Sir Alex Ferguson is responsible for the modern day Manchester United (read that whatever way you want), but the foundation was set by one man – Sir Matt Busby, with the sterling assistance of Jimmy Murphy, whose part in the unique partnership must not be forgotten or under estimated.
Bringing Busby to Old Trafford as manager was indeed something of a gamble, as he was untested in such an area of employment, but United were in urgent need for someone to take over the reins in that immediate post-war period. If it was indeed a gamble, it was one that the club could take, as there were no great expectations sought, nor a cabinet full of trophies from previous occupants of the manager’s office to try and emulate.
Despite being something of a novice, others had seen something the Scot’s make up, as his former club Liverpool were also keen to have him as manager, but Louis Rocca, the United jack-of-all-trades managed to sway things United’s way and Busby returned to the city that he already knew well, although he was more familiar with the back to back houses of Moss Side than the Salford docks having served City as a player from the late 1920’s to the mid 1930’s, winning an FA Cup medal along the way.
Whether or not the state of the stadium he was about to inherit was revealed to him prior to his return to Manchester is unknown, but while his squad of players were of a more than acceptable level, the Old Trafford ground lay in ruins, although this gave the new manager little concern.
Taking over the running and reorganisation of Manchester United in February 1945, bringing in Jimmy Murphy as his right hand man, it was soon to prove an excellent decision, as runners-up spot in the First Division was claimed in the first three post war seasons.
Busby’s astute management saw only one signing of note during those early years, bringing in Jimmy Delaney, a highly experienced individual and the cornerstone of those initial post-war triumphs in the FA Cup win of 1948 and the First Division title four years later.
Prior to Busby’s arrival, a youth system had been set up within the club and it was something that he was keen to cultivate and improve on, creating a nationwide scouting system, with the teenaged recruits, under the guidance of Jimmy Murphy, brought through the ranks and injected into the first team, replacing the older legs when the time was judged to be right.
Suddenly, Busby’s first notable side was no more. Gone were the likes of Carey, Chilton, Rowley, Pearson and Mitten. In their place came an even better squad of individuals in the shape of Colman, Whelan and the incomparable Edwards. Berry and Byrne bridged the gap between both teams, while Tommy Taylor (like Berry) was a rare signing.
The First Division title once again came to United, twice in succession, but Busby was never satisfied, always looking to improve, with Europe suddenly becoming the focus of his attention. Only the might of Real Madrid and his teams inexperience on such a stage proved their downfall in their first venture in the European Cup.
Lessons were learned and hopes were high that Madrid, the undisputed masters of Europe, could be overcome if need be the following season.
But Busby had taken his team into Europe against the wishes of the Football League, although backed by the Football Association, as this played on his mind as he sat with his players at Munich airport on the afternoon of Thursday February 6th. United were at home to Wolves on the Saturday and any delay in getting back to England, with a possible threat of having to postpone the important league game, would have brought the wrath of the League upon his club.
No decision was made to delay the flight. The pilot felt that take off, already having been aborted, could be achieved, but…………….
Alive, but suffering multiple injuries, Busby survived and he was unaware for the best part of three weeks that his team and his dreams were shattered. Nine weeks after the crash he returned to Manchester, his mind in turmoil as to whether or not to continue his role as manager of United.
Thankfully, his wife Jean persuaded him to do so, if only for those players who had died and he eased himself back into the day to day running of the club. A lesser man would have walked away.
For a third time he had to rebuild Manchester United and despite the nightmares of Munich, he overcame his demons and built another championship winning side with another batch of superb individuals in the likes of Law, Best, Stiles and the Munich survivors of Charlton and Foulkes.
But Europe continued to nag away at Matt Busby, a pain that would not go away. A 5-1 victory in Lisbon against Benfica looked to be the cornerstone to such a success, but injury to George Best was the main reason that the dream once again vanished.
Title success in 1966-67 brought yet another tilt at the European Cup and with his team growing older by the season, it was expected to be Busby’s and United’s last chance of lifting this trophy.
But once again, it looked as though Real Madrid were going to prove the stumbling block as they held the advantage in semi-final second leg of the 1968 competition. Leading 3-1 on the night, 3-2 on aggregate, with 17 minutes remaining, there was little Busby could do but chain smoke on the touchline and shout encouragement to his players.
Sadler scored to level the aggregate score, then suddenly, from nowhere, Munich survivor Bill Foulkes scored the goal that would take United into the Final.
In that Wembley Final, it took a save from Stepney to thwart Eusebio and turn the tide, taking United from the jaws of defeat, into extra -time and victory. Busby had achieved his dream.
The genial Scot didn’t need an Alex Ferguson style ‘hairdryer’ to get the best out of his players, a quiet word and a knowing look was suffice. He could be strict when required, as Johnny Morris, Charlie Mitten, Johnny Giles and Denis Viollet could confirm. Even when his managerial days were long past, he was still held in awe by former players and up and coming youngsters.
He had time for everyone, young and old. An autograph was often more than a hastily scribbled ‘Matt Busby’ and would more often than not be preceded by ‘All Good Wishes’ or something similar.
As I said, the modern Manchester United is Alex Ferguson’s, but for many, Manchester United will be Matt Busby.
You can buy ‘Manchester United 1958-68: Rising from the Wreckage’ by Iain McCartney from Amberley Publishing HERE, Amazon HERE or Waterstones HERE.