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Tribute to Matt Busby – 50 years on / Tribute to Matt Busby – 50 years on

Tribute to Matt Busby – 50 years on

By on 10 May 2018

It was 50 years ago in the May 1968 issue of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly that this tribute to Matt Busby was first published. Clearly there already existed a high degree of reverence for Busby – even before he crowned his career by becoming the manager of the first English club to win the European Cup.







With a certain degree of foresight, Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly seemed to sense that an historic event was about to take place…within a month of this issue hitting the newsstands, United had become European Champions and Matt Busby became “Sir” Matt.  Now, with the benefit of a little hindsight, it makes for a really fascinating read. As usual, you can view/expand the actual article pages or read from the text below.

Matt Busby – Man and Manager

It is surely a measure of Matt Busby’s unique managerial ability to pick the right type of player that of the very first successful side he built up in his early days with Manchester United, no fewer than five players themselves became managers.

They were Johnny Carey, Allenby Chilton, Jack Rowley, Stan Pearson and Charlie Mitten. Two more stalwarts of that still-remembered 1948 F.A. Cup winning team – one of the finest Busby ever made – Jack Crompton and Johnny Aston are still with Matt as head trainer and chief coach respectively.

Of Busby’s own pre-war playing contemporaries, Cliff Britton, Stanley Cullis and Joe Mercer, a one-time outstanding England half-back line, are still managing English League clubs; so too, is Archie Macaulay, a colleague in Scotland’s team for Busby’s last wartime international.

None, of course, can match Busby’s long service as a manager which is approached by only one other, Bert Tann of Bristol Rovers, who has handed over the reins at Eastville to a younger man after 21 years.

SoccerAttic shop souvenir Matt Busby mug

Picking the right men . . that has been the bed rock of Busby’s success. The uncanny knack of buying the right men at the right time of delegating responsibility to the right men – like Jimmy Murphy, Joe Armstrong and Jack Crompton and John Aston, for instance.

That and the carefully organised recruiting system which has ensured an unending flow of talented youngsters under the Old Trafford umbrella for the 22 momentous years that Busby has been the boss.

But he has always been prepared to spend heavily to get the men he wanted – when there happened not to be a youngster on hand to do the job!

Years ago Busby was determined to get Johnny Berry from Birmingham. It took him nearly two seasons but in the end he was quite prepared to cough up £25,000 – a large sum then – for a man who was to pay it back tenfold before Munich ended his career.

When Busby wanted Denis Law he did not think twice about paying a then record £116,000 to Turin. The labourer was worth his hire …

Unlike that other prolific spender, Bill Nicholson of Spurs, who has bought, rather than made a team, Busby has banked on his unique youth assembly line on which to fashion United’s unparalleled post-war success.

Of his current side, only Alex Stepney, David Herd, Tony Dunne and Pat Crerand cost fees, apart from Law. The remainder – even the brilliantly talented George Best – have all been groomed for stardom – the most efficient grooming in the business, judged by results

This was what Busby had in mind when he became Manchester United’s manager in October, 1945. Then, Old Trafford was a blitzed wreck and his club were straggling under the burden of a £15,000 overdraft.

And as soon as he had put together the nucleus of that splendid side which won the Cup in 1948. Busby set in motion his youth policy – the end product of which was to become worth a fortune to the club – the Busby Babes.

Literally, hundreds of highly talented young footballers passed through Old Trafford in the years which followed. Some never quite made the grade, others enjoyed only fleeting success but as many again developed into internationals.

Soccer Attic Gift shop bannerBusby has never hesitated to draft these fledglings into his League side when he considered the time was ripe. This season alone, there have been several such occasions – hence the emergence of Brian Kidd, Jimmy Ryan, John Fitzpatrick and others.

It is this brand of managerial astuteness which makes all the difference between prolonged and only temporary success. Busby has always been looking twelve months ahead and because of his foresight his club remain the envy of most of the others in the Football League.

Many have followed Busby’s post-war youth pattern but only a few – Everton and Leeds among them – anything like as successfully.

It is believed that United employ fewer scouts than other First Division clubs of similar standing. But results suggest that the Old Trafford set-up is twice as effective!

Busby’s other great forte has been his shrewdness in switching a player’s position – often with devastating effect.

This stems from his own experiences as a young player with Manchester City. While struggling to make the grade – and struggling hard, according to his own story – he found no success until moved from inside-forward to right-half  – where he spent the remainder of his playing career.

In his first season at Old Trafford, Busby conducted a series of positional permutations which provided the key to his initial successes.

He realised that his two inside-men Johnny Carey and John Aston would make better full-backs; that Allenby Chilton would be more effective as a centre-half than a wing-half. All three became internationals and Carey and Aston could play anywhere.

Talking of Busby’s “hunches-“…. It was about this time that he paid a mere £4,000 for Jimmy “brittle bones-“ Delaney – a veteran suspected to be injury-prone. Matt got six magnificent years out of the old Celtic star, then sold him to Aberdeen at only £500 less than he cost.

It is rare for a manager to have taken such a calculated risk at such a crucial time and seen it pay such handsome dividends. At least one, in recent seasons, paid £100,000 for a complete misfit!

It all seems long ago but it was in this teething period that Busby laid the foundation stone of his stature as the greatest manager since the hey-day of Herbert Chapman and Major Frank Buckley.

The years have fled by and Manchester United’s repute has become world-wide while we have marvelled at the successive teams which Busby has built up, broken up, then re-built again off a blueprint of acumen, patience, money and inspiration.

Meantime rivals have waited for a decline and fall which still seems as unlikely as it was a decade ago – before Munich.

Munich (1958) destroyed what many believe would have been the greatest of all United sides … destroyed a wealth of youth and skill . . . Edwards, Taylor, Pegg, Jones, Byrne , Whelan . .Colman. . among others.

Man Utd European Champions 1968 mug

It almost destroyed Busby, too, but eventually he was ready to build yet again on the tremendous salvage job done in the interim by Jimmy Murphy.

Since that tragedy United have won two more League championships and another F.A. Cup victory to add to the brilliant title wins of 1951-52, 1955-56 and 1956-57 and the earlier Cup success of 1948.

Only Wolves, between 1953 and 1959, can in any way match this, with three League championships and a Cup win. And remember, in Busby’s time, United have six times finished runners-up in the First Division – three times in successive seasons (’47, ’48 and ’49) and twice runners-up at Wembley.

Wolves, too, were thrice runners-up in the title race. But Cullis has long left the scene of his Molineux glories. Busby is still the master of Old Trafford.

The United triumphs have been achieved by successive sides of youth and experience — or rather, steadily improving youth blended with youthful experience.

The average age of United’s first team has lowered recently following the departures of Noel Cantwell, Maurice Setters and Harry Gregg. Only Bill Foulkes, of the immediate post-Munich staff, survives as a first teamer.

Munich apart – and Busby hardly speaks of it now – his greatest disappointment has been his failure so far to win the coveted European Cup.

He has striven for it constantly since he first led United into Europe in season 1956-57 in the face of Football League “warnings” about fixture congestion.

Busby realised long ago the hard cash to be had out of the lucrative European inter-club competitions.

Long ago, Busby was attracted by the challenge Europe offered. He needed to match his young side against the best on the continent. On the horizon was a glittering trophy, possession of which would set the seal on a dozen years of high achievement.

As this is written, Matt Busby and United still await that elusive prize. A fellow Scot – Jock Stein – has won it for Celtic but no English club has yet taken the most sought-after trophy, outside the World Cup.

Since 1957, United have reached the semi-finals of the competition each time they qualified:- 1956-57 – beaten by Real Madrid; 1957-58 – beaten by A.C. Milan (after Munich); 1965-66 – beaten by Partizan Belgrade; 1967-68 – v Real again.

In 1958-59 they were invited to compete by way of tribute to their past services to European football but were prevented from doing so by the Football League on the grounds that they were not national champions.

Of the other British clubs who have played in the European Cup: Hibernian (1956). Rangers (1960), Spurs (1962), Dundee (1963) and Liverpool (1965) have each reached the semi-final once, with Celtic achieving ultimate sucess last year. Otherwise, Manchester United’s record has been by far the best.

Busby means to win the European Cup. The question is … will it be this year or when? The matter of  first winning the First Division championship would seem to be incidental, as far as this last burning ambition is concerned.

The elder statesman among our managers is now 57. He has 22 years of United triumphs and troubles behind him and there can be only a mite he does not know about the game, scarcely an emotion he has not experienced.

He has been wise before his time. In 1957, for instance, he was advocating the abolition of the maximum wage limit, shortening of the League fixture list and smaller and less expensive playing staffs for hard-up clubs, among other innovations.

Chapman . . . Buckley . . . Busby. They have been the giants among our manager of the modern football age. Maybe it will he Busby who will stand on his own in the fullness of time. Already, at Old Trafford, his place is almost that of an immortal.