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Old 19th October 2004, 14:46   #1
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Default Duncan Edwards - The Cap Fits

“The Cap Fits”

Season 1954-55 could be regarded as the beginning of a new era in the history of Manchester United. Manager Matt Busby now had the task of producing another trophy winning side, and it was players like Duncan Edwards and his young team-mates who had to discard their inexperience and take on the might of the First Division.

Duncan began his season where he had left off last term, in possession of the number 6 shirt in United’s league side. His displays also continued where they had left off, and he was soon showing some impressive form. United’s regular correspondent, Alf Clarke of The Evening Chronicle, gave Duncan his first good write-up of the season following a match against Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford on the 18th of September. Unted had started the season in top form, and were in fact top of the League when, even before half-time against the Yorkshire Club, Clarke wrote; “One of the outstanding United performers was again Duncan Edwards. As on Wednesday night he was getting through a terrific amount of work. Even a knee injury sustained as he went wholeheartedly into a tackle couldn’t subdue him, as he gradually just worked himself back to fitness.”

The following Saturday it was the first Manchester “Derby” of the season, and for Duncan it was another first in his career. It was the first time that he had the unfortunate luck of seeing the ball strike him, and then deflect past his own goalkeeper.

Another first was notched up against Wolverhampton Wanderers seven days later, when he made his first league appearance in the position of inside right. This was due to the fact that his team mate Jackie Blanchflower was on international duty for Northern Ireland, playing against team-mates Ray Wood, Roger Byrne and Billy Foulkes in the England team. Sadly, there was little luck for Duncan in this position, and United suffered their second defeat in a row. On several occasions, however, he did come close to breaking his goalscoring duck for the first team.

Even when the goals came thick and fast during United’s games, he just could not get that elusive goal. A higher scoring game you could not expect to find than at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea on the 16th October when United won 6-5 in a real thriller. Not only did Duncan not score, but he even failed to get a mention in the Evening News match report or in the Chronicle’s Football Pink!

The following mid-week, Duncan traveled with his international team-mates, Ray Wood and Roger Byrne to Liverpool where they played for the Football League against the Irish league. This was Duncan’s first International recognition at this level.

He was involved in controversy at the other Merseyside stadium, Goodison park ten days later, when he conceded the two penalties which enabled Everton to beat United 4-2, and drop “The Reds” from top spot to fifth. Still, the Youth side, which Duncan was still eligible to play for, started their campaign the same day with a 4-1 win at Liverpool. That took them through to a second round tie away at local rivals Manchester City which was played on a very foggy night. It was so bad that Jimmy Murphy didn’t think that the game should have started. Jimmy Murphy remembered the night well though; “I said to Duncan at half-time that I couldn’t see so well from the dugout, but that I understood that we were one down. He gave me that boyish smile and told me not to worry it would be alright in the end. It was. He was playing at centre-forward and cracked in two super goals to win the game for us 2-1.”

Having been an ever present for United’s first team, Duncan was forced to miss the home game with Arsenal as he had, along with Youth goalkeeper Gordon Clayton, been called upon to play for England’s Youths against Holland in Arnhem. A boil on the ankle forced him to miss the match with Leicester City but he recovered sufficiently to lead the Youth team attack against Barnsley at oakwell. Duncan again played at centre-forward, (although he was left-half for the first team), and scored one and made the other three goals in United’s 4-2 victory, and this after them being 2-0 down at half-time.

Towards the end of December, Duncan found himself called up, not for an England team this time but to do his National Service. This meant a temporary end to his life as a full-time Professional Footballer, although he would be able to play for United during the two years that he was serving in the Army.

During his time in the Army he was stationed at various depots, and at Shrewsbury he found himself appointed Ammunition Storeman. When asked about his life in the Army he simply replied that he “found it not too bad.”

Duncan made friends easily, and in any case, his United team mates were not too far away. Billy Foulkes was called up at the same time, and actually Captained an Army side that contained Duncan and little Eddie Colman.

A player who was later to become a first team-mate of Duncan’s at United was Bobby Charlton, and he recalls life together in the Army. “Duncan was a year older than I was, and he took charge of me from the moment I arrived at the Army Camp. He had my billet arranged and everything. When he showed me to the billet, he noticed that there were springs sticking out of the bed, and he said “we can’t have that”. It was a great big iron bed, but he hoisted it over his shoulder, mattress, frame and all, and went off in search of a better one for me.”

Not only did Bobby play alongside Duncan with United, but they also played together during their Army days. In one particular match Bobby remembers, “We were 4-2 down with the game nearly over, so Duncan switched from half back to centre-forward. In the final ten minutes he scored four times, and we ended up winning the game 7-4! It didn’t matter at what level of football he was p[laying in, he never gave the game less than 100%.”

It is interesting to note, that during the two years that Duncan was doing his National Service, he played in some 180 matches!

In all of his games for United so far, Duncan had done everything but score. He had sprayed passes all over the pitch, made 50 to 60 yard dribbles, hit the crossbar and posts on numerous occasions, everything except having the satisfaction of seeing one of his shots beat a goalkeeper and hit the back of the net. However, 1955 began in the best possible way for him as he scored that all important first league goal in United’s 4-2 victory against Blackpool on New Year’s day.

Goin through the match reports covering that important milestone in Duncan’s career, perhaps the magical pen of ‘Old International’ Don Davies of the Manchester Guardian captures the moment superbly. He wrote…”By common consent, the outstanding incident of a somewhat desultory second half was the scoring of Edwards’ first League goal for United. Ever since he has pulled on the red jerseyover his muscular frame, this lusty 17 year old has dreamt of one thing only; namely to smite a ball so hard that it either bursts in transit, or defies the efforts of any goalkeeper to stop it.

On Saturday, with about twenty minutes remaining for play, Edwards at last detected his opportunity. Darting forward, he put every ounce of his prodigous strength into the mighty uninhibited swipe. There was a resounding crack of the boot on leather – a veritable detaonation this – and a clearing of the atmosphere by a blurred effect, which first soared over Farm’s outstretched and upraised arms then dipped suddenly and passed underneath the crossbar.

A scene of great commotion followed. Spectators hugged each other and threw their heads back and bayed their approval. Edwards leaped and gamboled like a soul possessed until his adoring colleagues fell upon him and pinned him down with their embraces. Chilton too, a smiling giant, raced upfield and patted his prodigy’s head: “that’s my brave boy.”

It was all so very touching and was not in the least spoiled when Perry broke away and scored for Blackpool.”

Don Davies was an essayist more than a reporter, which explains the descriptive way in which he told Guardian readers of Duncan’s memorable moment. Perhaps now that his goal duck had been broken, more would follow, and United could certainly have done with a performance a week later , when they traveled to reading for their 3rd Round F.a. Cup tie.

The Third Division side exploited every chance, whilst United and Duncan could not put the finishing touch to their moves. It was Duncan who was doing most of the shooting, but none were on target. With Reading leading 1-0 and time running out, Duncan was moved up front in an effort to add some weight to the forward line. The move paid off and United grabbed an equalizer five minutes from time, through Colin Webster. No mistake was made in the replay the following Wednesday afternoon with United winning 4-1.

In the 4th round they had no luck, as local neighbours City beat them 2-0 at maine Road. Even in defeat, Duncan’s contribution to his team stood out, and every newspaper report made it clear that he was United’s best player by far.

Henry Rose of The Daily Express wrote; “Had their been another forward of the caliber of Edwards, it might well have been a different story.”

John Barrie in The Sunday Express wrote; “ spurred by Duncan Edwards, United set up non-stop attacks, but this was City’s lucky day.” As usual, Duncan was everywhere. Twice in the first half he prevented City from scoring, once heading clear, and on the other occasion he cleared with an overhead kick off the goal line. Midway through the second half, he almost brought United a goal from a brilliant solo run. He was strong and fearless as he bulldozed his way through, shaking off challengers as though they did not exist. But just as he brought the ball under control on the far side of the penalty area he was tackled from behind and unceremoniously brought to ground, and had nothing to show for his effort other than a free kick adjudged to be just on the edge of the area. With City leading 1-0 , Chilton, United’s captain protested, and was sent from the field for using foul and abusive language. Duncan then took it upon himself to do the work of three men and heroically tried get United the equalizer. This never came, and two minutes from the end, City scored a second through Don Revie, and United were out of the Cup.

Following the Cup defeat by City, Manager Busby made changes for the League game away at Huddersfield Town the following Saturday. One of the changes was to move Duncan from his customary left half position to inside left, partnering David Pegg. His former United Youth team mate. The changes certainly paid off, with United winning 3-1 with the first goal coming from pegg and the second coming from Duncan. Alf Clarke’s headline said it all; United’s new left wing triumphs as Edwards and Pegg grabb the goals.” Pegg’s goal came courtesy of Duncan, who took a pass from Byrne before he set his wing partner clear for goal. Duncan’s goal came after an effort from Webster was blocked by the Huddersfield goalkeeper and it rebounded to the United inside left, who quickly fired the ball straight back into the Huddersfield net.

As Alf Clarke continued his report he wrote….”Edwards was here, there and everywhere and his weight and tremendous energy was certainly proving to be a great boon to the United attack.”

Duncan was off to Scotland three days later on international duty, with the England Under-23 team at Shawfield Stadium. He had played against the Italian Under 23’s at Stamford Bridge a month before, but his performance in Glasgow surpassed this. He lined up at left half with team mate Billy Foulkjes behind him at right back, but not for the first time he found himself changing position later in the game. This time however, his stay at left half only lasted around one minute when the England centre-forward, Bobby Ayre, had to leave the field with a dislocated elbow. They sent on substitute Stan Anderson at left half and moved Duncan to centre forward and from that point onwards, he overwhelmed the young Scots in all phases. Edwards and the other half backs of Flowers and Smith, dominated the game and gave the forward line, where Ateyo, Haynes, and Blunstone produced brilliant form and ample opportunities. The Scots found themselves 2-0 behind at the interval with the goals coming from Blunstone, and Ateyo, but if they had any idea of a second half revival then they were in for a terrible shock! Duncan proceded to dominate the second half with a superb hat trick, which crowned a brilliant display. The goals all came within the space of 17 minutes. Hooper later added a sixth, and the young Scottish side were well and truly routed.

In the Manchester Evening Chronicle Football Pink the following Saturday the United correspondent, Alf Clarke, was quick to sing Duncan’s praises in his regular column. He began by repeating his prophesy that Duncan was certain to be England’s future captain, and he continued with the following; “The chief problem is where to play him. He is a brilliant wing half back, can also adapt himself to centre half back, and now both Manchester United and England realizes his potential in attack. That is where I think that he should be played. That is why United di so well at Huddersfield last weekend, and why the Under 23’s won so handsomely at Clyde. One International player told me that Edwards might get too heavy. He be correct in this belief, but I recall frank Barson was stones too heavy when he returned at the start of a season, but always succeeded in getting down to soccer weight and it never affected his play. We cannot escape from the fact that Duncan Edwards is the greatest young player of his age. I know we have had our Bastins, Carters, Dohertys and others, but I rank Edwards as the best player I have ever seen.”

Alf Clarke’s seal of approval for Duncan certainly didn’t help him any that same Saturday, when Manchester City completed a hat trick of successes over their local rivals that season with a 5-0 victory at Old Trafford. Duncan was again at inside left, the position he was to to hold for the remainder of that season, but he was leading a one man crusade against City. He was the only United player likely to score and on a couple of occasions he came very close, but for once he was fighting a lost cause. As if a 5-0 defeat by City was not enough, United lost their next two games as well, 4-2 against Wolves on a snow covered Old Trafford, and 2-0 at Cardiff City. In the match against Wolves, Duncan scored one of the United goals, his third for the Club, and the first time that he finished on the losing side after scoring.

5th March saw Burnley visit Old Trafford and a 1-0 victory gave United their first win for a month. The United goalscorer?..........Duncan Edwards, who was now finding himself regularly amongst the goals. If it had not been for the Burnley goalkeeper Colin McDonald, United would have won by more goals, and Duncan might easily have scored a hat trick. Not only did he get on the scoring sheet, and had several close efforts, but he got rather too much involved in the game at times. Towards the end of the game the crowd saw something very uncharacteristic from Duncan, when he began to argue with one of his team – mates, something that should never happen on the pitch, no matter what the circumstances. On another occasion he was called upon by the referee so that his studs could be inspected, after a Burnley player made a complaint. Fortunately, the referee could find nothing wrong with them.

The final break up of Matt Busby’s 1948 side occurred during March 1955, when Allenby Chilton moved on to Grimsby town as manager, following Jack Rowley’s move to Plymouth Argyle. Jack in fact made a quick return to Old Trafford with his Youth side who took on United before a 25,322 crowd, and that on a Saturday morning! Duncan Edwards found himself in the unaccustomed position of centre-half, but was rarely troubled as United won easily 9-0, the star of the show being a youngster who shared digs with Duncan in Gorse Hill, Stretford, Bobby Charlton. On the same day, incidentally, United’s first team played a friendly at Lincoln City, with Billy Whelan making his debut.

Another representative match for Duncan, playing for England ‘B’ against Germany ‘B’, preceded his greatest honour to date, that tag of England’s youngest ever Full International, when he was selected to play against Scotland at Wembley Stadium on April 2nd. Interestingly he was picked to fill the number 6 shirt, despite him playing at number 10 for United in his recent matches. Behind him on his big day was club mate Roger Byrne, and being in the company of Stanley Mathews, Don revie, Nat Lofthouse, and Billy Wright, there was little chance of him going astray. Duncan was not overawed by the big game atmosphere, and he settled into the team very quickly, and along with his fellow debutants, Ken Armstrong and Jimmy Meadows, played a big part in England’s 7-2 victory. Although not overawed, Duncan remembered what effect it had on him during the week prior to the match. “I never gave the match a thought. On the Friday, I was a little jittery, on the Saturday morning I wasn’t too bad. But by lunchtime I really had the “butterflies”. Then on to Wembley Stadium, all the good luck telegrams. The players wished me luck, and just as we were going out, Billy Wright came across and said; “if any of us shout at you, take it with a pinch of salt, it will be for your own good.” Luckily there wasn’t much shouteing needed as we licked Scotland 7-2!’’

It was back to bread and butter of the Football League six days later, as Manchester United visited Roker Park for their Good Friday fixture against Sunderland. Duncan certainly found it a “Good” Friday, scoring twice in United’s 4-3 defeat. His goal in the 17th minute had given United the lead, and at half time they still held the upper hand at 2-1. The second half produced an entirely different outcome, as Sunderland fought back, The North East side took a 3-2 lead and then Duncan’s second goal leveled the scores again, before another defensive error gave the home side all the points.

Another ‘first’ came Duncan’s way on April 16th when he became the first Full International to play in the F.A. Youth Cup competition. The competition had now reached the semi-final stage, and United faced Chelsea over two legs, with the first leg being at Stamford Bridge. The London side were at this time attracting the best young players in the South of England, more or less the same situation as United had in the North, Jimmy Greaves being amongst them. There were over 20,000 spectators at Stamford Bridge to watch the youngsters, more than most First Division Clubs can claim today! Chelsea could consider themselves unlucky to lose this match 2-1, but the difference between the two sides was Duncan Edwards. Prior to the match, Assistant manager, Jimmy Murphy, told his side to just play their normal game and not to expect the presence of Duncan alone to give them victory. At half time however, his instructions changed as Chelsea held a 1-0 lead. The team were simply told to get the ball up to Duncan at every opportunity and to leave the rest to him! Jimmy Murphy’s instructions were followed to the tee, and United emerged 2-1 winners, a certain Duncan Edwards scoring both the goals, the first of which was worthy of winning any match, never mind a goal in a F.A. youth Cup semi-final. As the ball reached Duncan, he was about 40 yards from goal, so off he set, any defender unfortunate to find themselves in his way being unceremoniously knocked to the side, before he smashed the ball into the back of the net. No sooner had he scored than he was back helping out in United’s defence, before he moved forward again to score United’s second, and winning goal.

Three days later Chelsea traveled North to Manchester for the second leg,and it was Duncan again who proved to be the thorn in Chelsea’s side. As in the first leg, United won 2-1 with Duncan scoring both goals. This put United into the F.A. Youth Cup Final for the third year in succession. Chelsea gave United their hardest matches in the competition, they were a good side whose speed, strength and general football skill, would have tested any good side. But in reality, they just had no answer to Duncan. His second goal of the afternoon at Old Trafford came from a corner taken by dennis Fidler. As he prepared to take the corner, he spotted Duncan lurking just outside the penalty area, and he sent his corner towards the penalty spot. Although the route to goal seemed to be blocked by players of both teams, Duncan made his run, and then soared above them all to bullet his header into the back of the net.

Truthfully, it could be said that it was Duncan Edwards that took United to that Youth Cup Final, and to a 7-1 aggregate win over West Bromwich Albion. Moth teams breathed a sigh of relief when the competition came to an end that season as it meant that Duncan was no longer available for selection, and therefore other sides had an equal chance to win the Youth Cup. It had actually been suggested that Duncan should have been barred from that season’s competition due to him being a regular with United, and also an International now. But as his manager Matt Busby pointed out in his regular column in the Manchester evening Chronicle… uncan Edwards is eligible to participate in the Youth cup, and what is more, is so keen to play. He is no seeker of cups and medals, but he is as anxious as any young player to have the Manchester united name on the trophy for the third successive season. It would be an achievement which perhaps may never be equaled. He may be outsize in the juniors, but he will tell you that he has to work just as hard, if not harder in the Youth games, as he does in the Senior side”……

Matt Busby continued in his article…..” He is undoubtedly one of the greatest examples we have ever had of a footballer maturing at such an early age, but if the rules of a competition mean that he is eligible to take part, then I see no earthly reason to quibble. I don’t doubt for a minute that if other clubs had the opportunity they would more than willingly include Duncan in their Youth side!” The article was concluded by Matt Busby saying….. “Duncan has come to the fore the hard way. This is by constant training and coaching. The United youngster never needs to be told what to do, though he is not alone in that respect. He, like the others, is determined to make s success of his career as a footballer. He is willing to listen to advice, and put that advice into practice on the field. Here is an 18 year old whose example can be a lesson to every soccer-thinking youth. There is no easy road to success in this game, not even if you have extra weight and height to help you. I am happy to think that Duncan is getting so many honours in the game. I am glad to know that he remains as keen a player in junior circles as in representative games. But to suggest that because of his exceptional talent he should not play in Youth games is, in my opinion ridiculous.”

The 1954/55 season came to a close on the 30th April, with the visit to Old Trafford of Chelsea, the League Champions elect. United showed the Londoners no favours and won a closely fought contest 2-1, to complete a ‘double’ over the Champions, and to finish fifth themselves, five points behind Chelsea. Duncan Edwards had missed the last five games, mainly due to the fact that he was otherwise engages in the Youth team. No one was too disappointed with the final league position, as Matt Busby was preparing for the future, but a section of the supporters felt that he had discarded the older players too early and brought in the youngsters before they were ready. As time would tell, Busby was proved right and the supporters were left regretting their doubts.

Two days after the end of the League season, Duncan Edwards flew out to Copenhagen with the rest of the Manchester United side to play in a series of friendlies. After three victories, Duncan and Roger Byrne left to link up with the England senior party which played games in France, Portugal, and Spain. Sadly for the United pair, it was not a successful tour as England could only manage a draw, followed by two defeats.

This was just the start for Duncan however, he would have more opportunities to make a name for himself at this level of football, and he took the chance to spend the rest of the summer fishing for his relaxation, liking nothing better than to be sat by a river bank with only his flask of tea and some sandwiches for company.
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