit of the football ladder. They were exciting times. The addition of Taylor was very instrumental to the team that was beginning to evolve. One by one Busby introduced his youngsters. Wood in goal; Bill Foulkes at right back; first jeff Whitefoot and then Eddie Colman at right half; Mark Jones at centre half; Duncan Edwards at left half; Jackie Blanchflower and then Billy Whelan at inside right; Dennis Viollett at inside left. It took two years from Taylor’s signing before the team really gelled, but once it did, they took British football by storm.

Taylor was a big strong, hard running forward who did not exactly fill the common perception of the barnstorming centre forward. He had great movement and real pace for a big guy, tremendous grace, and he moved wide to both the left and right flanks instead of ploughing the proverbial furrow down the middle of the pitch. He had two great feet and could really hit a ball. In the air, in my opinion he was the greatest header of a ball that I have seen. He had a prodigious leap and seemed to hang the air but still got tremendous force behind the ball. I heard him tell that as a young boy, he used to practice standing jumps. There was a small brick wall alongside a church, close to where he lived in Barnsley and he was eventually able to leap over it from a standing position. His timing was impeccable and to see him hurtling across the goal area to meet either a cross, free kick, or corner kick, was one of football’s joys. He had the ideal temperament – never let foul play get to him, and I saw him take a lot of stick from some of the better known defenders of his time. But he never retaliated, he just got up, got on with the game, and did what he did best – stuck the ball in the back of the opponent’s net. And boy, when he did – did that smile light up the stadiums. George Follows was a journalist who wrote for the Daily Herald, a national morning newspaper of that time. It was George who christened Tommy “the Smiling Executioner” – so apt for the big man. He really was a centre half’s nightmare because he would drag them all over the place and create so much space through the middle for the other forwards to capitalize on. He had the perfect foil in Dennis Viollet, and Dennis profited from so many balls knocked down to his feet by big Tom.

Just two months after joining United, Tommy became an international player. England embarked upon a South American tour in May 1953, and on 17th of that month, in Buenos Aries, Tommy debuted against Argentina in front of 91, 397 fans in a match that lasted just 23 minutes and had to be abandoned because of torrential rain. Seven days later and on that same tour he appeared against Chile, in the capital Santiago, and scored the opening goal in a 2-1 England win. A week later in Montivedeo, Uruguay, he scored once again when the Uruguayans defeated England 2-1. It’s interesting to note that the Referee in all three of those tour games was none other than Arthur Ellis, the Yorkshireman – yes, the same guy who compered the BBC Television prgramme, “It’s a Knockout.”

Tommy embraced the Manchester United family, just as that family embraced him. He was a fun guy with a perpetual smile. He never let the success that he found ever go to his head. Certainly, I don’t think that there was ever a bigger “catch” for the ladies than Tommy, but he had a local girl friend back home in Barnsley, and she traveled over the Pennines to be with him of a weekend. Both he and David Pegg embraced Bobby Charlton into their friendship and they were seen around together a lot. They used to love going into the local parks during the afternoon and watched the kids playing football. They liked nothing better of an evening than to walk into Manchester city centre (yes, I did say walk because they said that going on the bus was boring!) to go to the cinema. They were just everyday, down to earth, boy next door type of lads. No pretensions, no head in the clouds.

Tommy and David Pegg both had broad Yorkshire accents, and stood a lot of mickey taking from the other lads. But they both took it in good nature, and certainly gave back as good as they got.

Two games from Tommy’s career stand out in my memory. The first was an international game at Wembley on 9th May 1956 against Brazil. Tommy led the Brazilian defence a merry dance that afternoon and they couldn’t cope with him. He scored twice in an England 4-2 victory in a game where they also missed 2 penalties – Roger Byrne being one of the culprits. His strong running and aerial prowess caused the Brazilians all sorts of problems and they just had no answer to him Two years later, with the nucleus of the team that turned out that May afternoon, Brazil were World Champions.

The second game, and for me, probably his finest game in a Manchester United shirt came on February 6th 1957 at Maine Road against the Spanish Champions, Bilbao in the return leg of United’s first ever European Cup quarter final. Down 3-5 from the first leg, United were really up against it. Opposing Taylor that evening was probably one of the finest centre halves in world football at that time – Jesus Garay. Tommy ran his socks off that night, and inspired by the roars of the crowd, put in a superlative performance. He drifted, right, he drifted left, he was always there to receive the ball from defenders under pressure – no ball out of defence was a lost cause. He dragged Garay into positions he should never have been. Tommy scored the second goal that night, but during the last 15 minutes, as the United player's exertions began to take their toll, tiredness started to become a factor. They were defending the 18 yards area when a cross from the left was aimed in and Mark Jones towered above all and thundered a headed clearance away and out to the right hand side. For the umpteenth time that night, big Tommy was after it, followed by his shadow, Garay. He collected the ball on the half way line, turned, and there was Garay showing him the touchline. Tommy held the ball inviting the tackle, but Garay was having none of it. They jockeyed each other down that touchline and Garay looked quite comfortable. Big Tom started to take the ball towards the big Spanish centre half, just about in line with the 18 yard line. He showed Garay the ball and then a quick dip of his left shoulder and movement towards the left and Garay pounced flying towards the ball. Alas, it wasn't there! Tommy pulled the ball back onto his right foot and was away a yard. Looking up he released a cross of stunning quality aiming and landing the ball just on or around the penalty spot - normally the area where he himself would be. But of all the big lads United had, not one of them was there - instead, the smallest guy in United's team, little Johnny Berry was haring in at full speed. He met the ball full on the volley with his right foot and crashed the ball into the back of the net - it sped in like the speed of a bullet. Maine Road really did erupt as did the United players. I’d never seen the big fella' jump and cavort about like he did at that moment, nor had I ever seen Roger Byrne so emotional – but none of them forgot the lad who had set it up. That was Tommy taylor, prolific goalscorer that he was, he had an unselfishness about him that few players had. He covered acres that night, and after the game, Garay was magnificent in defeat, claiming that Taylor was the best centre forward he had ever played against.

He may have been a star, an established international player, but he never forgot where he came from. He had time for the fans but most of all, time for the kids. You’d always see him walking up Warwick Road and off to his digs in Stretford after home games. Tommy had a great relationship with the press and in particular Henry Rose of the Daily Express. Henry was Tommy’s biggest critic, and once stated that in a match against Billy Wright and his Wolves team, that if Taylor scored, he’d walk back to the Express offices in Ancoats barefoot. Tommy scored twice that afternoon and dear old Henry kept his promise – followed by a huge posse of kids – it was like watching the Pied Piper! He loved the banter with the fans, loved the camararderie, loved his club and loved football. Never in the news for the wrong reasons, he was just simply a lovely, lovely, person.

Rest on in Peace Tom – you gave us so much to remember.

Tommy played a total of 191 games in all competitions for United scoring 131 goals.
He was capped 18 times for England and scored 16 goals.

Tom Clare on Roger Byrne

50 YEARS ON – Roger Byrne

“Captain Marvel”, “Captain Fantastic”, “Captain Reliable”. All accolades given to Captains of Manchester United during the last thirty years. United have had some great Captains at the Club down through the years and they have all left their own legacy on the Club’s history. Roger Byrne is certainly up there with the best of them, and he led by example on the field, and with quiet effective authority off it. He was certainly the buffer between the dressing room and the manager’s office.

Roger Byrne’s progression to Manchester United began at the Ryder Brow Boys Club in the Gorton area of Manchester. He initially played at inside forward and his wing partner back in those days was a person who was also going to go on and represent his country, but alas, at a different sport. That person was a certain J.B. “George” Statham who was to find fame and glory as a fast bowler with Lancashire C.C.C. and England.

Roger was never a schoolboy star, but he must have taken the eye in his performances with Ryder Brow for he was taken on at Old Trafford as junior, initially as an inside left. Again his progress was halted as he had to complete his National Service Service and he was enlisted into the R.A.F. It was quite amazing to find out that during his service time, he was considered as not good enough to play in the Station football team and so ended up having to play rugby! National Service completed, he returned to Old Trafford and it was then that his career began to progress.

He was a deceptive type of player and many outside of Old Trafford came to the conclusion that there would be no place for him in regular First Division football. There is a record of a scout’s report produced after one of Roger’s performances for the Reserve team which read as follows; “Heading – Poor; Tackling – Ordinary; Right Foot – Fair; Left Foot – Non-Existent; Overall Impression – Disillusioned.” The scout could not have got it more wrong, and fortunately for the staff at Old Trafford, they saw the real qualities in him and were able to bring those to the fore as he started to mature as a player. His chance came on November 24th, 1951 when he was selected at left back for the game at Anfield against Liverpool which ended in a 0-0 draw. He was to be ever present from then on in what was to be the first Championship winning team since 1911. He played on the left wing for the last six games of that season, scoring six goals in the process.

Although the 1951/52 season finished with him winning a First Division Championship medal, the following season saw him become discontented. To some people they saw him as arrogant with a big ego. Without doubt, Roger Byrne was very singe minded even to the point of being stubborn. The cause of his discontent was the fact that he didn’t like playing at outside left. He pointed out to Matt Busby that he was more at home playing in a defensive role and preferred the left full back berth. Busby unhesitatingly told him that he would play in whatever position that he was selected to play in and that there was no negotiating about it. There was an impasse between manager and player and Roger handed in a transfer request. Johnny Carey was the Club Captain at the time and he took Roger to task about the situation as did Allenby Chilton and Jack Rowley. They all pointed out that something new and exciting was about to be unleashed on British football from within Old Trafford. The three elder statesman explained to Roger that they were nearing the end of their careers and that a defensive position would be his for cementing if he buckled down to it, and that the young players that were beginning to emerge within the club from the junior teams would make Manchester United the team of the future. Fortunately, after being shown the error of his ways, Roger withdrew his transfer request. Busby had left him out of the team for a few games after his transfer request, but once it was withdrawn he put him back in – at full back, and he was to stay there for until fate curtailed his career.

Johnny Carey retired and Allenby Chilton was made Club Captain, and Busby’s man management skills showed when he made Byrne the team’s vice-captain. There was no doubt in the two years that followed, Byrne learned much from Chilton’s leadership and Busby’s management skills even though the former was very autocratic. He bridged the gap between those young players in the dressing room and Chilton, and was also their bridge to the manager. He truly blossomed as a full back and it wasn’t too long before he began to catch the eye of the international selectors with his displays. Byrne was extremely quick, and was never one for diving into the tackle. He was slightly built for a full back but had a very good tactical brain. It was unusual that he played in that left back role because his stronger foot was his right foot, but it never seemed to deter him. He would “jockey “ wingers into positions where he wanted them to be and was so adept at “nicking” the ball away from them. He was masterful at reading the game and had an uncanny sense of anticipating danger which was often seen when he came across to the middle covering behind the centre half whenever the situation was needed. Jimmy Armfield was given the tag of the first full back to start the “overlapping full back” ploy. This is nonsense. Roger Byrne was the first full back to be seen to do this regularly in games. As a player with the experience of having played on the wing, he was always very comfortable at getting forward and supporting attacking play.

Even today, Roger Byrne is probably one of the quickest defenders I have ever seen. His recovery speed was phenomenal and many was the time as I watched games, wingers would have thought that they had “skinned” him, only to find that he was there in front of them again. On April 3rd 1954, he made his debut for England against Scotland in the cauldron that was Hampden Park and shone in an England victory by 4-2. This began a run of 33 consecutive international games for his country. Quite phenomenal back then when players were in and out of the team at the whim of selectors. Billy Wright, the blue eyed golden haired man from Wolverhampton Wanderers was the England skipper, but I’m sure that Byrne would have succeeded him in that role. To be honest, in my opinion, Wright was past his sell by date from the mid fifties onwards, and was very fortunate indeed to amass 100 caps.

At United, the “Babes” were starting to emerge. In 1955 Chilton retired and Busby appointed Byrne as the Club Captain. It was the only choice because Roger was a born leader in reality. He kept the “kids” in check and was never afraid to take them aside and have a “quiet word” if he thought that they were transgressing or that their off the field activities were beginning to affect their form. He wasn’t autocratic as Chilton had been but he had this calm, confident manner that players respected and his authority never came into question. His relationship with Busby deepened and I am sure that in Roger Byrne, Busby saw the man who would eventually take over the mantle from him as Manager of Manchester United.

The “Babes” were a wonderful set of young men led by an exceptional Captain. They were different in that they were all big friends even away from the playing side of their lives. Roger met his future wife Joy when he enrolled on a physiotherapist’s course at Salford University. Joy was on the same course and their relationship blossomed as the course progressed.. He was the only United player at that time to own a car, not that he was a prolific driver! Shortly after he had obtained a permanent driving licence, Busby was at home in King’s Road, Chorlton cum Hardy one evening, when there was an almighty crash outside of his home. On going out to investigate, he was confronted by the sight of Roger in his car half way down his front lawn after having crashed through the garden wall!

Success came to the “Babes” in that 1955/56 season when they won the First Division Championship with the youngest team ever and by the largest difference in points from the team finishing second. I can recall racing across the Old Trafford pitch from the “Glover’s side” at the conclusion of the last home game of that season against Portsmouth on April 21st 1956, to see them presented with that wonderful old Championship Trophy. The crowd was huge in front of the old main stand and player’s tunnel as Roger led his young team up a makeshift stairway and podium to be handed the trophy by Joe Richards, the Football League Chairman. Those young boys mounted the platform at the top of the stairway and their smiles and exuberance told such a story. As Byrne brought the trophy and his team down the stairway, they were happy to talk to the fans, show their medals and allow fans to touch the trophy before they disappeared up that tunnel and into the sanctity of the dressing room. No laps of honour back in those days!

The following season, Roger led his “Babes” into Europe, and his performances were inspirational. He led from the front and on the field he could also be a “minder” to some of the younger players. I can recall a game against Aston Villa at Old Trafford in September of 1957, when the Villa left half, Stan Crowther (who was to join United later that season on the night of that first game after Munich against Sheffield Wednesday) was giving Billy Whelan a turgid time physically – in fact he was lucky to stay on the field. Byrne had a word with Crowther and got no real response. He bided his time and it came in the form of a long high ball dropping towards him as Crowther moved to close him down. Roger was quite deliberate in what he did and he met the ball full on the volley with his right foot. It went with the speed of a bullet and Crowther could not get out of the way as the ball hit him full in the face knocking him out. He was taken off the field with concussion and never returned to the game. Roger let no one take liberties.

He and Joy had married in early 1957 and had settled down in Flixton. Life was good apart from the away trips into Europe which kept them apart. United retained their title in 1956/57 and narrowly failed in their first European quest, as well as falling valiantly to Aston Villa in the F.A. Cup Final. Despite being on the end of the most violent premeditated act of violence that I have ever witnessed on a football pitch which left his team a man short for most of the game, the mark of Roger Byrne the man, was shown after the final whistle in the match had blown. Despite the bitter disappointment of losing at Wembley in the Final, and despite the nature that alluded to that loss, Byrne gathered his young team mates around him, and as Johnny Dixon, the Villa Captain, arrived at the top of the Royal Box, Byrne led his young charges in applause for the victors of the day as they received the famous old trophy. I could never envisage anything happening like that in this modern era. I will always recall a newspaper headline from the morning after that Final which said; “Villa Get The Cup But United Get The Glory” – never were truer words ever written.

The following season, 1957/58 was looked forward to so much. The word “treble” was now in the football vocabulary, and this was United’s aim that season. They started out brightly enough but had a mid season “blip” and going into February of 1958 they were second in the League table just 6 points behind Wolves, who were scheduled to play at Old Trafford on February 8th. After losing a League game to Chelsea on December 14th 1957 by 1-0, Busby decided to freshen up the team. He went out and bought Goalkeeper Hary Gregg from Doncaster Rovers for a British record transfer fee for a goalkeeper of 23,500 pounds. For the game against Leicester City on December 21st at Old Trafford, he left out Wood and introduced Gregg, and also left out Berry Whelan and Pegg, introducing Morgans, Charlton and Scanlon. The side that was then ever present for the next 11 games leading up to that fateful afternoon in Munich hit a rich vein of form. In those games in all competitions, they won 7 and drew 4, scoring 34 goals and conceding 16 in the process. They were back on track led by their inspirational Captain.

In Belgrade in the evening after the game against Red Star which had seen the team ease into the European Cup semi-finals, spirits were high at the reception that followed the game. Formal speeches were made and Byrne led the players in a rendition of Vera Lynne’s famous old wartime song of “We’ll Meet Again”. Sadly that was never to be. He again showed the other side of him as some of the younger players grew restless and impatient as midnight approached. They wanted to leave and visit a watering hole. Roger wrote a message on a napkin and passed it up to the top table where Busby was sat. The message on that napkin read “You promised the boys that they could leave once formalities were over. Permission to go?” A simple nod of the Manager’s head acquiesced to the request, and the young guns were away to enjoy themselves.

We all know the tragedy that was Munich and at what cost it came. Roger died instantly in the carnage of the disaster and Harry Gregg found him on the tarmac with not a mark upon him and with his eyes wide open. Even today, Harry sadly regrets not closing his eyes. Roger was just two days short of his 29th birthday. The biggest sadness was also that he was not to know that Joy, his wife was pregnant, and that he was never to see his son Roger junior. Roger’s body, together with those of his colleagues was flown home to Manchester and they rested initially in the gymnasium underneath the main stand at Old Trafford. The young policeman who had the duty of guarding the gymnasium door that night recalled that it was the longest and saddest night of his career. After a funeral service at Flixton Church, Roger was laid to rest.

United lost not only a great skipper that sad day, but also a man of great integrity, a born leader. He was certainly a man that exuded class and was full of charisma, whose sense of fair play and leadership, gained him the respect of not only his team mates, but everybody who came into contact with him. His tongue could be sharp at times, but those young kids accepted him and his discipline without question. He was simply their Captain.

Rest in peace Roger. I can still see you even today, leading those “Babes” out of the tunnel, tapping the ball up twice into your hands then kicking it up into the air towards the Scoreboard End goal. So many memories of a wonderful human being.

Roger played 277 games for United scoring 19 goals. He also made 33 consecutive appearances at international level for England.

Tom Clare on Mark Jones

50 Years On – Mark Jones
That the “Busby Babes” were the glamour team of their era is beyond doubt. Sir Matt had quietly introduced his youngsters into First Division football between the 1952 – 53, 1953-54, and 1954-55 seasons. It had taken three years to assemble this array of mercurial young talent, and there had been some setbacks along the way as his young apprentices came to terms with First Division football. By the start of the 1955-56 season his young team had an average age of around 22-23 years – unheard of in those times. Talk to people about the “Babes” today and they will automatically come up with the names of Edwards, Taylor, Byrne, Colman, Pegg. But just as there has been unsung heroes in all of Fergie’s past and present United teams, so it was with the “Babes.” The man I am going to write a few lines about was certainly an unsung hero, but he was as essential to the “Babes” team as has been Vidic, Ferdinand, Stam, Bruce, Pallister, McGrath, McQueen, Buchan, Holton, who played in the United teams that followed afterwards.

To meet Mark Jones was an absolute pleasure. He was so quiet, unassuming, modest, down to earth, and could even be termed shy. He was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire on June 15th 1933 and once again, details of early childhood are buried in the mists of time. What is known though, is that he developed into an outstanding young schoolboy footballer. A no nonsense type of centre half. He was so good, that he captained not only his school team, but also his City Boys team, Yorkshire Schoolboys, the North of England Schoolboys and finally, England Schoolboys. So it was no wonder then that he had come to the attention of many of the top clubs in England. He had only thoughts of joining Manchester United though because his idol was Allenby Chilton, the United centre half. I think that it is true to say, that Mark was certainly one of the “original Busby Babes” when he signed amateur forms for United in the summer of 1948.

He would travel over from Barnsley twice a week to train with the juniors at the Cliff. It must have been a tiring experience for him because after leaving school, he also apprenticed as a bricklayer – hard work in a time when Britain had started to rebuild immediately after the war years. The work helped Mark fill out physically and before too long here was this big strapping young teenager standing over 6 feet tall and weighing around thirteen stones with the physique of a heavyweight boxer! He progressed through the junior teams and in the summer of 1950, finally signed professional forms for United. In the autumn of that year, 7th October to be precise, the day that he had dreamed about arrived when he was selected to make his first team debut against Sheffield Wednesday at Old Trafford in a team that read; Allen; Carey, Redman; Gibson, Jones, McGlen; Delaney, Downie, Rowley, Pearson, McShane. United won 3-1 that day and it’s interesting to note that Harry McShane, actor Ian McShane’s father, was amongst the goal scorers. He was to play a further 3 more games that season and was never on the losing side defeating Everton 4-1 at Goodison, Arsenal 3-1 at Old Trafford, and the return fixture against Wednesday at Hillsborough 4-0 – a terrific start to his football career at top level. He was to play a further 3 games in season 1951 -52, United’s first Championship winning season since 1911, and again, he never finished on the losing side. But unfortunately, three appearances didn’t qualify him for a winner’s medal. In 1952 – 53 he played two games, only this time, he tasted defeat for the first time in both games.

It was in early 1953 that he also left to do his two years National service and he never figured in any first team games again until after his demobilization in early 1955. That he’d been kept out of the first team before call-up by his boyhood hero Allenby Chilton, must have been of little consolation to him, but Chilton’s remarkable consistency of form and fitness over a period of four years when he was well into his thirties, was of tremendous credit to the older player. It has to be stressed that Chilton had a great effect on shaping the player that Mark was to become as he honed him into the centre half that United needed. Chilton’s days came to an end in early 1955 after some bad defeats – two of which were in games that I saw against Manchester City. I had attended my first ever “derby game” at Maine Road in late September 1954 when City won 3-2. On February 12th 1955, I watched my first “derby” game at Old Trafford, but it was a disaster for me, and United, as City went “nap” winning 5-0. The following week on May 19th, United were away to City again in the fourth round of the F.A. Cup and once again, City triumphed by 2-0 in a game that United really dominated but suffered because of their wastefulness in front of goal. It was also a game that saw Chilton sent off for foul and abusive language to the referee – how would the referees cope in today’s modern game! What an introduction for me to “derby” matches! Chilton’s last game for United was at Wolves the week after that Cup tie and once again United lost by 4-2. For the next game, because of Chilton’s suspension, Mark played his first game at senior level for two years and was to make the position his own from then on

There was certainly no frills where Mark Jones was concerned. He was a bone crunching tackler and majestic in the air and after he had won the ball, there was no just hoofing it upfield as many of the centre halves back then were want to do. He was quite content to play it simple and give the ball to Colman, Edwards, Viollet or Whelan who could use the ball much better than he could. He was certainly a stopper, and he was very adept at it. For a former bricklayer, he became the rock, the cornerstone of the defensive stonewall!

There is a little bit of a myth that abounds in United’s history that the centre half position was complicated by a continual battle between Mark and Jackie Blanchflower for the number 5 shirt. This simply isn’t true. Mark was virtually ever present during the 1955-56 season when the “Babes” secured their first Championship win. He was also almost ever present in the 1956- 57 season, until a knee injury in the sixth round F.A. Cup tie at Bournemouth in March of 1957 kept him out of the team. Jackie Blanchflower had played most of his career at inside right for United, but he was very versatile player, and Busby had experimented with him at centre half once or twice in the Reserves. Ronnie Cope was normally Mark’s deputy, but after the Bournemouth game, Busby went with Blanchflower, who it has to be said, played so superbly that he couldn’t leave him out. Blanchflower played for the rest of the season winning a championship medal and also playing in the F.A. Cup Final, and he also played into the November of the following season, when a dip in his form allowed Mark to reclaim the number 5 shirt which he kept until the time of the tragedy.

After he was demobbed from the Army, Mark had married his childhood sweetheart June and they had settled down to married life in the Flixton area. It was well known back then that Mark Jones and Jackie Blanchflower were close friends; so much so that Jackie was best man at Mark and June’s wedding. He was never a man for the bright lights and after a game it was commonplace to see him emerge out of the main entrance wearing his trilby hat, smoking a pipe, and the gabardine raincoat. The pipe smoking was the point of a lot of banter from his young team mates who christened him with the nickname “Dan Archer” after the character in the famous “Archers” BBC radio programme. Off the field he was such a mild mannered person, quiet, and loved nothing better than to get off home to June, his labrador dog whom I think was named “Gyp” and his newborn baby daughter. He also had a passion for breeding budgerigars which often led to other bouts of mickey taking from his young mates. But he took it all in his stride. “The Gentle Giant” was a nickname given to the late, great, John Charles back then, but it was also a name that would describe Mark Jones so aptly.

He put in some tremendous games for his beloved club and none more aptly than that glorious night at Maine Road when United triumphed over Bilbao in the European Cup. The Spaniards threw everything they could at United that evening, but they could not breach the defence at which he was the central lynchpin. He faced some of the toughest and hardest centre forwards of his era, but none ever baulked him – household names of the time like Lofthouse, Ford, Hickson, Milburn, Revie, Swinbourne, Allen, Wayman, Bentley, Smith. Unfortunately fate decreed that he would never ever realize his ambition of playing for his country. He was called up into an England party when he was named as a reserve but that was as far as it went – no subs or place on the bench back then. That dream would, I am certain, have been realised as he was certainly knocking on the door at the time of the tragedy. I also believe that had he lived, Billy Wright would not have reached the figure of 105 caps for England.

My own experience of meeting Mark came on a couple of occasions through schoolboy football. In 1957 my school team had reached the final of a knockout competition and it was played at Newton Heath Loco in the Newton Heath area of Manchester. For us kids that night, it was like the experience of professionals reaching Wembley – an enclosed ground, nets, referee and linesmen, a large crowd (we played before the start of a game between Manchester Catholic Boys and Liverpool Catholic Boys) and we were all so starry eyed. My school team lost that Final by 4-2, and although I was disappointed at losing, I had played fairly well. It was great consolation to me that the medals were presented by Mark, and that for me was just thrill enough. I couldn’t wait to receive mine and as I did, he handed me the medal and ruffled my hair saying in his thick Yorkshire accent, “well played young ‘un.” In November of 1957, he again did the presentations for a school’s 5-a-side competition which was held at The Proctor’s Gymnasium and Hulme Lad’s Club in Hulme, which my school side won. That night he had the Labrador dog with him and it just sat at his side as he spent time with all the kids, signing every bit of paper that they put in front of him. Here was an established United player giving of his free time to schoolboy football in the Manchester area. He was such a very gentle man off the field.

June, his wife, was five months pregnant with their son Gary at the time of the disaster. After it happened, the Labrador dog pined for him so badly and died in the March just a few short weeks afterwards. I have great memories of him playing for United and as I said at the beginning, he really was one of the unsung heroes. The doughty stopper, the uncompromising centre half, the archetypal pivot, the seam of Yorkshire granite. Most of all, I remember a man who loved his family, loved his club and was indeed a very gentle giant.

Sleep on in peace Mark – never forgotten.

Mark played in 121 games in all competitions scoring just 1 goal.

Tom Clare on Johnny Berry

50 Years On – “The Wizard of the Wing”

He was the smallest, the oldest, and the vice - captain of that great “Busby Babes” team of the 1950’s. Born on June 1st 1926, in the Hampshire town of Aldershot, he was considered as being “too small” to make a career in football with the “Shots.” How wrong could people have been! So when he left school, he took a job as a trainee cinema projectionist. He played his formative years of football with local amateur teams. In 1945, shortly after he began his National Service, he was sent to India, and it was whilst he was playing out there for the British Army team that he came to the attention of a man named Fred Harris who was the Birmingham City Captain. After being demobbed in 1947 the man I am writing about signed for Birmingham City, first as an amateur, and then later as a professional. That man is Johnny Berry.

Johnny had a fairly productive time at St. Andrews and spent just 4 years there. His journey to Old Trafford came after he had destroyed United in a First Division league game in Birmingham, a performance that Matt Busby never forgot. With Jimmy Delaney having left a few months earlier for Aberdeen, United needed a fast, direct winger who had experience to help with their push to achieve their first championship win since 1911. So it was then that in August 1951, United paid Birmingham 25,000 pounds for the diminutive little winger. He had an immediate impact and United duly achieved their aim, being crowned Champions at the end of the 1951-52 season for the first time in 41 years. Berry’s debut game came on September 1st 1951, at Burnden Park in front of 52,239 fans, in a game against Lancashire arch rivals, Bolton Wanderers, which United lost 0-1. United’s team that day was; Allen; Carey, Redman; Gibson, Chilton, Cockburn; Berry, Pearson, Rowley, Downie, Bond. His first goal for the club came just two weeks later on September 15th at Maine Road in a 2-1 victory for United – a nice start to his “derby” career! He made a total of 36 appearances that season scoring 6 goals, and collected his first Championship winner’s medal.

Johnny was extremely quick and would run at defenders with pace and could move the ball with either foot which enabled him to go either inside or outside of his marker. He was an exquisite dribbler and was a nightmare for a full back to mark. His crossing was deadly accurate with either foot and United’s strikers benefited a tremendous amount from the service that he provided. He was also dangerous in that he would also drift into the middle and suddenly arrive inside the penalty area unsuspected and would be there hammering the ball into the back of the net. For a little fellow, he packed quite a shot, again with both feet. He was a delight to watch especially when he was in full flight. That he only won 4 caps for England is again one of football’s travesties in my opinion. You have to remember that occupying the outside right berth in the England team during those years was a certain ageing, Stanley Mathews. The national team was also picked by a Selection Committee at that time which was made up of several League Club Chairmen – a sad state of affairs, and the reason why the England team was hardly consistent from one game to the next!

I often wonder how today’s fans would view Johnny Berry. To be honest, as they adore a certain young Portugese young man who wears the current number 7 shirt, I am more than certain that they would also have taken Johnny to their hearts. For all of his short stature, Johnny had the heart of a lion. He faced some of the toughest full backs in the game during his time at United, and was targeted for brutality on many occasions. This was a time when there was so much robust physical contact in the game and defenders could tackle from behind and get away with it. He had an unflappable temperament and was just so exciting to watch. Like Cristiano today, Berry could certainly get your arse on the edge of a seat – he completely baffled and bewitched full backs with his trickery, and this produced an awful lot of end-product!

As I said, his international career was so short. He went on the South American tour of 1953 and played in all three games. His next and last cap came some 3 years later in a game against Sweden in Rasunda which ended in a goalless draw. There was some tremendous wingers about during his time and no one could ever say that Tom Finney wasn’t worth his place in the team – but he operated mainly in the left wing berth, and there were many players who got caps during Berry’s time who were nowhere near as good as him. Stan Mathews, as Sir Matt once so aptly put it, loved to “play the Paladium” meaning he loved London and particularly Wembley, but he never liked playing at the likes of Old Trafford, Burnden, Hampden Park, Ninian Park, or Windsor Park!

Johnny reveled in seeing the young “Babes” being introduced around him. He was vice-captain of the team and had the nickname of “Digger” which referred to his powerful shot. As the “Babes” came to the fore – in that Championship winning team of 1956, only he and Roger Byrne remained from the team that had won the Championship some four years earlier. As United entered the new European Cup competition, he was paranoid about flying and certainly didn’t like it, which was the same for a few of the younger players as well. He was always suspicious of foreign food and used to take his own “goodies” with him on the foreign trips, together with a primus stove, which was often the source of merriment from the young lads.

He was an essential cog in that young team, and his form on the whole was so consistent. He also scored some very vital goals and amongst those that I can remember are the one against Bilbao at Maine Road that took United into the European Cup semi-final at their first attempt; the winner against Bournemouth at Dean Court in the F.A.Cup 6th round tie in 1957 that took them into semi-final; the winner in a crucial home League game against Blackpool at Old Trafford in April of 1956 which gave them a 2-1 victory that ensured the First Division title. He was also United’s spot kick expert for a number of years, having taken over the role from Roger Byrne.

Unfortunately for Johnny, in the middle of the 1957-58 season, Busby decided he needed to freshen up his team, and in the December of 1957, after a run of bad results he took action. He bought Harry Gregg from Doncaster Rovers for a British record fee for a goalkeeper of 23,500 pounds. On Saturday, December 21st 1957, Gregg made his debut against Leicester City at Old Trafford, consigning Ray Wood to the Reserves. Also left out of the team were Johnny Berry, Billy Whelan, and David Pegg, and they made way for Kenny Morgans, Bobby Charlton and Albert Scanlon. Sadly for those left out, none would ever play a competitive game in the first team again.

We all know that sad events of the tragedy, and it is amazing that Johnny Berry ever survived at all. His injuries were so horrific; fractured skull, broken jaw; broken elbow, broken pelvis, broken leg. When his wife Hilda arrived at the Munich hospital her first sight was one of him surrounded by packs of ice which was there to try and keep the swellings and bruising to a minimum. He was also in a coma and remained so for almost two months.

Sadly when he returned home to Manchester months later, he still had no clear idea of what had happened, and initially thought that he had been in a car crash. On the flight home from Munich he was accompanied by two nurses who had a bag full of tranquilisers should he have had any sudden flashback to the disaster. He was admitted into a Manchester hospital upon arrival and even then had to undergo the removal of all his teeth to help with the jaw injuries. His first knowledge of what had happened came when he picked up a newspaper which had a report of a United game on the back page, and when he saw the team line-up, he could not believe it. He badgered the nurse and she had to call a doctor who explained to him exactly what had happened. After Johnny asked about his team mates, the doctor went through the team name by name, and the doctor told him whether they had survived or not. Although he had been inside that ill-fated aircraft, he must have been the last person in the world to know it.

His injuries meant that he was never able to pursue his career in football again. He took a job with Massey Ferguson in Trafford Park but in 1960, United asked him to vacate their club house in Davyhulme to accommodate the signing of Maurice Setters. All I’ll say is that it was a sad state of affairs and one that made the Berry family understandably, very bitter. The family moved back to Aldershot his home town, and Johnny and his brother Peter opened a sports shop in the little village of Cove, close by. In 1963 I can recall that I was playing in a match at Aldershot, and needed some studs for my boots. I called in to Berry’s sports shop and it was John that actually served me. He spent great time advising me on what type of studs I needed and he actually fitted my boots with them for me. We spent time talking a little about Manchester but neither he nor I mentioned United. He looked a sick man even then. The sports shop business went on for 20 years, and Johnny spent the last few years of his working life as a storemean in a television retail chain warehouse. Sadly, he didn’t enjoy a long retirement passing away in March 1994 aged just 67 years.

Johnny Berry played 276 games in all competitions for United scoring 45 goals.

Tom Clare on Eddie Colman

“Snake Hips”

Cheeky, precocious, exuberant, effervescent, bubbly, exciting; all those words could be used to describe Eddie Colman. But as far as football is concerned, you could only ever describe him as supremely gifted and talented. He was certainly one of those players that left an indelible imprint on your memory with his own style of playing the game. He was definitely different from his contemporaries of that era – in many ways – but more of that later.

Eddie was born and bred a Salford lad and entered this world on November 1st, 1936 – just one calendar month later than the indomitable Duncan Edwards. He was born at number 9, Archie Street, Ordsall, a really tough area that lies close to what is now Salford Quays, but back in those days was simply known as “the Docks.” Like most of Manchester’s inner city areas, Ordsall was an area of industrial buildings and streets made up of murky, dark bricked, two – up, two – down, terraced houses in cobbled stoned streets where the local people were housed. The original opening frames of the long running soap opera “Cornation Street” showing back to back terraced houses divided by an “entry” were of Eddie’s birthplace – Archie Street. They were honest, (well some of them!) hard working, God fearing people who lived there – but tough as granite and you had to be able to “look after yourself” to survive in those parts. He was born a few years before the outbreak of World War Two, and during those hostilities, with both the Manchester and Salford Docks and Ordsall’s industrial buildings being an obvious target for the German Luftwaffe, the area saw a lot of devastation. Many of those terraced houses were blitzed and there were many casualties. This was the initial environment that the young Eddie grew up with.

Ordsall lies virtually alongside Old Trafford, and it’s no surprise then that the local kids grew up supporting Manchester United. If they were not at school, kids back then spent most of their time outside, and for the boys, it was always football through the autumn, winter, and spring, and cricket through the summer. Very few working class families owned television sets back then and computers were virtually unheard of – so kids did not have the distractions that they have today, and tended to expend their energies outdoors. It was unusual to find a boy who wasn’t interested in football. Games of football would take place in those cobbled stoned streets and on the “crofts” where houses had been demolished as a result of the bomb damage. The “matches” would go on for hours, and if a youngster had a ball, no matter what size (although usually tennis balls were the norm), then there was a game.

This was how the young Eddie initially honed his footballing skills. Academically, he was an average boy. Physically, he was small in stature with a tiny frame, blonde hair, and a cherubic face. But that was misleading to say the least. To look at him, he was the angelic “boy next door”, but Eddie had an impish streak and was a born practical joker, which offtimes got him into trouble both at home and at school. However, he shone on the sports field and had great abilities both playing football and cricket. His size never deterred him on the football field and he was never ever afraid to get “stuck in” and “mix it” with boys that were physically more mature than him and in most cases, older. In the immediate post – war years, he began to develop and it was no surprise therefore that he started to attract attention as first he starred in his school team, and then made selection for the Salford City Boys team, a year earlier than was normal. Eddie was a United fan, and after playing school football on a Saturday morning, he would walk the short journey with his mates, along Trafford Road and across the “Swing Bridge”, to watch United. Busby’s team at that time was the team to watch, but it was also at this time that he was starting to implement his youth policy, gathering the best young talent available and bringing them to Old Trafford.

Although there was a multitude of football scouts queueing up at the Colman household’s front door, there was only ever one club that Eddie was going to sign for – and that was Manchester United. He joined United in 1952, and immediately settled in trying to establish himself alongside a multitude of talented youngsters – many of them had been schoolboy internationals. But this never ever deterred young Eddie, he had absolute belief in himself and a temperament that was mature beyond his years. There was a lot of competition amongst the youngsters back then, but Eddie never shirked that challenge, and although still small, he put in some sterling performances for United’s juniors in his first year, playing in matches against teams where the opposition players were mostly adults.

Eddie’s personality was impish but to see this side of him, you really had to know him. His team mates soon found out that Eddie was the complete prankster! It got him into a few scrapes, particularly with Jimmy Murphy, but I’m sure that Jimmy, after his initial annoyance, sat down and laughed also. Eddie was very popular amongst his team mates, and as he moved up through the “B” and “A” teams, that popularity never dimished. He was captained a very successful Youth team for the first three years and amongst that team were the likes of Duncan Edwards, Billy Whelan, Bobby Charlton, Wilf McGuinness, and Shay Brennan. His style of play from the right – half position was different from the normal wing half of his day. Normally, wing halfs back in those days could be likened to “enforcers” – they were normally well built and most were destroyers. Eddie, because of his size and stature was full of guile and craft and had a quick footballing brain. He was an exquisite passer of the ball and could thread it through the eye of a needle. He could also tackle, a tact that a lot of pundits of the time failed to see. But he had developed this wonderful body swerve, the likes of which people had never ever seen, and haven’t since.

Just eleven days after his 19th birthday, on November 12th, 1955, he made his first team debut in 1-3 defeat at Burnden park, against Bolton Wanderers. At 5’7” and just 9 stones 2 lbs, against such a physical team that Bolton was back then, you would have feared for young Eddie’s safety! Not a bit of it – he was in amongst the “Trotters” like a Jack Russel hanging on to a trouser leg! This was the first time that his trade mark body swerve had been seen at the top level of the game in England. The man on the receiving end was none other than Nat Lofthouse, “the Lion of Vienna.” Lofthouse was the typical old fashioned centre forward, tough as teak and no-holds barred. He was very, very physical. As young Eddie carried the ball away from danger just beyond the 18 yards line of United’s goalmouth, Lofthouse made for him. It was a “David and Goliath” situation. There was this young, blond, angel faced kid making his debut, and was just about to be introduced to the tough professional game of First Division football, by the old wizened master of his craft. As Lofthouse moved in for the kill, the youngster made an exaggerated movement with his hips and arse - it was as though he was on the dance floor doing a rumba! It mesmerized Lofthouse into taking the movement and with just another little swift movement of those hips and arse – Eddie was off in the opposite direction with the ball, leaving Lofthouse in “no-man’s land!” Not only did that dummy confuse Lofthouse, but it also confused most of the people in Burnden Park that afternoon, particularly those sitting in the Manchester Road Stand for there was a murmur went out like you’d never heard before! Eddie Colman had arrived.

He was to remain a permanent fixture in the team after that and he played a huge part in “the Babes” winning their first title in that 1955/56 season. The fans took to him as one of their favourite sons and christened him “Snake Hips – the boy with the Marilyn Monroe wiggle.” He was the perfect foil for Edwards in the middle of United’s midfield. They complimented each other so well – were so precocious and feared nobody and no reputation, and they were a formidable partnership together. He was never amongst the goals and only twice scored at first team level. His first came just two weeks after his debut when he scrambled the ball home from close range at White Hart Lane against ‘Spurs in November 1956. His second was all important when again he forced the ball home from close range at Old Trafford against Red Star on that dark, January foggy night in 1958 that gave United a 2-1 lead to take with them on that ill fated trip. His sense of humor was to the fore when Henry Rose, the Daily Express journalist, asked him after that European game, what it felt like to score such an important goal. Eddie responded; “You know me Henry, I’m the most dangerous player in the world from two yards!” Just a year earlier, when United had flown to Spain for the European Cup Quarter Final first leg game against Bilbao, upon landing in Basque capital, he was one of the first players to alight from the sircraft. Instead of being met by glorious sunshine, it was sleeting heavily and Eddie was heard to remark; “Caramba! Just like Salford!”

It was true to say that Eddie was now an established, and integral member of “the Babes” and once again, he picked up another Championship winner’s medal as well as playing in the F.A. Cup Final, in the following season 1956 – 57. I have no doubts at all in my own mind that he would have gone on to win full England international honours had fate not decreed otherwise. He was in superb form at the time of the tragedy, and together with the established English internationals of Byrne, Edwards, and Tommy Taylor, I also think that Eddie, Mark Jones, and David Pegg would have made both the World Cup squad that went to Sweden in 1958 and that they would probably have been the backbone of the England team for years to come.

Off the field Eddie just loved life. His impish sense of humour was so infectious, and he became very close to Bill Foulkes, and Foulkes’s wife, Theresa. He was very fashion conscious and in the middle fifties when “drain pipes”, “winkle pickers”, and threequarter-length jackets became the style, Eddie was one of the first to be seen wearing that garb. Eddie’s best friend as I recall was a little guy whom I think was called Jimmy. They were inseparable and there was no show without “Punch” – where there was one, there was the other! They could both be seen around the local dance halls at weekends, but Eddie would never let on to the girls that he met, what he did for a living. Whenever they asked he would just tell them; “I work in Trafford Park” or “I’m a painter and decorator”.

He loved a pint, and going out with the lads for a drink and a sing song. There was numerous times that Eddie, Wilf, Bobby, Tommy, David, Billy, would gather down at a pub in Sale. Eddie idolized Sinatra and fancied himself as a pianist/crooner. He used to do his “party piece” in the singing room – “Pennies from Heaven” – much to the delight of the locals. His liking for a pint did lead to some trouble for him though, and it came from none other than Roger Byrne, the United captain. No doubt the exuberance of youth was the main culprit, but on a couple of occasions Eddie did let his standards drop a little and once or twice turned up late for training. The occasion of Byrne’s intervention was after one of the famous “killer ball” games that the players used to play on the gravel at the back of the Stretford End. The players were stood around when it had finished and Roger barked at him that he wanted a word. He took him out of earshot of everybody and when their conversation was over, Eddie was white-faced. It transpired that Roger had certainly left him in no doubts that if he didn’t pull his socks up and get a grip on his lifestyle, then there was no doubt that he would be on his way out of Old Trafford. That he heeded Roger’s advice was to his good. Shortly after this, Eddie met a wonderful young girl named Marjorie English and he was smitten.

Eddie was another of “the Babes” who was idolized by thousands of young kids of that era. Again, like most of those boys that he played alongside, there was no airs and graces with him – just a plain little Salford lad that happened to play football for the Club that he adored. Nothing flash, no pretentiousness. It was a common site to see him walking off home after playing in a match at Old Trafford, chatting to fans as he went. My last sight of him was after the FA Cup Fourth Round tie against Ipswich Town at Old Trafford on January 25th 1958. United had strolled through the game to win 2-0. About half an hour after the game finished he came out of the main entrance wearing a big black duffle coat with wooden buttons, and was immediately surrounded by kids. He signed away smiling and laughing, and then joined some friends and they walked away down past the old ticket office and out of sight.

After the disaster, I would often play “wag” (truant) from school, and walk from my home in Chorlton-upon-Medlock, through Hulme and on to Regent Road in Salford. I would trek up Regent Road into Weaste and then into Weaste Cemetery. Eddie was buried at the top of the main drive on the right hand side, on the corner, just in front of the church. His family had a beautiful white marble statue of him passing the ball, commissioned and sculptured in Italy. It stood about three feet tall and was so beautiful. I spent many an hour stood there in front of his resting place and that statue, reliving old memories and shedding many a tear. Unfortunately, I believe that the statue was vandalized many years later and is no longer there. In February next year, I will make another pilgrimage to his resting place, and no doubt the tears and the memories will flow once again.

Rest On In Peace Eddie, you are never forgotten.

Eddie made just 107 appearances in all competitions for United Scoring 2 goals.

John White on David Pegg

50 Years On – David Pegg

By John White

Doncaster born in September 1935, David was a talented left wing prodigy who was hunted by all the big clubs of the day. He was eventually enticed to United to join all those other talented lads from both locally and up and down the land by that wily old genius, Matt Busby and David made his United debut as a 17 year old against Middlesbrough in a 3-2 home win on December 6th 1952.

He fairly much held onto his place throughout that debut season and did well for a 17 year old. He bagged his opening goal for the club in the 2-2 draw with Sunderland at Roker Park and followed that up with 2 against Preston on the 7th March 1953 in the same game that another United goal-scoring legend also made his debut (having been purchased from Barnsley for the princely sum of £29,999 - more separately of that great favourite another time) and he too weighed in with a couple of goals, .

David bagged another one against Spurs finishing up with 4 goals from the left wing - after which he was rested for the last 4 or 5 games of that season. He would go on to score another 20 league goals and 4 European Cup goals for United before Munich claimed his life.

David managed only 1 cap for England but was widely regarded as the natural successor to Tom Finney down England’s left flank and undoubtedly, many more caps would have followed.

Two things stand out for me about David and they are these.
He was at the height of his game in September 1956 when United slaughtered the Belgian champions Anderlecht in front of 40,000 piss-wet fans at the old home of neighbours City at Maine Road.
He laid on goals for all his forward line colleagues that night.
Dennis Viollett (4) Tommy Taylor (3) Liam Whelan (2) and even his partner on the other wing little Johnny Berry (1) all weighed in but despite David always having the capability to come inside onto his right foot rather than being the traditional left-wing flyer, AND despite all his fellow forwards doing everything humanly possible to get him on the score sheet, he couldn’t buy a goal that night !!

My abiding boyhood memory of David is when I chased him across Piccadilly Gardens after United had done a team appearance at Lewis’s store in Manchester. I had got there a midgy's too late to be allowed in to the team presentation to the public (post the end of the 1956/57 season I think it would have been and of course, the lads were there as Champions).

Back then sides were really much more accessible to their fans – they weren’t too far removed from their fans in either earning power or socially!! But, try as I might to get into a packed event room in the store, the security people on the door had it bottled up tighter than a duck’s arse. Having hung around for what seems like an age and having got nowhere, and feeling just like a pissed off and frustrated 11 year old, I was making my way across Piccadilly Gardens to catch the bus home when bugger me, I see David Pegg and his girlfriend/wife [I didn’t know which] jumping on some corporation bus just about to head off to Flixton.

I did no more than follow them onto the bus and up the stairs where they’d gone because back then upstairs was where you could smoke on the bus.
“Please, please David would you sign my book?” says me. He looked a bit nowty for a moment and she said to him “Oh go on David, don’t be awful to the lad” A lot more of the passengers were smirking at this raggy arsed lad mithering one of United’s heroes so he of course did as he was told and bingo, I got my autograph.
With a grateful "Thanks Dave" from me it was downstairs to deck off the bus just as it was pulling away to go to completely the wrong side of the city from where I lived!

Just half a year later of course David would be snatched from us at Munich.

Sad to report, I don’t know where that hard won autograph - nor indeed any of my other precious signatures are today. That's my abiding sadness from those wonderful, exciting days of my boyhood as we witnessed the birth of something unmatched before or since.

Rest in Peace David - none of you are ever forgotten mate.

Oh and PS - if you've a minute or so to spare, do you think you could see your way clear to letting me know in some way or other where the bloody hell I put my autograph book?

John White on Geoff Bent

50 Years On – Geoff Bent

By John White

Of all of our Red heroes lost in the snow and ice of Munich that grey Thursday in Feb 1958, the case of Geoff Bent, Salford born in 1932, is probably the most poignant and difficult to write about.

In many respects, Geoff was probably like any number of understudies anywhere - good enough in his own right to get a place at almost any football club in the land. But as a local lad, he joyously signed trainee forms for his heroes Manchester United on leaving school in August 1948 just a month away from his 16th birthday.

Little could he have known then that secure and valuable to his club as he certainly was, his United career was to be a brief and not so glorious one, being kept well in the background at Old Trafford as cover for the man who would ascend to the captaincy of Manchester United - and also automatic left back for England - Manchester-born Roger Byrne.

All this was in the future back then and Geoff must have been on cloud nine as he signed his name on that first contract for Matt Busby in August 1948. I’ll bet he was even more ecstatic in May of the following year when he signed his professional contract!

I genuinely hope that Geoff gleaned every moment of personal joy from those two highlight events - because the lad wouldn’t be getting much joy in the way of appearances for the Reds!

It was actually well over 5 long years later before he made his first team debut in the away game at Turf Moor in the 4-2 win over Burnley in late 1954 which IMO speaks volumes for the health, form and consistency of performance from Roger Byrne who kept the lad out for all those years.

Probably THE highlight of his career (in his own view anyway) was taking the ball off the legendary Tom Finney in a game against Preston (one of his total of only12 first-team games).
He treasured the newspaper cutting of the event he valued so much. I think that is simultaneously wonderfully poignant and yet carries in it the joy of a footballer who was also a huge fan of the game's finest.

The whole bloody irony of his death at Munich was he only travelled to cover Roger Byrne who’d taken a knock in the Arsenal game on the previous Saturday.

In the end, Roger passed his fitness test and poor Geoff never even got to play in Belgrade. Remember, not even the substitutes bench was in play back then.

I think his wife Marion must have been doubly distraught at his death given his journey had proved to be unnecessary AND she was left with their 4 month old daughter to raise alone. So very sad.

I’m reliably informed that their daughter Karen went on to become a professional big band singer in a top Manchester dance hall. Her successful career is a great tribute to her mother’s battle to raise her through very difficult times.

Geoff was 25 and is buried in St John’s in the Salford borough of Pendlebury.

God grant you eternal rest Geoff and on behalf of all those many fans who never got the chance to say it, I'd like to say a huge retrospective thank you to you for your absolute loyalty to United's cause during what must have been soul-destroying for your personal career.

John White on Liam Whelan

50 Years On - Liam Whelan

By John White

My most favourite of the Babes who was lost at Munich almost 50 years ago was Liam “Billy” Whelan, a gentle Irish lad aged 22 and three-quarters. He joined us as an 18 year old from United’s nursery club in Dublin Home Farm and for all of his tragically short life, I don’t believe he knew how good a player he was.

United's coaching staff, however, were under no such illusions. Right from the moment he signed as an l8-year-old with the initial task of replacing the injured John Doherty in the 1953 FA Youth Cup Final against Wolves, he was considered by Matt and the backroom staff to be quality. Liam - or Billy as he quickly became known to us Mancs - starred in a 7-1 first-leg victory that guaranteed the trophy and was penciled in for a very bright future in our red shirt and of course the green shirt of the Irish Republic.

Indeed, so eye catching were his gifts that, following a fabulous individual display in a youth tournament in Switzerland, the club received a discreet inquiry from Brazil about his availability. Needless to say, further interest was not encouraged from the samba boys!

His first team debut was in the 2-0 win against Preston at Deepdale on the 26th March 1955, just a week before his 20th birthday.
He must have played well because he retained his place in the side that thrashed Sheffield United 5-0 the following week at Old Trafford – with Liam scoring on his home debut.

It would be the first of the 43 league goals he would go on to score score. Indeed, in 1956/57 Liam netted 33 times in 53 senior outings - and he wasn't even playing as a front man. He was mostly playing in what we would today call an attacking right-sided midfield position.

He supplemented his League goals tally with 5 in Europe and 4 in the FA Cup to give him 52 goals overall.

He is still 44th on United’s list of all-time goal scorer’s …. and remains ahead of the likes of Roy Keane, Teddy Sheringham, Louis Saha and Joe Jordan to name but a few.

Why was he my favourite? Well, I’ve thought back some 51 years or so and I can only say that it HAD to have been because of the game against Aston Villa at home on 25th February 1956 not long after my 10th birthday and some 5 weeks away from his 21st birthday.
Ironically and meaningfully, which has just dawned on me as I was putting this together, it was also less than 2 years away from his death.

It was a typical cold Saturday in February and strangely, I’ve learned that OT was not full as it seemed it was (to my mind's eye - I have checked on the website of Dreams!

There were only 36,277 in the ground for the visit of Villa and I honestly remember very little of the detail of the game but I do remember it was pissing down throughout and I did remember that we won 1-0 and Liam scored the winner.

It wasn’t that this goal was THE goal of the century that made him my favourite.

It wasn’t that he’d played out of his skin to win the day that did it either.

It was simply this.

I stood around (as lads did back then) in a soaking Duffle coat at the players’ entrance to get autographs as the lads came out after the game. As they started to come out, I’d seen big Dunc dart off followed by Eddie Colman without any hanging about at all. The rain was absolutely atrocious it’s fair to say but the only man who patiently stood and signed for us lads that evening was Liam. Even our captain Roger Byrne sneaked round the back of the posse of lads gathered around Liam and made off as Liam was encircled by us grateful lads.

I can see him now, with his belted grey gabardine mac and his trilby hat jauntily dripping water all over our autograph books as he signed until there was no-one left waiting. So it’s that night more than anything that made Liam my favourite. It’s also such memories of a hero who had that personal touch that remain with you all your life.

God bless you and rest in Peace Liam.

Thank you for the time you gave to me (and to all of us when I was just one of those piss-wet through , bright-eyed young United lads all those years ago.)

Terry Venables on Duncan Edwards

BY THE time I was 15, it looked like I was going to be a good footballer. I was a big lad for my age, and the newspapers were calling me the new Duncan Edwards, the young hero at Manchester United. I was so flattered that I have kept those cuttings to this day. In the restaurant at my club, Scribes West, there is an oil painting of Edwards. He was my hero and an inspiration. When I was growing up, there was no televised football to speak of, and if you wanted to see a particular player or team, it meant going to one of their matches. It was February 1958 and United had just caused a stir by beating Bolton 7-2, and everyone was talking about Duncan Edwards. So I persuaded my dad, Fred, to come with me to Highbury to see United play Arsenal. It was an unusual trip for two committed Spurs fans, and a day I will never forget. United won a smashing match 5-4, but what happened afterwards gave the occasion a dreadful poignancy that still lingers. Just four days later, the Busby Babes were decimated by the Munich air crash. Along with everyone else, I was devastated. So many died so young - my hero among them. It was a terrible tragedy, too awful to dwell on. I prefer to remember that lovely day out with my dad, standing behind the goal at the old Clock end at Highbury. It took Duncan Edwards less than 10 minutes to show us what all the fuss was about. I remember I was a bit disappointed that United weren't at full strength. With the European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade only four days away, Matt Busby rested his centre-half, Jackie Blanchflower, the two wingers, David Pegg and Johnny Berry, and the clever, creative inside-forward, Liam Whelan. Mind you, it was still a hell of a team, with a forward line that included Bobby Charlton, Tommy Taylor and Dennis Viollet, supported from half-back by Eddie Colman and the man I couldn't take my eyes off, Duncan Edwards. Jack Kelsey, a legend at Highbury, was in goal for Arsenal but, good as he was, he was beaten all the way when Duncan opened the scoring with a cracking shot. That was my moment. We had travelled in to see him and, with the latecomers still arriving, he had me turning to my dad with a "Did you see that" look. Edwards had taken a pass from Viollet and strode forward like an unstoppable giant before shooting past Kelsey from 25 yards. There were eight more goals in a fantastic match, but Duncan's, and his overall performance, are all I really remember. Afterwards, I just couldn't get it out of my head how good United were. Duncan was marvellous.

Everything he did comes back to me as if it was yesterday. Such strength, such poise. We are talking about a long time ago - nearly 40 years - but I can still see him, and that tremendous power of his, even now. He was only 21, but already he had played for England 18 times, and there were far fewer internationals played in those days. I was always Tottenham through and through, and it was not so much the Busby Babes as the Spurs Double side that gave me a feeling for how I wanted to play the game, but I stood there that day thinking Edwards was a wonderful player, and that I wanted to play like him. United were the best around at the time, and he was their star man. I had heard tales of this real-life Roy of the Rovers a few years before. People at Chelsea spoke of a Youth Cup tie against United. Chelsea had an outstanding team that day, Jimmy Greaves and Peter Brabrook included, but the story goes that a storm broke during the game. Edwards scored two goals playing at centre-forward, then when United turned round at half-time, and had the storm against them, they played him at centre-half, and he won everything. He was blessed with an all-round ability no one had ever seen before. This was a guy who played for England at 18, unheard of in those days. Physically, he was an impressive specimen, with legs like tree trunks, which gave him unmistakable power. He usually played at left-half, but centre-half or centre-forward was no problem for him because he had everything. He was a great tackler, he was a good passer, he scored goals and he was a rock in defence. He was left-footed, but he could use the right, too. It was exciting to look at him and think how good he was going to be, and for him to be cut down like that was too tragic for words. No one can know what he might have achieved had he lived and gone on. It is a great disappointment to me, not knowing what he might have become. He was potentially the greatest player I've seen. Duncan played in the same position as Bobby Moore, and we'll never know what might have happened in 1966 if he had still been around. He would have been only 29. Perhaps Bobby would have got in the team in another position, because he was a great player, too, but you would never have picked Moore in front of Edwards. Duncan had the edge everywhere, with his remarkable power, pace and strength in the air.

Quite simply, Duncan Edwards had the lot.

Memorial Day for Liam Whelan

by Louise Gavin

It was freezing cold in Dublin on Saturday when the day’s events started on the Liam Whelan Bridge at 12pm. But that didn’t prevent people turning up to see the first part of the events to commemorate Munich and The Busby Babes. 3 wreaths were laid beside Liam Whelan’s plaque - 1 by a member of his family, another by the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and the last by 2 representatives from the Manchester United Supporter’s Club. There was a minute’s applause and the usual comments of thanks for people who had contributed to organising the day. Then it was onto the church for the memorial Mass

There was a brilliant turnout in the church. The mass leaflets were superbly done, with a picture of the Babes & Liam on the front, and the “Flowers of Manchester” on the back, and there was a montage for the Babes laid on a table on the alter

The mass started with some of Liam’s prized possessions being brought up to the alter - his 1957 FA Cup jersey along with his winner’s medal, his 2 League Championship winner’s medals, 3 Ireland caps and his Home Farm jersey (who he played for before he moved to United).

Bishop Eamonn Walsh is a Red (although he shamefully confessed to straying towards Luton Town when Ashley Grimes went there), and he conducted the service brilliantly. He spoke about Munich in a way that only a Red with a true appreciation for the tragedy can, talking about how much the team had achieved and what they could have gone on to achieve were it not for that fateful afternoon in Munich. He paid tribute to the 23 people who lost their lives, naming each and every one.

He spoke about Liam - the extraordinary footballer and person that he was. 43 goals in 79 games during his 5 year spell was a very impressive strike rate for an inside forward. Seen by many as the brains in the team, journalists used to joke that even though the majority of the Busby Babes would play for England, they could never hope to be as good as when they play for their club, because the cog that binds them altogether is an Irishman. An Irishman who, just before the third attempt at take-off said to Harry Gregg "If this is the end, then I'm ready for it”. An extraordinary thing for a young man of 22 years to say, and something which gave his mother and his family great comfort in their grief.

Before the service ended the Chairman of the Supporter’s Club recited the “Flowers of Manchester” and was met with wonderful applause. The emotion in the church was almost tangible at that stage and when Christy Whelan (Liam’s brother) followed the recital with words of thanks to everyone involved, it was obvious that he was moved by the words of that extremely evocative piece, and of course the occasion itself and the huge numbers who had turned out to pay their respects.

After the Mass it was great to speak to the Whelan family. My friend Brian (Gigsy to us) asked Christy if he remembered playing football with his father (who died of cancer a few years ago), only to learn that Christy didn’t play football with him – but Liam did. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that Gigsy was chuffed to bits to hear that his father had played football with the legendary Billy Whelan – it was a special moment in what was already an emotion filled day.

Liam’s sister explained that the club requested Liam’s 1957 FA Cup jersey to be sent over for an event in Manchester – and returned it with big red blotches on it because they washed it wrong! Now why does that not surprise us? But on a positive note, it made the hair stand on the back of my neck when I heard that the Whelan family also have another jersey from that Cup Final in their possession – Duncan Edwards'! Amazing stuff!

Then it was back to the local GAA club for soup & sandwiches to warm us up before watching the 1st half at White Hart Lane – good ol’ Setanta Sports!

At half time we went up to the local football pitch where there was a minute’s silence and a presentation by Paul McGrath before the game. Being the gent that he is, he had no problem posing for photos and signing autographs. He really is a lovely bloke

The football match was played in great spirit and the Cabra lads, in their jerseys with Whelan and number 8 on everyone, were 2-0 up when we left the pitches (they won 6-3 in the end). We had the business of White Hart Lane to attend to and so it was onto McGrath’s in Cabra to watch the second half. As is always the case when you watch football in a pub in Dublin, there was the token mouthy Scouser. Needless to say, there wasn’t a peep out of him after our little Argie diamond scored at the end and the pub full of Reds went ballistic. A chorus of “That’s why we’re champions” made him drink up and go home. A perfect end to a moving, lovely day.

Bernard Galvin remembers

Everyone knows where they were, what they were doing when they heard the news of certain world-shaping events. Kennedy’s assassination, John Lennon, Martin Luther King. It always seems to involve violent and untimely death. For Mancunians / Reds of a certain age the defining event, burned indelibly into memory, is where they were, what they were doing when they heard about the Munich air crash.

I was seven years old. I supported United because everyone in my family, in my street, in my school did. It was not a big deal, my allegiance was pre-destined, there was no alternative.

I was in the barbers just up the street. I went straight after school so it must have been about quarter past four. There was one man in the chair and one waiting. I sat there waiting my turn quite happily, listening to adult gossip and feeling quite grown up (it was probably the first time my mother let me go to the barbers on my own). Then a man came in and said “Have you heard the news? United’s plane has crashed. I’ve just heard it on the wireless. There’s a lot been killed.”

I’d like to describe the feelings in the barber’s shop – disbelief, false hope, mostly devastation, but seven year olds don’t analyse emotions very well. All I can remember is running home crying, the rest is a blur of vague recollections of the next few weeks.

Stunned people huddled in groups on the street, hoping someone might have news. Queues outside the paper shop before the Evening News came. Prayers in school and church for the dead and (hopefully) the recovering. In the end the prayers were mainly focussed on Matt and Duncan. People felt the loss personally as if family members or close friends had died. This may be hard to understand now. The players then were certainly heroes, but must have seemed like local heroes with a lot in common with the fans. Eddie Colman lived with his mum and dad in a terraced house in Salford
Players inhabited the same world as their fans. Instead of limousines, exclusive clubs and expensive restaurants, they used the bus, went to the pub and ate in the café. This must have created a closer, more personal bond between fan and player than is possible today. To say so is not to be critical of today’s players. Today is a different world.

The scale of the tragedy seemed to increase as the days and weeks went by. There were hospital bulletins on the radio every day, sometimes hopeful but more often not. Every day the Evening News had pictures of coffins arriving at Ringway Airport and of funeral corteges. The grief and devastation was felt and shared by all.

It was not a maudlin, sentimental grief; mass hysteria such as we often see these days. People everywhere were touched by the tragedy, the loss of youth and hope, the unfulfilled potential, the what-might-have-been. On the previous Saturday this sensational team beat Arsenal 5-4 at Highbury and were applauded off the field by the home supporters. This team could have dominated Europe for the next ten years. Duncan Edwards could have become the best player in the world, he had the potential. No disrespect to Bobby Moore but he might have lifted the world cup as captain of England.

This tragedy and the years of recovery and rebuilding which followed have shaped and defined the spirit of Manchester United forever. The beautiful football, the class and the swagger, the ugly football when necessary, the never say die attitude, the will to win. This is the legacy of Munich and the Busby Babes, something at the very heart of United which sets it apart from other clubs. For me and tens of thousands of other fans it was and still is a life-defining experience, something which is crucial to our perception of ourselves and our club. Something which can never be bought or owned, only shared.

Tom Clare remembers

They Were My Heroes by Tom Clare

1958 – 2008; a period of some 50 years. To some, it may seem like an eternity in time. However, for myself, and for thousands of Mancunians just like me who emanate from my era; on Wednesday, 6th February 2008, when we close our eyes in the silent minutes of quiet recollection and remembrance; that period of time will be crossed in just a fraction of a second. The kaleidoscopic myriad of memories of an era that is long since past and for the most part forgotten, will come flooding back to us all, and I expect it to be a very bitter-sweet and moving experience.

For Manchester United fans, wherever they may be throughout the world, the date of February 6th 1958 is firmly imprinted upon their hearts. It is a date which they remember just as easily as they do their own birth date. If you were to ask any one of them what the significance of that date is, the answer will come back at you faster than a bullet fired from a high velocity rifle. It is of course the date that a tragic accident involving the aircraft which was carrying the Manchester United party back home to Manchester from Belgrade in Yugoslavia, happened. It occurred at the Reim Airport, which was (it is no longer there today) situated in the beautiful Bavarian city of Munich, then in West Germany. The day upon which a legend began, and even today, still surrounds the young Manchester United team which was decimated in just a matter of seconds at the end of a slush covered airfield runway, on that dark, grey, snow filled, February afternoon.

7 Manchester United players were amongst the fatalities that afternoon, as was the Club Secretary, and 2 of the Club’s Coaches. 8 of Britain’s finest sporting journalists also lost their lives, as well as 1 traveling supporter, 1 passenger who had hitched a ride for that journey, and two members of the aircraft crew. Another player was to lose his life as a result of his injuries 15 days later. There had been 44 persons on board that aircraft when it had left Belgrade that morning – only 21 survived the accident. Of a total of 9 players who did survive, two would never play soccer again due to the horrific injuries which they received in the accident and only 4 of the remainder would go on to have careers in the game which had any real substance.

At the time of the accident, I was just a 13 years old schoolboy living in inner city Manchester. I had been growing up in the immediate austere post war years. The inner city areas of Manchester which surrounded the city centre back in that time were not hospitable places in which to live, and in today’s world, many of the dwellings in those areas would be condemned immediately by the local health authorities as uninhabitable. It was certainly a harsh existence for people who had been trying to rear families in those conditions. Most of the people who lived in those areas were unskilled and therefore were not privy to any kind of work that would pay a decent wage. Many were immigrants, but in the vast majority, were just honest to goodness hard working families whose parents just wanted to provide an escape for their children from the appalling conditions in which they had to bring them up.

Hours were long at work and even a Saturday morning back then was, for many thousands of people, a half working day. The majority of men found release in going to watch sporting activities – football in the autumn, winter and spring, and cricket during the summer months. It was not unusual, especially on Sunday mornings or afternoons, to see a few thousand spectators gathered around the touchlines of a football pitch in the local parks, standing there supporting their local amateur team. For children like me, it was much the same albeit it was playing instead of watching. Most of our waking hours were spent outdoors. For adult and child alike, football was a huge release and in Manchester, it meant that you were either a “Red” or a “Blue” meaning that you either followed Manchester United or Manchester City. The allegiance to these clubs was normally handed down through family generations. Ours was no different, and it was my Grandfather who had nurtured into me a love of Manchester United, and their history.

I had first started going to Old Trafford in the 1950/51 season, being taken there by my older brother Peter, to watch the Reserve team play. It was to be the beginning of a love affair which has lasted until today, and no doubt one which will carry on until the time comes that I draw my very last breath. I saw my very first senior game on September 1st 1954, and following United has been a roller coaster of a ride ever since that Wednesday evening. Periods of triumph, periods of disappointment, and at times, dark despair. However, also a period of tragedy and mourning, which even today, as I have entered my old age, still deeply affects me.

I was not to know when I attended that first senior game back in 1954 that I, along with thousands of my contemporaries, were to witness over the period of the next three and a half years such a pivotal period in Manchester United’s great history. On the last day of October of 1953, Busby’s hand had been forced more than a little by injuries to some of his senior players, and he fielded a team against Huddersfield Town, in a Division One game, that contained 6 players under the age of 21. The game finished 0-0, and Alf Clarke, the dapper little sportswriter who worked for the Manchester Evening Chronicle and reported on United’s games, led with this headline in his match report in the “Football Pink” that evening: “Busby’s Bouncing Babes Keep All Town Awake”. Little was Alf Clarke to know as he had penned that headline, just how affectionately the fans, and indeed the whole of Britain, would embrace the naming of the team “Babes.” Almost overnight, the press and the fans began referring to them as “the Busby Babes.”

To be in Manchester and following Manchester United in the 1950’s was a wonderful experience. Matt Busby had imposed his own personality upon the Club from the minute that he had taken up his appointment. He’d arrived when there had been no ground for his team to play upon, when training facilities were non-existent, when money to play in the transfer market was much less than adequate, and the players in the team which he had inherited, had lost six years of their young adulthood to a little matter called the Second World War. Undaunted, he had met the challenge head on, and as the years had passed the club fast became a family unit. Busby embraced everybody into that family; players, at whatever level within the club they were playing; staff; ground staff; scouts; tea ladies; laundry ladies; and even the fans. He made people belong. Remembering his first tentative steps as a young professional player arriving in Manchester in the late 1920’s to play for Manchester City, he was to tell that wonderful writer, Arthur Hopcraft; “I wanted a far more humane approach in a club than what I had found when I had first started out playing the game. Back then the younger lads were left to fend for themselves and were just left on their own. The first team players hardly recognized any of the younger players that were playing in the teams below them. There never seemed to be enough interest taken in them. The manager sat at his desk and you probably saw him once a week. From the very start, I wanted even the smallest member to be, and believe to be, a part of Manchester United.” That he was able to do that is beyond repute.

It was in this kind of atmosphere that my own love, and also that of the Manchester United fans, for the team so affectionately called the “Busby Babes” was kindled. There was at that time, such a close proximity between the Club and the local community. Nobody was “too important.” On the field, the “Babes” developed and imposed their own magnificent style on the game. Yes they had setbacks along the way, but they continued to stick to the principles, methods and styles, that Busby, Jimmy Murphy, Tom Curry, and Bert Whalley, had worked so hard to instill into them on the training grounds.

The club was so vibrant with youth and vitality. It was such a wonderful place to be around. Everybody was so approachable. The “Babes” captured the hearts and imagination of fans wherever they played. They were perfect ambassadors in everything that they did, and were such a credit to their club, the countries for whom they played for at international level, but mostly to themselves. They were stars, yes, and they knew it. But their feet were firmly planted on the ground. No big egos, no pretentiousness, no arrogance, just a huge love for the game of football, and for the club that they played for.

The years between September 1954 and February 1958 were years that gave me so much un-abandoned pleasure. I grew up alongside, and watching all those young boys and young men as they maturing. I shared their highs and lows – laughed when they won, and was heartbroken whenever they lost a game. The future looked so bright for Manchester United because there was so much talent flowing through along the conveyor belt from the junior teams. The strength in depth was phenomenal. The successes came – 2 League Championships, an appearance in the F.A. Cup Final, and two consecutive seasons playing in the European Cup. It seemed as though the Club would be able to dominate English and maybe European football for at least the coming decade. Whatever was there to worry about?

I can still recall with great clarity that late Thursday afternoon in Manchester when the news began filtering through that there had been an accident at Munich. That memory never leaves me. The news that there had been fatalities was when I experienced for the very first time in my life, that awful, gut wrenching, churning feeling of loss. For me, one who was still so young, it was so incomprehensible that I would never again see the young boys and young men who had become my idols. The sense of shock and loss is just so hard to describe. It has stayed with me throughout my life time and I would imagine it is the same for my contemporaries. Even now as I have entered my old age, I still get so emotional about those dear young people. I have suffered loss and also tragedy in my lifetime, and I’ve been able to cope with it. However, the loss that was suffered at Munich is still there, it never goes. That sad gut wrenching feeling whenever I think back to that sad day will never go away.

In my possession here at home I have a video about the lives and careers of the “Busby Babes”. There are often times, now that I am in the twilight of my life, especially when I am on my own, when I’ll sit down and watch it in quiet reflection. It takes me back to those days and years of such carefree happiness. There are some wonderful moments in it that bring the memories flooding back. Memories of a wonderful set of young people who had time for everybody. Players who caught the bus on match day and would happily sit there joining in the banter with the same fans that were going to watch them. Players who gave their time and their energies willingly to the community. Players who always remembered from where they had come from. Players who never became detached from who they were and where they came from. Players who just loved the game of football and would have played every day if they could have. No moans about tiredness or fatigue or the number of games that they had to play – they just wanted to get out there and perform.

Sir Bobby Charlton tells of his time as a young boy when he was just starting out in the game, and how he was embraced in friendship by Tommy Taylor and David Pegg. Those two 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 and catch a movie at the cinema. They walked into town because as Bobby described it; "we found it boring to go on the bus." Can you imagine the pampered star players doing that today? Charlton also tells about the very first time that he accompanied them on one of these trips. "I thought that I'd better behave like a professional player. As we got to the cinema kiosk, I pushed forward and said "I'll get these lads - where are we sitting?" Tommy Taylor just grinned and said "just get three in the best Bob" which I did - only to find that practically all my first week's wages had disappeared!"

There is some footage showing Eddie Colman, Wilf McGuinness, and Bob Charlton leaving the old Players Entrance at Old Trafford. Wilf reflects as he goes onto 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 at all - we didn't feel like "Busby Babes." We were just a team of pals who shared a great love of life, and football." He tells of how Eddie Colman was the fashionable, cheeky one and that he was the first of the players to wear "drainpipe trousers" and "winkle picker" shoes which were all the rage in men’s fashion wear at that time.

Dear 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 – Frank Sinatra’s "Pennies from Heaven" - and he really fancied himself as a pianist/crooner. He adored Sinatra. The guy with the singer's voice, from what Marjorie says, was none other than Bobby Charlton! There is a lovely picture somewhere out there 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, certainly, but with their feet firmly on the ground!

The guy who was 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, that he was a Docker, or his favourite line; "I'm a painter and decorator!" He really was a little imp and he had a devilish sense of humour which at times tested the patience of both Roger Byrne and Jimmy Murphy.

Brian Hughes MBE (who has written some wonderful biographies of some
of the "Babes") and 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 alright - but the Manchester United religion. As he said, in those days you didn't need drugs – the biggest narcotic that 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 Barbers." This barber used to have pictures of all the United players up on the wall, and people would walk 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 about "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 although Jimmy Saville was around in Manchester during that era, and was certainly the D.J. at the old Plaza Ballroom on Oxford Street, I am more than certain that he had little or no direct connection whatsoever with those lads.

Part Two of the video concentrates on United's first entry into Europe, and it's interesting to listen to Bill Foulkes, Bobby Charlton, Wilf McGuinness, and the late Ray Wood, talk about how it was perceived by the players at that time. They said that there was always excitement at the thought of playing against the 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. Just like the majority of the fans, they knew very little or 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 very little 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. The flight over to Bilbao on was horrendous. Bill Foulkes had been sat with his feet up pressing against a bulkhead in front of him. Unknown to him, his foot had hit a handle that regulated the passenger cabin heating and had switched it down to the lowest level. The Chairman, dear old Harold Hardman almost froze. Both Duncan Edwards and David Pegg who hated flying, sat for most of the journey with their heads buried in a sick bag! All of them had been
expecting to deplane from 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 doors of the aircraft and on seeing the dark grey scene that lay before him immediately uttered the words; "Caramba! Just like Salford!" The morning after the game, they had arrived back at Bilbao Airport to find the aircraft covered in ice and snow. Together with the crew and the Press lads, they pitched in, took a hold on brooms and shovels, and cleared the ice and snow from the wings and fuselage of the aircraft. How ironic when you consider what just a year on in time would bring.

There is some wonderful footage of the actual game in Bilbao - footage that I had never ever seen before. I knew that the game had been played in atrocious conditions, but I didn’t realize just how bad it was until I saw this video. Today that game would never have been started. There is a wonderful clip showing Billy Whelan scoring United’s all important third goal. I knew the story behind it. How he had run from the half way line, beating man, after man, before firing the ball home from just inside the area. When I actually saw this, it's amazing that after 85 minutes, and in conditions
that were ankle deep in mud, just how he summoned up the strength and determination to go on
that run, and then have the power to hit the ball so hard (and this was the old leather ball) and accurately into the top right hand side of the net. For me it is one of the all time great moments in United's history, because that goal gave those lads the belief that they could still go on and 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 - for me, the most memorable game that I have ever attended in my whole lifetime, and the memory of that game will live with me forever.

Frank Taylor (who wrote the book "The Day a Team Died") talks about the relationship which 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 in Germany, and Henry cornered Duncan in the airport lounge and told him not to take the article to much to heart. Duncan stopped him dead in his tracks; "Never even read it Henry" he told him. "You have your job to do, and I have mine - that's fair enough by me." Henry was gob smacked. Frank talks about how all the players and the press lads gelled on the European trips, and the fun that they had together. To them all, it was a huge great adventure. He tells of how the likes of little Eddie and Tommy Taylor used to plague the life out of Tom Jackson (M.E.N.) and Alf Clarke (M.E.C.) Ray Wood tells about how, when they had first traveled into Europe, they were all worried about the foreign food, so they took bags, and bags, of boiled sweets and chocolate with them. Bill Foulkes laughs when he recalls Johnny Berry taking a primus stove with him on every trip because he didn’t want to starve if the foreign food wasn’t up to scratch!

The third and last part of the video relates entirely to the accident and both Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg relate their memories. It’s when I see this part of the video that my own hurt really begins and it floods back.

I can never ever forget the pall of mourning that affected Manchester on that afternoon and evening, and then carried on over into the next few weeks. Seeing the curtains of people’s houses closed for a week as a mark of respect. Pictures of the team also put up inside those same windows. Adult men and women weeping and showing their grief so openly in public places. I’ll never forget the exact moment when I heard that big Duncan had passed away or the hurt and sadness that hit me so hard again.

There was a tidal wave of sympathy which built up in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and it’s been said by many a misinformed journalist that because of this, Manchester United were able to expand their fan base dramatically. I personally do not agree with that. Yes, gates rose substantially immediately after the disaster, and even into the following season. but between 1960 – 63, they dropped significantly and in those 3 seasons the average gate hovered around 32,000. The real fan explosion began with re-birth of the club after winning the F.A. Cup in 1963 and the glorious era of Sir Matt’s third team which included Crerand, Stiles, Best, Law, and Charlton. It was in 1967 that the gate average exceeded 50,000 for the first time since 1958/59. It is certainly my contention that it was at this point that the press first started to become aware of United’s expanding home and international support. The attraction of fans to Manchester United was the exhilarating style of football which they played, and the aura of Sir Matt – nothing more, nothing less.

Other clubs and their fans have used Munich as an excuse to criticize United - and still do. They used to say that the Club cashed in on the sympathy and would get special treatment from both the F.A. and the Football League. Nothing more was ever further from the truth. I have yet to see any evidence of that ever being produced. There was a lot of jealousy within the game and there were, in my opinion, certain clubs who would have reveled in the complete demise of Manchester United. Within weeks of the disaster, a number of well known clubs tried to lure Jimmy Murphy away from Old Trafford.

Colin Shindler in his book “Manchester United Ruined My Life” stated: “Manchester United used to be supported by people who lived in Manchester. But after Munich, United were supported by people who couldn’t find Manchester on a map”. That kind of statement always gets under my skin. The facts don’t support what he is saying. There is a whole lot of rubbish generated by journalists who weren’t even around at the time of Munich, who have picked up on hearsay stories and embellished them for their own ego. One even accused United of; “wallowing in the misery of Munich, and using the disaster as part of the branding of the club.” It’s just utter nonsense.

Fans from other clubs are just the same, and Manchester City fans are notorious for it. To give you some examples of the things that I have heard:

“When are United going to stop squeezing every last penny out of the air crash?”

“I don’t like the way that United ruthlessly prolonged and marketed the wave of sympathy that followed the Munich thing. You have to ask yourself honestly – did United benefit or suffer as a result of that disaster?”

This is utter nonsense which has no real substance to it. If only people would only take time to check out the facts – but then again, that is too easy. It is like the proverbial rolling stone that gathers moss as it rolls along. These stories are always the same. Whether people like it or not, Munich is a part of Manchester United’s history. I would always argue for anybody to show me concrete evidence that the Club have ever exploited it commercially. If anything, the real truth is that the Club is always in a no-win situation – damned if they do, damned if they don’t – especially where the treatment of the survivors and their family dependants are concerned.

What it boils down to at the end of the day is jealousy – success does breed it. People should remember that in the 1950’s it was a regular occurrence that many United and City fans would attend each other’s matches. Fans just wanted to watch football. But in the 1960’s that culture began to change. Lancashire at that time housed over one third of the clubs in the First Division; United, City, Everton, Bolton, Blackburn, Burnley, Preston, and Blackpool and there was already a health rivalry between their fans. In the early 60’s there were new kinds of social freedoms that began to emerge especially with younger people. Young fans began a more vocal and identifiable allegiance to their clubs. The old culture of fan was replaced by a gradual culture of passionate one club loyalty and that has transcended down to the tribalism between fans that we see today.

I have to admit that personally I do yearn for those old days even though I know that they will never return. It’s whey I am the nostalgic old sod that I am today. I enjoyed such happiness in those early years, such a sense of belonging and “being part of.” It was just such a wonderful and fulfilling experience, and one that I just wish with all my heart that our young fans could experience today. The club was tied by its umbilical cord to its grass roots support. Sadly over the years, that cord has been gradually severed, and I feel such a great sadness about that.

Whenever I return to the seat of my memories I remember the “Babes” with so much affection. They were my first love, and always will be. As Sir Matt once remarked to Michael Parkinson when asked the question; “if they had survived, what do you think they would have achieved?” I can recall watching the great man as he paused to give his answer. His face betrayed the feelings that welled up inside of him and there was the hint of a small tear in his eyes. Emotionally he responded; “I think that if they had entered it, they’d have even won the Boat Race.” I agree with that statement because believe me they would have taken some stopping.

At the end of that video, Harry Gregg comes out with some wonderful words about the boys that he played with for just so short a time:

“They say that they were the best team that 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 – again, maybe.

However, there is one thing that is for certain – they were certainly the best loved team that there has ever been.”

Such a powerful statement, and that love came from those dear boy’s humility; sportsmanship; the way that they lived their lives; the respect that they gave to their opponents whilst never fearing them; and from the way that they endeared themselves to the fans. They never considered themselves anything special and as Wilf McGuinness said; “just a great bunch of pals who happened to play football.”

I recall with emotion the last time that I saw them play against Ipswich Town in that F.A. Cup tie on January 25, 1958. After the game I had waited outside the main entrance to collect autographs for a friend of Jean Wyman’s the lady whom I had my little job with. I can remember so well the players coming out and signing. But the one thing that will always stay with me is the memory of little Eddie Colman coming out through the doors with a few friends. He was so happy and chirpy, almost impish. His personality was so infectious. He stood there laughing and joking with the kids and never left until the last piece of paper had been signed. Then he just walked away into the darkness with his friends - and was gone.

I miss them just as much today as I did when I was first aware of the real horror of what had happened on that sad, fateful day. Whenever I return to Old Trafford, I sit in my seat before a match. I close my eyes, and I can still see them. It is so easy for me to see Roger Byrne leading them out from the old tunnel, taking two taps of the ball up into his hands and then ballooning it up towards the Score Board End goal. I see Big Dunc’ emerging taking two giant leaps as he strides onto the pitch, heading an imaginary ball. I see the big smile of Tommy Taylor as he fires in balls at the goal and the triangle of little Eddie, Mark Jones and the big Fella’ moving the ball around in triangles in front of the popular stand. Those memories will never leave me.

On February 6th 2008, there is no other place in the world that I would want to be other than at Old Trafford. To be there to pay my respects to a wonderful group of people who gave me, and thousands just like me, so much happiness and pleasure, and who lost their lives pursuing not only their dreams, but also our dreams as well. Sleep on in peace dear boys. Your memory and legend will never die and you will always live on as the definitive heartbeat of our great club.