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Monday, January 26, 2009

Bobby Harrop: A Tribute by Tom Clare

Bobby Harrop – Gone, But Not Forgotten

If you were to ask any Manchester United supporter today; “What does the name Bobby Harrop mean to you?” It’s my guess that very, very few would be able to give you an answer. It’s only old farts like me and who are in my age group who really remember this young man.

Only one other player that I know of, had such a love and voracious appetite for the game of football than Bobby did, and that was Duncan Edwards. Bobby Harrop fell in love with the game as a young boy growing up in Manchester’s Benchill area, which was then a leafy suburb on the outskirts of Manchester. He carried that love with him until he passed away on November 8th 2007.

Bobby was spotted by Manchester United scouts whilst playing for Benchill Youth Club in a local amateur league when he was just 16 years of age. He was a big strapping young boy who played at centre half. He joined United’s groundstaff in 1953, and during the following season he won a place in the Youth team alongside such celebrated youth players of the time such as Eddie Colman, Wilf McGuinness, Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, David Pegg, and Albert Scanlon. He played in the Youth Cup final in 1954 against Wolves which United won by 5-4 on aggregate - a nice way to start his career at Old Trafford.

Although he was a centre half, Bobby moved into the reserve team during the 1956 seasonut played in a number of other positions. The reason being was that his path to the first team was blocked by the likes of Mark Jones, Jackie Blanchflower, and Ronnie Cope. For the next eighteen months he played as a wing-half, a full back and even inside, and centre-forward. And then came Munich.

After the tragedy, (he was just 21 when it happened) like other youngsters around him, he was suddenly thrust into the first team pool and on 5 March 1958, he made his first team debut against West Bromwich Albion, at Old Trafford in a re-played FA Cup 6th round tie. He made another 5 appearances in that season, and followed up with five more in the 1958/59 season. Sadly, like so many of his contemporaries at Old Trafford at the time, it was probably the wrong time for him. Too early, too much emotion, too much pressure in that cauldron of sympathy that enveloped Manchester United immediately after the tragedy. It was hard for young men who were rally nothing more than boys to cope with. That he gave his all and played his part, there is no doubt.

In 1961, after having played just those eleven first team games, he moved on to Tranmere Rovers for 4000 pounds in a move that also took goalkeeper Gordon Clayton with him. He stayed just two seasons at Prenton Park where he turned out in 42 games before moving down into non-league football with Margate. It was here that his love of the game really shone so brightly, just like the rising morning sun.

Bobby Harrop was to play 567 games for the Kent club between 1963-1978, interspersed with spells at Ashford and Canterbury, where he notched up another 177 matches. He left Margate in 1978 at the ripe old age of 42 and he joined Ramsgate and played 52 games for them until 1980. Bobby still had that insatiable love of the game and he spent season 1980/81 playing for Nottingham Castle in the Thanet Premier Sunday League. In 1981/82 he took over as plaer/coch of Thanet United’s reserve team and performed so well during that season that at age 45, he earned their ‘Player of the Year’ award! Bobby finished active playing at the end of the 1984/85 season, a season which had seen him hold the appointment of Reserve Team Manager at Dover.

His playing days may well have finished just before he was 50 but that didn’t diminish his love of football. In 1986 he turned to refereeing and became a well respected referee in the Thanet local football leagues. He gave back to the game which he loved and in 2005, was elected President of the Thanet and District Football League. Bobby was still refereeing right up until a few weeks before his passing ….. he was by then 71 years of age!

In today’s world, and certainly in today’s game, where money abounds and seems to be the prime motivator on and off the field, it is stories like Bobby’s that warm the heart. He played because he loved to; he gave back because he loved to; and he never ever lost his love of the club closest to his heart – Manchester United. As I said, not too many United fans will remember him but I do. The dark haired, good looking, big centre half who had enormous appetite for a game that he played.

Rest in peace Bobby, you are gone, but you are certainly not forgotten.


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