By Nathan Lewis
As a Manchester United fan of 23 years of age, I have been brought up watching my football club enjoy year after year of success, I watched as a dynasty was established. On the day that Sir Alex Ferguson retired, I remember a tweet from former player Stan Collymore who declared: ‘Manchester United fans. Welcome to mortality again’. At the time I took it with a pinch of salt, surely the club had in place a master plan that would insure as little disruption as possible? Surely the club would not fall short on the biggest managerial transition since the retirement of Busby? Well, whether they did or they didn’t is conjecture, but we can all agree that the time since Ferguson’s departure has been fairly tumultuous, even if Louis van Gaal now seems to have us playing once again.
It is this air of tumult that brings me to the latest book from accomplished United author Iain McCartney who once again offers a superb critique of Manchester United in the post-Sir Matt era in ‘Busby’s Legacy’. Another fascinating read from McCartney, the book begins at the end of the illustrious Scot’s reign where his squad of newly crowned European Champions begin to show that their time at the top is nearing its end. It was a squad in need of revitalising and, despite coming ever so close to reaching a second consecutive European Final in 1969, Busby knew that a wind of change was in the air on M16 – sound familiar?
Sir Matt announced that he would vacate the Manchester United hot seat on 27 March 1969 and McCartney’s account of subsequent events show many startling parallels with the transition of Ferguson to Moyes back in May 2013. It becomes apparent in the opening chapters of the book that McCartney feel’s that the board of directors in 1969 afforded Busby far too much power when deciding on his successor. As it was, said successor Wilf McGuiness would go in to endure a rough ride during his brief stint at the helm of Manchester United and it is here that the author tells of a tale remarkably similar to the torrid season of 2013/14 under David Moyes. We read of the mismanagement and underperformance of key players, as well as McGuinness’ difficulty in living up to Busby’s Legacy, especially given that the Scot still maintained considerable control of the club.
Once again McCartney’s attention to detail is apparent throughout, giving the reader an almost blow-by-blow account of each season covered. Not only of the results, but also of the mood of the supporters which, accompanied by observations of journalists of the time, give a compelling insight to the feeling around the club during the immediate weeks and months following Busby’s departure. A portrait of a club ill-prepared for such a cataclysmic shift is portrayed throughout as Busby, along with the board of directors, seek to juggle the managerial merry-go-round as well as attempting to keep the first-team squad fresh in the face of diminishing influence from the fabled trinity of Best, Law and Charlton. McCartney then takes us into the reigns of subsequent manager Frank O’Farrell before ending following the club’s relegation to the old Second Division in 1975 under Tommy Docherty, leaving the reader with the hard-hitting words of club legend David Herd who, upon United’s relegation, declared: “the club is not United anymore, just an ordinary club.”
Although one suspects a similar fate will not befall United this time around, McCartney’s re-telling of riches to rags story is extremely fascinating and a book that I am sure Reds young and old will enjoy. It is also one that should have provided a more potent lesson to the board of directors in 2013 as to what can happen when a figure that carries the authority of Busby or Ferguson moves on to pastures new.
You can buy Manchester United: Busby Legacy CLICK HERE.