I used to go all around the country hosting or speaking at Sports Dinners with some of Sports biggest names, such as Jimmy Greaves, Peter Shilton, Gordon Banks, Alan Ball, from Football, John Conteh and Alan Minter from Boxing, Dickie Bird, Geoff Miller and Dermot Reeve from Cricket, the infamous Madam Cyn and even the UK Centrefolds!
Manchester United has also featured highly, with Sir Matt Busby, George Best, Nobby Stiles, Denis Law, Pat Crerand, Norman Whiteside and Alex Stepney being amongst the speakers I have been involved with.
As a starter for ten, I remember hosting a few times, a man who lived the dream and played in the red shirt, even deputising for the one and only Duncan Edwards, being then made Manager of the club he lives for and after a number of setbacks, including being sacked, still is involved in representing them. That man is WILF McGUINNESS, let’s listen to a couple of his favourite stories.
Wilf was a schoolboy prodigy, captaining Manchester, Lancashire and England boys, before getting the call to play for the club he loved, Manchester United. In any other side he would have become the natural left half (number six) but at Old Trafford he had a certain Duncan Edwards blocking his progress. In the 1950’s though, Internationals were played on a Saturday when club matches also were played and when Duncan got the call to play for England it give Wilf a chance to impress although his debut came about when Duncan dropped out with flu just before the big match with rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers in October 1955. Wolves were, in those days, the equivalent of Chelsea today for United so this was a big, big game.
Wilf tells a story about it in his after dinner patter; ‘Whilst Matt Busby was the manager, the man we all were captivated by was Jimmy Murphy. He knew how to lift, bring down to earth and be a shoulder to cry on, a complete man manager. So, there I am, about to make my debut in this vital game and he marches over to me in the dressing room as he could sense my nerves’
‘Right you, how did you get into this position of playing for Manchester United?’
‘By listening to you Jimmy’
‘Right, I hate Black and Gold (Wolves colours then), but it is worse than that Wilf’ he said in his passionate Welsh voice, ‘The man you have got to mark is Peter Broadbent and he is going to take that win bonus out of your pocket so you won’t be able to go home to your mam and dad with your win bonus’
‘Well, that was it, I was foaming at the mouth ready to get into Broadbent, who happened to wish me well before the match, but all I could say was sod off you thieving bastard.’
Wilf then talked about the game which was end to end with Tommy Taylor getting a late winner for United to win the match 4-3.He played well against Broadbent who would eventually play for England, as indeed Will did after the Munich air disaster. That disaster was, obviously, to have a massive effect on Wilf as that team contained many of his close mates, particularly Eddie Colman. He was injured at the time of the crash but when fit did, indeed, inherit the number six shirt worn by the legendary Duncan Edwards. He would seem to have been the long term successor for that shirt, but a broken leg in a reserve match virtually ended his career.
Turning to coaching, it is often forgotten that Wilf was on the bench as an assistant trainer when
England won the World Cup in 1966 as Alf Ramsey could obviously see his coaching prowess. This type of exposure put him in line to become Matt Busby’s replacement when the great man stepped aside. Moving from being a pal of the players, world class players who had won everything, was always going to be difficult as Wilf soon found out. He also inherited the genius of George Best and this provides further stories after dinner from Wilf; ‘When I was manager of Manchester United there were numerous semi finals which, if they had gone another way, may have brought a different outcome to my time in the hot seat. One of those semis was the marathon with Leeds United in 1970. A 0-0 draw at Hillsborough brought a replay at Villa Park. The same score meant a third match,( no penalty shoot outs in those days) This was to be at Burnden Park home of Bolton Wanderers where a single goal by Billy Bremner cost us the match and knocked us out of the FA Cup.’
There was a major incident before one of those ties, which whilst funny now, was certainly not funny to Wilf on the day!
‘We, naturally, prepared well for these massive matches, but on the day of one of the replays, I was getting the vibes that George was up to no good with a beautiful young lady. So I went to his room to no avail. Having seen one particular glamorous lady earlier, I asked the hotel porter to come up to her room with me. No answer, so I asked him to open the door and there was George large as life on the day of a semi final replay with a beautiful woman’!
Wilf was so mad he even suggested to Matt Busby that they sent Best home, but in the end they hoped that he would turn it on in the match, like he had turned it on in the bedroom, and win the match for United. Sadly, Paul Reaney the Leeds United always seemed to be the one player George could not shake off and he could not get us the win.
Wilf McGuinness, is without doubt a top Manchester United man. He lived the dream as a player for club and country, although it could have been even better. He lived the dream as the manager of Manchester United, although it could have been better. He survived all that was thrown at him and now, if you get the chance, try and meet him, he is a super after dinner speaker, great company and Manchester United through and through.