As he pedalled down Warwick Road he acknowledged those who spoke or shouted out to him. Turning onto the Old Trafford forecourt, he free-wheeled down towards his usual spot, a short pass from where the Munich clock stands today. Fumbling in his jacket pocket, he pulls out a length of string and proceeds to tie his bicycle to a drainpipe on the red brick stadium wall. No sooner had his task been completed than he was surrounded by autograph hunters, taking the time to sign every one before making his way into the ground.
Duncan Edwards had a match to prepare for.
Few of the Manchester United players owned a car back in those halcyon days and the sight of the cyclist or his team mates on the local bus was a common one. Roger Byrne did have a car and one frosty morning disturbed Matt Busby’s breakfast, when he skidded off the road on his way to training and crashed into the wall in front of his manager’s house.
Duncan on his trusty bicycle was not without incident. One evening, when cycling back to his digs after visiting his girlfriend Molly Leach, he was stopped by a policeman for riding his bike without lights. The constable in question was either a City supporter or a non-football lover, as he duly booked Duncan and an appearance in court followed. As did a £1 fine!
The man-boy from Dudley was everyone’s favourite player, even his team mates would admit it. He was a colossus, both in stature and talent. A player who could win a game on his own and often did.
In one particular fixture, a Youth Cup semi-final at Stamford Bridge, the home side were leading 1-0 and were arguably the better team. Duncan had already graced the first team stage at this time, as well as having represented his country and with United losing, Jimmy Murphy instructed his youngsters to give the ball to Duncan at every opportunity during the second forty-five minutes.
With the second half underway, a cockney voice bellowed out from behind the United dug-out – “Where’s this bloody Edwards Then?”. As if on cue, the ball was threaded through to Duncan and it flew from his boot and into the back of the Chelsea net. Turning with a grin on his face, Murphy replied – “That’s him”.
The Man United players of today have entertained crowds all over the world and stadiums grand and gaudy. None, however, can claim to have entertained the masses at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Duncan Edwards can!
As an England schoolboy internationalist in the summer of 1950, he went with his team mates to an ESFA coaching course at Blackpool, under the watchful eye of Joe Mercer and staying in a hotel owned by Stanley Matthews, the Bloomfield Road terrace favourite, who Duncan was to later line up alongside in the England team.
The magnetism of the Pleasure Beach attracted the youngsters, as it did for millions of others, with the boys quickly spotting a ‘Beat the Goalie’ stall. The unsuspecting stallholder eagerly accepted their money and the novice goalkeeper faced their shots, failing to stop any and off they went with their prizes.
Returning the following day, the same thing happened and the stallholder sensing something was going on asked a few questions and their game was up. However, they were not banished from the stall, but arrangements made for Duncan and his pals to have free shots, beating the ‘keeper every time, in order for the stallholder to drum up business. “If these lads can beat the goalie, then I’m sure you can sir…………..”
Legend has it that Matt Busby signed the pyjama clad boy from Dudley in the early hours of the morning. It is wrong, a mere myth. Oh yes, he was dressed in his night- time attire, but it was Jimmy Murphy, along with Bert Whalley who awakened the Edwards family in the early hours of May 31st to obtain the signature that countless other clubs yearned for.
Duncan Edwards is still spoken of today as no other player, United or otherwise, can ever hope to be. Those who saw him will never forget what they witnessed, while those who didn’t wish they had been around at the time to catch a mere glimpse of footballing genius.
Genius indeed he was. At home in defence or up-front. Had he and his team mates lived, the history of Manchester United Football Club would have read differently. Much differently. As would that of the England national side.
He would only have been thirty-two in 1968, but United would have been champions of Europe long before then. He would have been thirty in 1966. It would not have been Bobby Moore lifting the World Cup at Wembley.
The word ‘legend’ is used too freely in the present day. It does, however, fit Duncan Edwards like a glove.
No-one will tell you differently.
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