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Old 15th October 2004, 15:46   #1
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
Posts: 1,537
Default Duncan Edwards

Over the last few weeks I have been transcribing the lifestory of Duncan Edwards, and it will eventually go onto the website. it comes from a publication that has been onsolete for a long time but is just about the best and most accurateaccount of the "big fella's" that I have ever read. Mainly because for the most part, first hand accounts and opinions by people who were around with him during his lifetime are recounted.

I know that this forum is mainly for an exchange of views and opinions about the day to day business of United, but I do think that this maybe of interest to the younger supporters who have little knowledge of Duncan's life, his exploits, achievements, and playing career. I'll post the opening chapter, and if it's okay with you all, I'll post a different chapter each day.

What might have been………………….

“A throw in to Manchester United on their left. Edwards down the line to Pegg, he beats his man, back inside to Edwards. Edwards, a lovely ball to Bobby Charlton, inside to Colman, a terrific ball out to the right to Best. Best, beats one man, beats the full back, crosses to Law, nods the ball down and back ……..EDWARDS scores again for United.”

Denis Law, Bobby Charlton, George Best, David Pegg, Eddie Colman, and Duncan Edwards, all together in the same Manchester United football team – what a mouth watering sight that would have been. Only an imaginary commentary, but one which realistically, was only prevented by the occurrence of the disaster at Munich.

Since that terrible disaster on February 6th, 1958, the legend of Duncan Edwards and the Manchester United “Busby Babes” has increased as every year goes by. Manchester United Football Club, unlike Duncan Edwaards, survived that disaster, and by their deeds, enhanced their own special image. The marvelous job that Jimmy Murphy did immediately after the crash, saw United reach Wembley for the F.A. Cup Final, only to fall to Bolton Wanderers. Sir Matt Busby watched the game whilst still having to use crutches, but even then, was already plotting to put his famous Club back at the top.

The glamour capture of Albert Quixall, followed by the signing of Golden Boy Denis Law from Torino, ensured that Manchester United were able to launch smoothly into the early nineteen sixties, and compete in what became a new and crowded entertainment scene. Car ownershisp, and new motorway systems providing the access means for fans that were attracted from far and near. The sudden emergence of George Best, alongside Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, invariably meant that Old Trafford was where they all ended up! Worldwide, the name of the City of Manchester became synonymous with that of Manchester United, and has remained so during the nearly fifty years since the time of the tragedy. Their legend is still there for all to see.

The story of Duncan Edwards’ football career could quite easily have been taken from a boys football annual, and had not that fatal disaster made its intervention, then it may well have continued on a course similar to that of the schoolboy comic strip hero, “Roy of the Rovers” who has played for what seems to be an eternity and has won every honour that the game has to offer.

It was obvious from an early age that he was going too have the ability to succeed in professional football, should he choose that particular course. Greatness is something that an individual is either born with, or sets about creating for his (or her) self in later years. In Duncan’s case, there was nobody with any outstanding sporting talent in the Edwards family. Born into a working class family in the Midlands, the only drug available then for youngsters was football.

Football is something that most youngsters participate in from an early age. Some find the basic skills easier than others, whilst in some cases, it is not until later years that true talent blossoms through. Kicking a ball came so naturally to this Dudley schoolboy, and when he realized that a living could be made from something so enjoyable, he was determined to succeed at becoming a professional footballer.

The whole of his life had the sensational symmetry of the day dreaming boy hero. His talent was so obvious to even a casual onlooker from a very early age. Mr. Geoffrey Groves, a Dudley schoolmaster, remembers an eleven-year-old playing for his primary school …”He’d just returned from hop-picking on the morning of the match, and he went straight into the school team and dominated the whole match. He told all the other 21 players what to do, and also the referee and both the linesmen! When I got home that night, I wrote to a friend, telling him that I had just seen a boy of eleven who would one day play for England.”

Once in a while, another promising schoolboy will come along, and an instant comparison will be made to Duncan Edwards, but can there be another player who will be anywhere near the status and ability of Duncan Edwards? Maybe at an early age he will show the same keenness for the game, and show special talent in an England schoolboy shirt, but football today is a different game from what it was some fifty years ago, and there are few players with individual ability to make the spectators flood to games in anticipation of watching a touch of brilliance.

Perhaps one of Duncan’s successors at Old Trafford, a certain George Best, was the last of such players to grace the British football scene. But although more than adequately endowed with football skills, he lacked the other necessities to keep him at the top and make the football world his oyster. Comparison between George Best’s footballing skills and wayward ways, and the dedicated lifestyle of Duncan Edwards, throw up an interesting comparison between two great players of different eras at the same club. By the time that Best cast his elusive shadow on the Football League, Britain was in an entirely different age, the swinging sixties. People had an equally different lifestyle, with more money and infinitely more ways to spend it.

Nobody today is in a position to judge if the temptations and money available to Best would have been enough to seduce Duncan Edwards away from his beloved football. When Sir Matt Busby took over as manager at Manchester United in 1945, he established a family atmosphere at the club, where senior players passed on their knowledge of the game to junior players. Everybody had respect and they worked as one to bring success to the club and to themselves. After Munich however, a great void was created at Old Trafford and the age gap between senior and junior players was reduced to virtually nil, leaving nobody to lend a guiding hand to those who needed it. The family atmosphere disintegrated and the players took on a more individual identity, leaving each other at the end of training or their Saturday afternoon work, to go their own ways.

It is safe to say that Duncan Edwards would never have succumbed to the lifestyle of George Best, but what if Best had appeared on the scene some ten years earlier? That of course is a completely different proposition. Going back those ten years to the early 1950’s, when players were on a maximum wage of fifteen pounds during the season and twelve pounds during the summer, supporters felt much closer to their footballing favourites, they could find themselves traveling to the match on the same public transport, as few players, or supporters for that matter, owned a car!

The tragedy at Munich also brought those supporters closer to the club, as well as having a nationwide effect, bringing the name of Manchester United into every household in the country. There remained the inter-club rivalry (though not the hatred for opposition teams that exists on the terraces today) but the supporters of other clubs felt profoundly the sorrow that befell the Mancunian people on that cold, dark, bitter February afternoon. Good football was appreciated by everyone who attended a game, and as the lyrics of the Manchester United Calypso record of the time went … ”If ever they’re playing in your town, you must get to that football ground.”

“The Babes” like any other team, was essentially made up of eleven individuals, who combined together to be the best in their field. This was something that Duncan was always clear to emphasize. He left the limelight and glamour to those that enjoyed it. As a sports columnist of the time once wrote; “’He was a modest, unassuming young man, who would go to parties with the rest of the players, he would always be the first to leave. He would push past the pressmen and photographers, saying “You want the rest of the lads, I’m just one of the team.”

What then made Duncan Edwards that bit more special than the others? His footballing ability was never in doubt, and as with any sport, spectators take instantly to those who are capable of performing as near as possible to perfection in that particular event. His size was also an attraction to the multitudes on the sloping terraces and stands up and down the country. In almost every sport, competitors of large physique have a special appeal. If they are big and clumsy, they are endeared for the pantomime-style errors that they make. If they are of the physical type, the home side followers relish the sniff of blood that they bring. Big footballers are usually dependable though sometimes unimaginative. Duncan Edwards, however, was in a class beyond all this.

In his Dudley schooldays, and later playing against his own cousin, Dennis Stevens of Bolton Wanderers, there was the question of a hard side to his play. Was he too hard? Well, his great confidence on the field of play, along with his physical maturity, probably made him fee that nobody could stop him, and there is no doubt at all that he wanted to win at all times. Mind you, there were a lot of wing-halves in the 1950’s who are still remembered for their hardness, Tommy Docherty then at Preston North End, Roy Paul of Manchester City, and Jimmy Scoular at Newcastle United readily come to mind under that category. Certainly, Duncan Edwards does not!

Everyone loves a winner, and no one could possibly have the slightest doubt about Duncan’s will to win. It did not matter if it was a kick-about during training, or an England international match, Duncan was always in the thick of it, giving everything that he had. Even today, if you were to venture to Old Trafford on a match day, as the crowds make their way down Sir Matt Busby Way for the match, stop any of the older United followers and ask them about Duncan Edwards, they would all have their own special memory. “Oh what a player. I remember him playing against City over at Maine Road. Took on the whole of the Blues defence then unleashed a twenty five yard rocket which almost took the crossbar from the top of the posts.” Or you might be told, “The big lad was worth two of any other player, and I’ll tell you something else, if we had had him any time from 1968 onwards, then we wouldn’t have had to wait twenty six years for that bloody championship. He would have won it for us on his own.”

No matter how many people that you asked, these were the typical kind of responses that you would have been given. Others may have recalled a younger Duncan, literally standing head and shoulders above boys of a similar age in the F.A. Youth Cup during his early days with United. You didn’t have to know much about football to see that this young lad was something special. Even in one of his first newspaper interviews after signing for the club at the age of fifteen, with Arnold Howe of the Daily herald, the press scribe wrote; “He stood before me self assured, because he was working a football between his feet. He told me his ambition in just six words, “I want to be a footballer.” Not a mention of the honours that he hoped to win. Not a thought of having another trade. Football was going to be his life because as he told me with a shy grin, “That’s all I ever think about.” Howe ended his article by saying; “He won the affection of the crowds wherever he played because he played fairly, and won the respect of the opposition because he played well. Duncan Edwards was born to be a footballer.”

The sheer enormity of the Munich Air Disaster, obviously had an influence on the legend that has evolved since Duncan’s death. Has it made him more of a legend in people’s eyes than, if say he had died in a car crash such as the great West Indian cricketer, Collie Smith, or if he had been tragically killed as John White of Tottenham Hotspur and Scotland, when lightning struck him whilst he was playing a round of golf? John White, remember, had helped Tottenham Hotspur to achieve the “impossible double” of League Championship and F.A. Cup, and was an integral part of the Blanchflower, Mackay midfield combination. John White however, was the subtle, scheming, lightweight inside forward. Duncan Edwards was THE COMPLETE FOOTBALLER. He played flat out for the full ninety minutes, hard in the tackle, always with an eye for goal. He could play the marking role, following defensive instructions to the letter. His favourite position was left-half, but he played with equal skills at center –half, center-forward, or inside-left, both for Manchester United and England. Other careers have ended due to injury or when talent has not been joined to moral fibre. Alick Jeffrey from Doncaster, was one of England’s brightest hopes until an injury not only shattered his leg, but his whole career. Even so, precocious as Jeffrey’s talent was, he had never played for England, or even in the First Division.

Duncan had the ability and personal drive to keep him at the top until well into his late thirties, and when he had reluctantly decided to hang up his boots, he would have remained in the game which he loved so much as either a Manager or a Coach. His own book “Tackle Soccer This Way” was a clear example of how his mind worked, and how capable he was of passing on his own immense talents to the improvement of others. Those thoughts were also shared by his own late Mother, Sarah-Ann Edwards, who in a rare interview some years ago said; “He’d have been a manager of some team, or he would have coached the little ones. He’d have loved that. I can hear him saying, ‘Don’t do it that way, this is the right way’. He loved the children. They named a boys club after him here in Dudley, a lovely gesture. It keeps his name alive doesn’t it.”

Keeping his name alive was nothing that Mrs. Edwards ever had to worry about, especially in his home town of Dudley. In that part of the Black Country, his name will undoubtedly live on for ever, “Our Duncan” is still, even after all these years, very much the local hero. His grave is something of a shrine, as it is visited often by United supporters whenever they are in that area. Upon visiting Dudley today, if you should stop someone and ask for directions to St. Francis Church, they immediately ask, “going to see the windows are you?” as they know that a stranger on a non-Sunday visit to the church is inevitably going to see the two beautiful stained glass windows behind the font, which were dedicated to Duncan as a lasting memorial. St. Francis Church, being just around the corner from Duncan’s former home in Elm Road, where the old neighbours still remember the local hero, “Duncan was such a nice lad, he was hero worshipped here, even when he left to play for United and England, he would always have a kick about in the street with all the youngsters whenever he was home.”

So, if Duncan Edwards had been spared and played out the following 10- 15 years of his career, what might it have brought? Let us for a moment follow our earlier imaginary commentary and consider what just might have been……………

The F.A. Cup, lost in 1957, must surely have been United’s on their return in 1958 against BoltonWanderers, which would have provided Duncan a winners medal in that competition to add to his League Championships.

In 1961 saw the abolition of the maximum wage, Johnny Haynes being the first hundred pounds a week player. Edwards would have been a certain contender for that honour.

The captaincy of Manchester United and England beckoned, giving rise to perhaps the biggest hypothetical question of all – would the late Bobby Moore have ever made an England regular, never mind the Captain when you consider the jersey that he wore – Edward’s number 6. The European Cup would have probably been Manchester United’s long before 1968, with their potential line-up (Munich excepted) as would have been that elusive “Double”.

When Sir Matt Busby retired in 1969, the club turned to Wilf McGuinness as manager. Wilf, with all due respect, was only Duncan’s understudy, is it not more likely that Manchester United would have turned to Edwards as Sir Matt’s replacement?

All conjecture and hypothesis, but then this was potentially the greatest team that this Country has ever produced, certainly, in my opinion,thefinest team that Manchester United has ever had.

Bob Paisley, the man who himself did the impossible and replaced Bill Shankly at Liverpool, taking them to even greater honours, once said; “But for the tragedy of Munich, Sir Matt Busby would have set records nobody would have ever have come close to.”

Let us close our yes again …………………"Pegg, down the line to Edwards, inside to Bobby Charlton, lovely short ball to Eddie Colman. Colman, a shimmy of those hips and he’s gone past the tackler. Sweeps a beautiful pass out to the right to Best. Best teases the full back, goes outside him. Stops, oh he’s nutmegged him! Best is away, crosses………..Law rises majestically, heads it down, and there’s Edwards, racing in to sweep the ball into the net. What a goal, what players, what a team, Edwards – what a player!!!!”[
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