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Thursday, October 02, 2008

October 1st 1936 - Birth of a Real Legend by Tom Clare

October 1st will always mark a very special day in my calendar. In a time when lavish praise is bandied about regarding even the most ordinary of football players; I think that it is true to say that on this date in 1936, it was the day which announced the birth of a real legend.

Football history is strewn with a litany of legendary players and their history. Most of those born before the war of 1939-45 have been condemned to the dark and distant past, their achievements readily forgotten with the passage of time. Even stalwarts of the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and even some into the 80’s are now left behind in the helter skelter juggernaut that has projected football so rapidly through the 90’s and into the new millennium. Modern day media has very little time for the past and the great history of the game. For most fans in today’s world, if it is not shown on dvd, video tape, or hasn’t been shown on television, history is of little consequence. In today’s game, the overwhelming things that matters are winning, and today.

Manchester United has a rich and glorious history. Other clubs do have a long history, but none fascinates people as much as Manchester United’s does. From twice being on the verge of extinction, to traveling to where the club stands in the football world today, has been a magnificent achievement. During that time United have also produced their legends – players/management/ and staff, who have served the club so magnificently and so can only be described as thus - legends.

Again, like others in the game, many of them are condemned to the dark passage of time and the inside of historical football books. If you were to ask the vast majority of fans today; “Who were Charlie Roberts, Dick Duckworth, and Alec Bell?” – or even ask; “ who was H.E. Magnall?” - It’s my guess that they would struggle to answer. The game has been blessed with wonderful players down through the different eras; Billy Meredith, Steve Bloomer, Dixie Dean, “fatty” Foulkes, Cliff Bastin, Wilf Copping, Elijah Scott, Frank Swift, just to name a few; all of whom plied their trade before the 1939-45 war. Most younger people will, today, I would suggest, struggle to recognize most of those names. Players who are now long gone and even though greatness in the game touched them, are now forgotten. It says much then, that even today, 50 years after he left this world so tragically, the mere mention of this wonderful player’s name either in conversation or through the media, evokes such passionate debate, and brings back to me, so many memories. He is of course, Duncan Edwards.

Today would have been his 72nd birthday. This evening I was reading a piece about “Dunc” that brought all of the memories flooding back. To quote what I was reading:

“Duncan Edwards, the “boy-man” made his debut for Manchester United at the tender age of 16 and was a full England regular just after his 18th birthday. You could play him anywhere and he would slot into that position as if he had been playing there all through his young life. For all of his tender years, he was the most complete player of his time. When the going was rough, Duncan would be as unmoved as a rock in a raging sea, but for all of his size and considerable build, he had such pace and possessed such deft skills.

In 1957, I played for England against the Republic of Ireland, at Wembley. In the second from deep inside the England half of the field, Duncan set off on a mazy dribble that took him past five Irish players before he laid the ball off to his Manchester United team mate, Tommy Taylor. Big Tommy never even broke step as he crashed the ball first touch into the roof of the net from just outside of the penalty area. Sitting up in the satnds that afternoon was one of the England reserves, namely, Frank Blunstone the young Chelsea outside left. The sheer excitement of seeing Duncan surging forward from within his own half had Frank on his feet and when Taylor scored, Frank shouted out with such excitement that his upper set of teeth shot out of his mouth and disappeared 7/8 rows below him!”

The writer was none other than the wonderful Sir Stanley Mathews. There are many such anecdotes written about Duncan, especially by the great players of he played alongside and even those he played against, or just watched him from the stands. The description of him surging from midfield going past players is certainly no exaggeration on Sir Stanley’s part. It is a memory that I have of him in so many, many games. His nickname was “Tank” – and that was what he was, a human tank. The power of the boy had to be seen to be believed. But as Sir Stanley said; you could play the lad anywhere at all in a football team – I have never ever heard about a player before or since who could do just that and be so comfortable with his game. Having watched him so many times, Duncan did have great pace and possessed such a tremendous touch on the ball. He was a great reader of the game and had stamina in abundance. His contribution to a game was never less than 100% and he was a stickler for fairness, and many a player who tried to take advantage of his youth came unglued very quickly. Duncan was as hard as nails.

It amuses me today when I hear people say that he had never reached his potential. If that is a true statement, then in my opinion he would have gone on to be Superman. Jimmy Murphy told Sir Matt just weeks after Duncan had set foot inside Old Trafford: “There’s nothing that I can coach into him Matt. He’s got the lot!” This, when Duncan was just 15 years old. He graced the first team in the First Division 151 times; in the FA Cup 12 times, the European Cup 12 times; this at a time when for the first three years of his career there was only the League and FA Cup games to play in. He’d played in 18 full internationals for England, as well as representing his country in countless numbers of games at every senior level that there could be played.

His enthusiasm for the game was both effervescent and infectious. He always shunned the limelight and when reporters would ask him for interviews, he would just tell them; “It’s not me that you want, I’m just one of the team. Go and talk to one of the lads.” He knew that he was special, but he kept his feet firmly on the ground. He loved the club, loved playing for his country, and most of all, just loved playing the game of football. I have never ever come across a player who had such a voracious appetite for playing. I shudder to think that if he was playing today, just what kind of impact he would have had.

When I look at today’s players and the rewards that are available to them; the squabbles about contracts and money; I just wish that somebody would make players sit down and look at big Duncan’s life and love of the game. Money never ever came into it for him. It was the love of the game; the pulling on of that red shirt and his love of Manchester United.

I still see him even today – that great big barrel chest of his as he used to push it out waiting for the kick off. The wonderful physique which he possessed. But mostly, I remember a wonderful young person who brought to me so much pleasure and joy during the short span of his career. As I said, it says so much that even today, he is still talked about so much. He always will be. Happy birthday Duncan – sleep on in your peace – you will never ever be forgotten.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Ole address to crowd at his testimonial

“Thank you, thanks. I’ve had more than a year to think about this and it’s not getting any easier. I knew this was going to be my last game at Old Trafford and today you’ve been absolutely fantastic again. You’re the best supporters in the world. I’d like to thank Espanyol, who came over here and made a good game out of it. It was a good run-out for our boys. It’s a very important season for us and it was important that they got a good game. Next, I’d like to thank the manager. He’s been absolutely fantastic with me. He has guided me through my career – I’ve had my highs, I’ve also had my lows, and he supported me very well through that time. I can’t thank him enough. I’m going into coaching and if I haven’t learnt from him than I can’t do coaching. So thank you, boss. The players… I’ve played with the best players in the world. It’s easy being a forward when you play with these players. They create chances for you – you miss one, you get another one. I can’t say thanks enough to them – they’ve made every minute here a special one for me. And the last 25 here, I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It’s something my family, myself and all my friends will remember. It’s been a special day. Thanks to all the staff who have supported me, who have helped me through dark periods. Most of all to the supporters – you’ve been absolutely fantastic, you kept me going. And I’ve got the three loveliest kids in the world and a lovely wife. I’d like to thank them as well. Thanks, thank you very much.”