‘SIR MATT STEPS DOWN’
Sir Matt Busby is, rightly, credited with not only putting Manchester United on the world map of football but keeping them there. He made three top sides, the 1946-1952 may have, mostly been already there when he arrived after the Second World War but he still had to create them into a unit, the winning of the FA Cup in 1948 and the League Championship in 1952 was a success story, when you add in the number of runners up and cup semi finals in that period it was very successful.
The 1953-1958 side was a brilliant one, created mainly from youth, with the small addition of experience. Winning the FA Youth the first five years of its existence should not be overlooked. It was not only the winning it was the constant production line of excellence. That team won two League titles but then suffered a tragedy almost unbelievable at the end of Munich airport runway in 1958 which cost the lives of eight top, top players. Perhaps at this point we should also remember the loss of such as Walter Crickmer a secretary who lived and breathed Manchester United, Bert Whalley and Tom Curry, two men Busby totally relied on and trusted. When you speak to anybody who was around that side, and I knew Jackie Blanchflower very well via after dinner speaking, they said the impact those two had on team spirit cannot be overlooked. The loss of the entire sporting journalists of the time should also be remembered. They were not like the muppets today who chance their arm with outrageous comments, but men who lived alongside the players and the club, travelled with them, drank with them. What happened in a room stayed in a room in those days.
Finally, Busby created a third great side after the crash in the period 1963-1968 which won two more League titles an FA Cup AND the Holy Grail, the European Cup in 1968. The days of Charlton, Law and Best, matched by players in the right position at the right time such as Crerand, Foulkes, Herd and Dunne. Tony Dunne once said to me that when they played a European tie somewhere in deepest Europe, the team spotted a poster advertising the game, such a team versus Manchester United, Best, Law and Charlton etc. Tony Dunne said, ‘There I am, Mr etc!’ Tony Dunne was anything but an extra, he was a world class full back.
To win the European Cup, ten years after Munich must have felt like the end for Matt. What else could he achieve? I am sure he still felt a personal loss of those young players dying, feeling a real responsibility that winning the European Cup those ten years after the crash must have felt a vindication of where the journey had started. What is a real surprise though is that Manchester United did not take real strides to move on well before the end came for Sir Matt. It was like the last day of these transfer windows when you suddenly realise you need something else tomorrow. For instance, there is no way that Wilf McGuinness was the first choice as next manager after Busby, but having been turned down by such as Jock Stein it seemed that they said, ‘Oh look there is Wilf, he will do ’Well that was grossly unfair to Wilf. A lot of people forget he was actually part of Sir Alf Ramsey’s training team when England won the World Cup, was also United’s reserve trainer so why did we not make him assistant manager on a day to day basis a couple of years before Matt retired?
Wilf was a personal friend of Bobby Charlton, a playing colleague of his during the Busby Babes days. Was Bobby ever considered, did he feel a slight that the club chose Wilf instead of him? What made Wilf’s chances of success even worse was that Matt’s hands were still very much on the cash where transfer funds was concerned. The squad in August 1968 needed real changes. Denis Law, Bobby Charlton, Pat Crerand, Bill Foulkes, Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne and Nobby Stiles careers would not improve due to their ages. Alex Stepney still had a career in front of him although goalkeeper is a vital role, whilst Brian Kidd, David Sadler, John Aston and the brilliant George Best had all their careers in front of them, but needed support. In the first five years after Matt retired players such as Peter Shilton, Mick Mills, Colin Nish, Colin Todd, Alan Ball, Alan Clarke and Malcolm MacDonald all were linked very strongly with Manchester United but none came, due it is believed, to the unwillingness of United to pay either the going fee or wages, or both. We got Ian Ure from Arsenal for £80,000! Before Matt retired, in 1965 Mike England was definitely somebody United should have gone for when he left Blackburn Rovers, we didn’t, he went to Tottenham Hotspur and won trophies.
Being a supporter of Manchester United we could not believe that six years after lifting the European Cup in 1968, we would be at Brisbane Road playing Leyton Orient in the Second Division!
Six years! We stayed off the pace for a total of twenty five years from 1968 until Alex Ferguson set in motion the constant success we had for the next two decades, there is a worry now that those days could return unless LVG’s ‘philosophy’ works. It surely is a better way to build constantly when the side is having success as opposed to waiting to they come to the end of that and then thrash around signing loads of players. If any credit is ever given to Liverpool, during the 1970’s and 1980’s they always added a player a season to an already successful side and improved. Clemence, Neal, Alan Kennedy, Hansen, Dalglish, Ray Kennedy all brought in separately and trophies continued to be won. Liverpool for some reason stopped doing this in the mid 1990’s. Look where they have been since.
Manchester United in 1968 had one glorious advantage, they had George Best. He was a world class player, about twenty one at the time, more of his career in front of him, a match winner. We did not support him, indeed we left him to take on what Bobby and Denis did as well. Life was also a massive difference in the early 1970’s, we had moved on from the swinging sixties and now everybody wanted the very best things in life, whether they could afford them or not. George was a sponsor’s dream, off the field activities were being thrown at him. At twenty seven George’s career was over.
I met Sir Matt Busby a few times, even interviewed him one to one in his old office at Old Trafford for a book I was writing. That I did is still something I pinch myself and something my late father would never have believed as he took me for those first visits over Trafford Bridge to watch Manchester United. Sir Matt was always a very kind, respectful person to meet. He never forgot names. After seeing him for the first time, it was probably six weeks till I saw him again when we were both on Willie Morgan’s testimonial committee. As he walked into the room at the Cresta Court hotel in Altrincham I thought, stay on the side Cav. He saw me, came over and said,’ Hi Roy how are you?’ Wow! Stop me falling over!
From first going to Old Trafford in 1954 until Sir Matt retired finally about 1970, it would be impossible to pick one thing that you remembered him for. He was, quite simply the leader, he was Manchester United.
‘SIR MATT STEPS DOWN’