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Old 13th July 2010, 20:29   #1
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Default United Captains - Maurice Setters

Maurice Setters

“A Yes man, a bluffer.” Those were the words that a world famous Manchester United player and captain once used to describe Maurice Setters. It was a description that is surprising really, given that the man he was referring to had given almost 60 years of his life to the game of football as a player, manager, assistant manager, and coach. Yes Men, and Bluffers, certainly do not survive for so long in the harsh world of both professional club and international football. So it is rather surprising that this statement was ever made. Given the accuser’s chequered experiences in football management and coaching since his retirement from playing, it would be interesting to hear if he still shared that view! Both of these men were hard uncompromising players during their playing time. No nonsense, in your face characters who, as captains, drove their teams forward and gave no quarter nor looked for any in return. They expected nothing more than total commitment and one hundred per cent effort from their team mates. However, if push came to shove, and both men met in a back alley for a confrontation on a dark Saturday night, then it is my opinion that the only person who would emerge after it was over, would be Maurice Setters!

Maurice Setters was born in the city of Honiton in Devon on December 16th 1936. History has shown that not too many West Country boys found their way into the top echelons of the professional game of football in England, particularly First Division football. Like most boys, Setters found his love of the game in the schoolyards and upon leaving school at age 15, he played local amateur league football in and around Honiton. His performances began to attract the attention of his local Football League club Exeter City. In 1953, aged just 17 he signed his first professional contract for City.

Like most of his contemporaries of that time, National Service also came calling at the just after his 18th birthday and Maurice was conscripted into the Kings Troop, Royal Horse Artillery where he spent the next two years. It wasn’t however all spit and polish and drill for the young Gunner Setters. The RHA had a redoubtable football team and service football in those distant days was of a very high calibre, namely because of all the young professionals throughout the British Isles who had to serve their mandatory two years in military uniform. He played in an Army team that included several First Division and international players including the brilliant Scottish inside right, John White who was to play for the famous Tottenham Hotspur double winning team of 1960, and who was so tragically to lose his life just a year or so later.

It was whilst he was in the Army that Maurice came to the notice of West Bromwich Albion, and throughout his service they kept an eye upon his progress. He was able to return to Exeter frequently and during the 1954/55 season, he made 10 first team appearances for them. Upon his demob, Albion swooped for his signature paying Exeter a small fee for his transfer. Initially he was played in the Reserves Central League team, but by now he was rubbing shoulders with such celebrated players as Done Howe, len Millard, Bobby Robson, Jim Dudley, Ray Barlow, Derek Kevan, and Ronnie Allen. Albion had a very good team and had won the FA Cup the season before he joined them. With players like this around him, he could only improve and progress. It wasn’t too l,ong before he was drafted into the first team and holding down the wing half position on a regular basis.

Setters was as tough as teak; streetwise; he was a natural ball-winner; could pass a ball and read the game well, and would never give his opponent a moments peace. To say that he was intimidating is an understatement. He wasn’t very tall standing only 5’7” tall but he was solid of build and weighed in at almost 13 stones. In the middle 1950’s, with his close cropped American style hair, bow legs, and with a ferocious attitude and appetite for the game, many of his on the field confrontations were won before he even went out onto the field of play. From his very early days at Exeter City, he quickly gained a reputation for being one of the game’s “hard men.” Without doubt, not too many inside forwards of the day relished the prospect of a Saturday afternoon jousting with the indefatigable West Country man.

He quickly won England Under-23 honours, and in 1958 he was named in England’s initial 30 man selection for that years World Cup Finals that were to be held in Sweden. Unfortunately, he was one of the unlucky players to be trimmed from the squad when the final selections to travel were made. It was a bitter disappointment for the 22 years old. But when the 1958/59 season began, the craggy Devonian buckled down once more and again became one of the driving forces behind the fine Albion team which eventually finished fifth in the First Division.

After the Munich Air Disaster in February 1958, Manchester United defied all the odds by winning through to the FA Cup Final at Wembley where they lost by 2-1 to Bolton Wanderers. That feat in itself was some achievement given the situation that club were in after losing so many quality players and backroom staff in the tragedy. The following year, their achievement of finishing as runners-up in Division One was even more incredible. With a patched up team of youngsters, to take on the might of the English First Division and come within four points of winning it was beyond belief.

One of the youngsters who had become an indispensible part of the team during that period was local boy, Manchester born, Wilf McGuinness. Wilf certainly had enormous boots to fill in that the position he had cemented for himself in the team was that of the late Duncan Edwards at left half. It was an enormous burden for a young 21 years old boy to carry. But Wilf, as he is even today when he is into his 70’s, was a larger than life character, with a huge heart and an appetite nto meet adversity head on. he knew no other way and threw himself into the cause with a venom.

McGuinness was also one tough cookie and could mix it with anybody. Tough tackling, abrasive, quick, and a natural winner, Wilf’s performances were more than eye catching. So much so, that in 1959 he won his only two England international caps. Finishing second in the league also brought added pressures and expectation to the club and the players for the 1959/60 season. Just over a year earlier, some of the younger players had been reserve and third team players. That they had done well was an understatement, but to the management at Old Trafford, they knew that somewhen, there would be a falling off and leveling out, as some of the younger players were in danger of what we know of today as burn out. During the winter months of 1959, with Sir Matt back at the helm, he began to rebuild. However, results were inconsistent and performance levels dipped. On November 28 that season, United were away to Everton at Goodison Park, and they lost the game by 2-1. not a big defeat by any means, but Sir Matt saw something in certain player’s performances that he thought needed attention. He acted the following week, not by dropping any of the younger players, but three of his more senior players in Harry Gregg, Wilf McGuinness, and Bobby Charlton. They were banished to the Reserve team.

It was meant to be a short term measure, but for Wilf McGuinness, it turned out to be catastrophic for just two weeks later, he was to break a leg. I was an injury which ultimately ended his active playing career when he was just 22 years of age. Losing a player of McGuinness’s calibre was a huge blow to the club. It was young Seamus Brennan who had replaced Wilf in the first team, but he wasn’t the swashbuckling, ball winning half back that United really needed in midfield. Freddie Goodwin was the other wing half but he was more of the forager, the ball player so there was no real aggression in the team. Nor was there a player in the Reserves at that time that could fit the bill. Just after Christmas in 1959, Busby decided to act.

There was no indication for United fans that a new signing was imminent. But in the second week of January 1960, Maurice Setters signed for Manchester United for a fee of 30,000 pounds. It was a strange signing in the eyes of a lot of the United fans at that time. Setters was definitely not the type of player that they envisaged as a “Manchester United Player.” Certainly, when they considered that a similar type of player in Stan Crowther (who Jimmy Murphy had signed from Aston Villa immediately after the tragedy) had been shown the door immediately that Busby had returned after Munich, the signing of Setters left them more than a little perplexed.

Setters, as has been mentioned, was a larger than life character, Strong willed, opinionated, but he had the drive and energy to be a good leader both on and off the pitch. It was what United needed at that time. Bill Foulkes had not been able to carry the mantle of Club Captain too well and it had weighed down on him and his playing performances had suffered through it. The same could be said of Dennis Viollet who succeeded him. They were players who had grown up within the club and had been there since they were relatively young men. In effect, they were too close to the club and the tragedy that had befallen it. Setters was an outsider and would not have this kind of burden to carry with him.

Setters made his debut against Birmingham City on January 16th 1960 in a 2-1 victory. The man he replaced was Freddie Goodwin, and sadly for the tall lanky half back, who had played such an integral part in United’s survival after Munich, he was never again to be seen in a first team shirt for Manchester United. In early March, he made the short trip across the Pennines when he was transferred to Leeds United for 10,000 pounds.

For the tough Devonian, he thrived on being at Old Trafford and he quickly gained favour with the fans due to his all out combatitive style. It became a regular occurrence at first team matches to see him barking out orders from the middle of the park, bollocking, urging, cajoling, and minding the young players around him. He was akin to a Regimental Sergeant Major in complete control of the troops on parade ground. He was a natural leader and earned the respect of the other senior players in the first team. It was because these were the qualities that Busby saw in him that very early in his United career he was appointed the Club captain. With United going through the transition that they were, and with players coming and going frequently, it needed somebody with Setters’ capabilities and personality to lead the team.

When you look back at the period that Setters was United’s Club Captain, it was a period when there was a lot of turbulence within the Club. The ravages of Munich had meant that the club had to be completely restructured again on the playing side. To ensure survival in the top flight, there was a lot of dealing in the transfer market and it was experienced players that were bought, whilst a lot of the players that had carried the burden immediately after Munich, particularly many of the younger ones who did suffer the reaction of being brought in too early, were transferred out.

Matt and Jimmy were trying to find the correct blend and consistency within the team and this was going to take time. In 1959/60 and 1960/61, United finished in a very creditable 7th position in the League in each season. Maurice’s performances weren’t without controversy. Because of the type of player that he was, he fell on the wrong side of a number of referees and was sent off on a couple of occasions which meant that he had to serve suspensions. Even back then, it seemed that there was a rule for Manchester united players and another for players from other clubs, because I can recall that one of his suspensions was for four weeks, and back in those days, that was a savage punishment.

The 1961/62 season saw United struggle and they finished in 15th position in the League. It’s not surprising given the chopping and changing that went on with the team as the management struggled to find a balance. Maurice was still his fierce ebullient self though. Never one to shirk the challenge he was always at the forefront of the action. Two other young wing halves were coming to prominence at Old Trafford though – Nobby Stiles and a young Irish boy from Belfast named jimmy Nicholson. They were a threat to Maurice’s position in the team.

At the beginning of the 1962/63 season Maurice’s form dipped and after just two games into the new season, he lost his place in the team to a young Mancunian boy by the name of Nobby Lawton. Busby also thought that one of the reasons this had happened was that the captaincy had started to affect him and so reluctantly he took it away from Maurice and installed Noel Cantwell as Club Captain.It says a lot for Maurice’s character and temperament that he was back into the team after only five more games had been played and he was then ever present until the end of that season.

That 1962/63 season was an enigma as far as Manchester united were concerned. Despite having ateam that was now brimful of talent with the likes of Gregg, Cantwell, Dunne, Crerand, Stiles, Foulkes, Setters, Giles, Quixall, Herd, Law and Charlton, they were almost relegated from the First Division finishing in 18th position and this was only cemented after a feisty 1-1 draw with neighbours Manchester City at Maine Road on a sunny mid May evening. The FA Cup however was a different proposition and it proved to be the catalyst competition that sparked the revival of the Club in the mid-60’s. The previous season United had reached the semi-final of the same competition but had been defeated 3-1 by ‘Spurs on a glue pot of a pitch at Hillsborough. In 1963, they went a step further by reached the Final and went into it firm under-dogs against Leicester City. However, on the pristine wide open spaces of the magnificent Wembley Stadium, United put in a magnificent team performance to win the trophy by emphatically defeating the very good Leicester team by 3-1.

Setters played his part in this success, anchoring the midfield and allowing Paddy Crerand to weave his magic and supply the likes of Law, Charlton, and Herd with the type of service their talents thrived upon. It was the first major trophy that the Club won since the sadness of the Munich tragedy. It was to be the springboard to even greater successes during the next five years. Sadly, Maurice was not to be part of it. In season 1963/64, United finish runners-up to Liverpool in Division One, and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup where they were once again defeated 3-1 at Hillsborough, this time by an emerging West Ham United team. They also reached the Quarter Finals of the European Cup Winners Cup but after a terrific 4-1 win in the home leg against Sporting Lisbon, they went to Lisbon three weeks later, and a disastrous collective team performance saw them annihilated by the Portugese team by 5-0. So a season that promised much finished up with little to show for it.

The following season 1964/65, Maurice lost his place in the team once again after just two games into the new season. This time it was Nobby Stiles who was preferred to him, and he was never able to regain his place again. His last game for Manchester United was on October 24th 1964 when he played in a United team that drubbed Aston villa by 7-0 at Old Trafford. Just two weeks later Busby sold him to Stoke City for the same fee that he had paid West Bromwich for him – 30,000 pounds. He spent almost five years at Old Trafford and more than played his part in the rebuilding of the club after Munich. He is remembered with fondness by the United fans who watched him during that period, and his team mates of that era will undoubtedly testify to his commitment and determination in helping make Manchester United a force in both domestic and European football once again.

He stayed three years as a player for Stoke City before moving on to Coventry City where he stayed another three years before moving off into management with Doncaster Rovers. However, during his later years as a player even though he was on the wrong side of 35, he never lost the competitive edge to his game nor his feistiness. A young John Tudor who was later to serve Newcastle United so well in later years recalls an incident in a game when Coventry met Setters’ old United team;

“I was just making my way as a youngster in the Sky Blues team playing at centre back alongside Maurice Setters. In a game against Manchester United a young Brian Kidd had the temerity to nutmeg Maurice twice in the space of a few minutes. You just didn’ttake those kind of liberties with this fellow. Non-plussed he just ambled over to Kiddo, stood behind him and told him in no uncertain fashion; “If you do that again I’ll rip the bollocks out of you!” Now that was scary, very scary. Maurice was an ugly beggar and he scared everybody. Believe me, he’d have done it as well. Kiddo disappeared in the game after that.’

That epitomized Maurice. A yes man, or a bluffer? I don’t think so by any stretch of the imagination. If Roy Keane has any sense at all, and ever finds himself in Tickhill, South Yorkshire on a dark Saturday evening, then he should make sure that he stays well away from any dark alleys – even though Maurice is now almost 74 years of age!

Maurice Setters appeared 193 times for Manchester United and scored 14 goals. He also won 24 England Under-23 Caps
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Old 14th July 2010, 16:37   #2
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great piece again Tom, fascinating stuff about a man I knew bugger all about

one comment: Honiton is not a city, it's a middling sized town.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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