It seems appropriate this first week of February for me to reflect back to the fifties. It was a time when one could stroll mid-week towards Old Trafford and bump into players walking or cycling to the stadium. Often, one could stop and say ‘hello’ to the likes of Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, Tommy Taylor, or the diminutive Eddie Colman.
I lived in Knutsford at the time and commuted to school at Altrincham by Cheshire Lines trains—pulled by black, steam engines in those days. Each Saturday during the season, I played soccer for my school. After the match, a dash to catch the ’lecky train to Warwick Road took precedent over any jubilation or despondency over the result of our school team; my real team was always Manchester United. Inhaling chemical fumes from the factories in Trafford Park, and coughing up smoke that crept over O.T. from the trains alongside the South Stand, I stood mesmerised on the windswept and often rain-soaked Stretford End terracing during a period of dramatic change for the club.
Players like Jack Crompton, Allenby Chilton, John Aston, Henry Cockburn, Jack Rowley and Stan Pearson were being replaced gradually by the emergent Busby Babes—not dissimilar to what is currently taking place now at O.T.—heralding a new ‘philosophy’! The main difference between then and now is passion. Apart from a few exceptions like Johnny Berry from Birmingham City and Tommy Taylor from Barnsley, most of those youngsters came through the youth system; they were totally committed to the club and the vision of Sir Matt.
I have amazing memories of some remarkable games—none more so than the electrifying 3-0 win against Bilbao at Maine Road (no floodlights in those days at O.T.). Never would one have imagined that, exactly one year to the day, that great team would cease to exist following the tragedy of the Munich air disaster. In August last year, I drove to Germany to fulfil a long-held ambition to visit the memorial on Manchester platz before watching the ‘Legends’ at the Allianz Arena. For an old ‘codger’ like me, it was a moving experience to pay my respects to those lads, many of whom I had met and spoken to as a teenager.
At the time, I cried when Duncan Edwards died after his unsuccessful fight for survival but I still cherish the memory of watching him win a cup match as Duncan only could: in 1957, United played Everton at O.T. in the fifth round. In goal for the visitors was Albert Dunlop; he stopped every United attempt to score. Eventually, Edwards picked up the ball in his own half, stormed through every tackle and unleashed an unstoppable shot from outside the box. It sailed into the back of the Everton net like a rocket; even Dunlop, the goalkeeper stood and applauded. The crowd roared and Duncan spread his arms as if to say: ‘that’s the way to do it’! United won 1-0 and went on to reach the final, only to be beaten by Villa’s Peter McParland and his outrageous assault on Ray Wood.
Those young ‘flowers of 1958’ were not only gifted but also played with PASSION and I believe that is what is missing in this current squad. I hope that LVG will get it right but until then, at least I have the memories.
Remember: 6th February 1958.