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tomclare 17th October 2004 04:32

Duncan Edwards - So This Is Manchester United
So This Is Manchester United

Footballers have become accustomed to seeing their heroes elevated into Superstar status, and the top Clubs having to pay king's ransoms to secure their services. Manchester United themselves have in recent years paid out millions of pounds in transfer fees, but also in return, have also received millions of pounds, some for players that did not cost them a penny. They have also at certain stages, smashed the transfer barrier whenever they have felt that has been the road which they have had to take. Yet, under Matt Busby, they were also the pioneers of producing their own players via a dedicated, and deliberate Youth policy.

As he walked through the Player's Entrance at Old Trafford in 1952, Duncan Edwards might have been Captain of England Schoolboy's side, but he was then only one of the pick of Britain's finest junior talent, who were themselves joining a professional playing staff of Thirty Five. It wasn't always like that however. On his appointment in October 1945, Matt Busby quickly realised that to achieve lasting success at Old Trafford, he and his Assistant, Jimmy Murphy, would have to formulate a junior set-up that would produce high class players, with only the odd player being bought to fill any gaps. At the end of the Second World War, Manchester United were in no position to bring new players in, they didn't even have a pitch of their own to play on! Their famous stadium had suffered severe bomb damage which had left it a blitzed wreck. There were no training facilities, no dressing rooms, or even offices, and it was only the generosity of their near neighbours Manchester City, ironically one of Matt Busby's previous playing Clubs, which enabled the Club to continue.

Straight away Busby put to work his excellent judgement of a fotballer's capabilities, and had the players that he inherited playing in various positions, so that he could seek out which was their most effective. He was particularly successful with Club Captain Johnny Carey, who in his illustrious career even played in goal for Manchester United, in a match at Sunderland, but was originally an inside forward, before his conversion to the right back spot. His full back partner, Johnny Aston was another of Busby's conversions, and in time they established themselves as the best full back pairing around.

In 1945, Manchester united had an overdraft of fifteen thousand pounds and no stadium, but managed to extend their Bank Manager's patience by recruiting Jimmy Delaney from Glasgow Celtic, which enabled Busby to start the post-war football season in 1946-47 with a very experienced side generally consisting of: Jack Crompton, Johnny Carey, John Aston; Jack Warner, Allenby Chilton, Henry Cockburn; Jimmy Delaney, Johnny Morris, jack Rowley, Stan Pearson, Charlie Mitten. So successful were these players that Manchester United achieved the runners-up spot, and with the crowds, having been starved of any competitive football, retuning in their thousands, a very healthy profit margin of some sixty thousand pounds. Under Jimmy Murphy's guidance, the Reserves also achieved success winning the Central League Championship, but Murphy reported to Matt Busby that he felt none of them were good enough to step up and challenge for a first team spot, and so a decision was taken by this magical managerial duo that they would have to develop their own talent, the conception of what was later to be dubbed "THE BUSBY BABES". Having finished runners-up in 1946-47, Manchester united repeated the feat in 1947-48, and also reached Wembley Stadium to play Blackpool in what turned out to be one of the finest ever F.A. Cup Finals. Coming from behind twice, United finally triumphed 4-2 with goals from Jack Rowley (2), Stan Pearson, and Johnny Anderson, a late selection in place of Jack Warner. The following year, Old Trafford was finally fit to accommodate first division football again, and Manchester united continued to excite their fans by going close to that elusive title, in fact making it four times as runners-up in the first five Championship years after the Second World War. Although missing that top spot, the quality of play that Manchester United consistently produced put them down as "The Club", particularly in many aspiring young player's minds throughout the country.

It could easily have been a temptation for Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy to sit back and bask in the success that the team were achieving, but they had set their stall out for long term honours and were busily scouring the country for the finest young talent. A network of Scouts, under the mercurial eye of Joe Armstrong, liaised with Jimmy Murphy and Bert Whalley, and finally Matt Busby, to follow all leads, watching in public parks, schoolsides, anywhere a potential Manchester united star of the future could be playing. One of these scouts was called Reg Priest, who was based in the Midlands, and he had helped to draw United's attention to a young player who had everything - Duncan Edwards.

The backroom staff at Old Trafford had organized matters to such an extent that besides the First team and Reserves sides, there were three Junior teams, made up of the 'A' team, the Colts, and the Juniors, all known as M.U.J.A.C. Young stars therefore had plenty of opportunity to shine and eventually reach the standards Manchester United's first team finally achieved in 1952, just before Duncan Edwards left school and signed as a Manchester United player - Champions of The Football League Division One.

The Manchester united squad of 1952, contained seven players from the 1948 F.A. Cup winning team, Jack Crompton, Johnny Carey, John Aston, Henry Cockburn, Allenby Chilton, Stan Pearson, and Jack Rowley. Roger Byrne had forced his way into the team and Johnny Berry had been signed to replace Jimmy Delaney. Names who figured in the Reserve side included Ray Wood, Billy Foulkes, Mark Jones, Jackie Blanchflower, Dennis Viollet and David Pegg. The Busby Babes were being groomed!!!.

On the 16th August 1952, Duncan took to the famous Old Trafford playing field for the first time in the Club's junior public practice match, which took place before the senior game. Played in real cricket weather, an appreciative crowd saw the 'Reds' with Edwards at number 6, beat the "Blues" 5-0, and a young man called Bradshaw scored a hat-trick. Whatever happened to him!!

Some other members of the winning side were Gordon Clayton in goal, Geof Bent at left back, Ronnie Cope at centre half, and David Pegg at outside left. Playing opposite for the "Blues" were Albert Scanlon at outside left, and a young Salford schoolboy who came on in the second half as a substitute, Eddie Colman.
Duncan was selected for the Colts the following week for his first competitive League appearance, playing against Heywood St. James in the Manchester Amateur League at the Cliff training ground. Another encouraging display helped United to a 6-1 victory, and further victories in the following two matches, quickly earned Duncan a place in the "A" team. The fixture was at Leek against the local team, Ball Haye Green, with Billy Foulkes, Albert Scanlon, and former Club Secretary, Les Olive, all in the same United team who ran out 4-3 victors. Les Olive, incidentally, turned out at outside right in this match, just one of the many playing positions he filled for Manchester United including, like Johnny Carey, even goalkeeper for the First Team in later years.

Duncan's fixture list contained matches against varying teams as Ferranti, and Walkden Yard, who included hardened players looking to give young aspiring footballers a quick lesson in the playing fields of life. His first reverse in a Manchester united side came in October, and this in his first competitive cup match. Adelphi Lads club, traditionally a very strong Salford side, beating the Colts 2-1 in the Arthur Petitt Cup.

Elsewhere in the Club, although Manchester United had finally won the First Division the previous season, they were suffering a reaction, being in the bottom five with a third of the season gone, mind you, Manchester City were bottom!!! However, United had suffered some bad reverses including a heavy 6-2 defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers, the club nearest to Duncan's home town of Dudley. Despite this, Manchester United?s A.G.M. in October 1952 pointed out the way that the Club would be going. Having cleared off the mortgage on Old Trafford, the purchase of the Club's training ground at the Cliff was considered a master stroke for the development of the many young players on the books. Matt Busby expanded this even further: "Despite the marvelous achievement of finally lifting the League Championship in 1952, after four years of disappointments as runners-up, in my opinion the young players that are on United's books are worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. In a couple of years time we shall have wonderful young material when it is most needed."

Having joined Manchester United along with many other top class youngsters, Duncan was somewhat fortunate in that his first season was also the first of a new competition for Under 18's, The F.A. Youth Challenge Cup. The original idea eeven had the Final earmarked for Wembley Stadium, but the earlier rounds were played in the slightly quieter surroundings of the Cliff training ground in Salford, and Leeds United presented the very first opposition.

Edwards was made Captain of the Youth team which won their first ever match in that competition against Leeds United 4-0, with one of the goals being a spectacular own-goal by a certain Jackie Charlton! Victory was rewarded with a further home tie against Non-League Nantwich Town, with United recording, what is still today the highest ever score in that competition - 23-0! Both Edwards and David Pegg scored 5 each, and Duncan?s goals being his first in a Manchester United shirt. A 2-0 victory over Bury at Old Trafford in late November quickly installed United as one of the Youth Cup favourites and also earned Duncan recognition by the Lancashire County F.A. appearing as an inside forward.

A week after Bury Youth were defeated, the National press became aware of the talents belonging to the young Duncan Edwards, when a reporter from the Manchester Guardian (going under the initials of P.W.T.) reported on a match between a United XI and Northern Nomads on December 3rd. The match was played under floodlights at the Cliff training ground and resulted in a 4-3 win for Nomads, but the scribe from the Guardian was correct in his assertions of Duncan. In his report he wrote; 'The encouraging thing about the game was that it showed a player of real promise in Edwards, aged just 16. He is remarkably fast, and tackled well, but best of all shot with real power in either foot. Even Rowley would not have criticized several of Edwards' drives for strength and direction.'

During that game, Duncan also showed two thousand-odd spectators that he was capable of playing in more than one position, when he switched from left half to inside right with the ease of a veteran. Although he failed to score in that particular match, he did come close on several occasions, the readers of the Manchester Guardian were made aware of the special talent unfolding at Old Trafford.

Burnley became the first side to face a Central League side which included Duncan Edwards, on December 6th with a further appearance the week after against preston North End. On the same day at the other end of the East Lancs Road, another of the 'find them young' policy was making his full team debut at Liverpool. The debutante went on to become a regular first team colleague of Duncan's, he was Billy Foulkes, a twenty years old full back. Only a week before two others had made their league bow. Their names were John Doherty and David Pegg, both were just seventeen years of age.

Back to the F.A. Youth Cup. Everton were the visitors on 4th February to Old Trafford for a Wednesday afternoon, 2.30p.m. kick-off, still pre-floodlighting of course. United won 1-0 despite being without Eddie Lewis and David Pegg, both of whom were required for the First Team?s F.A. Cup replay with Non-League Walthamstow Avenue, played at Arsenal's Highbury Stadium. Three days after his Youth match, Edwards scored in United's 2-1 Central league defeat at Wolverhampton Wanderers, which must have been some consolation on his return to the West Midlands.

With his Championship side of 1952 off the pace at the top of Division One, and also suffering a 5th round F.A. Cup defeat at Everton, Manager Matt Busby moved to strengthen his hand early in March 1953, by signing centre forward Tommy Taylor from Barnsley. Two weeks later, Barnsley were linked to Manchester United with the appearance of their Youth side at Old Trafford for a tie which attracted a crowd of 12,400, with incidentally, only 7,406 watching Barnsley?s First team playing Birmingham City at Oakwell on the same day in a Division two match. Edwards, McFarlane, and Scanlon, scored United?s goals in a 3-1 Youth team victory, which took them through to the semi-final and a two-legged tie with Brentford.

However, on 4th April 1953 the Saturday before the first leg was due to be played, Duncan found himself called upon for his Football league debut at the tender age of just 16 years and 185 days of age. Jackie Blanchflower had been injured the day before, and with Henry Cockburn also on the injured list, it was up to Duncan to step in and fill the gap. The match was at Old Trafford and United's opponents were Cardiff City, who were making their first appearance at the ground since October 1928. The Welsh club surprisingly won 4-1, but the result is of little importance to our story.

Duncan himself recalled that first team call-up from Matt Busby, ?The thought of making my Football League debut was not terrifying after having twice played at Wembley before I was 15. On leaving school I did not have to face the difficulty of finding a job, like some youngsters, as football was my future. I thought my future would be better away from the Midlands. United had a great reputation for giving plenty of opportunities to young players, and treating them in the best possible manner. The first time that I walked into the dressing room to meet other players I wondered if I was in the right place as their was so many youngsters there. I found it very easy to settle down and make friends, I went round one Friday morning and was called to matt Busby's office. He quietly told me that I was selected for the First team. All I could think about was letting my parents know the news.?

Alf Clarke of the Manchester Evening Chronicle, and also a contributor to the United Review the official programme of Manchester United, had witnessed a brilliant display from Duncan in the defeat of Ashton United in the Gilchryst Cup Final at the Cliff the previous Wednesday and he was present to witness his debut against Cardiff. In the Evening Chronicle?s Saturday "Pink" wrote: 'The only ray of sunshine that filtered through the United gloom was the display of the boy debutante Duncan Edwards, who did all that was asked of him, including taking a shot from 30 yards that was only just wide." These words of praise were alongside an action picture of the debutante on the front page, while more encouraging words were written in the match report on the centre pages. In his report, Clarke continued, 'Edwards had the right ideas when he tried another long range effort and was instrumental in setting United on the move with a glorious pass up the middle arising from which Berry forced a corner.' This was just in the opening minutes of the second half and Duncan went from strength to strength.

P.W.T. of the Manchester Guardian who had first brought the name of Duncan Edwards to the attention of the National Sports pages in his match report versus the Nomads, wrote of Duncan on his debut, 'He had the misfortune for this to be his first senior game. He showed promise of fine ability in passing and shooting but will have to move faster as a wing half. However, he cannot be judged on this match.'

Sportswriter Frank Taylor of the News Chronicle was another who witnessed the debut of Duncan that Saturday. He readily agreed with his fellow journalists that he looked a wonderful prospect, but looked a bit thick around the hips. Luckily, Duncan's size and weight were to be of no hindrance to him in the future, and he trained as hard as anyone which helped him develop an excellent physique. The final words on Duncan?s entry into the Football league rests with Johnny Carey who said in the Sunday Chronicle the day after the match, 'He's a good 'un, the best I?ve seen for his age.'

The semi-final Youth Cup tie against Brentford at Griffin park ended with United having a 2-1 advantage to take into the second leg at Old Trafford. In that second leg, a place in the first ever Final was assured as United Youths crushed their southern opponents 6-0. Wolverhampton Wanderers were the team that stood between United and the distinction of being the first ever winners. On 4th May, the teams faced each other at Old Trafford in the first leg. Like so many teams before them, the young Wolves were no match for the free-scoring United lads. And they lost 7-1. Although Duncan did not get on the scoresheet, he gave a polished performance and helped his team mates to victory. The United goals in that memorable victory came from McFarlane 2, Lewis 2, Whelan, pegg and Scanlon, the complete forward line. By the way, Billy Whelan was signed from Ireland to replace the injured John Doherty just before this match. At Molineux in the return leg, the Wanderers put up a much better show and obtained a creditable 2-2 draw. This gave United an aggregate 9-3 victory, and most importantly, became first ever winners of the F.A. Youth Challenge Trophy!

All three Manchester United junior sides won their respective leagues that season, a season which saw Duncan Edwards rise from the lowest junior side to the First Division!!

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