When I first knew I was a Manchester United fan, United were at a low -playing the 1974/75 in the old second division. In retrospect it was only 16-17 years since the Munich air disaster, the same time span between today and Eric Cantona‘s retirement. In my mind Cantona retired yesterday.
As a child I was fascinated with the Busby Babes. I couldn’t read enough about Tommy Taylor, Eddie Coleman and Duncan Edwards. When I became a journalist I dug a bit deeper into it. I went to Dudley – Duncan Edwards’ hometown – and interviewed two “Babes” – John Doherty and Billy Foulkes.
My lasting impression was of a real working class tragedy. The players who died were not extremely rich but rather a group of youngsters and a city who believed in them in a time of post-war austerity. Again – this was only 15 years since their fans were suffering the German air raids that almost destroyed their lives and club.
Bill Shankly once recalled visiting the destroyed Old Trafford stadium during the war and thinking that Manchester United may not exist again. He can be forgiven for thinking so. No stadium, the players dispersed in army units, who knew who will return? who knew when football will return?
This was not a time when the Manchester United “brand” has value and will always generate the money for the club’s prosperity. A football club was its men and its facilities and that’s all. So it is important to remember: Matt Busby built United from ruins not once, but twice.
On the eve of the 2011 Champions League semi final against Schalke I asked David Meek, the famous Mancunian journalist, about similarities and differences between Sir Alex Ferguson and Busby. He told me they obviously shared many football and educational values, but Ferguson is hot-tempered and Busby always calm, keeping his emotions to himself. But then Busby was much tougher on his men than Fergie. No kidding here!
Ferguson was 3 years old when his great countryman took over as manager of United. He was 16 at the time of the Munich tragedy and 26 When Busby lifted the European Cup and completed his epic journey. He still worked about 5-6 years with Busby, who still holding an office in Old Trafford at the beginning of Fergie’s tenure.
Ferguson was not a Manchester United fan in his youth, but I am sure that for him the image of Manchester United was always Busby and his Manchester United.
This is an enormous, incredible and priceless privilege for Manchester United fans.
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