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Friday, September 16, 2011

The Blue Plaques for Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards by Tom Clare for Red News

The Blue Plaques for Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards by Tom Clare for Red News

Tom Clare's Forever A Babe

In September 2010, I was contacted through Red News by schoolmaster Chris Hirst. Chris is the Director of Learning at Stretford High School, which is situated on Greatstone Road, just a stone’s throw away from the Old Trafford Stadium. The reason that Chris contacted me was to see if I could help him, and his Year 7 students, with a project that they were about to undertake through the 2010-2011, academic year.

The project was about the ‘Busby Babes’, and the object of the said project was to see if the school could get the local Trafford Metropolitan Borough authority to authorize the erection of a number of Blue Heritage Plaques on the former lodgings of some of those former players. He had approached United, but unfortunately was told they didn’t have any information and could not help. This would be an easy task some may well have said. Not so, as we were to find out.

Chris initially asked me if I had any knowledge of the addresses where the ‘Busby Babes’ players had actually lived prior to the horrific Munich tragedy. Of course I had to open the back pocket of my memory and get my old grey matter working. Fortunately I was able to help and point him and his students in the right direction.

Most of that wonderful ‘Babes’ team, especially the single boys, did live in the Old Trafford area. Initially most of them were billeted together at Mrs. Watson’s boarding house which was situated at 5, Birch Road, which was off Talbot Road, close to the Lancashire Cricket Club. It was two large Victorian terraced houses knocked into one. The building has long since gone and has been replaced by a large office block.

Mrs. Watson’s unfortunately achieved some notoriety on occasions, and eventually, the club was forced to move the young players elsewhere. Mrs. Watson’s better half was a drunkard, and a womaniser. There were times when he would play cards with lads and would be relieved of his money. This led to him losing his temper and sometimes to start hitting out. The end came though when he had an affair with one of the young ladies working as a chamber maid, and once the powers that be at Old Trafford heard about this, they decided that the atmosphere at the boarding house was not what they wanted their young players to be party to. They were moved out to several other accommodations within the local area.

Tommy Taylor went to live at 22 Greatstone Road, and lived with the Swinchatt family. Jack Swinchatt MBE, was to contact Chris Hirst later and state that his mother and father shared one bedroom, he had the second bedroom, and big Tommy had the third bedroom, at the small terraced house.

Duncan Edwards was moved in with the Dorman family at 19, Gorse Avenue, along with Billy Whelan. Eric, the Dorman’s son, became Duncan’s closest friend. In this modern era, when players earn literally millions of pounds each year and live in huge houses out in the green belt areas, it will seem strange to the modern football follower that two seasoned full internationals, one who is arguably the finest Britain has ever produced, would be living in the spare rooms of what was then council houses. How times have changed!

The youngsters at Stretford High School continued to research and find out where the different players lived, and early in 2011, it was decided that the school would apply to have the Blue Plaques erected at the former homes of both Tommy Taylor, and Duncan Edwards. The applications were downloaded from the Borough Council website, and completed, and together with the appropriate cheque for the costs of the making of the Plaques (600 pounds each), were submitted back to the Borough Council.

Trafford Borough Council limits the number of Blue Plaque applications that are finally authorised to no more than six per year. They are not authorised lightly. From the time of application, to the time of authorisation, normally takes some six to twelve weeks. It was with great pleasure that Chris Hirst received a telephone call from the Borough Council just four hours after the applications had been received, informing him that authorisation for the erecting of the Plaques on the said properties had been granted. The students, staff, and teachers at the school, were so delighted and thrilled.

Chris then began working on how to approach the day of unveiling, and who he could contact to see if they would agree to do the unveilings. After much thought, he wrote to Harold “Dickie” Bird, the former cricket Test Match Umpire to unveil the Plaque at Tommy Taylor’s former home. “Dickie” went to school with big Tommy in Smithies, a district of their home town, Barnsley. It may surprise some that he was a very good footballer, who played inside right to Tommy in the Barnsley Boys town team. They spent a lot of time together as youngsters, and even when Tommy joined Barnsley Football Club as a professional. “Dickie” was also a prolific batsmen and he went on to join the Yorkshire County Cricket Club. They both followed each other’s careers closely, until Tommy lost his life at Munich.
Hirst also wrote to Sir Bobby Charlton, and asked if he would consider unveiling the Plaque at Duncan Edwards’s former abode. Sir Bobby and ‘Big Dunc’ had been very close friends up, and until, Duncan’s passing at Munich. Obviously, if he was going to accept this invitation, it was going to be a very poignant, and emotional moment for him.

I had been in regular communication with Chris Hirst since the project began. To try and glean more information for him, I had called Wilf McGuinness, the former United player and manager to see if he could remember where most of the young ‘Babes’ were billeted. Wilf helped and I was also able to put Chris in touch with him. I was delighted when Chris informed me that Wilf had agreed to attend the school and had agreed to talk to the students. I was happier still when I found out that his visit would coincide with the time that I was in Manchester for my Annual Sportsman’s Dinner.
On May 19th, Cheryl and I visited Stretford High School, and it was a pleasure to meet Chris Hirst in the flesh, and also some of the staff and other teachers. I was invited to talk to the 7th year students, and it was quite an experience. For some 45 minutes I talked to them, briefly about United’s history, and then about the team which I grew up alongside – the ‘Busby Babes.’ The kids were attentative, and when I asked for questions from them, they floored me. “Who is the best manager – Sir Matt or Sir Alex?” “Who was the best player, Duncan Edwards, Bryan Robson, or Roy Keane?” Who was better; Tommy Taylor, Denis Law, or Ruud van Nistlerooy?” “Which was the better team, the United team that won the treble, or the ‘Busby Babes’?’ And of course the all time favourite question; “Just how good was Duncan Edwards?” It was a refreshing experience. Chris then took us down to the Headmaster’s study where he surprised us by showing us the two Blue Plaques which had arrived at the school that morning. It was quite emotional for me to see them, and I was quite surprised by how big they were.

The following morning we returned to the school, and were introduced to Mr. Jim Hasledine the School Principal in his study. A short time later Wilf McGuinness arrived and after a short time, we were shown into the school auditorium which was packed with students. The reception we received was just so loud and like an explosion. Mr. Hasledine introduced Wilf, and for the next hour he had the kids enthralled as he recounted the time when he too was a ‘Busby Babe’. After his speech was over he spent time signing autographs and then we retired outside to have some photographs taken with the Blue Plaques. Wilf, like me, was so happy to see how impressive the plaques looked.

Before we left, Chris informed me that both ‘Dickie’ and Sir Bobby had accepted the invitations to unveil the respective Plaques. He also told me that the unveiling would take place on July 8th. Sadly, it meant that I could not be there to witness it as I was already committed to an obligation in Cologne, Germany, on that date. Nonetheless, I would be there in spirit.

The day arrived, and as well as Sir Bobby and ‘Dickie’, Brian Hughes MBE and his wife Rosemarie had been invited, as well as local MP, Kate Green. There was huge excitement within the school to be hosting such wonderful people, and after a brief reception, the children and dignitaries headed for the first location, 22, Greatstone Road. As well as the children, there was a big media and public presence in attendance. Jim Hasledine introduced ‘Dickie’ Bird and he was very emotional when he talked about his pal Tommy Taylor.

“Tommy was my friend. We were brought up together in Barnsley in a little place called Smithies. We went to the same school, Burton Road primary, and then Raley Secondary Modern School. We both played for the school team, he played centre forward and I played inside right to him. At school, Tommy’s nickname was “Tucker” Taylor. I think that he got that label because he tucked the goals away.

Both of our fathers were close friends, having worked at the same coal face down the pit. At weekends they would enjoy a pint together, and they would argue with each other as to who was the best player, Tommy or me! Both of our fathers agreed that neither of us would ever go down the mines to work, and it gave them both a tremendous satisfaction when Tommy signed for Barnsley FC, and I signed for Yorkshire Cricket Club. That’s how it all started for us both.

We used to practice for hours together just the two of us. Tommy, from a standing start could jump over a garden gate. He could also jump on top of a snooker table as well from a standing position. When we were playing matches together, he always wanted me to cross the ball at head height for him so that he could rise and head the ball. He had this remarkable gift of being able to rise and hang in the air. I am convinced to this day, that this gift made him the best header of a ball that the game of football has seen.

Tommy was in these digs at this house after he signed for Manchester United. He loved cricket and spent a lot of time at Old Trafford cricket ground. He loved it also when Yorkshire played there against Lancashire and he would always come up to the dressing room to visit me. Though he was idolized in Manchester, there was not the slightest sign of any big headedness about my old school friend. If anything, he was rather shy. He was very proud of his roots, a typical, warm hearted Yorkshire lad.

Tommy, I know that you will be in heaven mate, because you were a good and honest man. You gave millions of people a lot of pleasure. Your achievements are all there in the record books for everybody to see. I always talk about you whenever football is mentioned, no matter what company I am with. It only seems like yesterday that we were both young kids practicing both football and cricket on broken glass, in fields, and on any old rough ground. I think that it gave us both the will and determination to succeed in both our chosen professions. They were poor, but oh! So happy days all those years ago. I hope that the many thousands of football fans will visit this place as it gives them the chance to remember a wonderful young man. I am so proud and honoured that Tommy was my friend.”

With that, and to loud cheers, ‘Dickie’ pulled back the drape covering the Blue Plaque, and it was there, resplendent upon the house wall, for everybody to see.

After a few minutes’ walk, the whole party moved on just around the corner from Greatstone Road, to 19, Gorse Avenue. For Sir Booby Charlton it was an emotional few minutes, and this is what he had to say;

“Thank you for giving me the honour of representing everybody who had the pleasure of watching Duncan Edwards play football. My own digs were just a few hundred yards away from here, and Duncan’s, as you can see, backed virtually on to Longford Park. Whenever he wasn’t playing for Manchester United, you could always find him practicing or watching teams play in Logford Park. I have got to say, that whenever you mention Duncan Edwards, he was without doubt the best player that I ever played with, and better than any other player who I played against. I was fortunate enough to have done my National Service with him at Nescliffe, near Shrewsbury. I did see a lot of him, even though I hadn’t got into the first team by then, but he was a regular and an international by the time he was 18, he was such a sensational player.

He had a phenomenal love of the game and he just loved playing football. He had such a natural talent, you couldn’t teach him anything. If you were 50-60 yards away he could hit you with balls from his left foot, right foot, it didn’t matter, but the ball would be spot on. He was a phenomenal passer of the ball. He was tough, he tackled ruthlessly, he could play in any position at a time when the game was tough and for youngsters coming into the professional game, it was really hard playing football. The football pitches today are nothing like what we used to play upon. But to Duncan, it did not matter; he was just the most sensational player.

He loved Manchester United, and I know that he loved these digs. He was never a drinking man; we could hardly ever get him to come out with us. But he had a fantastic association with the local public and I was just so fortunate to be one of his pals for such a long time.

When he was very ill in Munich, the first thing he said to me was; “Where the hell have you been?” He was tough as teak, and he used to frighten me to death. He was the best and toughest player that I ever played with, and I’ll never ever forget, Duncan Edwards. This is just fantastic and I’m really grateful to the people who live here now, because every match day, they are going to get hundreds and hundreds of people coming here, and also to Tommy Taylor’s digs just around the corner where we have just been, to remember what is an integral part of Manchester United’s history. Munich is a part of Manchester United’s history unfortunately, and Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards were two of the club’s shining lights.

I am so proud that Council have authorised these plaques because it gives people the opportunity to think about what it was like in those days. When Munich happened, it was because we were trying to win the European Cup. Matt Busby said we were good enough to win it, and after we had defeated Red Star Belgrade, it looked as though the world was ours. Unfortunately at Munich, it was all broken and stopped.

Nevertheless, the European Cup became the Holy Grail and somehow we just had to win it. Fortunately, in 1968, we did win it, and we have won it since, and we have a fantastic club at Manchester United now. However, when most people think about Manchester United, they think about Munich and the great players that were lost, and I have to say that they were great players, and I am so pleased that there is such a big crowd that has turned out today.

I just want to say that Manchester United is the greatest club without any doubt, and it’s because of people like Duncan Edwards.”

The plaque was then unveiled, and one could detect a small tear in Sir Bobby’s eye. The dignitaries returned back to the school where they were afforded lunch. For everybody connected with the project, especially the young students, it was the culmination of a lot of hard work and patience. For me personally, I was so pleased to have played some small part in the projecr, and to see those two plaques unveiled, filled me with great satisfaction.

It is right that these great players who perished in the snow at Munich, and those who survived, but have since passed, are remembered. They gave a lot to the local community where they lived. They were stars, that is for certain. But they were never pretentious; there were never any airs and graces. It was incredible to see them out and about in the local area – shopping, going to the cinema, going down to the local dance hall or pub, playing football with the kids in the local parks, and even walking, and cycling down, to Old Trafford on match days, along with the fans who were going to watch them play. For me personally, there has never ever been a group of players who have come near to touching them in the way that they lived their lives, the skills that they possessed, or for their love of life, and for the game and the club that they loved.

by Tom Clare for Red News.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An exclusive (+ excellent) overview of Manchester United in the Northern Ireland Milk Cup for Red News by Gary Fowler

Milking it for success!

To say Manchester United have history in the Northern Ireland Milk Cup is a huge understatement. Looking back to 1991, Utd won the then U16 competition with a team that included a bunch of then unknowns such as Gary Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt, who went on to become the famed “class of ‘92” along with earlier Milk Cup Alum Ryan Giggs after winning the FA Youth Cup.

The Milk Cup is one of the most famed youth tournaments in the world into which United have regularly entered an Academy group in the U17 (Premier) competition. There are also U15 (Junior) and U20 (Elite) and between the 3 age brackets the tournament attracts some of the biggest clubs in the world to the County Antrim area of Northern Ireland. To put the success of the competition into perspective the World Cup in 2002 featured 30 players who had appeared at the tournament.

Since then United have won the trophy in 2003, 2008 and 2009. The squad that won the tournament in 09 featured current rising stars Ravel Morrison and Ryan Tunnicliffe and the 2008 group contained Davide Petrucci and Kiko Macheda. Some of the players from these 2 squads have already experienced first team football, while many others are graduated to the current reserve team after their 2nd year of Academy football. Expect to see Morrison, Tunnicliffe and Petrucci and co. in this season’s League Cup. These last two winning teams have been coached by Academy boss Paul McGuinness (son of former United player and boss Wilf) and in 2011 he will be looking to make it 3 successes in 4 years.

The current crop continues to have more of a European flavor as the squad contains a mixture of home grown players and those recruited from around the continent. United have featured predominantly in the news regarding this over the last few years with Paul Pogba arriving from Le Havre, Petrucci from Roma and Macheda from Lazio. Two of the squad’s foreign players currently making waves in Manchester are Gyliano Van Velzen, a tall powerful winger or forward who arrived from Ajax last year and young Norwegian midfielder Mats Daehli who joined United on the recommendation of Ole Solksjaer from Stabaek. On a home front a familiar name is that of Barmby, Jack that is, son of Hull player Nicky, a strong left footed winger who featured in the tournament last year as well.

United started their campaign in Ballymena against Venezuelan side Zamora FC with what turned out to be a comfortable 4-0 win after the aforementioned Van Velzen settled United down with a smart finish after the goalkeeper parried in the 7th minute. United lined up in a very fluid 4-3-3 formation with Daehli clearly the fulcrum of the side as United looked to play out through him on most moves. The passing was short and sharp as United controlled the game in the first half but they couldn’t find the killer final ball in behind the opposition defense. The 2nd half started with a bang however as tall center back Tyler Blackett won the ball in a strong tackle and quickly slipped the ball to Barmby on the left wing. Barmby and center forward Tom Lawrence played a quick one-two which sent Barmby driving into the box from the left before drilling the ball high inside the near post to make it 2-0 after 41 minutes (the halves are 35 mins). Zamora were soon down to 10 men after yet another rash challenge and United wasted little time in taking advantage of the extra space and time with 2 subs combining to make it 3-0. James Weir produced an outrageous heel-flick to control the ball in the middle of the pitch before slicing the defence open with a ball to James Wilson who rounded the goalkeeper and coolly slotted the ball into an empty net. Minutes later Van Velzen showed strength on the right wing to stay on his feet and drive a great cross in for the unmarked Kenji Gorre (16) to guide his header back across goal into the far corner. Stand out of the game was undoubtedly Daehli who’s passing range and industry in the midfield was recognized as he drew a huge cheer from the crowd, subbing out once United went 2-0 up.

Manager Paul McGuinness said: “I think we controlled the game, and we could have one or two more goals if we had the right pass at the right time. Our control of the game and the ball meant that they tired towards the end and gaps began to appear for us. They were similar to South American opposition, sharp and skillful, but we controlled most of the game. County Tyrone are next and we know it’s always difficult because people are keyed up to play us, and the Irish teams have strong players so we know we will have to be at our best.” (Courtesy Milk Cup website)

Tuesday night at a packed and sunny Coleraine Showgrounds saw United rotate some of the squad to keep things fresh with five games over five days, as day one stand outs Daehli and Barmby started on the bench against County Tyrone. United dominated the first half but yet again had to settle for only being one up at the break. James Wilson capitalised on a defensive slip after a long diagonal ball from Charni Ekangamene to confidently drill the ball into the left hand side of the net. Just as on Monday night United’s possession game wore out the opposition in the second half. Van Velzen effectively settled the game after 41 minutes as he passed the ball into the corner from the top of the box following Wilson’s assist. Daelhi was introduced after 45 minutes along with Kenji Gorre and 3 minutes later the two combined well to set up Rothwell, who produced a delightful drag-back and finish making it 3-0. Barmby came off the bench to also make an immediate impact as he seized on a weak goal kick to smash the ball in from 20 yards out on 63 minutes. The Tryone side seemed to lose spirit at 0-4 down and United went on the score three more in the remaining 10 minutes with some first class finishing. Rothwell scored his second with a shot from 25 yards that left the ‘keeper rooted to the spot, Gorre stroked home after starting and finishing a move himself and Jack Rudge wrapped the game up in injury time.

United faced Hartlepool in Limavady on Wednesday night looking to build on an impressive start to the tournament with eleven goals for and none against. Having already rounded the keeper and fired over on his weaker right foot, Jack Barmby pounced on a soft back pass to keep the ball in play before rounding the keeper and two defenders to put United one up after 11 minutes. It was Barmby who was again involved two minutes later as his shot from the right hand side of the box was spilled by the goalkeeper to leave Rudge with an easy tap in. Untied were not having it all their own way however and were being put under more pressure at the back by a physical Hartlepool who got their reward by pulling one back after 26 minutes, everyone unsure whether the ball had gone straight in from the corner or if it was an own goal. Rudge re-established United’s two goal cushion right on half time, superbly pulling down a long through ball from Ben Pearson before calmly rounding the ‘keeper and slotting the ball into the goal. United eased off in the second half knowing they had already made the semi finals but wrapped up the game in style as crowd favorite Daehli nutmegged the goalkeeper to wrap up a fine team move and make it 4-1.

Paul McGuinness however was not as impressed with his side’s performace, feeling they had not controlled the game as well as in the previous two nights, although he did recognise that Hartlepool had given Utd a sterner test.

The draw late on Wednesday night pitted United against last year’s winners, Senegalese side Etoile Lusitana. United made the unusual move of switching wide forward Van Velzen to the left back spot which had been occupied by Blackett for the last 2 games and Ekangamene for the opener. Perhaps it was a problem position or maybe to counteract the height of the huge Senegalese side but Van Velzen seemed uncomfortable in his new role and Etoile made many early attacks down his side. United were not afforded the same space and time as the three previous games and a large part of the first half was a scrappy midfield battle. Rothwell and Daehli were trying their best to dictate the tempo of the game but a very athletic Etoile closed them down at every given opportunity. Thomas Lawrence had United’s only shot of note in the first half as Daehli and Gorre combined well but the angle was against Lawrence and the Etoile goalkeeper saved well. Rudge replaced Ekangamene at the break as United looked for a little more craft in the midfield and he worked the keeper well with a swerving shot on 53 minutes. As the game wore on United were starting to dominate possession and it was strong interplay between Daehli and right back Luke Hendrie that created the solitary goal of the game. Hendrie’s perfect cross was bent right between the goalkeeper and center back, creating the uncertainty which allowed substitute Barmby to nip in and prod the ball towards the back post where Lawrence touched it over the line for the winning goal in the 58th minute. Coach McGuinness was much more vocal in this game showing the step up in competition compared the relative ease of the three wins earlier in the week. The reward for eliminating last year’s winners was a Ballymena final on Friday night against Qatar side Aspire, who destroyed Desportivo Brasil 6-1 in the other semi final and had scored 19 goals in their 4 games to date.

For the final McGuinness continued with van Velzen as a makeshift left back but sprang another tactical surprise by moving playmaker Mats Daehli up to one of the 3 forward positions. Daehli had played as the most attacking of the three midfielders to date, frequently joining the three forwards, but it seemed a strange decision to remove him from a position he had excelled in, especially for the final. United, as in the other games started a little slow but were not allowed to get away with it against stronger opposition and instead of going 1-0 up they were 0-1 down after only 6 minutes. Van Velzen was beaten for pace on the wing and Cedric’s cross was met with superb header from 6 yards by Drame who had ghosted in between McCullough and Blackett. 15 minutes late the same two players combined again to make it 2-0. Blackett and van Velzen both backed off Cedric who slipped the ball through to Drame who got across captain McCullough’s path to beat ‘keeper Joe Coll at his near post. Moments later the giant Drame completed a superb hat trick as he out jumped Blackett with a flicked header into the roof of the net to complete his second hat trick in as many nights and win the golden boot. It took until the 47th minute until United registered their first shot on goal with Daehli hitting it straight as the Etoile goalkeeper from just outside the box. Drame then assisted on goal number four for the Africans who scored at the second time of asking through Babacar following Drame’s cut back from the line after some neat footwork. The obviously frustrated Jack Barmby pulled a goal back minutes later when he scored from a tight angle following a deflected free kick by defender Blackett which broke into the forward’s path. However with only ten minutes left there was little chance of senior side style comeback and Etoile put the final nail in Utd’s coffin with a fifth goal in the 65th minute.

As the Northern Ireland Milk Cup forms a key part of United Academy side’s pre season many lessons can be taken from the tournament for Paul McGuinness and his staff ahead of the league season. United were given little opposition in the first three games but it gave the opportunity for the first year academy scholars to blend with those returning for their second year and replacing those that have now moved up the reserve level. Throughout the five games it was clear to see that the players were being asked to play a very specific style of play and work on some key tactics. At this U17 level it seems the emphasis is still very much on tactically developing the players for the senior team, whereas some of the other teams in the tournament were clearly more focused on immediate results. Even in a tight semi final and one-sided final Utd’s youngsters still tried to play their short, sharp passing game. Throughout the week their fluid 4-3-3 formation was always evident, the front 3 constantly rotating and the current most attacking of the 3 midfielders often getting right up past the forwards. Often it was difficult as an on-looker to know which of the 6 forwards and midfielders at any given moment were playing which position due to constant change and freedom the system afforded them. Having spoken at length to Kenji Gorre’s father Dean (new Ajax U18 coach) during the Hartlepool game he agreed this system was only possible with the highest caliber of player and is part of the reason why United spend so much time and effort finding the best players from all over the UK and Europe to make it work. Every corner United took over the 5 games was a short one, clearly something the coaching staff used the tournament to work on. United never ‘hoofed’ the ball away, even under pressure, preferring to try and play their way out of danger, confident in the knowledge that the odd error now would pay dividends in their long term development. Until the last pass or in the final third of the field 95% of passes were to feet, tiring the opposition out and allowing United to dominate possession. In the warm up for the Wednesday game against Hartlepool one of the coaching staff emphasized to the players about the necessity to remain calm under pressure and find a team mate with a simple pass on the ground, naming Barcelona’s style of play. The quick closing and pressure of both Aspire and Etoile will prepare the team well for the season ahead and higher levels in this respect. It would not be a surprise at all to see some of the standouts from this group gain some reserve team playing time this season and a year from now some may make first team debuts as Sir Alex Ferguson bloods some of them in the League Cup. Keep an eye on both Mats Daehli and Jack Barmby in the years to come and perhaps in the future we may talk about this group as the “Class of 2012.”

Gary Fowler twitter @TheBoyRed7

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tom Clare on Phil Jones

Tom Clare's Forever A Babe

In The Shadow of a Giant’s Footsteps

Nostalgia as I have always said, is a wonderful thing; simply and purely because nostalgia can be made to be anything that you want it to be. It can also be a dangerous thing in that it can cloud your judgment as you yearn for those past eras; those past personalities, and the events which they contributed to. Every generation hears about ‘the good old days’ from their older peers and the comparisons of individuals from years gone by, with the present day subject.

For younger people, it can be a frustrating kind of experience, and it can provoke heated debate, even argument, and that is quite understandable. I grew up in a time period of what I love to term as the ‘Golden Age of Football’. Football was vibrant, stadiums packed, and there were so many great British players to watch week in and week out. But even back then, there were always comparisons with players who plied their trade in the pre-war years. It was common place to hear statements like; “he’s no Hapgood”, or “he’s not as quick or skilful as Bastin was.”

My Grandfather, who I revered, and whose judgment I trusted implicitly, used to base his comparisons on a number of United players whom he had watched over the years; some from before WW1 even! For forwards he would use Joe Spence and Billy Meredith as the yardstick. For the halfbacks it would be the likes of Frank Barson, Alec Bell, Charlie Roberts, and Dick Duckworth. Believe me; if he likened a player to any of those personalities, then I can assure you, that player had to be something special.

As I grew up, he eulogized about Johnny Carey, Henry Cockburn, Stan Pearson, and Jack Rowley. Then of course, as I grew older, the ‘Babes’ were emerging. He was generous in his praise for Roger Byrne and he thought that he was the best Captain that United had ever had. Surpisingly, he likened Mark Jones to Charlie Roberts, although he thought that he was not as ruthless as Barson. He loved to watch little Eddie Colman, and again surprised me when he said that he was the best tackling player that United had at the club. As much as he liked Tommy Taylor, he preferred Joe Spence, but then he did say that Dennis Viollet was as lethal a player as he had seen. Today, I personally, would liken Viollet very much to Paul Scholes.
When we moved into the 60’s, Grandfather loved to watch Denis Law, and revered Bobby Charlton, who he said, was the perfect role model for any youngster coming into the game. He was a huge admirer of Paddy Crerand’s game, and said he was probably the best passer of a ball that he had seen. And then came George – and he was smitten. What he loved about George was not only his astounding natural talent, but also his tremendous heart and courage, and his indefatigable spirit.

My Grandfather first saw United back in 1898 when they were known as Newton Heath. Sadly, he passed away in October 1966, so had watched the club grow for 68 years. It’s a very long passage of time during which he had seen so many, many matches, and watched countless thousands of players. He was my mentor and my inspiration where United are concerned. As most of you know, I first attended Old Trafford back in the autumn of 1950, and attended my first senior game in September 1954. Like Granddad, that’s over 60 years in the bank where United are concerned, and just like him it’s countless matches attended, and thousands of players watched.

So where is all this leading to? During your lifetime, especially where football is concerned – there comes along that ‘special’ player, that one player who, because of his outstanding qualities as a player, is the one who becomes your benchmark. From the 50’s, United fans will probably look at players like Carey, Chilton, Rowley, Byrne, Foulkes, Taylor, Viollet. From the 60’s Charlton, Law, Creand, Stiles, Best. In the 70’s my own choice would be Martin Buchan, Steve Coppell, and Sammy McIlroy. From the 80’s Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside, Mark Hughes, and into the 90’s, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Peter Schmeichel. After the turn of the Millennium, Rio Ferdinand, Ruud van Nistlerooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic. That’s some litany of exceptional players and I have probably left more than a few out.

For me, and also for my Grandfather, the one player who stood out like a beacon above all the rest was a young boy from Dudley in the West Midlands – Duncan Edwards. It says so much for him that even now, 53 years after his passing, he is still looked upon as arguably the greatest British player ever to have played the game of football. That’s some legacy. I’m proud and privileged to have watched him throughout his career and have so many vivid memories of him. Believe me, the stories about Duncan were not myths, he really was that talented, and that special.

Down through the years, many, many players have been saddled with the label of; ‘the next Duncan Edwards’. I’ve seen them all – but not one of them in my opinion, has lived up to, nor has come anywhere close to reaching the standards of Duncan Edwards. It’s a tough ask, and comparing players to Edwards is in my opinion, more than a little unfair. It’s a heavy label and burden for a player to carry, and I have always been wary of watching a player and tagging him with that mantle.

However, I was in Washington DC when United played Barcelona, and something stirred me – just a slight glimpse, but it was there. Again, I saw it in the second half of the Community Shield, and then in the later stages of the game at The Hawthorns, and against Tottenham, and Arsenal. Yesterday’s game at Bolton only stirred me more because what was exciting me, was something that was taking me back 50 more years and more. It was a young boy striding out in the shadow of a Giant’s footsteps. Watching his pace, his vision, his touch, his physique, his youthfulness and exuberance for the game, and it brought the memories flooding back. Since Duncan’s passing, no other player has ever done that for me…until now.

The moment that really electrified me was when he burst out from the back and made that surging drive forward with the ball which culminated in the third goal. It turned the clock back for me and made me inhale deeply.

Phil Jones is just 19 years of age, and it would certainly be totally unfair and unrealistic to tag him as being; ‘the next Duncan Edwards’. But through these old eyes of mine I know that we are seeing something that is very, very ‘special’. This kid is just so gifted, has so much natural ability, and a confidence without being arrogant, that already he looks to have everything that it takes to be the best in the game. He’s still a work in progress, and people should take that into account – and no, he’s not ‘the next Duncan Edwards’, he has his own identity. But I’ll tell you this, the team in which he is playing in at the moment has excited me like no other team that I have seen in the last 50 years, so enjoy every minute of what you are witnessing. For young Philip, he has the world at his feet – and he is something ‘very special’.