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Old 12th September 2011, 03:03   #1
tomclare
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Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
Posts: 1,529
Default In The Shadow of a Giant's Footsteps

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In The Shadow of a Giant’s Footsteps

Nostalgia as I have always said, is a wonderful thing; simply and purely because nostalgia can be made to be anything that you want it to be. It can also be a dangerous thing in that it can cloud your judgment as you yearn for those past eras; those past personalities, and the events which they contributed to. Every generation hears about ‘the good old days’ from their older peers and the comparisons of individuals from years gone by, with the present day subject.

For younger people, it can be a frustrating kind of experience, and it can provoke heated debate, even argument, and that is quite understandable. I grew up in a time period of what I love to term as the ‘Golden Age of Football’. Football was vibrant, stadiums packed, and there were so many great British players to watch week in and week out. But even back then, there were always comparisons with players who plied their trade in the pre-war years. It was common place to hear statements like; “he’s no Hapgood”, or “he’s not as quick or skilful as Bastin was.”

My Grandfather, who I revered, and whose judgment I trusted implicitly, used to base his comparisons on a number of United players whom he had watched over the years; some from before WW1 even! For forwards he would use Joe Spence and Billy Meredith as the yardstick. For the halfbacks it would be the likes of Frank Barson, Alec Bell, Charlie Roberts, and Dick Duckworth. Believe me; if he likened a player to any of those personalities, then I can assure you, that player had to be something special.

As I grew up, he eulogized about Johnny Carey, Henry Cockburn, Stan Pearson, and Jack Rowley. Then of course, as I grew older, the ‘Babes’ were emerging. He was generous in his praise for Roger Byrne and he thought that he was the best Captain that United had ever had. Surpisingly, he likened Mark Jones to Charlie Roberts, although he thought that he was not as ruthless as Barson. He loved to watch little Eddie Colman, and again surprised me when he said that he was the best tackling player that United had at the club. As much as he liked Tommy Taylor, he preferred Joe Spence, but then he did say that Dennis Viollet was as lethal a player as he had seen. Today, I personally, would liken Viollet very much to Paul Scholes.

When we moved into the 60’s, Grandfather loved to watch Denis Law, and revered Bobby Charlton, who he said, was the perfect role model for any youngster coming into the game. He was a huge admirer of Paddy Crerand’s game, and said he was probably the best passer of a ball that he had seen. And then came George – and he was smitten. What he loved about George was not only his astounding natural talent, but also his tremendous heart and courage, and his indefatigable spirit.

My Grandfather first saw United back in 1898 when they were known as Newton Heath. Sadly, he passed away in October 1966, so had watched the club grow for 68 years. It’s a very long passage of time during which he had seen so many, many matches, and watched countless thousands of players. He was my mentor and my inspiration where United are concerned. As most of you know, I first attended Old Trafford back in the autumn of 1950, and attended my first senior game in September 1954. Like Granddad, that’s over 60 years in the bank where United are concerned, and just like him it’s countless matches attended, and thousands of players watched.

So where is all this leading to? During your lifetime, especially where football is concerned – there comes along that ‘special’ player, that one player who, because of his outstanding qualities as a player, is the one who becomes your benchmark. From the 50’s, United fans will probably look at players like Carey, Chilton, Rowley, Byrne, Foulkes, Taylor, Viollet. From the 60’s Charlton, Law, Creand, Stiles, Best. In the 70’s my own choice would be Martin Buchan, Steve Coppell, and Sammy McIlroy. From the 80’s Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside, Mark Hughes, and into the 90’s, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Peter Schmeichel. After the turn of the Millennium, Rio Ferdinand, Ruud van Nistlerooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic. That’s some litany of exceptional players and I have probably left more than a few out.

For me, and also for my Grandfather, the one player who stood out like a beacon above all the rest was a young boy from Dudley in the West Midlands – Duncan Edwards. It says so much for him that even now, 53 years after his passing, he is still looked upon as arguably the greatest British player ever to have played the game of football. That’s some legacy. I’m proud and privileged to have watched him throughout his career and have so many vivid memories of him. Believe me, the stories about Duncan were not myths, he really was that talented, and that special.

Down through the years, many, many players have been saddled with the label of; ‘the next Duncan Edwards’. I’ve seen them all – but not one of them in my opinion, has lived up to, nor has come anywhere close to reaching the standards of Duncan Edwards. It’s a tough ask, and comparing players to Edwards is in my opinion, more than a little unfair. It’s a heavy label and burden for a player to carry, and I have always been wary of watching a player and tagging him with that mantle.

However, I was in Washington DC when United played Barcelona, and something stirred me – just a slight glimpse, but it was there. Again, I saw it in the second half of the Community Shield, and then in the later stages of the game at The Hawthorns, and against Tottenham, and Arsenal. Yesterday’s game at Bolton only stirred me more because what was exciting me, was something that was taking me back 50 more years and more. It was a young boy striding out in the shadow of a Giant’s footsteps. Watching his pace, his vision, his touch, his physique, his youthfulness and exuberance for the game, and it brought the memories flooding back. Since Duncan’s passing, no other player has ever done that for me…until now.

The moment that really electrified me was when he burst out from the back and made that surging drive forward with the ball which culminated in the third goal. It turned the clock back for me and made me inhale deeply.

Phil Jones is just 19 years of age, and it would certainly be totally unfair and unrealistic to tag him as being; ‘the next Duncan Edwards’. But through these old eyes of mine I know that we are seeing something that is very, very ‘special’. This kid is just so gifted, has so much natural ability, and a confidence without being arrogant, that already he looks to have everything that it takes to be the best in the game. He’s still a work in progress, and people should take that into account – and no, he’s not ‘the next Duncan Edwards’, he has his own identity. But I’ll tell you this, the team in which he is playing in at the moment has excited me like no other team that I have seen in the last 50 years, so enjoy every minute of what you are witnessing. For young Philip, he has the world at his feet – and he is something ‘very special’.
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