Matt Busby will be remembered as an Olympian manager; but he was also a player of rare quality, a wing half of great skill, intuition and composure. Joe Mercer remembers him as “a players’ player who influenced everything and everybody around him”. I mention his playing career because he brought all his own skills into the manager’s position and instilled them in his players and his teams were a reflection of the great man himself. Busby was a cunning strategist but he had a burning faith in natural talent. He gave his players guidelines and freedom but crucially he wanted them to have fun and give pleasure.
I remember the 1950s as though they were yesterday when Manchester United won the first division title three times - 1952, 1956 and 1957. If his young side had been allowed to mature they might have dominated English football for a generation as Real Madrid did in Spain but in one of football’s darkest hours his team perished in the slush and ice of a West German airport. Nothing touched the heart of a nation more than the Munich disaster. The date and even the minute - four minutes past three on Thursday, February 6th 1958 - are remembered by countless thousands.
Busby was born on May 26th 1909 to Lithuanian emigrant parents Alexander and Nellie Busby in a two-roomed pitman's cottage in the mining village of Orbiston, Bellshill, North Lanarkshire. When he was born, Busby's mother was told by the doctor "A footballer has come into this house today". Busby would often accompany his father down into the coal pits, but his true aspiration was to become a professional footballer. In his 1973 autobiography Busby described himself as being as football mad as any other boy in Bellshill citing in particular the impression made on him by Alex James and Hughie Gallacher.
The biggest success of his career came on May 29th 1968 when the team won the European Cup at Wembley by beating Benfica 4-1. In the 1960s three of his players were voted European Footballer of the Year, Law in 1963, Charlton in 1966 and Best in 1968. He retired as manager at the end of the following season, having announced his intention to do so on January 14th 1969, but remained at the club as a director, handing over managerial duties to trainer and former player Wilf McGuinness. Busby was awarded the CBE in 1958 and was knighted following the European Cup victory in 1968, before being made a Knight Commander of St Gregory by the Pope in 1972.
Back Row (L-R)
Webster, McGuiness, J Blanchflower, Doherty, Coleman,
Middle Row (L-R)
Curry (trainer), Foulkes, R Charlton, Goodwin, Wood, Whelan, Jones, Edwards, Inglis (assistant trainer)
Front Row (L-R)
Viollet, Berry, Matt Busby (manager), Byrne (captain), Murphy (assistant manager), Taylor, Pegg