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Liam 'Billy' Whelan

Mon Jan 07, 2008 7:42 pm

"Billy was a magician with a ball at his feet. I really don't think he knew how good he was and how much better he could have become. A world-class forward. There is no doubt about that. His vision and passing was sheer class." - Albert Scanlon

Liam 'Billy' Whelan (1935-1958)


Full Name: William Augustine Whelan
Position: Centre-forward
Birthdate: April 1, 1935
Birthplace: Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Debut for Manchester United: 24 November 1951, the game: Liverpool v United
Appearances: 79
Goals scored: 43
Farewell for Manchester United: 6 February 1958 - Munich
Passed Away: 6 February 1958 (aged 22)

Whelan was a devout Roman Catholic who came from a large family; his father John had died in 1943, when Whelan was eight years old.

Whelan began his career with Home Farm Everton before joining Manchester United.

Bill Foulkes: “Billy could look slow on the pitch, moving with an awkward, ungainly gait, but he had stamina in abundance and I would guarantee that if the players went for a mile run, he would be the first back every time. What made him special, though, was his mastery over the ball, which was quite phenomenal.”
Manchester United
Whelan spent a couple of seasons at United before he began to command a regular place in their first team. Playing at inside-forward for United, Whelan was to become one of their biggest weapons as they won back to back League Championships in 1955-56 and 1956-57.

Whelan was United's top goalscorer in 1956-57 with an incredible 26 goals from 39 appearances. Overall he scored a total of 52 goals from 96 appearances - a scoring rate that any player would have been proud of. Indeed, Whelan's talents were supreme - he was indeed the pick of a very fine bunch of players that were widely known as the Busby Babes.

He made 98 first-team appearances between August 1955 and February 1958, scoring 52 goals. He had previously played for Irish club Home Farm F.C., and was a regular in the Republic of Ireland national team.

Whelan made his international debut for Ireland in the 4-1 win over Holland on May 10th 1956. He also played in Ireland's 2-1 win over Denmark in October of that year and in May 1957 he played in both matches against England - the 5-1 defeat at Wembley and the 1-1 draw in Dublin. He did not score any goals for his country in those four matches.

Liam was one of the players who didn't survive the Munich crash back in 1958. Seconds before the crash, Liam calmly said: "If this is death I am ready for it".

A tribute to Liam 'Billy' Whelan
On 8 December 2006 the railway bridge on Faussagh Road/Dowth Avenue jct in Cabra, Dublin 7 has been renamed in his honour. It is close to St. Attracta Rd, the street in which he was born.

Sir Bobby Charlton: “Liam was a great player, a dedicated professional with a tremendous amount of skill.”

credit to: munich58, irelandshirts

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Re: Liam 'Billy' Whelan

Sat Jan 26, 2008 1:06 am

The Irish United fans miss you, Billy...
...and we'll be again thinking about you and the other victims on the 50th anniversary.

Billy, you are one of Ireland's greatest ever players.

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Re: Liam 'Billy' Whelan

Sat Jan 26, 2008 2:13 pm

hadn't heard about Billy. shame he passed away at such a young age. his goalscoring record says he was going to become a great great player. shame on this world.

RIP Billy Whelan :(

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Re: Liam 'Billy' Whelan

Sat Jan 26, 2008 9:59 pm

I didn't know until today but according to Terry Christian on Talksport,Billy was the uncle of Ronnie Whelan who played for Liverpool in the 1980's.He scored the winner against us in the 1983 league cup final at Wembley.
I wonder what Ronnie was thinking when the Kop was singing their Munich song.

Anyway,I was in Dublin many years ago and I visited Glasnevin Cemetery with my cousin to visit her father's (my uncles) grave.She was with her husband who's name was Jimmy Whelan( no relation to Billy )I asked him if he knew where Billy's grave was but he didn't know.For those that don't know,Glasnevin is a massive cemetery with thousands of graves and I didn't think I had a chance to find it.
We made our way out of the cemetery and for some reason I glanced back at a grave we had passed without looking at and there it was,Billy Whelan's grave.I couldn't believe it and like to think it was an Act of God.
It was a beautiful white marble headstone and I'm sure it had the United club crest carved on it.

Billy's greatest goal for United was said to be the goal he scored against Bilbao in the quarter-final first leg in Jan. 1957.The game was played in blizzard conditions and United were losing 5-2 with minutes to go.Billy got the ball and ran some 60 yards on a pitch inches deep in mud and slush beating man after man before smashing the ball into the net.It made the final score 5-3 and gave United a life-line for the second leg.
We beat Bilbao 3-0 in that game at Maine Road ironically on the 6th February 1957 exactly one year to the day before the disaster.
Rest in Peace,Billy Whelan.

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Liam Whelan

Mon Feb 04, 2008 4:34 pm

Liam Whelan

Full name: William Augustine Whelan
Date of birth: 1 April 1935(1935-04-01)
Place of birth: Dublin, Republic of Ireland
Date of death: 6 February 1958 (aged 22)
Place of death: Munich, Germany
Playing position: Inside Forward
Youth clubs: Home Farm
Honours: League Championship: 55/6, 56/7
Senior clubs:
Years Club App (Gls)*
1953-1958 Manchester United 79 (43)
National team: Ireland 4 (0)

Liam Whelan was a soccer artist whose brains moved faster than his legs. On the ball he could look awkward, even clumsy, yet he had the knack of ghosting past opponent after opponent with the merest of shimmies. And once within shooting distance he was a man to respect, as his record of better than a goal every two games testifies. Indeed, in 1956/57 Liam netted 33 times in 53 senior outings - and he wasn't even playing as an out-and-out front man.

A vivid example of his talent came in the quarter-final of the European Cup in Bilbao that same season. He picked the ball up deep, shuffled half the length of the pitch leaving five defenders in his wake and scored with precision.

The quietly-spoken inside-forward, whose engagingly modtet personality was never altered by his success with United and the Republic of Ireland, played his football with a deceptively relaxed air. Certainly there was nothing casual about his work in the penalty area and he could be especially lethal with his back to goal. One of soccer's more persuasive dummy salesmen, he found an unwilling customer in the shape of a bemused Wrexham defender in January 1957. The subtle flick, which found the net when no danger seemed imminent, was the work of a conjuror.

If this dream of a dribbler had only possessed pace he would have ranked as one of football's all-time greats, even though his career - and his life - ended at Munich. As it was Liam didn't always get the credit he deserved and didn't realise just how good he was.

United's coaching staff, however, were under no such misapprehension, right from the moment he was signed as an l8-year-old from Home Farm with the urgent initial task of replacing the injured John Doherty in the 1953 FA Youth Cup Final against Wolves. Liam - or Billy as he quickly became known to Mancunians - starred in a 7-1 first-leg victory and was marked down for an illustrious future. Indeed, so eyecatching were his gifts that, following a fabulous display in a youth tournament in Switzerland, the club received a discreet inquiry from Brazil about his availability. Needless to say, further interest was not encouraged.

The boy's development continued apace; soon he was a major creative and goal scoring force at senior level and the honours began to mount. Yet such was the wealth of talent available to Matt Busby in that glorious era that, at the time of the Munich disaster, the 22-year-old Dubliner was being kept out of the side by one of his closest friends, Bobby Charlton. Of course, he had so much to give that, sooner or later, he must have reclaimed a place, even if it had not been at Bobby's expense.

Liam was a devout Roman Catholic and, to the last, his faith never wavered. As United's plane made its fateful third attempt at take-off from that slushy German runway, he was heard to murmur: `If the worst happens I am ready for death......I hope we all are.' The tragedy was that the soccer world was far from ready to lose Liam Whelan.

source:Hamlyn's `Manchester United Player by Player' by Ivan Ponting

Billy 'Liam' Whelan was born in Dublin on April 1st 1935. He began playing for Dublin side Home Farm from an early age but was soon spotted by English giants, Manchester United and in May 1953 - at the tender age of 18 years - he made the move across the Irish Sea to Old Trafford. Whelan spent a couple of seasons at United before he began to command a regular place in their first team. Playing at inside-forward for United, Whelan was to become one of their biggest weapons as they won back to back League Championships in 1955-56 and 1956-57.

Whelan was United's top goalscorer in 1956-57 with an incredible 26 goals from 39 appearances. Overall he scored a total of 52 goals from 96 appearances - a scoring rate that any player would have been proud of. Indeed, Whelan's talents were supreme - he was indeed the pick of a very fine bunch of players that were widely known as the Busby Babes.

As well as winning two League Championship medals with United, Whelan also won an FA Cup Runners-up medal in 1957. United lost the final to Aston Villa controversially - Villa scored after a challenge on United's goalkeeper resulted in him leaving the pitch to receive treatment for a fractured cheekbone! Had United won the match they would have also won the distinction of becoming the first side in the twentieth century to win the League and Cup double.

Whelan made his international debut for Ireland in the 4-1 win over Holland on May 10th 1956. He also played in Ireland's 2-1 win over Denmark in October of that year and in May 1957 he played in both matches against England - the 5-1 defeat at Wembley and the 1-1 draw in Dublin. He did not score any goals for his country in those four matches.

Whelan died in February 1958. He was on board the plane carrying Manchester United back to England following their aggregate victory over Red Star Belgrade, and was one of those who tragically died when it crashed following take-off at Munich. He was only 22 years old. The loss of Whelan to Manchester United was huge; however, his loss to Ireland is incalculable. Whelan promised to become one of the finest players to have ever pulled on the green jersey and would have played well into the 1960s. His United Team-mate Bobby Charlton once said that Liam Whelan was the only player whose skill he envied - as accolades go, they really don't get much higher than that.

source: site https://www.irelandshirts.com


Friends, fans hail 'Busby Babe' Whelan

By Fiach Kelly
Saturday February 02 2008

The relatives and friends of Liam Whelan, one of Manchester United's 'Busby Babes' to die in the Munich air disaster, gather today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

Liam -- or 'Billy' as he was known -- was one of 23 to die on February 6, 1958, when the plane bringing the team home from a tie against Red Star Belgrade crashed during take-off at Munich.

The British European Airways plane had stopped for refuelling on its way back to Manchester.

In the run up to the anniversary, Liam's brother Christy told the Irish Independent he can still vividly remember the day of the crash.

He recalled Charlie Jackson, one of Liam's managers from Dublin club Home Farm, calling to the family home.

He said: "My mother used to look at the clock and, if they were due down at three, she would look at ten past three and say, 'They're down'.

"She came in and she says, 'Charlie, what's wrong?' And he says, 'Have you not heard anything?' She said: 'Charlie they're home, look at the clock'.

"He says, 'I'm afraid not Mrs Whelan'."

"Later on we got a phone call and it was Jimmy Murphy from Old Trafford who said: 'From what's left in Old Trafford we send our sincere sympathies'."

source: https://www.independent.ie/national-new ... 79687.html

Footage of Liam Whelan Memorial

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Re: Liam 'Billy' Whelan

Thu Apr 23, 2009 3:57 pm

50 Years On – Liam (Billy) Whelan

He was probably the quietest in character of the “Busby Babes” but nonetheless, Liam, or Billy as he was known to the fans on the terraces, made more than a significant contribution to the legacy left behind by that wonderful team of young boys.

He was born in Dublin on April 1st 1935. As a youngster, he joined the famous Home Farm club that produced so many players that have graced British football. He had come to the attention of the United scouts in Ireland with some blistering displays for the Home Farm junior teams. His progress was being followed by United’s Irish scouting team, but due to an injury to United’s John Doherty in a Youth team game, his move to Old Trafford was accelerated. United needed a talented replacement for Doherty as they were to play in the Final of the 1953 F.A. Youth Cup Final against Stan Cullis’s young lions from the famed Wolverhampton Wanderers club in the West Midlands.

Billy answered the call and his impact was immediate, seeing him play the starring role in a 7-1 demolition of the young Wolves team. Interesting to read the very first team that United ever fielded in that first F.A. Youth Cup Final; Gordon Clayton; Bryce Fulton, Paddy Kennedy; Eddie Colman, Ronnie Cope, Duncan Edwards; Noel McFarlane, Liam Whelan, Eddie Lewis, David Pegg and Albert Scanlon . That 7-1 win made the second leg a formality and it ended in a 2-2 draw and United were the first ever winners of the FA Youth Cup. Billy had immediately made a huge impression on Tom Curry, Bert Whalley, and most of all, on Jimmy Murphy.

Immediately after the 1952-53 season ended, Manchester United’s Youth team travelled over to Switzerland to play in what was fast becoming Europe’s premier youth tournament – The Blue Star Tournament. Once again, “Billy” turned in some tremendous performances which helped United win the trophy. So well did he play during that tournament that United were to receive enquiries from the Santos Club from Brazil as to whether they would release him and allow him to play for them.

For the next two years, the quiet unassuming young Irishman was left to develop in the Central League team. It was to be an examination of not only his skill, but also his temperament and his courage. The Central League, or Reserve League as it was known back then was a tough environment for young players to come in to. Most teams in that league had a number of older pro’s who were either returning from injury or were seeing out their careers with their clubs… it was certainly not a place for the faint hearted.

United’s coaches kept a watching eye on “Billy’s” development and he became a prolific goal scorer at that level. He also filled out in physique somewhat during those two years. For an inside forward he was tall and gangly standing over 6 feet. But he was deceptive and although a lot of pundits were of the opinion that he lacked pace, that wasn’t true. He covered the ground a lot quicker than a lot of people realized. He had tremendous dribbling skills and could go past players very easily. If there was a weakness in his game it was that he wasn’t a great header of the ball. His passing was a joy to see and like Pat Crerand a few years later, “Billy” had a real eye for the opening and could pass a ball through the eye of needle – long or short.

Off the field “Billy” was quiet and shy. He was the typical young Irish boy, away from his home and his family. There were times when he was homesick and longed to be back in Dublin and woulkd travel back home whenever the opportunity arose, However, like most young men of his age, he was to settle down eventually and he mixed well with the other young boys at United. He shared digs in Stretford with Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, and Bobby Charlton and was often seen out and about with them.

On 26th March 1955 just five days before his 20th birthday, Matt Busby pitched him into the hurly burly of First Division football by giving him his debut at Deepdale, against Preston North End. A paltry total of just 13327 fans witnessed the likeable young Irishman’s first game at senior level as United won 2-0 with goals by Roger Byrne, and another youngster, Albert Scanlon. The following week he scored his first goal as he helped United go nap against Sheffield United winning by 5-0. “Billy” was to play in the next five games, and although he didn’t score in any of them, he had made a good impression on both the United manager and the coaches… there was still a lot more to come from this talented youngster.

The season 1955/56 was the season in which United’s team of young “Babes” came of age by winning the First Division Championship. “Billy” was used sporadically through that season playing just 13 games and scoring 4 goals .. but it was enough for him to qualify for a Championship winner’s medal. There was some stiff opposition for the inside right berth at that time and appearances throughout that season were also shared by John Doherty, Jackie Blanchflower, and Welshman Colin Webster.

At the start of the 1956/57 season, Busby made “Billy” his first choice inside right, and “Billy” repaid him with some astonishing performances and a bag full of goals. United’s prolific strikers at that time were centre forward Tommy Taylor and inside left Dennis Viollet. It was a fearsome duo and a partnership that scored goals on a regular basis. This was also the season that United went into Europe for the first time and “Billy’s” contribution in that campaign that season can never be underestimated, particularly in the quarter final, first leg tie against Bilbao in Spain.

He scored an incredible 33 goals that season in 54 games (26 in 40 appearances in the League; 4 from 6 appearances in the FA Cup; and 3 from 8 appearances in the European Cup) and this from what would be termed a mid-field player today! When you consider that the strike duo of Taylor and Viollet also scored 34 and 26 goals respectively in all competions, it doesn’t take a genius to see why they retained their league title that season and also reached the FA Cup Final and the European Cup semi-final. 93 goals shared between three players is an astonishing strike rate by any stretch of the imagination especially in top class football.

“Billy” was a joy to watch and if he had a flaw, it was that he didn’t realize just how good he was. At times he seemed to have an inferiority complex. There was so much talent around at Old Trafford at that time, and “Billy” used to wonder if he was really good enough. His performances belied those thoughts. He was such a quiet boy and you would never ever see him in the newspapers or the media. As soon as the game was over he would be bathed and then off home to his digs. For the kids who idolized him at that time, he was always happy to stand and sign their autograph books and never refused. My good friend John White recalls a lovely tale from that season:

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

It was a typical cold Saturday in February and strangely, I’ve learned that OT was not full as it seemed it was. There were only 36,277 in the ground for the visit of Villa and I honestly remember very little of the detail of the game but I do remember it was pissing down throughout and I did remember that we won 1-0 and Liam scored the winner.

It wasn’t that this goal was THE goal of the century that made him my favourite.
It wasn’t that he’d played out of his skin to win the day that did it either.
It was simply this. I stood around (as lads did back then) in a soaking Duffle coat at the players’ entrance to get autographs as the lads came out after the game. As they started to come out, I’d seen big Dunc dart off followed by Eddie Colman without any hanging about at all. The rain was absolutely atrocious it’s fair to say, but the only man who patiently stood and signed for us lads that evening was Liam. Even our captain Roger Byrne sneaked round the back of the posse of lads gathered around Liam and made off as Liam was encircled by us grateful lads.

I can see him now, with his belted grey gabardine mac and his trilby hat jauntily dripping water all over our autograph books as he signed until there was no-one left waiting. So it’s that night more than anything that made Liam my favourite. It’s also such memories of a hero who had that personal touch that remain with you all your life.”
21 years old and he wore a trilby hat – hard to believe in this day and age. My own memories of him were very similar. He was always one of the gang that would congregate at the Galleon Swimming Baths during the summer. He would be there with his quiet unassuming smile, cigarette in hand as he relaxed and enjoyed the company of his team mates and friends. Like so many of them he was so approachable and especially where kids were concerned.

The 1957/58 season started for him at Leicester City’s Filbert Street Ground in the opening day’s game and he started off where he had left off just a few months before – he scored all three goals in the 3-0 win! He was to score a further 11 goals before on December 21st 1957, he was left out of the team along with Ray Wood, Johnny Berry and David Pegg. Ray Wood’s omission came as no surprise as Busby had paid a world record fee for a goalkeeper earlier in the week when he bought Harry Gregg, the Northern Irish international ‘keeper who came from Doncaster Rovers. When the team changes were announced just half an hour before the return game against Leicester City at old Trafford, I can recall that there was much head shaking and gasps of astonishment.

Manchester United had hit something of a stutter but it seemed to be defensively that they were suffering because the forwards were still scoring goals. Unfortunately the defence had conceded some silly goals in high scoring games that had cost the team points. “Billy’s” last appearance in a first team shirt came at home to Chelsea in a 1-0 defeat on December 14th 1957. He was replaced by Bobby Charlton for the Leicester game.

There was no banging on the Manager’s door and asking for a transfer. He went back into the Reserve team and got on with his game. In my opinion, “Billy” was just too good a player not to have won his place back again and at sometime in the future would have returned. He travelled to Belgrade for the second leg European Cup quarter final tie as one of United’s reserves. The following day, as the ill fated Elizabethan aircraft thundered down the slush filled runway at Munich’s Reim Airport for the third time, he was to utter his final words among the quietness and apprehension inside that aircraft cabin: “If this is death, then I am ready for it” a reference to his religious beliefs. “Billy” was a staunch Roman Catholic who took great comfort from his faith. Sadly, moments after he uttered those words, he left this world so tragically. I’ll always remember his quiet unassuming manner, his lovely smile and Irish brogue, and the fact that he was a wonderful player to watch. The most underestimated player in that great team with a phenomenal strike rate.

Billy played 96 games for Manchester United and scored 52 goals.
He also won 4 caps for Eire.

Sleep on in peace Liam, you are still so loved by your family, friends, and the many fans that were so privileged to see you play.

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Re: Liam 'Billy' Whelan

Fri Apr 24, 2009 6:02 am


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Re: Liam 'Billy' Whelan

Thu May 26, 2011 6:37 pm

A truly beautiful epitaph.

Never forget the club's proud history; no other club can ever match it.

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