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Old 18th October 2004, 01:50   #1
tomclare
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Default Duncan Edwards - The Busby Babes

"The Busby Babes"

In the summer of 1953, Manchester United arranged for Duncan to work as a joiner, so that he was able to commence normal groundstaff coaching. Such was his enthusiasm for training, and football in general, that he continued to keep up his usual Tuesday and Thursday night two-hourly sessions. So, although he was still only an amateur, he was now spending two or three mornings a week training with the professional senior players, and in the afternoons some of them would return to the ground for games of head tennis.

Manchester United, unlike most other Clubs, had a distinct family atmosphere, and no player was made to look better than any other. Age also made no difference, which helped the younger players settle much more easily. Duncan, along with a few team mates, lived close to Old Trafford to help foster this family spirit amongst them.

'As one door closes, another opens.' That was certainly the case for Duncan and Manchester United in August 1953. Just twelve months after appearing for the first time on the Old Trafford pitch in the Juniors practice match, he was chosen for the first time for the senior version. However, it was the departure of one much loved star, and the arrival of two future famous United names which made the news.

Johnny Carey, one of Manchester United?s all time greats, left Old Trafford to go as the Manager of Second Division Blackburn Rovers. Carey played for both Ireland and Eire and had Captained Manchester United longer than any other player. As Carey left, two English schoolboy starlets repeated the road Edwards had trod a year before and played in the Junior pre-season trial, Bobby Charlton from Ashington, and local Manchester lad Wilf McGuinness, appeared for the ?Blues? in a 3-2 win over the 'Reds'.

Duncan began the season in the Central League, and the early season Reserve team line-up read: Wood; McNulty, Bent; Whitefoot, Jones, Blanchflower; Scott, Cassisdy, Webster, Edwards, and McShane. The other teams in the Central League soon discovered that the Manchester United Reserve team, although sprinkled with more than a liberal number of teenagers, was no pushover. In one four game spell they scored 18 goals. Operating at number 10, Duncan earned high praise, and was very soon catching the eye of Manager Matt Busby as well, when the victorious F.A. Youth Cup winners won a special challenge match against Sheeffield & Hallamshire. Busby reported that "I can only say how happy I am that our youngsters continue to make good progress. Recently these boys secured a 7-0 success over an older Sheffield side, with football of the highest skill. The wing half backs ? the men who mean so much to any side ? were at their best. I refer of course, to Duncan Edwards and Eddie Colman."

The reward for Duncan was a trip to London with the Seniors, as reserve for a match at Tottenham Hotspur, where a 1-1 draw kept the side in mid-table. Five days later, on his seventeenth birthday, October 1st, Duncan signed full professional forms for Manchester United.

Whilst October 1st was an important date for Duncan, and Manchester United, October 24th was to prove a milestone in the Club?s famous history, the turning point which finally decided Matt Busby on the future policy of the side that he ran. On that date, the F.A. Youth Cup fixtures returned, as United traveled over to Merseyside for a tie at Everton, which they won 1-0, thanks to a rare Eddie Colman goal. Included in that side were Clayton, Colman, Edwards, and Pegg from the previous year's team, and Charlton and McGuinness making their F.A. Youth Cup debuts. The senior side also recorded a 1-0 win over Aston Villa, due to a late Johnny Berry goal, but were criticized by the Press, with one reporter writing: "How can football sink so low as it did in this game? You expect 15 pounds a week players to serve up something much better than this, which was the season?s most abject performance." He also added that drastic changes might be expected for the mid-week friendly. Friendly matches rarely attract much attention, let alone figure strongly in a Club?s history. On October 28th Manchester United traveled North of the border to Kilmarnock for the first match under the Scottish Club?s new floodlights, and Matt Busby finally lost his patience. Into the side came Crompton, McNulty, Blanchflower and Viollet, giving the side a more youthful look. The "new look" United team took only three minutes to find the back of the net through Henry Cockburn, and they went on to win 3-0. Sadly for Cockburn, he had to leave the field after just 20 minutes with a shoulder injury, and his place at left half was taken by Duncan Edwards. After staying at Troon for the rest of the week, United traveled down to Harrogate for an overnight stop before their League game at Huddersfield Town, well aware that they were about to enter a transitional stage in their rebuilding. None realised this more than Manager Matt Busby.

"On the Saturday we had a hard match in prospect at Huddersfield, then lying third in Division One. None of the youngsters in the side had let me down at Kilmarnock, so I decided to back them, come what may. Six of the side I selected were under twenty one years, but I knew that they would go on developing, with experience into just as big star performers as the Johnny Carey era, which was now coming to an end of six glorious years for Manchester united."
Saturdays headline preceding the report in the Manchester Evening Chronicle proclaimed "Busby?s Bouncing babes Keep All Town Awake", and little did reporter Alf Clarke know at that time, that the term "Busby Babes" would enter into the folklore of worldwide sporting history.

The match itself was goal-less, but provided acceptable entertainment for the spectators, with plenty of excitement, skill, and courage. Matt Busby could be well pleased with his team changes, as the youngsters all did their work well. So, Duncan came through his second League match with considerable ease, and one reporter noticed that the longer that the match went on the more Duncan came into it, and that his stamina, for a 17 year old was something terrific.

With each game, the "Babes" gained more confidence, and their displays improved with each passing week. There was also no shortage of goals as they found their rhythm. A trip to Ninian Park, Cardiff, on the 14th November, saw the Welsh side go down by 6-1. Seven days later, Blackpool traveled across Lancashire to face the vastly improving United, and the match provided ninety minutes of complete entertainment and gave the Press plenty to enthrall their readers with. United were unchanged for the fourth consecutive game, which meant that Old Trafford's largest crowd of the season, 49,853, had gathered to watch a team which contained seven players under the age of twenty one. Blackpool, without Stanley Mathews, were no match for United in a game that took a similar course, and scoreline, to that memorable F.A. Cup final in 1948.

The Seasiders scored first through South African winger Bill Perry, but by half time two goals from Tommy Taylor and another from Dennis Viollet, had given United a 3-1 lead. Seven minutes into the second half Taylor completed his hat-trick, and the remainder of the game was played without further scoring. Don Davies 'Old International' of the Manchester Guardian, and perhaps, the best of the Football correspondents of that time, found plenty of space to praise both Duncan and his team mates in his usual lengthy report. He likened the display of the half-back line to that of the vintage Duckworth, Roberts, and Bell trio of the early 1900?s. Duncan was singled out for particular praise for the way that he played the England International, Ernie Taylor. Sadly, a future quirk of fate crossed the path of those two opponents, with the Old Trafford crowd getting the opportunity to enjoy the talents of the diminutive Taylor in a Red jersey in later years?..

Don Davies reported "that to get into the picture at all, Ernie Taylor had to wander far away from his youthful opponent Duncan Edwards. This 17 years old left-half gives the lie direct to the adage that old heads do not grow on young shoulders. There seems little that time and experience canadd to his present store of shrewdness and judgement, unless it be the reminder that there is such a thing as beginner?s luck. Some of Edwards' passing on Saturday recalled the work of his more famous namesake of Leeds United fame; a player whose outlook and culture, this Manchester colt would do well to emulate." Fortunately, there was no beginner?s luck where Duncan was concerned, and he was now well settled into the hustle and bustle of life in the First Division.

During the week that followed the Blackpool match, England suffered their first ever home defeat by a foreign side, when Hungary, producing a brand of attacking football never seen before in this country, crushed them 6-3. Such was the feeling that this produced throughout the Nation, that United's famous match programme, the United Review, reported, "an enthusiastic M.P. demanded the Busby method be copied by every County Football Association in Britain, and Parliament should help them do it." The programme editor went on to point out however, that "Matt Busby?s plan is not new. We have known for years that he was working on it, but you cannot sow seeds in the evening and pick flowers in the morning: not even Blanchflower, Viollet, and Edwards. Matt has watched and waited for the good things to grow. Experience gained on the hard fought playing fields is all that is missing. And that takes time."

Incidentally, that United Review for the visit of Sheffield United on the 5th December 1953, showed on its cover Duncan Edwards commanding the penalty area with his heading ability, whilst its topical cartoon page proclaimed; "World beaters in 4 years" as reference to the change to a younger Manchester United side.

With less than a dozen League games under his belt, Press, players, and supporters alike were beginning to sing the praises of this teenage sensation in the Red shirt. England and Preston North End's famous outside right, Tom Finney was quick to spot the potential in his early displays and was quoted as saying that Duncan was "one of the finest future England prospects that the country has ever had." Alf Clarke in the Manchester Evening Chronicle fully endorsed this, but went further by saying that Duncan would Captain the England side in five years time. The England selectors had also spotted the International potential in Duncan, and in the first week of 1954, they selected him and team mates Ray Wood and Jeff Whitefoot, for the England Under-23 side to play against Italy, in Bologna on the 20th January. This was in fact the very first International to be played by England at this particular level. Having been part of the successful transformation in League results, only one defeat in eleven matches, which took them to sixth place in Division One, Duncan Edwards had his first taste of F.A. Cup action before a 55,000 full house at Turf Moor, Burnley. In one of the great F.A. Cup matches, United went down 5-3, but Edwards could hold his head up high after a tremendous display in very muddy conditions.

Before traveling to Bologna with the England party, Duncan had to overcome the rigorous initiation of a Manchester "derby" against arch-rivals City. He seemed to come through it unscarred and had played ninety minutes all over the pitch. One minute he was cutting out a City attack, the next he was firing a shot narrowly over the bar or setting a team mate off on the rampage. He didn?t, however, escape criticism from the pen of Don Davies, who gave Duncan his first public printed criticism when he wrote; 'When McAdams moved to collect Clarke?s centre, why was he alone? Where was Edwards? Another curious thing. Though Edwards was seeing as much of the ball as any player, his outside-left, Pegg, spent far too much time kicking his toes in idleness. His service to Taylor and across field to Berry were beyond praise. But why neglect his own wing so much? He should get Manager Busby to teach him the old dodge of moving across with the ball towards the opposite flank and then, when all his opponents are running the wrong way, stop suddenly and drive a long diagonal pass back to his own wingman. Busby and Toseland together cracked many a defence open with that stratagem.' Such criticism in no way reduced the admiration Don Davies held for Duncan. An admiration which continued throughout the player's career.

Duncan's first taste of football in Europe followed the match against City, as he traveled to Bologna with the Under-23's side. Unfortunately for Duncan, and most of his team mates, they suffered from air sickness on the outward trip the day before the match. This prevented them from showing the Italians their true form and due to lack of training and getting acclimatized, they went down by 3-0.

To illustrate the different types of matches Duncan was involved in, seven days after his England Under-23 debut, he was playing for Manchester United Youth team in a F.A. Youth Cup replay at The Cliff, earning the admiration of Andy Smailes, Manager of opponents Rotherham United. Andy was amazed at the grace, speed, and power of Edwards as he beat three defenders and smashed home a thirty yard rocket. 'When I see a player like that, it makes you think that footballers should be handicapped like racehorses!' said Andy as his side went down 3-1 to the seemingly unbeatable Manchester United Youth machine.

Around this time, another Manchester United stalwart departed from Old Trafford. Stan Pearson, one of the Club's finest inside forwards, made the short move to Gigg Lane, Bury, handing over the Captaincy to centre half Allenby Chilton. The 'strong man' of United's middle line, Allenby was a big help in Duncan's development and it was fitting that when they went up to Chilton's home town of Sunderland, both Chilton and Edwards had marvelous matches, with Edwards non-stop endeavour in the snow and slush of Roker Park something to be admired. A 2-0 victory for United over "The Bank of England" side Sunderland was a further boost to Manager Matt Busby's gamble in bringing so many youngsters into the side at the same time. Their stamina, and ability to win even the hardest fought match must have been most reassuring to him.

Instead of playing for the Seniors at Villa Park, Duncan Edwards was drafted back to the Youth team for a tricky tie before an 8,000 crowd at Bexley Heath in Kent. The small ground and lively ball made constructive football very difficult, and a very had garm resulted. The nosiy Cockneys in the crowd were very quick to give Jimmy Murphy, who was in charge of the United side, plenty of stick, wanting to know "Where?s this bleedin' Edwards then Murphy?' Duncan was quickly able to give Murphy the perfect reply. Working a one-two with Wilf McGuinness, Duncan moved over the half-way line before unleashing a tremendous shot into the top of the Bexley Heath net. "That?s your bleddin? Edwards!" shouted Murphy to the subdued crowd. A Bexley Heath equalizer set the match up for a hectic second half before David Pegg snatched a late winner for United. The switch of Edwards from the Senior match at Aston Villa which finished 2-2, was decisive as his experiences of the past twelve months helped him carry United through. The United Youth team lined up that day: Clayton, Beswick, Rhodes; Colman, Harrop, McGuinness; Lowry, Edwards, Charlton, Pegg and Scanlon.

Such was Duncan's worth to Manchester United now, he reclaimed his place the following week at the expense of the experienced Henry Cockburn, the player who had lost his place to Duncan earlier in the season.

A second trip to the Continent came on Wednesday, March 24th, when along with Roger Byrne he was selected to play for England 'B' team against Germany 'B' at Gelsenkirchen. In the match, which the England team won 4-0, Duncan was his usual impressive self, and the German crowd really took to him. Former Manchester United player Walter Winterbottom, who was the England Team Manager and Coach at that time, was delighted with the performance of Duncan and Roger Byrne, he also related how the German officials could scarcely believe that Duncan was only seventeen and a half years old. After the match, they found it even harder to believe, due to the level of performance that he gave.

Three days later, instead of watching the F.A. Cup semi-finals, which were being played, Walter Winterbottom went to Arsenal?s Highbury Stadium, to watch Duncan?s second trip to the Capital. Winterbottom's presence helped fuel the speculation that Duncan was in line for inclusion in the full England side for the forthcoming match against Scotland at Hampden Park. Prior to the match, Alf Clarke in The Manchester Evening Chronicle had no doubts that Duncan should be selected as he wrote; "Edwards, as big as a tank, and as tough as Wilf Copping, is the greatest of England?s post war finds. In Germany, his tackles put the Continentals completely off their game: and when he cleared the ball he hit it so accurately to his colleagues. Given a good game today at Arsenal, he starts favourite for the left-half position in the full England side." The Champions were in no mood to give United an easy game, and were the eventual winners by 3-1, after they found themselves a goal down at half-time. Sadly, Duncan had one of his rare disappointing games, and involved himself in a couple of errors which led to goals from the Arsenal inside-right, Logie. The chance of an early England debur passed him by, but Duncan was far from disappointed as he said; "I?ve a long time before me yet, and all I hope is that I play well enough to earn an England cap next season."

Although being famous for being the only non-English club to lift the F.A. Cup back in 1927 when they beat Arsenal 1-0, Cardiff City have never set the First Division of the Football League alight. However, having spoiled Duncan?s debut in April 1953, they returned twelve months later to repeat the feat, this time winning by 3-2, and effectively rending United's outside chances of breaking into the top three. The 1953-54 season finished early at the end of April, to enable England and Scotland to prepare for for the World Cup Finals in Switzerland. On the eve of the 1954 F.A. Cup Final between preston North End and West Bromwich Albion, the first of what was to become a regular end-of-season match was played between England and Young England. Included in the Young England side was Roger Byrne as Capatain, Tommy Taylor, David Viollet and Duncan Edwards. Unfortunately Edwards was deprived a facing the man who helped Manchester United look his way, Joe Mercer, because of Joe breaking a leg playing for Arsenal against Liverpool the week before the Representative match,

Duncan remembered the match readily though! "The most exciting match in my career to date was the England v Young England game match played on Cup Final eve 1954. The opposing forward line of Mathews, Mannion, Lawton, Shackleton and Langton certainly gave us the run around that evening. I really do enjoy playing against such great players, and two others of that period who I admired were Jimmy Hagen and Albert Quixall, both fine inside forwards with the two Sheffield sides, United and Wednesday."

England won 2-1 and Byrne and Taylor were the lucky ones of their opponents to catch the eye of the selectors to contest the World Cup, whilst Edwards was also Switzerland bound but as Captain of Manchester United?s Youth team. Before that though, he took part in his second F.A. Youth Cup Final, again against Wolverhampton Wanderers, and an amazing Old Trafford first leg ended 4-4. At half-time Wolves were 3-1 in front, but a spirited second-half display by United saw their opponents play out the game gladly kicking the ball anywhere. The United goals came from David Pegg and Duncan, playing at inside right and scoring two apiece.

The second-leg was played three days later at Molineux, and a penalty from David Pegg won the match, and the cup for United. The incident which caused the penalty occurred in the 33rd minute, when Duncan, who was at centre forward in the second leg, went up for a ball with two Wolves defenders. The Wolves defenders sprawled on the ground, but Duncan landed on his feet. The Referee judged Duncan to have been fouled and awarded the penalty kick. Duncan, the centre forward, appeared in the Youth Tournament in Switzerland. He started off in his normal left ? half spot for the first three games, before moving up front for the latter stages, scoring a magnificent hat-trick against Red Star of Belgrade in the final to win the competition for Manchester United.

So, after a very busy season, Duncan could relax during the Summer before he faced his first full season as a first team player. He had 25 first team appearances under his belt at Manchester United, 2 F.A. Youth Cup Winners medals, and appearances for both Young England and England 'B' . His career along with the rest of the "Busby Babes" was about to take off.
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