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Iconic Reds: George Best – a youth prodigy to wing wizard; Pele good, Maradona great, George Best

George Best was born on the 22nd May 1946 in Belfast and would have been celebrating his 74th birthday earlier this year. The legendary Manchester United and Northern Ireland winger passed away on the 25th November 2005. It was a sad day for football, one of United’s Holy Trinity was taken away from us, a true legend of the game. Everyone knows the personal battle with alcoholism which Best suffered, but I want to remember him for the football he played, which I think is the same thing the player, his family, and friends would want also. Best was a gifted footballer, one who has been the role model for many footballers both past and present, a former United number seven, David Beckham is one of them.

Best was described by the Irish Football Association as the ‘greatest player to ever pull on the famous green shirt of Northern Ireland’, something I am sure many football supporters will agree. Best was spotted in Belfast by Manchester United scout Bob Bishop as a talented 15-year-old. Bishop sent a telegram, which in this day and age would probably be an email or a text message, to United manager Sir Matt Busby, not a sir at the time, but Busby’s respect has been earned, saying; “I think I’ve found you a genius.” Glentoran, Best’s local club had rejected him, stating that he was ‘too small and light’, which will have turned out to be the biggest mistake in world football, well since Arsenal failed to sign Cristiano Ronaldo anyway, one which would be costly because of the player Best later became.

Best was given a trial at United and then signed up by then chief scout Joe Armstrong. It was the first time Best had left home, soon becoming homesick, staying for two more days before heading back to Belfast. Best did return to Manchester, obviously, spent two years as an amateur, due to regulation whereby English clubs were not able to take on Northern Irish players as apprentices. Best did return to Manchester, obviously, spent two years as an amateur, due to regulation whereby English clubs were not able to take on Northern Irish players as apprentices.

Best was an errand boy on the Manchester Ship Canal, given him the time off to train with Manchester United twice a week. At the age of 17, Best made his United debut against West Bromwich Albion on the 17th September 1963, United won 1-0 and Best went back to the reserves. His second match for the first team came just over three months later, a 5-1 victory over Burnley with Best scoring his first goal for the Old Trafford club. Busby kept Best in his team from that day onwards, when he could anyway. During the 1963/64 season, Best made 26 appearances scoring six goals, which was not bad for a young lad.

The following season, Best made 59 appearances, scoring 14 goals, an improvement from his debut season. Best was starting to become that exciting player he is recognised for. During the next three seasons, Best made a total of 141 appearances, scoring a total of 59 goals, ending the 1967/68 season with something that would become very special for Best, his teammates and Manchester United as a club. United won the European Cup in 1968, beating Benfica 4-1 at Wembley with Best scoring the goal which put United ahead in extra time after a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes. Brian Kidd scored two minutes after Best with Sir Bobby Charlton completing his brace in the 99th minute of the match, after taking the lead for United in the 53rd minute of the match.

A decade after the Munich Air Disaster which saw eight Manchester United players lose their lives and more never play again, Sir Matt Busby had guided his team to the promised land, becoming the first English club to lift the European Cup. In the 13 years of the European competition, Real Madrid had dominated lifting the cup six times, Benfica had lifted it twice, Milan had won it once, Inter Milan twice and Celtic was the first British and Scottish team to lift the cup. Manchester United had arrived. The European Cup was the last trophy George Best had won with Manchester United, previously winning the FA Youth Cup in 1964, the Football League First Division title in the 1964/65 and 1966/67 season, the FA Charity Shield twice in 1965 and 1967, meaning Best had won six trophies with United, maybe not the best achievement in his career when you consider the success of Sir Alex Ferguson, but this was a time where football was a man’s game, with manly tackles and men playing the game, not the overpaid, egotistical players that we have in today’s game.

Best and his peers were men playing the game with other men, with bone crunching tackles, water-logged and muddy pitches, playing for a pittance with many footballers in those days holding down a full-time job, playing in their time off. Some were doing their national service, which shows how different today’s game is with some players rewarded way too early and falling short of the requirements expected of them. George Best played a total of 474 matches for Manchester United, scoring 181 goals, playing as a winger or an attacking midfielder, predominantly on the wing for the club, marauding up and down the wing, weaving through the defence and scoring some sublime goals.

The day Best left United would have been a sad day. I was not alive at the time, learning about Best’s time at the club by reading about him, his teammates and the manager Sir Matt Busby, one of the best Manchester United managers ever, in fact, one of the best manager to ever grace the game of football. Best also played 37 times for Northern Ireland, scoring nine goals, playing his last game for his country in 1977, three years after leaving United. Best played for a number of clubs after United, including Stockport County, Cork Celtic, Los Angeles Aztecs, Fulham, Fort Lauderdale Striker, Hibernian, San Jose Earthquakes, both outdoor and indoor, also playing for Sea Bee, Hong Kong Rangers, Bournemouth, Brisbane Lions, Osborne Park Galeb, Nuneaton Borough and Tobermore United, where Best hung up his boots.

Best played 709 times in club football, scoring 253 goals, which is a pretty good goal ratio, especially for a winger. Best played in a testimonial back on the 8th August 1988 at Windsor Park in Belfast. In the crowd were three people who all had an influence on Best during his United career, former manager Sir Matt Busby, assistant manager Jimmy Murphy and the coach who found Best, Bob Bishop. Best scored twice in the testimonial, one from outside of the box, the other from the spot. best will be remembered in world football forever. He never saw it being erected, but he was honoured 40 years (50 years have passed now) to the day United won the European Cup on the 29th May 2008 with a statue of himself, Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, the United Holy Trinity, erected opposite that of Sir Matt Busby outside the east stand at Old Trafford. Pele good, Maradona great, George Best.

Written by John Walker

Iconic Reds: Sir Bobby Charlton – when legends were made, Charlton broke the mould

Sir Bobby Charlton for some is what Manchester United means. The guy was the club’s top scorer of all time until that record was broken by Wayne Rooney, a player who has earned the plaudits and maybe had a career on par with the great Charlton, but when you compare the two, Charlton will be the player who stands out the most. Charlton scored seven hat-tricks in his United career, scoring 249 goals for the club and a further 49 for his country. Both of those records are now held by Rooney who has scored 253 goals for United; 53 for England meaning he has broken the records set by Charlton by scoring four more goals, which is an achievement even if Rooney will not be held in the same vein as Charlton, the true embodiment of the world legend.

Sir Bobby Charlton joined Manchester United as an apprentice in 1953, making his first team debut on the 6 October 1956 in a 4-2 victory over Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford, scoring twice in that match. Charlton survived the Munich Air Disaster on the 6 February 1958, which lost the lives of eight of the Busby Babes, which also left him feeling guilty about still being alive and left his career up in the air. He eventually returned to football on the 1 March 1958 in a 2-2 draw against West Bromwich Albion, United’s first match after the disaster, scoring again later that month with a brace against Fulham in the FA Cup, which was a 2-2 draw, with the replay played days later and United winning 5-3 with Charlton scoring once.

Charlton won three First Division titles in his career, along with one FA Cup, four FA Charity Shields and the European Cup in 1968, ten years after that fateful flight from Munich. Charlton scored twice at Wembley to lift their first European trophy, with George Best and Brian Kidd also scoring goals, most coming in extra time with Charlton’s first goal in the 53rd minute of the match, Best scoring the winner in the 92nd minute, Kidd scoring two minutes later and Charlton ending the scoring in the 99th minute, beating Benfica 4-1, with Jaime Graça equalising in the 79th minute of the match.

During his time in the youth ranks, Charlton won the FA Youth Cup three times, in consecutive years. For England, Charlton obviously won the World Cup, something that only a few Englishmen can say they won – something which will probably be the case for decades still when you look at the players who turn out for England, not many of them winners and always underachieving. Charlton also won the British Home Championship ten times, showing that the England team of that time were something special, but saying that, football was special in those days, not that I was alive to see it all but I would have loved to have been a child from that era.

They seem to have been the times to have been alive and watching football in this country. What a period to have been alive; a World Cup and a European Cup for Charlton just two years apart. Charlton went through a lot to continue playing football, surviving the Munich Air Disaster at a young age, dealing with the guilt then paying his deceased teammates back for giving their lives. That really much have been a tough time for him. Playing with his teammates in what turned out to be their final match, then on the way back to Manchester, stopping in Munich to refuel, that fateful thing happened which changed the course of history for Manchester United, something which would take the club to the brink and back, rising from the ashes and a decade later, doing what could have been done that season of soon after – lifting the European Cup for the first time, a competition dominated by Real Madrid at the time winning the trophy six times before the 1960s were over.

When you say the word legend in today’s game, only a few players give me the same feeling as Sir Bobby Charlton, none of them supersedes the feeling I get when you mention the name, Charlton. The guy literally put his life on the line for the club, overcoming the bad times, turning them into good times but without the like of Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan – the player who died on or within a fortnight of that fateful day, not to mention those who never played the game again; Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower.

Club officials Walter Crickmer, Tom Curry and Bert Whalley would have been close to the heart also. Sir Bobby Charlton, at the age of 81, is still working in the game today, nothing too strenuous but for his age and to still play a part just shows how much the guy loves and respects the game he played for so many years. Charlton achieved so much with Manchester United, but in his own right he has won over a lot of plaudits too. Charlton is one of four players to have ever been awarded the top individual prize in football, the Ballon d’Or. Denis Law was the first player to be honoured in 1964 with Charlton winning the award in 1966, coming second in 1967 and 1968, which is an achievement, finished runner-up to George Best that year.

The fourth winner of the prestigious award was Cristiano Ronaldo but Eric Cantona and David Beckham came close. For me, Charlton is my favourite ever Manchester United player, even though he is not a player I ever saw play in the flesh. He is a true legend, a true inspiration and his story should be told forever more. Sir Bobby Charlton is the epitome of the word legend and that will always be the case. The player has been honoured twice by the Old Trafford club, having a statue of himself, George Best and Denis Law, the United Trinity opposite that of their master, Sir Matt Busy outside the east stand of the stadium.

The south stand of Old Trafford was named after the player, The Sir Bobby Charlton Stand now sits opposite that of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, two legends of the club, there forever more. Charlton was named the fourth best Manchester United player in the history of the Old Trafford club by the readers of the United magazine, Inside United, back in January 2011. Ryan Giggs topped the poll, Eric Cantona coming second, George Best coming third and Charlton in fourth place. It may be something that was destined to happen at some time with most readers of the magazine being younger, the fans who would have seen Giggs and Cantona come through the club, who are decent players from the history of the club. The memories, the legendary matches, the history of the club. Sir Bobby Charlton – what a player, what a man, what a legend.

Written by John Walker

European Cup winner and Manchester United legend Tony Dunne dies aged 78

Tony Dunne has died aged 78. The former Manchester United fullback helped the club lift the European Cup in 1968, ten years after the Munich Air Disaster which saw eight of the famous Busby Babes die on that fateful afternoon in February. Dunne was a player who helped the club rise to become England’s first European Cup winners.

Signing for the club at the age of 18 in 1960, the Republic of Ireland international made a total of 535 first team appearances for the Old Trafford club, making him eighth in the all-time appearances list of the club, of which Ryan Giggs is at the top. Dunne helped United and Sir Matt Busby win the FA Cup in 1963 and the first division title in 1965 and 1967.

Dunne played for Shelbourne before signing for United in 1960, and his first club paid tribute to him on Twitter. The fullback played for the Irish club 18 times in the league before signing for United, spending two years at the club. After Shelbourne, Dunne played for Bolton Wanderers and Detroit Express.

“Shelbourne FC is saddened to send our condolences to the family and friends of former FAI Cup-winning Shels player Tony Dunne after his passing. 

“Tony had a glittering career, winning a European Cup with Manchester United.”

United also commented on their former player passing away, which is a sad time for the United supporters of that time as there are not many of the players that contributed to the clubs first successful period when the club was managed by Busby. United, posting the sad news on Twitter and on their official website, said:

“One of our greatest-ever full-backs. An integral part of the 1968 European Cup-winning side. A player who made 535 appearances in the red shirt of Manchester United.

“Our heartfelt condolences go to the loved ones of Tony Dunne. May he rest in peace.”

In 1973, Dunne was granted a free transfer to Bolton in recognition of his fabulous service to the club. He played more than 200 matches for Bolton before finishing his career in the United States of America in 1979. During his okaying days, Dunne was a full international for Ireland, playing 33 times for his country and was named the Irish Player of the Year in 1969.

Blanchflower and Berry – The Babes who never played again

On the 6 February 1958, 23 people, including eight Manchester United players, lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster, one of the biggest tragedies in football history. Of the players that survived, some went on to still have very successful careers, but for some others however, that unfortunately wasn’t the case. 

Jackie Blanchflower and Jonny Berry were both forced into early retirement and could only watch their friends continue on the legacy of the Busby Babes. Of course, they still had their lives and that is the most important thing, but Blanchflower and Berry lived with the scars of Munich both mentally and physically for decades.

Blanchflower, nicknamed ‘Twiggy’ by teammates, was a Northern Irishman and younger brother of Danny, captain of Tottenham Hotspur during their glory years in the early 1960s. He joined United in 1949 and came through their now renowned academy, making his debut for the first team in late 1951, before helping United later claim the league title in both 1956 and 1957. 

When the squad travelled to Yugoslavia for the second leg against Red Star Belgrade on the 5 February 1958, Blanchflower was taken as a reserve. Despite his lack of game time, he was known for his versatility, playing both upfront and in defence, while even going in goal during the 1957 FA Cup final defeat. Blanchflower was the 20th century equivalent of John O’Shea, a talented footballer and a true squad player.

Just like Blanchflower, Berry made his United debut in 1951. He arrived for £25,000, big money at the time, from Birmingham City as a flying winger with a growing reputation. A quick and skilful player, Berry is rarely considered when there is a list of the greatest ever players to wear the number seven shirt at the club, but he did make an impressive 276 appearances, scoring 45 goals from the right-wing.

Another reason why he isn’t fondly remembered is like Blanchflower, he wasn’t a regular in the team. He had been a permanent starter in previous title winning sides of 1952, 1956 and 1957, but in 1958 at 31 years old he had lost his place to the younger Welshman Kenny Morgans, who started on the right in both legs of the tie against Red Star.

In the tragedy of Munich, Blanchflower and Berry both survived, but at some cost. Fellow Northern Irishman and long-time friend Harry Gregg  revealed that he found Blanchflower lying beneath deceased captain Roger Byrne. The injuries Blanchflower suffered from the crash were not fatal for his life, but unfortunately were for his footballing career. He suffered a fractured pelvis and crushed kidneys with multiple limb fractures.

“While some people may think about it each February, I have had to live with it every day since.”

Blanchflower on the Munich Air Disaster

Berry has been quoted as saying ‘We are going to die’ on the plane, moments before the crash and it has been reported that when he awoke he had no recollection of what had happened. Berry was stuck in a two-month coma before awakening to find out that his friends and teammates had died and that his horrific injuries meant he would never play again. Berry had a fractured skull as well as a broken jaw, elbow, pelvis and leg. 

“A time of indescribable pain and grief.”

Neil Berry, Johnny’s son, on the time after Munich for him and his family.

Both players when leaving United had to vacate their houses that were owned by the club. 

Unsurprisingly, Berry suffered a personality change after the crash and sadly was the first of those who survived the disaster to die when he passed away in 1994. Blanchflower was the second, passing away in 1998, two weeks after he attended a memorial match at Old Trafford for the 40th anniversary of the disaster.

Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry were vital members of a legendary team that was struck down in their prime by a terrible tragedy. The two men lived for 36 and 40 years respectively after the crash with the pain of not only losing their teammates and friends but losing their own careers as professional players. Long may they be remembered.

Written by Alex Metcalfe

Harry Gregg – The Hero of Munich

When the clock struck 15:03 on the 6 February 2020, the 62nd anniversary of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, Manchester United and the footballing world remembered the lives of the 23 people who sadly never returned back home.

Without the courageous actions of one man, it is probable they would have been remembering more lost ones as Harry Gregg risked his own life to save those of others on that tragic day. Many may be unaware of Gregg’s heroics because he himself in the past hasn’t regularly recollected the events, neither does he enjoy receiving praise for his bravery

The Northern Irishman signed from Doncaster Rovers in December of 1957 for a world record fee at the time for a goalkeeper of £23,000, showing the faith United had in him. Gregg made his love for the club known before he had even played a match when Sir Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy turned up to negotiate a deal, stating to them ‘if I’d been born a rich man, I’d have paid to play for Manchester United.’

“It was a great time to be alive. Here I was, Harry Gregg from Windsor Avenue, a professional footballer with Manchester United. To me it was the Hollywood of football I had joined.”

– Gregg speaking about the move to United in a 2013 interview.

At 25 years old, Gregg was one of the more experienced players in Busby’s young team. However, it’s stated that Gregg actually disliked played in goal as he was ‘stuck in a cage’ while everyone else was on the pitch enjoying themselves. In the middle of January, the Busby Babes continued their run in the European Cup with the first leg of a Quarter-Final tie against Yugoslavian side Red Star Belgrade. Gregg played his first match in European competition for United as they gained a 2-1 first leg advantage.

In the return leg on the 5 February, the Babes played out a 3-3 draw to secure a Semi-Final spot for the second season running. Gregg and the team stayed the night in a Belgrade hotel before setting off to fly as normal back to Manchester the next morning. Gregg was known to be a poker player and was part of a card school at the club. The documentary United, released in 2011, depicted Gregg playing cards with the team on the flight back and it was clear that he had already become a popular figure in his short first few months at the club.

The team stopped off in snowy Munich to refuel but the plane aborted take-off shortly after as the pilot could not get enough power from the engines. When the plane attempted to take off for the second time without success, the players again went back inside the airport, as they did on arrival, none the wiser about the situation. Back on the plane and on the third attempted take off, many began to panic, and after stunned silence, disaster struck. The plane skidded on the ice before crashing into a fence and subsequently into a nearby house.

Gregg commented in an interview that when he regained consciousness, he incredibly crawled his way through the debris and out a hole in the side of the plane. After hearing the escaping pilot telling him to run as the plane was going to blow, he decided to go against this advice and to go back to save others. Gregg found Sir Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet, as well as his manager Sir Matt Busby who was lying in pain.

“I thought Dennis and Bobby were dead. Even so, I grabbed them by the waistbands of their trousers and trailed them through the snow for about 20 yards, away from the smouldering front of the plane.”

– Gregg commenting on how he saved Charlton and Viollet’s lives in Munich.

Gregg also rescued his long-time friend Jackie Blanchflower, who was lying below the lifeless Roger Byrne, one of the many he unfortunately could not save. One of the most amazing aspects of Gregg’s bravery in Munich is that he didn’t just stop when he helped those connected to the club, he even went in to save the life of a pregnant Yugoslavian woman, Vera Lukic

Nearly two weeks after the crash, Gregg played in goal in an FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday at a packed Old Trafford, which United won 3-0. However, the rest of the team was mostly made up of debutants, fringe players and players given to United from other clubs. For Gregg to not only play weeks after seeing his friends and team-mates tragically pass in Munich, but to lead such a team to victory in such an emotional match, is a testament to the character of the man and his will to honour the Busby Babes.

Gregg played in the FA Cup final defeat to Bolton Wanderers at the end of the season along with Charlton and Violett but unfortunately missed out in the successful cup winning year of 1963. Gregg left United in 1966, two years before United won the European Cup at Wembley, with Busby in charge and Charlton captaining the team. Gregg never won a trophy at the club, but without his heroics in Munich in 1958, Busby and Charlton may not have even been alive to triumph a decade later.

 In the 2019 New Year’s honours list Gregg was awarded an OBE for services to football after a campaign was set up for him to be honoured the year before. Harry Gregg was not only a brave goalkeeper, he was a brave man, and the hero of Munich should never be forgotten as one of the most important individuals in the club’s history.

Written by Alex Metcalfe

Munich Tribute: Eddie Colman – nicknamed Snakehips, being a much-loved player, but there was no better tackler in the game

Eddie Colman was just 21 when he died in the Munich Air Disaster. He was born on the 1 November 1936 on Archie Street in Ordsall, Salford, Lancashire – the only child of plate player Richard Colman and his wife Elizabeth Colman. It was the summer of 1952 when he signed for Manchester United, after leaving school. He played in the various youth teams until making his full debut during the 1955/56 season.

Colman made his first team debut in a 3-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers away from home, seemingly ousting Jeff Whitefoot to play alongside Duncan Edwards. He finished his debut season with a Football League Division One medal, adding to that the following season, also helping United reach the European Cup semi-finals also playing in an FA Cup final, although United lost 2-1 to Aston Villa.

“I saw his debut in November 1955. He played all games as a number four, who would be expected to cover penalty area to penalty area.

“He did not score enough goals but was a complete part of the side and knew where [Duncan] Edwards was, so they covered each other perfectly having been in the youths from the age of fifteen.”

Roy Cavanagh speaking about Eddie Colman.

Colman made a total of 108 appearances for United during his first team career, which lasted from the 1955/56 season, until his death in Munich during the 1957/58 season. He had scored a total of two goals for the club. His final appearance for the club came against Red Star Belgrade the night before United’s darkest day. A day which saw eight footballers come to lose their lives, three members of club staff and plus 12 other people.

Colman scored his first goal against Tottenham Hotspur, a 2-2 draw on the 24 November 1956, scoring his second and final goal in the reverse fixture against Red Star, a 2-1 victory at Old Trafford on the 14 January 1958. He was nicknames ‘Snakehips’ because of his famous body swerve, something that would have mesmerised his opposition, let alone the supporters of the day. He man-marked Alfredo Di Stefano against Real Madrid with Jimmy Murphy proclaiming that ‘there was no better tackler in the game’.

“His role in Madrid showed he could create, mark and play all aspects of the right half role.

He was a very lively character around the side, loved by all who ever knew him.

Bobby Charlton was virtually brought up by Eddie’s family, him and Eddie were always together.”

Roy Cavanagh speaking about Eddie Colman.

Colman was laid to rest in West Cemetery in Salford and a statue was erected at his graveside, but was badly damaged by vandals then moved to the home of his father, who later died in 1976. Colman is buried with his mother, who died in 1971, and father. Colman was much-loved in the United squad, famously so that 21 workers from a Manchester box making firm were dismissed after attending the funeral of Colman – they were reinstated soon after.

A broken plane, a broken dream, a broken heart, a broken team, no word said, a silent vow, we loved you then, we love you now. We’ll never die.

Written by John Walker

Munich Tribute: Geoff Bent – a dedicated professional and a player every club may have needed

Geoff Bent was born on the 27 September 1932 in Irlams o’ th’ Height in Pendleton, Salford, Lancashire, the only child of miner Clifford Bent and his wife Clara Bent. In the summer of 1948, after leaving school, Bent signed for Manchester United and was playing in the youth and reserve teams of the day. He became a professional player for the club in 1951 not making his first team debut until the 1954/55 season.

Bent never held a regular place in the first team, instead playing as cover for Roger Byrne and Bill Foulkes in the fullback positions. During the 1954/55 season, Bent played twice for United. The following season (1955/56) he played four times. During the 1956/57 season, he played six times, making a total of 12 appearances for the club at first team level. His first appearance came in a 4-2 away victory over Burnley (11 December 1954) with his last coming in a 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur (6 April 1957)

“Geoff Bent was a true, local Salford lad. He captained Salford Lads to the English Schools Trophy in late 1940s, I always remember him as left back not a left winger, that reverse role had been Roger Byrne.”

Roy Cavanagh speaking about Geoff Bent.

During the 1957/58 season, Bent had not made any appearances for the club as he was recovering from a broken foot and only travelled to Belgrade, Yugoslavia ahead of the match with Red Star Belgrade as cover for Roger Byrne, who was recovering from his own injury with hit fitness a doubt. Obviously, at 25 at the time of his death, Bent was entering what is now considered the peak of his career.

Despite Bent not playing a big part for the first team at United, he did play a part in the Central League which was founded in 1911 and ceased at the end of the 2015/16 season. This was a reserve league and something United won nine times – once during the time Bent played for the club. You can find out more about his appearances here.

“Now you could ask did he lack ambition, but then again, we were in the minimum wage era so a good player at United would not get more at Tottenham, except more first team games.

“But then again, his family and life was in Salford so why move? Happy, in a great club, all his mates around him. A top class left back, and it took a world class full back to keep him out of the side.”

Roy Cavanagh speaking about Geoff Bent.

Bent was survived by both of his parents, his wife, Marion Mallandaine who he married in Bolton in 1953 and their daughter, Karen an only child who was born in September 1957 – around five months old at the time of her father’s death. Bent was buried in St. John’s Churchyard in Irlams o’ th’ Height. A dedicated professional, Bent was the sort of player every club needed and he could have played for any first division club, had he survived.

A broken plane, a broken dream, a broken heart, a broken team, no word said, a silent vow, we loved you then, we love you now. We’ll never die.

Written by John Walker

Munich Tribute: Liam ‘Billy’ Whelan – a prodigious talent from the streets of Dublin whose ability stood out a mile

William Augustine Whelan, Liam or Billy for short, was born on the 1 April 1935 in Dublin, Ireland and came from a large family. His father dies in 1943 when he was just eight years old. He, alongside David Pegg, was just 22 when he died. On the fateful day in Munich, Germany it is said that Whelan, who was not a confident flyer, as the plane was aiming to take off, said; “Well, if this is the time, then I’m ready.”

Whelan began his footballing career at Home Farm before signing for Manchester United as an 18-year-old in 1953. He was capped four times by the Republic of Ireland but did not score a single goal during his short international career. His brother, John Whelan played for both Shamrock Rovers and Drumcondra FC during his footballing career. Whelan made his United debut on the 26 March 1956 aged 19.

“This is one of most interesting, ‘What if’s?’ Billy Whelan was far too good to not be in first team, but then again so was Bobby Charlton. They could play together, with Billy at 8 and Bobby at 10, but what about Dennis Viollet?! 

“Billy did look slow, but was one of quickest in a sprint! He would have dominated the Republic of Ireland side so would have got world exposure. The only fault you could see was that he was just a happy lad, where was the ruthlessness? But then again, did he really need it, considering his goal record?”

Roy Cavanagh speaking about Liam ‘Billy’ Whelan.

Whelan’s first goal for United came in the 5-0 victory over Sheffield United on the 2 April 1955, a day after his 20th birthday. He scored a total of 52 goals in 98 appearances, showing his ability of the game and his eye for a goal, seemingly scoring an average of 0.53 goals per match, which is a good return for a forward. He scored his last goal against Tottenham Hotspur on the 30 November 1957 scoring ten braces in his career and two hat-tricks.

United’s first team was strong at the time of the disaster and Whelan was being kept out of the team by Bobby Charlton and he did not play against Red Star Belgrade on the 5 February 1958, the day before the tragedy in Munich. Whelan was buried at the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin and has been remembered in his home city of Dublin.

On the 6 December 2006, the railway bridge on Fassaugh Road/Dowth Avenue junction in CabraDublin 7 close to Dalymount Park was renamed in his honour. This was initiated and organised by members of the CabraGAA club, Naomh Fionbarra and sanctioned by Dublin City Council in early 2006. It is close to St. Attracta Road, the street in which Whelan was born. It was unveiled by Sir Bobby Charlton.

Just over a year later, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster, Irish national postal body An Post issued a 55¢ postage stamp displaying an image of the player, which was a fitting memorial for the Irishman. Many will think about what could have been if the disaster never happened. Perhaps Whelan would have competed with Charlton for his position in the team – who knows?

A broken plane, a broken dream, a broken heart, a broken team, no word said, a silent vow, we loved you then, we love you now. We’ll never die.

Written by John Walker

Munich Tribute: David Pegg – a smooth mover of the ball, gracing the ground with ease – his left foot gave a devastating blow

David Pegg was just 22 when he died in the Munich Air Disaster on the 6 February 1958. He was born on the 20 September 1935 in Highfields, Doncaster in the West Riding of Yorkshire, one of three children to miner William Pegg, who was also an amateur footballer during the 1930s – playing to a good standard and winning local trophies, and his wife, Jessie Pegg.

“David Pegg was a truly great left winger who scored a lot of goals as well. He was a perfect combination of Beckham and Giggs in that he was a great crosser and could score.

“Tom Finney got hurt in the 1958 World Cup finals and there was no replacement, David would have been perfect. I remember him as a very good looking lad years before his time in that way, would have blown fashion away in early 1960’s if he had lived.”

Roy Cavanagh speaking about David Pegg.

In 1950, on leaving school, Pegg signed for Manchester United and became part of the clubs academy. He made his debut for United during the 1952/53 season at the age of 17. By the time he was 20, Pegg was a first team regular – winning the Football League Division One title during the 1955/56 season, helping to retain that title the following season – also helping United get to the semi-finals of the European Cup that season.

His performance against Real Madrid in the 1956/57 season made the Spanish team sign a new left-back, just to combat Pegg’s ability of the game, which will have been complimentary to him. However, because of the Munich Air Disaster, he never played against Real Madrid again. Peg made 150 appearances for United, scoring 28 goals in total. Pegg was a precise crosser of the ball.

Pegg had formed a lethal partnership with Dennis Viollet, a survivor of the tragedy, also linking up well with Tommy Taylor, who was considered the best centre-forward to play for United and England. Pegg was described as a ball-playing winger rather than a speedster, as would be the case today. He was elusive to opposition fullbacks, which would have been great for a winger, especially in those glory days of English football.

Pegg had the knack of running inside from the wing, which is where he was most devastating. His opposition and teammates would say he was a smooth mover of the ball seemingly gliding over the ground with ease. Despite his seemingly delicate grace on the ball, his left foot had destructive force. Imagine having a player like Pegg in today’s United team – how impressive would that be today?

Once tipped to succeed Tom Finney in the England team, Pegg only made one appearance for his country before this disaster took his life and robbed both club and country of an immense talent. Growing up in Highfields, north of Doncaster, Pegg was buried in Redhouse Cemetery with a memorial chair dedicated to him in St. George’s Church in Highfields. When the church was closed it was move to All Saints’ Church in Woodlands, which serves both villages. His parents are buried alongside him.

A broken plane, a broken dream, a broken heart, a broken team, no word said, a silent vow, we loved you then, we love you now. We’ll never die.

Written by John Walker

Munich Tribute: Roger Byrne – he may not have been a technical footballer but work ethic and intelligence was enough

Roger Byrne was the oldest Manchester United player to have been killed in the Munich Air Disaster, aged 28. Born on the 8 February 1929 in Gorton, Manchester, would have been celebrating his 29th birthday just two days after he died. Byrne started his youth career playing for Ryder Brow Boys Club before signing for United. He was the only child of William Henry Byrne and Jessie Byrne.

Serving his National Service in the Royal Air Force and considered not good enough to play football, he played rugby instead. It was whilst playing for Ryder Brow that United scout, Joe Armstrong first saw Byrne, offering him amateur terms at the club, turning professional soon after. Byrne was the first of the bunch that would forever be known as the ‘Busby Babes’.

“Roger Byrne, in my opinion, was the forerunner of the modern back and set the present trend.”

Jimmy Murphy speaking about Roger Byrne.

Byrne played 280 times for United, scoring 20 goals in the seven seasons that he was part of the club. He also made 33 appearances for England, not scoring a single goal for his country. He captained United from the 1955/56 season onwards, leading the club to two Football League Division One titles. He was never considered a truly gifted footballer, which sounds like criticism but some were and are the same today.

He was one of those footballers whose tackling was suspect, his aerial ability being average but his work ethic and intelligence of the game what his standout feature. This allowed him to use his footballing brain to make forward runs and connect with the attacking players – despite the period he played in demanding that fullbacks stayed back to solely defend. The true captain had the skill to inspire his teammates too.

“Roger Byrne, a superbly built athlete had already won a League Championship as a winger before he became our regular left back and captain.

“Tackling is still important of course, but there are not so many sliding tackles as there were. These days a back must be able to read a move so instead of going for the first tackle he can hold off and try to force the opposing wing man to go down the touchline.

“If he stays out there and the back stays with him the rest of the defence has a chance to re-group. Roger Byrne, who started this style, was a winger or inside forward before we converted him in a full back.”

Jimmy Murphy speaking about Roger Byrne.

Despite today (6 February 2020) being 62 years since his passing, Byrne will be highly regarded as one of United’s best ever captain’s, succeeding Johnny Carey. After leading out his team for the 3-3 draw against Red Star Belgrade in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, the one thing he did not know is that he was soon to be a father. His wife, Joy Byrne. Roger Jr was born on the 7 October 1958 – eight months after losing his father.

A comment which describes Byrne, taken from thebusbybabes.com states;

“If a manager from another planet, attracted by Roger Byrne’s exalted reputation, had sent a scout to watch him train there would have been one very confused alien when he perused the report.

“It might have read something like this: heading – poor; tackling – ordinary; right foot – good; left foot – average (very); general impression – disillusioned.

“But if that same scout, wary of making too hasty a decision, had decided to stay for a match he would have torn up his notes and advised his boss to beam Roger up without delay.”

A broken plane, a broken dream, a broken heart, a broken team, no word said, a silent vow, we loved you then, we love you now. We’ll never die.

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW