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The Busby Babes- by Tom Clare

Tue Jan 15, 2008 6:40 pm

Preface by Romulus: Hi all. Mr. Tom Clare has written a series of articles on the Babes. As you will be able to see he has been a loyal United supporter for a long time, long enough to have seen the Babes play. He is a highly respected author who has graced our board with his writings. We wish to thank him for helping us to remember the Busby Babes and teaching us.

These are my recollections of the blackest day in the Club's history.

Munich – The Aftermath
Although I was just 13 when the tragedy happened, my memories of that time have never dimmed. Britain had recently emerged from the post-war period, rationing had not long ceased, most people were employed in some capacity or another. Food tasted just as it was meant to (not like the crap we eat today), t.v. was still in its formative years, and for the majority of males, and a small percentage of females as well, weekend meant going to the match - be it cricket or football. Sundays were Sundays - a day of rest, whether you liked it or not!

The tragedy happened on a Thursday afternoon, and I can remember that day vividly. It was cold, and bleak, and some areas of the city experienced snow that afternoon. It was dark before 4p.m. After school, I had trudged down Ardwick Green, schoolbag on shoulder, and crossed Downing Street, into Rusholme Road. On the corner of that junction was a pet shop named Wyman's, and I was fortunate to have a job there, which was delivering pet food to various outlets in the area. I delivered what was really nothing more than horsemeat which was minced and used as dog food. I delivered it mostly to business outlets in the Fairfield, City Centre, and local areas. Jean Wyman, and her husband David, who owned the business, always had a flask of Oxo prepared for me in those winter months, and I would take this with me, and devour it as I walked the beat in the winter cold, delivering the dog food to their customers. My spirit that day was so good - the reason- Well, the previous day, United had put on a marvelous performance in Belgrade to draw 3-3 with Red Star, the Yugoslavian Army team. They were into the semi-finals of the European Cup again, and the large majority of United supporters, wanted them to draw Real Madrid so that they could gain revenge for the narrow defeat in the competition the previous season.

As I walked my delivery round, I can remember that the banter between the customers, and myself, was terrific. They all knew that I was United daft, and they were all pulling my leg as they paid their debts to me - we used to have threepenny bets on United's results! The first time that I had any foreboding, and sensed that something was wrong, was when I walked down Store Street, under the long railway arch, above which was London Road LMR Station (now Piccadilly) and out onto London Road. I used to deliver to a Wilson's pub across the road on the corner of Whitworth Street, facing the Fire Station, named The White Hart. There was a newspaper man there every night, selling the Evening News, and the Evening Chronicle. As I crossed over to his side of the road, he had just finished putting up a poster with the headline " Stop Press -United Plane Crashes at Munich." The "Stop Press" was a column on the right hand side of the newspaper, which contained a late headline for any breaking news that had not been in the wires before publication time. It looked as though the newspapers had been run through a Gestetner machine in order to include these headlines, after the newspaper had actually been printed. I hurriedly paid my tuppence for the Chron, but all it said was "Manchester United's Plane has crashed at Munich Airport - more to follow in later edition." At first, we all thought that it was just something minor, and nothing to worry about. I delivered to various people in the old Fires Station, but as I got further down London Road, and into Downing Street, the news had started to filter through about the crash on the wireless. The publican at the old Gog and Magog was the first to tell me that there had been fatalities, although he couldn't say who they were. It was almost 6p.m. by the time that I got back to Wyman's, but Jean and David knew nothing of the unfolding tragedy. I ran all the way up Rusholme Road, until I reached Royle Street, where I lived, and I ran into the house, to find my father, sitting besides the fireplace, with tears streaming down his face. He'd come home from Henshaw's Blind School which used to be situated close to Old Trafford, where he was training to be a joiner after losing his sight, and he had heard the news on the wireless.

By this time, more and more news was filtering through, and we sat there together, for the next few hours as the names of those lost became confirmed; Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Geoff Bent, Billy Whelan, Tommy Taylor, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Walter Crickmer, Tom Curry, Bert Whalley, Alf Clarke, Tom Jackson, Henry Rose, Archie Ledbrooke, Don Davies, and then finally, Frank Swift.

The hours passed, and it was as if we were all in a trance, as though time had stood still. Mum was at home, my sister was at home, but there was little or no conversation - we just sat there in the dim firelight, listening, waiting, praying, a heavy sadness enveloping the whole house. For me, a 13 years old boy, it was unthinkable that I would not be seeing my heroes play Wolves at Old Trafford in a vital league game on the following Saturday afternoon. I cried so much that evening, and went to bed hoping that it was all a horrible dream, and that I would awake the following morning to find that all was well. Unfortunately, when I did awake, I was to find out about the harshness and reality of life. Dad didn't go to work that morning, as did hardly anybody else in the City. The reality was all there before us in the morning editions of the newspapers and on the durther news bulletins given out on the wireless . Pictures, stories, tales of heroism, but starkly, the the story of the decimation of a team of wonderful young boys, backroom staff, and the cream of the British Sporting Press.

The atmosphere in the City during the days that followed was surreal - a great pall of mourning was constantly there. Adults openly shed tears. I can remember that each day I cried so much, could not eat, and had no interest in playing out, or doing anything much at all that young boys of that age do. So much so, that Mum had to keep me off school for some time. In hindsight, and something my parents agreed with me about years later, was the fact that I was in shock. I'd known a number of those boys, played with them during the summer months at the Galleon Open Air Swimming Pool in Didsbury. They were my idols, my heroes. During the previous three and a half years, I'd hardly missed a match at Old Trafford - in effect, I'd been growing up with them. It was beyond my comprehension that I wouldn't be seeing Tommy Taylor, David Pegg or Billy Whelan again - players I had got to know. If there was a light, it was that Duncan was surviving, and things looked optimistic for his recovery.

A few days after the tragedy, the coffins bearing the bodies of those that perished, returned home, and on a cold, wet, dark evening, a long convoy of black hearses, brought them from Ringway Airport, back to Old Trafford, where they were placed in the gymnasium to remain overnight, before being released to their respective families. Huge crowds lined the routes and I stood in Warwick Road, with my Mum, as those vehicles passed by - not a sound could be heard , except the rumble of the tyres on the cobbled road, and the quiet sniffles and sobs, as people's emotions got the better of them.

Funerals were held in the week that followed, and still, the mourning was so prevalent throughout the City. Attention became more focused on those that had survived, and the daily bulletin's concerning Duncan's recovery. Jimmy Murphy had traveled out to Munich and had returned back to Manchester with Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes. Matt Busby had told him to keep the flag flying at Old Trafford, and he now had to go about the business of putting a team together to play Sheffield Wednesday in an F.A. Cup 5th Round tie on the evening of February 19th. The FA had allowed the club to postpone the game the previous Saturday, due to the closeness of the funerals that had taken place earlier that week. To get the patched up young team out of the way of the all the media interest, he took them away to the Norbreck Hydro in Blackpool. People back in Manchester were trying to get some normality back into their lives as they came to terms with the shocking event that had happened. That second week after the tragedy, Duncan's condition began to yo-yo. Professor Georg Maurer, who had worked so hard at the Rechts der Isar Hospital, in Munich, had said, that any lesser mortal than Duncan, would never have survived, given the injuries that he had suffered. Oh! how I wanted him to live!

On February 19th, together with Mum, and her friend from Ardwick, Mary Donohue, we attended the first game after the tragedy. I can remember that although it was a 7:30p.m. kick off, we got to the ground at 4p.m as we wanted to be sure of getting in. It was no surprise then, that at that time, there was already long lines outside each turnstile. It was a bitterly cold, afternoon/ evening, with a very clear sky. The turnstiles opened early, and people flooded into the ground. We stood on the "popular side" on the half way line, underneath the old shed, with the Glover's Cables factory immediately to the rear of the stand. There was a muted murmuring sound as the ground began to fill – it was eerie – not like a normal match day at all. People spoke quietly to each other, and there were still tears of sorrow being shed as people spoke to each other about the loss of so many young boys.

As the old steam trains drew into the station on the opposite side of the ground, the clouds of smoke came over the top of the main stand, opposite, making it look as though a fog had descended inside the ground. The programme was unique, and has since become a collector's item - United's teamsheet bore no names at all - just eleven empty blank spaces. At 6:45p.m. it was announced that they were having to close the gates - Old Trafford was jammed packed full - a far cry from my previous visit on January 25th, when I had watched my beloved "Babes" beat Ipswich Town 2-0, in the 4th round of the FA Cup. At 7p.m. came the announcement we had been waiting for - the team - I can hear that announcer even today as he at last announced United’s line-up; "In goal, Harry Gregg, Number two and Captain, Bill Foulkes; Number three Ian Greaves; Number four Freddie Goodwin; Number five Ronnie Cope; Number Six, and please welcome our new signing from Aston Villa, Stan Crowther - there was gasps when this was announced; Number seven Colin Webster; Number eight, another new signing, Ernie Taylor; Number nine Alex Dawson, Number ten, Mark Pearson; Number eleven Seamus Brennan.

Ernie Taylor had been signed from Blackpool the previous week. It was a great signing because little Ernie was so gifted and experienced having played a full career with Newcastle and Blackpool, winning Cup Winner's medals with both of them. Stan Crowther's signing was the surprise, as it had taken place just an hour before the kick off, and had been specially sanctioned by the FA. Stan, had in fact played in a previous round of the FA Cup that season for Villa, and is still the only man to play for two different teams in the same season in the FA Cup competition.

I can remember the roars of the crowd suddenly erupting like a giant geyser does as Bill Foulkes led United out from the player’s tunnel. Wednesday's skipper that night was Albert Quixall, who was later to join United the following year. Albert recalls the moment that he emerged from that tunnel, at the head of the Wednesday team. He said the wall of noise that met them, was like nothing he had heard before. In effect, poor Wednesday were on a loser whichever way that the game went - public opinion was dead against them, and God knows what would have happened that night had they won the game. They would have taken a slating publicly. As it happened, roared on by the crowd, United won 3-0. Towards the end of the first half, United got a corner on the left hand side at the Scoreboard end, and Seamus Brennan whipped in an in-swinger, which Jim Ryalls, the Wednesday keeper, could only help into the net. Shay scored again in the second half, and then big Alex Dawson, scored near to the end. The atmosphere was electric throughout the game and roars could be heard all over the city. Even the people who were locked out of the ground earlier that evening, did not go home - they stayed outside of the ground!

To win that match 3-0 was beyond people's wildest dreams, and as the crowds filtered out, and the ground emptied, there was a kind of eerie silence again on the way home. People had expended so much nervous energy in the preceding five or six hours, they were absolutely drained.

Sadly, the elation, and jubilation, of the Wednesday evening, was to turn to tears once again, on the following Friday morning. I can recall my Mum coming upstairs to my bedroom, waking me with gentle shakes, and telling me quietly that Duncan Edwards had died in the early hours of that morning. Once more, my world was shattered. The one player that I idolised more than anybody else, was now gone. No more would I witness the boyish exuberance of the man, as he emerged from the tunnel taking those great bounding leaps onto the pitch. No more would any of us hear him shout to his colleagues just before a match started; "Come on lads, we 'aven't come 'ere for nuffink!" The Giant was gone, and the Legend had just begun.

I used to find it difficult to talk about the tragedy - especially as I went from adolescence into manhood. There is no doubt that it left a big scar on me - and to be honest - not only me, but hundreds of kids like me. I was difficult to control for a while, and both Mum and Dad were so worried, that mentally, something had happened to me. As I said iearlier, in hindsight, they both realised that they were having to deal with somebody in deep shock. Even my schoolteachers voiced their concern to my parents, as I became disinterested, difficult, very introverted, and was only happy out on the sportsfield. I would play "wag" (truant) from school, and walk up to Weaste Cemetery just to stand in front of Eddie Colman's grave, as his was the only one that I knew how to get to. I wrote lots of stuff about the team, and the players as individuals - I only wish that I had that stuff today. It was a micabre pattern of behaviour. But I had known a number of those boys, and I was grieving. For a young boy, it was hard to come to terms with, losing heroes that I absolutely adored. At that age, knowing that I would never see them again had a profound effect upon me. I was United "daft" in the truest sense of the word!

I think that the main reason that the tragedy affected so many people in the way that it did, was because those players, staff, reporters, etc, were all part of the local community. In those days there was a very close proximity between players and fans, club and local community. It's hard to relate to today, and some of the younger readers may find this unusual, but all those boys, men, were just ordinary, every day guys. There were no prima donnas, no pretentiousness. They wer "stars" - yes, but in the nicest possible way. They were literally, "the boy next door." Just every day Joe's who happened to have the gift of being able to play football, and played for the club that they really loved - Manchester United. They were so accessible – to everybody! If you waited long enough after a match, you could travel home with one of them on the bus; meet them in the shops, and always at The Locarno in Sale on Saturday evenings after home games. I have a few mates in Sale who are a little older than me, but who have related to me tales of how they used to sit with them in the Locarno, and the United lads would have a lemonade on top of the table, but half of mild underneath it! Some of them would walk from Stretford to the city centre just to go to the cinema. They wouldn’t travel on the bus because in their own words; “to do that was boring!” Many of them could be found in the local parks during afternoons throughout the week watching the school kids playing football, and there would always be banter and laughter with them. They always had time of day for ordinary every day people – the fans! They never lost sight of where they all came from.

It was also a time when they had awakened the imagination of the British sporting public. Up and until around 1955, football teams had an average age of somewhere towards the very late 20's. All of a sudden, here was this team of really youthful young men, winning their first championship with an average age of 22, playing the most outrageous brand of attacking football. Sir Matt's long term vision and plan had been proved right, and the doubters, and there was many of them, were being proved wrong. Sir Matt, Jimmy, Bert Whalley, Tom Curry, had schooled them all in the correct way - the foundations of the Club that we know today, were laid by these great men, in those years immediately after Busby's appointment in 1945. Like the players, the staff were just as accessible - Walter Crikmer would walk around the outside of the ground on a match day, chatting with the fans. For the big matches that had to be "all ticket", the tickets were always sold on a Sunday morning. People would start queueing in the early hours, and by the time that the turnstiles were opened for sales (yes, they were sold at the turnstile!) at 10a.m. the queues used to stretch from the ground, down the bottom end of Warwick Road, then all the way down Trafford Park Road, and into Ashburton Road - some line I can tell you! But invariably, Busby, and Jimmy, would find time to walk down the lines, chatting here, chatting there - Crikmer would stand on the canal bridge on Warwick Road as if he was counting the fans! After ticket purchase, when you were leaving the ground, it wasn't unusual to see players either arriving at the ground, or leaving because they had had to be in for treatment to injuries, or strains, suffered in the matches played the previous day. It's also interesting, that although it was the era when the maximum wage of twenty quid was in force, not many of those players, even Roger Byrne the captain, was on that amount as a flat rate! They used to get two quid for a win, and a quid for a draw! But you never heard the slightest moan, groan, whisper, about money! Those lads just lived to play football, and would have played every day! They were unusual in a lot of ways, because socially, they were also a very close knit set of guys, and were all mates together. Byrne was a great, great, captain and leader, and was Matt's mouthpiece in the dressing room. He was also the route to "the boss" for the players. Roger kept everybody in line. It’s my honest opinion that Roger was being groomed by Sir Matt to eventually take over as the next Manchester United manager after himself.

It's true to say that because they played the game so well, and in the right way, in capturing people's imagination - more people wanted to see them, and this was when attendances started to increase. BBC had limited coverage of games around this time - they used to show clips of several matches on a Sunday afternoon - and those families that had television used to invite the less fortunate kids around to watch the programme. This enabled more exposure for them, and of course, then came Europe, and that really did capture people's imagination - especially after that first game against Anderlecht at Maine Road, on that wet, late summer evening, of September 26th, 1956, when they demolished the Belgians 10-0. There is no doubt, that the whole of England's football fans, (apart from City's!) at that time were really behind United in their push for the European Cup. The two epic games against the mighty Real Madrid in early 1957, also enhanced their reputation, especially after some dubious methods and tactics were used by the Spaniards in both of those games. The "Babes" were considered such great ambassadors for their Club, their city, and their country, and were held in such great esteem everywhere that they traveled.

Yes, even today I can get very emotional when talking about those times. And I'm certain that it's the same for most of the people that were around at that time. But in my opinion, these stories have to be told. The story of the "Babes" is such an important part of United's history - not so much the actual accident - but the story of those tremendous young men who lost their lives pursuing not only Matt's, and their own dream, but the dream of all of the fans as well. Their memory and legend must never be allowed to die. They were a very extraordinary group of young men, blessed with tremendous abilities, who conducted themselves impeccably, and played the game in the right way and in the right spirit - what we know of today as "The Manchester United Way." It's why our traditions are so strong, why mediocrity is not accepted, and why those traditions have to be passed on from generation to generation. It's why a lot of other clubs are jealous of us now, because we have always been there at the forefront, and they cannot compete with our history. It's why Manchester United is the FAMILY that it is, because when you are born into that tradition, it's there for life. When United bleeds, we all bleed. We can disagree with each other, curse each other, fight with each other, but at the end of the day, we all agree on one thing - THERE'S ONLY ONE UNITED

© Reproduced with kind permission of Tom Clare.


Re: Tom Clare Remembers.

Tue Jan 15, 2008 6:45 pm

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 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 and was also a seasoned international player. 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 inside 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.

© Reproduced with kind permission of Tom Clare.


Re: Tom Clare Remembers.

Tue Jan 15, 2008 6:49 pm

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.

© Reproduced with kind permission of Tom Clare.


Re: Tom Clare Remembers.

Tue Jan 15, 2008 6:51 pm

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.

© Reproduced with kind permission of Tom Clare.


Re: Tom Clare Remembers.

Tue Jan 15, 2008 6:57 pm

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.

© Reproduced with kind permission of Tom Clare.


Re: Tom Clare Remembers.

Tue Jan 15, 2008 7:00 pm

Duncan Edward- Simply The Best

"The best player that I've ever seen, the best footballer that I've ever played with for United or England, the only other player who ever made me feel inferior." Those are the words of one of the greatest players ever to grace the world football stage, one of the greatest ambassadors of the game, and most of all, one of life's gentlemen - Sir Bobby Charlton. The player that he was talking about? Well, he was a young man - just. He played the game until he was only 21 years and 143 days old. But in that so short career, he left such an indelible mark, both on the game, and for the people that were fortunate enough to have watched him, on their memories. It says so much about him, that even now, almost 48 years after his passing, he is still talked about and remembered, not only by the fans of the club for which he played and loved so much, who cherish that memory so guardedly, but also, by football fans throughout the British Isles, Europe, and indeed the world. He was a household name by the time that he had reached his eighteenth birthday. He was indeed world class, a colossus, a giant in the truest sense of the word, a great, and he has certainly become a legend. In the modern day, when these words are bandied about and bestowed upon players so freely and so easily, when they are used in connection with his career, no other words could describe him more aptly - he is of course, Duncan Edwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 1955/56, Matt Busby's famous "Babes" team became of age and lifted the Championship with an average age of just 22 years, and by a margin of 11 points. They suffered a shock defeat in the FA Cup third round against Second Division Bristol Rovers at Eastville by the astonishing scoreline of 4-0. Last year, I had occasion to talk to a man who lives in Bristol, and who attended that game. I asked him to recall the game for me. He went quiet and a little misty eyed before saying to me; 'Aye, we won 4-0 that day, but you have to remember that Edwards didn't play in that game'. That was the esteem that Duncan was held in by the British football fan.

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

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

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

Duncan was very reserved off the field, almost to the point where he was shy, and retiring. He just lived for football and would have played everyday if he had been allowed. Oh! yes, he knew that he was gifted, and he knew that he was special - but it never put an edge upon him. He didn't feel any different from any of his team mates. For his age he was so mature, and he allowed nobody to take liberties with him. Bill Foulkes recalls a tale from a game against West Brom in 1957. Maurice Setters (who was later to join United) was a really tough, abrasive, intimidating in your face, wing half. Early on in the game, he made the mistake of trying to intimidate Duncan by standing nose to nose with him as Duncan tried to take a throw-in. Duncan just looked down at this craggy crew-cutted man - there was a slight movement of Duncan's chest, and Setters went flying backwards for almost 10 yards on his backside. It was as though Duncan had just swatted a fly. Setters was nowhere to be seen after that.

How many players have played for England at senior level one week, and their club's youth team the next? Duncan did. How many players have played for the youth team in the morning, and the first team in the afternoon? Duncan did. He was never in the media for the wrong reasons, and in fact the only time that he ever got into trouble was one Saturday evening after a "derby" game at Old Trafford in 1955. City had trounced United 5-0, and as usual, Duncan was on his way home on his bike feeling more than a little down. An overzealous policeman stopped him in on Chester Road, and booked him for riding a bicycle without lights. On the Monday morning he was fined 10 shillings in the Magistrate's Court, and upon arriving at Old Trafford, Sir Matt fined him two weeks wages for bringing the club's name into disrepute! He lived his life as the professional should. He conducted himself impeccably, looked after his body, and just loved the club that he played for. He was an icon to young boys like me, and without doubt was the perfect role model.

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

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

My memories of him never dim. I can still see him today as he comes bounding out from that old player's tunnel, taking those huge giant leaps into the air, and heading an imaginary ball. Ican still see him standing there in the middle of the pitch expanding his chest and shouting to his team mates in that thick Black Country accent; 'come on lads, we 'aven't come here for nuffink!' He was special alright - in some ways he was a freak, and I say that in the nicest possible way. He was the perfect human being, the perfect footballer with the perfect technique, temperament, the one player that I have seen that really did have everything and could play anywhere and still be the most outstanding player on the field. People often ask me today as to who would compare with him. Well, the honest answer is, I haven't seen anybody come near to him. To try and explain I tell them, take a little bit of Bobby Moore, a little bit of Bryan Robson, a little bit of Roy Keane, and a little bit of Patrick Viera - mix them together, and maybe, just maybe, you may just get a little bit of Duncan Edwards. Have a look at the websites http://www.duncan-edwards.co.uk and http://www.munich58.co.uk and read the various newspaper reports and testimonials about him - it will give you an idea of just how gifted a young man he truly was. There was once a famous athlete who years ago who used to proclaim; 'I am the greatest! I am the greatest!' Well, unfortunately I have news for him. Even he got it wrong. You see, "the greatest" was a young 21 years old wing half, who played for Manchester United and England and wore the number 6 shirt. In my opinion, he was the most complete player the game of football has ever witnessed. Dear Dunc, I say it so often, the years roll by, but your memory never dims and your legend will live on forever. Sleep on in your peace.


He graced our fields and played the game
Always a credit to football's name;
A wonderful young boy, forever a man
He gave seven years of pleasure to the football fan.

He was shy and retiring, with no airs and graces
Just a passion for playing, not going to the races;
Not for him snooker halls, or the pubs with their beers
His stimulus was football, United, the fans, and their cheers.

He was one of the "Babes" that gallant band
Who were loved and revered throughout the land;
United's red shirts they all wore with such pride
For three short years, England's greatest side.

He was a role model for all that is good in the game
He would never besmirch football's great name;
For us youngsters always time, and he'd sign with great glee
The old rusted bike propped up by his knee.

He would have played every day with never a groan
About tiredness, fatigue, money, there was never a moan;
He just loved United and lived for each day
So proud to be part of the Manchester United way.

He was strong in the tackle, so quick on the ground
No faults in his game, it was always so sound;
Never a fear, just that strong will to win
His opponents always admired and respected him.

Three lions on his breast, the first at eighteen
The youngest ever to grace the National Team;
So proud, so alert, and always on station,
Eighteen performances great, the Pride of the Nation.

He was taken away and we never knew why
This Giant, this Legend, just had to die;
The grief and the mourning is still hard to bear
For those of us who saw him, it will always be there.

We close our eyes and we still see him today
As out from the tunnel he runs out to play
The big barrel chest and thickness of trunk
Great roars from the crowd - "Here comes Big Dunc!

So whenever you go down to Dudley Town
Take your flowers and lay them down
Stop and remember this legend of a man
Who gave so much pleasure to the football fan.

© Reproduced with kind permission of Tom Clare.


Re: Tom Clare Remembers.

Tue Jan 15, 2008 7:01 pm

Bill Foulkes - A Forgotten Hero?

Football used to be described as "a man's game." In this so called modern era, I often wonder whether or not this phrase is still true. The game has altered so much over the last 25 years as far as the physical aspect goes. Sadly, I think that it has lost some of the attraction that it once had because of the fact that the physical side of football has been slowly eroded down the years. Yes, we can all eulogize about the great players in the game today, but I'll guarantee that most of the players placed in that bracket are either forwards or midfielders. It used to be that when going to the match, your appetite would be whetted by lloking forward to the confrontations of full back against winger; inside forward against wing half; goalkeeper and centre half against centre forward. It was a joy to see those defenders who had mastered the art of the tackle, whether it be of the sliding type; the block type; or the full blooded 'come into the office' type! It also gave the spectator a chance to see something about the character of the players that these defenders were marking, and would also allow them to see whether or not they had heart, courage, and that little bit of 'devil' not to be intimidated and to give it back.

All players need the skill to make that top echelon, but skill alone will not see them prevail. They have to have the temperament to survive and progress, and that comes from attitude, character, courage, strength of mind, the will to compete and win, and having a great pride in the shirt that they wear. Unfortunately today, in my own honest opinion, I see a lot of players that lack those extras to make themselves truly great players. Those that do attain greatness, certainly do have that mix.

I got to thinking about some of the great defenders that I have seen during my lifetime, and wondered just how long they would last on the pitch if they played the game today. The conclusion that I came up with was, not more than ten minutes! The rough and tumble and physical aspect, was all part and parcel of football back then and accepted without rancour. Players had to come to terms with it or they would disappear into oblivion - and believe me, many of them did! People today will argue that the game back in the past was brutal and that something had to be done to clean it up. I disagree with what I hear. Yes, the tackle from behind had to be outlawed, but I see far more brutal assaults on players in this modern era than I ever did back then. Today's brutality is more often than not cynical, cowardly, and also downright dangerous. The art of tackling has all but disappeared. This certainly does not surprise me given the edicts handed down by FIFA and our own F.A., and also the various governing football bodies Referee's Committees around the world. There has also been a great change in referee's personalities from the moment that they became professional - some of them have egos bigger than today's star players. As Bill Shankly once said; "the trouble with Referees is that they know the rules, but they don't know the game!" Never has that statement been more truer than in this modern era!

The term 'hard men' is often heard and I got to thinking about what that term really meant. What constitutes a 'hard man?' Is it somebody who just kicks and intimidates opponents? Is it a player who takes the kicks without retaliating? To me, the epitome of the 'hard man' is the player who has an abundance of skill, be it a defender or a forward, who has the physical and mental strength to meet the challenge, who gives and takes without question, is honest in his endeavours and gives his all for the shirt that he wears, and who, at the end of the day, fans grudgingly admire with the greatest of respect. Players from yesteryear whom I would place in this bracket would be Jimmy Scoular, Peter Farrell, Roy Paul, Stan Willemse, Roy Warhurst, Trevor Daniel, Tommy Banks, Roy Hartle, Tommy Docherty, Tommy Cummings, Brian Miller, Alex Forbes, Maurice Norman, Dave Mackay, Dave Hickson, Trevor Ford, Tommy Smith, Ron Flowers, Tony Kay, Dennis Smith. That's twenty without thinking too hard! If I look at today's players, I struggle to come up with very many. Where are today's real 'hard men?' All of those players that I mentioned were players that opposing fans grudgingly respected and would not have hesitated to have had them in their own teams. United have had more than their fair share down the years, even going back as far as the first decade of the 20th Century when the famous United half-back line of Duckworth, Roberts and Bell, sprang to prominence. Charlie Roberts was as hard as they came, and in the 20's nobody in the game had a more fearsome reputation than a United centre half by the name of Frank Barson. Busby's first team after he became manager had another rock hard centre half in Allenby Chilton, a player who gave nor asked any quarter. He was followed by Mark Jones, and then came Stan Crowther, Wilf McGuinness, Maurice Setters, Nobby Stiles, John Fitzpatrick, Jim Holton, Kevin Moran, Bryan Robson, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Jaap Stam. From the forwards, players I would bracket as 'hard men' were Jack Rowley, Dennis Law, George Best, Joe Jordan, Norman Whiteside, Mark Hughes, Eric Cantona. Of course Duncan's name is not included because, well, Duncan was just Duncan, and if I start going on about him, there would not be enough print in this edition to allow for anything else!

One player's name is missing though, and to me he is one of, if not the, biggest, unsung hero in United's great history - and he would, without doubt in my opinion, be classed as a 'hard man.' He made 679 appearances in the red shirt over a period of 19 years but his career took in eras of both a glorious, and tragic part of United's history. United very nearly missed out on signing him as he was courted fastidiously by Bolton Wanderers. Although he had been given trials by United, he didn't hear from them for a while, and was on the verge of signing for the Trotters. However, being fair minded, he did let United know what he was about to do, and they immediately sent for him, and got him down to Old Trafford to put pen to paper and sign part-time professional forms. Prior to this he had been playing his football for St. Helens Town, for whom his father had kept goal a number of years beforehand. He was also working down the pit at the time that he signed for United and did so for four years afterwards, even after he had won a place in the first team. His debut game in the first team came at the age of 20 years and 11 months, at Anfield against Liverpool, wearing the number two shirt, on the 13th December 1952, in a 2-0 victory. The player concerned is of course, Bill Foulkes.

If you look back at the '50's and '60's and think of United's glories throughout those years, the names that immediately spring to mind are of Carey, Rowley, Aston, Pearson, Byrne, Colman, Edwards, Taylor, Viollet, Pegg, Charlton, Law, Best, Stiles, Crerand. Yet look a little deeper and one man really did play more than his part in those glories. That man was Bill Foulkes. Unfashionable, unassuming, never the player to really catch the eye, but he was certainly effective. Initially as a right full back, and then as a centre half. Foulkes was a fitness fanatic, and it says a great deal about his physical dedication in that he was able to stay part time for four years, only training at United on a Tuesday and Thursday throughout the early part of his career. One thing that a lot of United fans do not realize is that just prior to United signing Tommy Taylor, Busby had been giving thought to playing Foulkes in the first team at centre forward! Jimmy Murphy had experimented with Foulkes by playing him up front in the reserve team, and it had met with quite some success. Foulkes scored a bagful of goals in just a small number of games. In fact in one game against Newcastle Reserves at St. James's Park, he scored 4 times! He was earmarked for a run out in the first team against Stoke City, but turned an ankle in training in the mid week and he was ruled out. The following week Tommy Taylor was signed from Barnsley!

The 1952 Championship winning team was slowly being broken up as Busby's youth policy started to bear fruit. With only training twice a week, most of his work was done with the young players from the junior teams at The Cliff on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Foulkes was only too well aware of the task that confronted him in trying to break through into United's first team. He had made his debut at Liverpool in the latter part of 1952, but his chances in the immediacy after that were few and far between.. Roger Byrne had cemented his place at left back, and the right back berth was a choice between Johnny Carey, Johnny Aston, and Tommy McNulty. Plus Billy Redman was also in contention. Carey was almost at the end of his career as was Aston, and McNulty did himself no favours with Busby due to his off the field activities. In the 1953/54 season Busby slowly began introducing his young players. However, he was a wise manager in that he kept two of his old guard in the team, namely Allenby Chilton, and Jack Rowley.

Upon Carey's retirement from the game, Chilton was made Club Captain. He was a very feisty character and wasn't averse to handing out a few 'backhanders' to the younger players if he felt that they had stepped out of line. Jack Rowley was also a player who could look after himself, but in my opinion, Busby kept these two old stalwarts in his team to 'look after' and 'mind' the youngsters. In the middle autumn of 1953, Foulkes got his chance again, and for the next 16 seasons was hardly out of the team. It was a tribute to his dedication and fitness, that even as a part timer, he managed to force his way into the first team. He played so well over the next twelve months that on 2nd October 1954, he appeared in the England team that beat Northern Ireland 2-0 at Windsor Park, Belfast. Again, no mean feat for a part timer. It's sad to reflect today though, that little was he to know that day, that it would turn out to be his one and only appearance for his country.

Matt Busby had been badgering him to turn full time professional from the day he got into the first team. But Foulkes was married, earned more from working down a coal mine than he did from football, and was more secure in financial terms than most full time players. However, he was still ambitious as far as his football was concerned, but there was another reason holding him back from signing on as a full time pro - a thing called National Service! As a miner, he was in a category that fell under the term of 'protected trade' and as such, he was ineligible for the mandatory two years of military service. However, his call up for the full England team in October 1954, was the spur that he needed to take the plunge into the full time professional ranks, and in January of 1955 he pleased his manager by signing a full time professional contract.

Busby's youth policy had now started to bear fruit, and the team was now being affectionally referred to as 'The Babes'. By the Easter of 1955, Chilton, and Rowley, had departed - Chilton as player-manager to Grimbsy Town, and Rowley as player-manager to Plymouth Argyle. Busby's team of youngsters were now starting to take the First Division of the Football League by storm, playing an enterprising attacking style of football. They were precocious, effervescent, and even audacious. For the players, once they had made their mark in the first team, they did not want to be left out. There was so much brilliant young talent around Old Trafford, that if they did lose their place, they found that it was so difficult to regain it once more. The two oldest players in the team in 1955, were Johnny Berry and Roger Byrne, both 26; Foulkes was 24, Whitefoot 21, Jones 22, Edwards 18, Whelan 19, Taylor 23, Viollet 23, Pegg 20, McGuinness 18, Doherty 20, Bent 19, Goodwin 20, Lewis 20, Scanlon 20, Webster 22, Wood 22, Blanchflower 21. There was a conveyor belt of youngsters on the way up as well, with players like 18 years old Bobby Charlton and Eddie Colman, to name just two. So to hold down a first team spot was essential as far as the player was concerned. Foulkes had to be on his game each and every week.

He played in the last game of the 1954/55 season, and then sure enough, his 'call up' papers dropped through the letterbox of his home in early May of 1955. Not only was he 'called up', but a number of other United players also received their beckonings not too long afterwards - Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Eddie Colman being to the fore. Foulkes was conscripted into the Royal Army Service Corps, and was initially stationed down in Aldershot. Busby talked to Foulkes before he left to start his army service. He made a statement that would leave most people with lockjaw had it been heard today! Busby told Foulkes that as he was stationed so far away, if he wanted to keep his place in the first team, he would have to make his own arrangements for getting to the games - the Club could not help him! He promised Foulkes that if he arrived at the various grounds in good time, he would play! Whether or not this was a tongue-in-cheek statement, or whether or not Busby was testing Foulkes' resolve is hard to say - only Busby had the answer. Nonetheless, for a player who had not long cemented his first team place down, and had won his call up to the full England team as well, it was a rather disturbing thing to hear. I also wonder if he told the other players who were doing their National Service, the same thing? I have my doubts.

Nonetheless, on 20th August 1955, Foulkes turned up at the St. Andrews ground in Birmingham, for the opening game of the 1955/56 season against Birmingham City. The story goes that Ian Greaves, the young reserve team full back, was already in the dressing room getting ready to get changed and play at right back in that game. Foulkes' arrival put Busby in a predicament given his statement to Foulkes just before he had departed for military service. True to his promise, he told Foulkes to get changed and Greaves had to hand over the number two shirt! How long this arrangement went on for, only Bill Foulkes can tell!

After basic training, life in the Army for Foulkes was not so bad. There was plenty of football and he captained an Army team that would have held its own against any team in any competition. Footballers from most clubs in the Football and Scottish Leagues were also doing their National Service and the Army XI regularly contained as many as eight or nine international players. In November of 1956, I can recall going to Maine Road to watch the Army XI play against an FA XI, and Manchester United supplied four players for the Army team - Foulkes, Colman, Edwards, and Charlton. Also as team mates they had Alan Hodgkinson, and Graham Shaw from Sheffield United, Jimmy Melia from Liverpool, David Dunmore and Cliff Jones from 'Spurs. The Army won 4-1 as I recall and there was an attendance of over 50,000!

With all the football, Foulkes had no problem with his fitness. He played week in and week out, and thanks to an understanding Commanding Officer, was always allowed to get away to play for Manchester United. He had endeared himself to the United fans and had earned himself the nickname of 'Cowboy' because of his bandy legs! Foulkes was an uncompromising, no nonsense, type of full back who had done well against the myriad of talented wingers who plied their trade in the First Division. In those bygone days, every club played with two wingers, and they were excellent at what they did. Oh! that this was the case today! To hold his place down, first as a part timer, and then whilst doing his National Service, was a very big compliment to his skill, fitness, ambition and attitude.

He was virtually ever present in United's team from the start of the 1955/56 season, until just after the turn of the year. United suffered a disastrous exit at Bristol Rovers in the third round of the F.A. Cup in the January of 1956, losing 4-0 at the Eastville ground. 14 days later, at Deepdale, against Preston North End, United were again beaten, this time by 3-1. Bill had a torrid time that day against Tom Finney - but how many full backs didn't during that era? It was a game that I attended with a number of my school mates and I can recall that it pissed it down heavily throughout the game and the pitch was a quagmire! Busby decided to leave Foulkes out for the next game in favour of young Ian Greaves, and he was never to regain his place again during that season. This was the break through season for the young 'Babes' and they finished as League Champions by a the massive distance of 11 points in front of their rivals, with a young team of which the average age was just 22 years! Foulkes had played more than the requisite number of first team games to qualify for a winners medal that season, as had a young, cheeky, fresh faced wing-half, by the name of Wilf McGuinness. That Championship win really did make the British football public sit up and take note. No team had ever won the Championship before with such a young average age.

At the start of the 1956/57 season, Busby restored Foulkes to the right back position for the opening game, which again, was against Birmingham City at St. Andrew's. From that moment on, he made sure that he wasn't going to be left out again. This was the season that United first entered European competition and the Army authorities were more than generous in allowing him leave for the away legs in Europe. United played 57 matches that season and Foulkes played in 54 of them. The three games that he missed were because, twice the Army required him to play in Kentish Cup matches against the Belgian Army, and then the week before the F.A. Cup Final in the final League game of the season, Busby rested several regular first team players. It was another Championship winning season for United, and they also reached the F.A. Cup Final.

Foulkes was definitely the first choice full back and just before the start of the 1957/58 season, the day that he had been looking forward to, arrived - 'demob day!' He could now go home to his wife, and also concentrate fully on his Manchester United career. United began that season well winning 5 and drawing one of the opening six fixtures. But they then lost to Bolton Wanderers at Burnden Park by 4-0. this began a run of three straight defeats, the other two being against Blackpool and Wolverhampton Wanderers. By United's standards of the previous two seasons, they were suffering a stutter, and three more defeats followed during the next few months. It left them 6 points adrift of Wolves by mid-December, so Busby decided to act. He bought in goalkeeper Harry Gregg from Doncaster Rovers, and he dropped Ray Wood. He also dropped Johnny Berry, Billy Whelan and David Pegg and brought in a young winger named Kenny Morgans who was not long out of the youth team, Bobby Charlton, and Albert Scanlon. At that time, making changes like this was considered drastic, but it had the desired effect. From then on until February 6th 1958, the team never lost, winning seven games and drawing four, and in that period trounced their 'bogey' team, Bolton Wanderers by 7-2!

Foulkes was playing well, but little was he to know that his life was about to change forever. We all know the happenings of February 6th 1958, and we know the part that Bill Foulkes had to play in that tragic event. That United were able to put a team out just thirteen days later in an F.A. Cup tie, was little short of a miracle. When you consider what happened, even more of a miracle was the fact that both Bill Foulkes, and Harry Gregg, were able to play in that F.A. Cup tie. They had lost seven of their closest friends (and were to lose one more just 30 hours after that tie took place) and several more were still lying injured. No trauma counseling back in those days for them. Jimmy Murphy made Foulkes Club Captain, and given the circumstances, that was a tremendous burden and responsibility for him to have to carry, given the state the club found itself in. The first team was all of a sudden a mixture of reserve team and youth team players, plus two buys, Ernie Taylor and Stan Crowther. As well as playing his own game, Foulkes had to lead from the front and help carry a lot of players who were not only scarred by the tragedy, but also before their time as far as playing in the first team was concerned. Somehow, that team fought their way to the F.A. Cup Final, eventually losing to Bolton Wanderers at Wembley. They also performed heroically in the European Cup semi-final against A.C. Milan, winning 2-1 at Old Trafford. The team had to make the long overland journey to Milan by rail, and this was no preparation for the second leg. Tired, the team lost 4-0. We all know that Busby created three great teams, but for me, Jimmy Murphy's team from February 1958 until the end of the 1958/59 season, stands right up there alongside them all. I always refer to that team as the fourth great team, because although it never won any silverware, what they achieved in carrying the club forward, and finishing as runners-up in the First division just over a year after the tragedy, was nothing short of a phenomenal effort.

Foulkes' character, like that of the other survivors, changed after the tragedy. He also, became very introverted, moody, and was difficult to get inside of and kept his distance. The younger players christened him 'popular Bill' or 'PB' for short. It was a reference to his moodiness. As Club Captain, he had carried that enormous responsibility on his shoulders. The pressures on Foulkes were obviously at some time or another going to eventually tell, and so it was that his form became a little erratic. The burden had proved a little too much for him - and that in my own honest opion, was perfectly understandable. In the early part of 1959, Busby decided to leave Foulkes out of the team and the Club Captaincy was given to Dennis Viollet. Foulkes needed that rest. On Easter Saturday in April 1959, young Ronnie Cope, the United centre-half, was injured in a game at Turf Moor, Burnley which United lost by 4-2. There was no adequate cover available and so, for the fixture at Portsmouth on the Easter Monday, Busby drafted Bill Foulkes back into the team, only this time at centre half. He stayed there in the team until Cope was fit again in the following September of the new 1959/60 season, but was then reverted back to his right back position and was not left out of the team for the rest of the season. The centre half position was becoming problematical and the 1960/61 season saw Ronnie Cope and young Frank Haydock, battling it out for the shirt. Both of them never really made it. I think that it would be true to say that Busby had been impressed with Foulkes' performances during his run at centre-half , and so it was, that in the middle of the 60/61 season he made centre half Foulkes' permanent position.

For the next 8 years, Foulkes was virtually an ever present in the Manchester United team. He shared in the glory of the F.A. Cup win against Leicester City in 1963, he won another two First Divison Championship medals in 1965 and 1967, and of course he was in the team that triumphed against Benfica in the European Cup Final at Wembley in May of 1968. I suppose that it was also such a fitting script, that Foulkes should score the goal against Real Madrid in the Bernabeau, that took United to that European Final. He was by this time, almost 38 years of age.

Without doubt Bill Foulkes had played his part in the Club's history. No player plays 679 games for ManchesterUnited, and for a manager like Sir Matt Busby, without being more than a half decent player. Foulkes was as tough as granite and in my opinion was as hard as anybody that has ever played the game. Nobody took any kind of liberties with him. Even in training he neither gave, nor asked any quarter. As a full back, he played against some of the greatest wingers in the game; as a centre half, he also mixed it with the toughest and the best of centre forwards of his era, and in both cases, the number of times that he came off second best could be counted on one hand. He was almost never out of the team through injury, and there was a solid consistency in his play. He was a rock at the heart of the United defence. He was the minder for ball playing colleagues who were of a more delicate disposition than he was. Foulkes was very destructive in the tackle, and relentless in pursuit of the man he had been assigned to mark. In his 'minder's' role, I recall that sunny afternoon in Madrid in April 1957 when the great Alfredo Di Stefano had kicked young Eddie Colman to the ground in his frustration of being man marked so effectively. It was both a cruel, cowardly act, and one that should have brought the great man an early bath. Foulkes was on Di Stefano in an instant grabbing him by the front of the shirt. The great Alfredo paled visibly, and uttered the words; 'oikay Foulksay - no more!' as he feared for his own wellbeing! On another occasion, in a league game at Preston's Deepdale, I saw Tommy Docherty cynically kick him, off the ball. He'd picked the wrong guy to be cynical with - Foulkes was on him like lightning and picked him up with one hand, and hurled him into the Deepdale mud like a rag doll! Unpretentious, unassuming, solid, dependable, consistent, that was Bill Foulkes. Never one to court the limelight, nor to be in the news for the wrong reasons.

Age finally did catch up with him just a year after that wonderful European Cup win. At the start of the '69/'70 season, after just three games, and a heavy home defeat against Southampton by 4-1. Ron Davies the big Welsh centre-forward scored all four goals that day, and it was to prove to be Bill Foulkes' last game for Manchester United. It was sad that he had to end his playing career on that low note but the march of time was there for all to see.

As I said earlier, the mention of the 1950's and 1960's team immediately brings to the tongue the names of some of United's greatest ever heroes. Sadly in my opinion, Bill Foulkes hardly ever gets a mention. Yet he was a tremendous servant of Manchester United both as a player, and a man , and he never ever let them down. He had the mental toughness to overcome adversity, tragedy, and the physical toughness to survive in what was back then, a very, very, tough era. After retirement, he went into coaching and had spells in Norway. U.S.A. and Japan. Sadly, he found it necessary to secure his family's future by selling his hard won football medals and his cap. I am glad in a way that he never donated this memorabilia to the United Museum, as I find it insulting that former player's families have to pay for the privilege of seeing their loved one?s pieces of Manchester United's history. Others with less conspicuous records than Foulkes' have been honoured by club and fans alike - in my opinion, it is about time that this situation was remedied.

© Reproduced with kind permission of Tom Clare.


Re: Tom Clare Remembers.

Tue Jan 15, 2008 7:07 pm

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 were in a period of rebuilding after their First Division Championship win in season 1951-52. A lot of that team were the wrong side of 30 and United were having trouble finding a goalscoring centre forward. Jack Rowley had moved out to outside left as Roger Byrne had moved to left full-back. 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 of 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. 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.

© Reproduced with kind permission of Tom Clare.

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Re: Tom Clare Remembers.

Wed Jan 16, 2008 7:58 am

Thanks Tom

And thanks Robert for your sterling work -

Things are different today, but back then nobody knew about stuff like "Trauma" or "Shock" or "PTSD" If something terrible happened you were expected to roll your sleeves up and get on with things

But I did read an article once that the rates of nervous breakdowns and even suicides had a bit of a peak after Munich

I know of people who never went to Old Trafford again, Brian (the United one) went once after Dad talked him onto it after raving about Bestie and then when Dad got him a ticket for the European Cup Final - but he couldn't - it was too heartbreaking, like Tom he had grown up with those lads


Re: The Busby Babes- by Tom Clare

Fri Jan 18, 2008 9:31 pm

50 Years On – Ray Wood

Ray Wood is a name often forgotten about whenever the “Busby Babes” are mentioned. The signing of Harry Gregg in December 1957 seemed to signal the end of Ray’s career at Old Trafford, but personally, I would never have bought into that theory. At the time of the tragedy he was still too good a goalkeeper not to have bounced back. However, Harry’s heroics at Munich tend to overshadow the part that Ray Wood played in the “Busby Babes” story.

Ray began his career as an amateur with Newcastle United but after failing to make his mark at St. James’s Park, in 1949 he moved on to Darlington where he signed as a professional. His stay at Feethams was short – just three months in duration. However, during that three month period his performances for Darlington were such, that he came to the attention of Manchester United and they secured his signature for a 5,000 pounds fee. For the affable young Geordie it was a dream move. United had bought him with more of an eye on the future, but because of injuries he was immediately pitched into the fray in a First Division game against Newcastle United at St. James’s on December 3rd 1949 in a game that finished 1-1.

He went back to the Junior teams after that and began learning his trade as understudy to Jack Crompton and Reg Allen. There was not much chance for him to progress his ambitions over the next few years and it was not until the 1952/53 season that he started to see more first team opportunities due initially to Allen’s retirement through injury, and Crompton’s intermittent form. Ray was a versatile sort of player and as was the want back then, there did at times seem to be some strange selections as junior players were shuffled about in the “A” and “B” teams as the coaches worked out which position they were best suited for. He was given a run at centre forward in the “A” team for three games and raised some eyebrows when he scored six goals in those few appearances! He was extremely quick off the mark and surprised a number of defenders with his pace. What they didn’t know though was that in earlier days he’d been a professional sprinter up in Northumberland amongst the various pit villages where he “dashed for cash.” His speed was an asset with his goalkeeping and he was probably the quickest goalkeeper of his era when it came to moving off his line.

He finally cemented his place in the first team in the 1953/54 season and his performances began to make the England Selectors take note. He was certainly in line for nomination to the England World Cup squad of 1954 but sadly for him, a broken wrist towards the end of that season put paid to his international chances. England came back from that World Cup in Switzerland with their tails between their legs, but when the next season began, Ray was selected for the first home international against Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast in October 1954 and ended in a 2-0 victory for the English. It was a feather in his cap really as at that time there was so many good English goalkeepers around – Merrick of Birmingham, Ditchburn of ‘Spurs, Williams of Wolves; all great goalkeepers in their own right.

Wood continued to play exceptionally well for United. He was as I said, exceptionally quick off his line and had great anticipation and a safe pair of hands. His bravery was unquestioned and was a terrific shot-stopper. If he did have a fault, it was coming for crosses and sometimes could be found hesitant. However his strengths outweighed his weakness and he was integral to the team that developed and won two consecutive championships in 1956, and 1957.

I suppose that the thing Ray will most be remembered for was the 1957 F.A. Cup Final against Aston Villa when he was on the end of the most horrific, premeditated, and violent assault, that I have ever seen perpetrated upon a football pitch. Just six minutes into the game, in a Final of which United were red hot favourites to win, McParland, the Villa left wing, headed a ball tamely into Wood’s hands. The ball was already safe in Ray’s capable hands but McParland continued to charge through, launching himself through the air and connecting with his head into Wood’s face, shattering his cheekbone. He took no real part in the game after that even though he wandered around for a while on the left wing as a little nuisance value. At half time, with the score 0-0, Sir Matt sent physio Ted Dalton outside of the stadium with Ray, the object being to throw a ball at hime a number of times to see how he reacted. They went out onto the grass verge and Dalton began throwing the ball to him – poor Ray hardly saw any of them. As they finished this little exercise, a young boy who had been playing football on the verge just a short distance away from them, meandered over and said; “Mister, you can come and join me and my mates in our game if you’d like to!” Just yards away, 100,000 spectators were all awaiting to see if Wood could rejoin the United team in goal for the second half of the F.A. Cup Final. Unbeknown to them, here he was being offered a game in kid’s football! Ray did go back out onto the field but not in goal. United fell behind by 2-0, ironically to two goals scored by McParland. However with 8 minutes to go, Taylor pulled a goal back from an Edwards corner and Wood returned back between the sticks as United went all out on the attack to try and pull back the one goal deficit. Great effort though it was, it was all to no avail and United lost that final by 2-1.

Wood was back for the start of the next season, and by United’s standards, they weren’t firing on all cylinders. In December, after a couple of results that hadn’t gone their way, Busby acted by first signing Harry Gregg, and then for the game against Leicester City on December 21st, he dropped Ray together with Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, and David Pegg. Sadly for all of them, although they weren’t to know it at that time, they were never to play in the first team again.

Ray Wood was on the aircraft that fateful day in Munich and did suffer bad injuries to his head, leg and hip. He returned back to Manchester after convalescence and tried to pick up his career at United. Sadly it wasn’t to be, and he was never the goalkeeper that he had once been. In December 1958 the legendary Bill Shankly took him over the Pennines to Huddersfield Town. It seemed to me personally that it was an obscenely short time between the disaster and his release from Old Trafford and one that in later time he came to be bitter about. He was to serve Huddersfield for the next 4 years and I can recall in March 1963 seeing him return to Old Trafford to play against United in an F.A. Cup 3rd round tie. 1963 was a bad winter and the tie had been postponed since the January. Unfortunately for Ray, although it gave the United fans one last chance to see one of their former heroes, it was a bad night for him personally as United romped away with the game 5-0, Denis Law scoring a hat-trick aided by goals from Albert Quixall and Johnny Giles. It’s hard to imagine what his feelings were as he left the pitch that he had graced so well just a few short years before.

He left Huddersfield in 1965 and played for short periods with Bradford City and Barnsley before retiring from the game in 1968 – ironically the year that United lifted the European Cup. He spent most of his time abroad from then on, coaching in places like Ireland, USA, Zambia, Canada, Kenya, Greece, Kuwait and Cyprus. He went through a very bad time in his personal life and his first wife Elizabeth certainly blames the part that the tragedy played in their lives. It was Elizabeth who campaigned so vehemently on behalf of the families, and it was those efforts which finally got the Club to allow a testimonial match to be played at Old Trafford in 1998 for those families. It is sad to note that she was one of the many of the families to fall on hard times. Just prior to the staging of that benefit match in 1998 she had written to Martin Edwards because she was overdrawn at the bank and was having difficulties even meeting her train fare to attend the game. She had asked for an advance against her share of the game’s payout only to receive a reply from him being told that ; “it was against Club policy.” Hard to take when here was a woman that had witnessed the horrors of the aftermath of that tragedy; who had stayed by her husband’s side in the hospital for almost eight weeks and watched as close, personal friends fought for their lives. She pointed out that it was British European Airways that flown the families of the survivors out to Munich immediately after the disaster, and that it was they, and not the Club, who made sure that they had daily expenses. Ray was also bitter about the treatment that the families received from the club and in his own words not too long before he passed away, felt that they had all been “shafted”.

I can recall him so well. He was so soft spoken and never one for the ‘limelight”. As I said at the beginning, Ray Wood’s name is one that hardly ever gets mentioned in regards to the “Busby Babes”, but there is no doubt that as the last line of defence in over 200 games for United, the likeable young Geordie played more than a passing part. Ray passed away at Bexhill on Sea in 2002 at the age of 71 years.

Rest on in Peace Ray and thanks for all the memories.

Ray Wood played in 208 games in all competitions for Manchester United and won 3 full international caps for England.

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Re: The Busby Babes- by Tom Clare

Fri Jan 18, 2008 9:38 pm

amazing work tom...loved reading it all.

thanks robert (Y)

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Re: The Busby Babes- by Tom Clare

Fri Jan 18, 2008 10:04 pm

Thanks for sharing more of your recollections of that great team,Tom.It's very much appreciated learning a few facts that are not commonly known like the incident outside Wembley with Ray Wood and Ted Dalton and the little lad asking them to join in their game.It's little things like that which make our history so rich.

I can still rattle off the team as fast as I could as a kid; Wood,Foulkes,Byrne,Colman,Jones,Edwards,Berry,Whelan,Taylor, Violet,Pegg.
I can't name any other United team, no matter how great they were,as fast.I wonder why.

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Re: The Busby Babes- by Tom Clare

Fri Jan 25, 2008 10:43 am

All I can say is thanks to Tom and Robert for this amazing work

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Re: The Busby Babes- by Tom Clare

Sat Jan 26, 2008 6:52 pm

Thanks Tom for sharing these amazing posts with us. What a brilliant read. Thank you! :)

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