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Old 20th October 2004, 18:32   #1
tomclare
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Default Duncan Edwards - Champions

“Champions”

After three seasons of team-rebuilding, Matt Busby was to get his reward in the shape of the League Championship. Since the last title success in 1951/52, only three of that squad remained at the Club. They were goalkeeper Jack Compton, winger Johnny Berry, and the present Club Captain, full back Roger Byrne.

At Old Trafford, the accent was definitely on youth, and the club possessed some of the youngest array of talent in the country. Most of the players were signed for the then ten pounds signing-on fee, and the youth policy which Matt Busby began at the Club, was now beginning to pay off.

As the season got under way, Lance Corporal Duncan Edwards, Army number 23145376, was still finding Army life “not too bad” as he put it, over at Shrewsbury where he was stationed. He even took all the traveling involved from his billet to the venue of Manchester United’s matches without any complaint. Following the Tottenham Hotspur match on the 31st August at White Hart Lane, Duncan had to get an early morning callat 5a.m. to enable him to catch the 5.55a.m. train from London back to his unit. Mind you, he had plenty to savour on the journey, because the night before he had scored two brilliant goals in United’s 2-1 victory over Tottenham.

Three days later it was up to Manchester for the local “Derby” game at maine Road against City. Injuries in the United camp forced Matt Busby into changes, and Duncan found himself playing at inside left. Unfortunately, he had something of an off day, to which everyone is entitled. Early in the game, he tried hard to break through City’s defence, but his efforts came to nothing. As the game progressed, little seemed to go right for him.

Shortly before half time, and with City leading 1-0, he had the opportunity to level the scoring, but he missed Albert Scanlon’s pass completely when only a few yards from goal. In the second half, he fared little better, missing a header in front of goal in the opening minutes. He did come close to snatching the equalizer late in the game when a really fierce ground shot was saved by Bert Trautmann in the City goal at the second attempt.

The following Wednesday against Everton at Old Trafford, Duncan was back to his normal self, scoring United’s first goal in a 2-1 victory, and also appearing on the cover of the United Review in a portrait gallery.

Manchester United traveled to Bramhall lane, Sheffield on the 10th September, and just before the kick off, Duncan had to withdraw from the team due to a bout of influenza. The illness struck him severely, putting him in Park Hospital for a few days, and keeping him out of football for six weeks. This was the longest spell that he spent on the sidelines in his whole career, and also cost Duncan an England ‘B’ cap against Denmark at Portsmouth. His absence didn’t have too much effect on United’s title chances, as they managed to move into top spot in the table, although they had played a couple of more matches than their rivals.

Just before his illness, Duncan met the girl he was later to become engaged to, Molly leach. They maet at Manchester Airport, and Duncan became a regular visitor to Molly’s home. Occasionally they went to the theatre or the cinema, Duncan was a great Western fan.

The visit of Huddersfield Town to Old Trafford on 22nd October saw Duncan’s return to the side in his usual left half spot, but his long spell out of the first team clearly showed in the first half Most of his involvement came in the second half when he was spoken to by the referee for an obvious foul on Tommy Cavanagh, and a few minutes later when combined work with Jeff Whitefoot ended with Duncan’s shot from 25 yards being turned around the post by the Huddersfield goalkeeper, Wheeler. One of the linesmen in this particular game was none other than Jack Taylor who later in his career, was to referee the 1974 World Cup final between West Germany and Holland.

Quickly back in the routine, Duncan starred in United’s 1-0 win at Cardiff City, which not only put their First team on top of Division One, but saw all five of United’s teams, at the top of their respective Leagues. A few weeks later against Arsenal at Old Trafford, Duncan was certainly back to his best, with The Manchester Evening Chronicle carrying the headline; “Sparkler Edwards Gives England Selectors a Happy Day!” The England Selectors were there top watch the United trio of Duncan, Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor, who had all been chosen in the party of seventeen players to report to Birmingham for training for the match against Spain at the end of the month. Duncan did his chances of International selection no harm at all with an impressive game in a 1-1 draw against Arsenal. It was a game in which Duncan seemed to cover every single blade of grass on the pitch, and Alf Clarke’s report in The Evening Chronicle confirmed this. The United correspondent wrote:

“United were away with a quick burst and twice within a couple of minutes might have taken the lead. In both cases right back Willis had to kick the ball off the line. As play progressed, Edwards tried a shot when Blanchflower tapped the ball back to him, but his effort went only a few inches wide, as Kelsey dived across his goal. After a brilliant opening, United were beginning to lose their poise, but Edwards soon created an opening for Whitefoot when he forced a corner, took it himself and slipped a low ball through to Whitefoot who shot narrowly wide.”

Alf Clarke continued to sing the praises of Edwards in his report………”Midfield play was the order towards the interval when no goals had been scored. One of United’s successes was undoubtedly Edwards, and the Selectors must have been impressed with his play. In the second half, United again started briskly and Edwards had a terrific shot beaten down. Shortly afterwards, Edwards was injured as he was trying to break through, but he soon resumed after receiving treatment.” Arsenal scored first in the match through inside forward Doug Leishman, but United scored a late reply when taylor thundered one home. Duncan Edwards was the star performer for United, and Alf Clarke felt that it would not be long before he was again picked for England.

On 19th November, Old Trafford housed the “match of the Day” between League Champions Chelsea, and the present League leaders, United in front of 55,00 spectators, and United ran out convincing winners by 3-0. At right half, and making his home debut was a nineteen years old Salford lad, Eddie Colman, who had made his League Debut the previous Saturday at Bolton. Eddie had been Captain of the United Youth Team for the past couple of seasons, and was a great friend of Duncan’s, despite the difference in size between the two. They had played together in the Youth team and were soon to combine their talents on the First Division stage, where Eddie was to prove the perfect foil for Duncan. If Eddie ever found the going a little tough on the field of play, you could always be assured that Duncan would be the first person to help him out.

The match against Chelsea showed the Old Trafford faithfuls that the Colman – Edwards double act was going to play a very big part in Manchester United’s future …. They were the driving force behind the United attack, despite them being the youngest players on the field. As of late, Duncan on several occasions came close to scoring. Early in the game he showed what a powerful shot he possessed, when he brought a loose ball quickly under control, and from fully thirty yards out, hit a tremendous shot which went only a couple of inches over the bar. Although a strongly built player, Duncan was certainly not known for throwing his weight about, or losing his temper, but just before half time, he had to be spoken to by the referee. When he was forcing his way through the Chelsea defence, Armstrong caught his ankle with his boot. Duncan appealed for a foul and he was limping, but the referee waved play on. Duncan then turned on Armstrong and said something to him, and the referee then stepped in immediately and had a few words with Duncan. Goals from Tommy Taylor -2, and Roger Byrne from the penalty spot, gave United the points and kept them well placed at the top of the table, just ahead of Blackpool.

On 10th December United traveled to Portsmouth where Duncan found himself up against the man who had got the Selectors nod for the England match with Spain, Jimmy Dickinson. This match was therefore the ideal chance for Duncan to prove that he was indeed the best left half in the Football League. The display of the two of them commanded particular interest, because whereas Dickinson’s form had not impressed against Spain or The League of Ireland, Duncan’s recent form with United had been good enough for him to reclaim his International spot. The F.A. Team Manager and Coach, Walter Winterbottom, a former Manchester united player, was at the match, and he must have been impressed by the opening display from Duncan which was far more forceful and involved than that of Dickenson’s. In the second half he was clearly the superior of the two wing half backs, having a brilliant game breaking up the Portsmouth attacks and setting his own forwards in motion. Walter Winterbottom had to leave with five minutes to go, to catch an early train back to London, and must have been as amazed as the United players when Portsmouth scored two goals in the last three minutes to snatch victory!

By the turn of the year, United had moved four points clear of Blackpool, although they had played a match more than their Lancashire seaside rivals. However, there was no success in the F.A. Cup when they traveled to Second Division Bristol Rovers at Eastville and suffered a shock 4-0 defeat. Duncan actually missed the matchas he was a late call-off with a sceptic knee. The following week though, he was back again in the familiar number 6 shirt and helping United to a 3-1 victory over Sheffield United, with a further International honour at the other Sheffield ground, Hillsborough, against a Scotland at Under 23 level following quickly.

Yet more representative calls prevented Duncan from playing for United in a vital league match against Luton Town on 11th February, as he was required to play for the Army, along with clubmates Bill Foulkes and Eddie Colman. The Army match was in Brussels, against the Belgian Army, and in those days, the journey had to be made by sea. Unfortunately, on the outward journey the seas were very rough and Duncan spent most of the trip lying on the floor of the cabin being violently sick. The sea was tossing the boat all over the place, and the rest of the team were coping little better than Duncan in the conditions. They all rolled from side to side in time with the boat, and by the time they arrived in Belgium, were in no real state to play football. Fortunately, due to the bad weather, the match was called off, and the return journey was thankfully, much more comfortable. Mind you, imagine a side nowadays having three of its star players required elsewhere and still having to play a top of the table match!

Once back on dry land Duncan soon got back to normal, and on a visit to his Midlands home territory he helped United defeat Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0. A 1-1 draw against Cardiff City halted United’s winning run, but according to all the reports in the newspapers, Duncan had played magnificently.

International honours were flowing thick and fast now for Duncan, with an appearance aginst Switzerland ‘B’ along with Tommy Taylor and David Pegg, next on the list.

The League Championship was now clearly a two horse race between United and Blackpool, and the crunch came on the 7th April when the Seasiders came to Old Trafford, knowing that unless something sensational happened, the title was lamost certainly bound for United’s trophy room. With 66,000 in the ground, the gates were closed well before the kick off, with police fighting hard to control the thousands of fans still outside the ground trying to find a turnstile open. Playing for United at right back that day was Ian Greaves, who had taken over from Billy Foulkes in the latter stages of that season. Ian, who went on to become a very respected manager in the game, recalls the day vividly.

“Blackpool’s macot in those days was a live duck, who was accompanied by a minder dreassed as a Middle Eastern Prince. It makes you wonder by the way, when you think where Blackpool are now, that they should perhaps obtain another duck to lead them to better times! I was marking Stanley Mathews in this match, or trying to, but Blackpool took an early lead through David Durie their inside left, and things were not going our way. Tommy Taylor had to go off injured, but straight away the 10 men equalized with a Johnny Berry penalty, and then Tommy came back and grabbed our late winner. Fairy tale stuff, but Duncan Edwards was majestic playing like three men. Mind you, it always seemed like that!”

This victory gave United the League Title and Duncan now had another medal to add to his collection of Youth Cup victories, Schoolboy, Under 23, Football league, and Full England Caps. A week after clinching the Championship, United played Sunderland at Roker Park, but without Duncan, Roger Byrne, and Tommy taylor who were selected to play for England at Hampden Park against Scotland. It was of course, in Scotland, that Duncan originally clinched his Manchester United first team spot, when he had replaced Henry Cockburn at Kilmarnock, but this visit to hampden was the first opportunity that the Scottish fans had to see the young player that everybody in Britain was talking about. England had the incentive of inflicting their third successive Home International Championship on the Scots, who themselves were looking for their first title since 1951, and their first victory over the “Auld Enemy” at Hampden for 19 years. For Duncan it was the first taste of “The Hampden Roar” and he was soon on the receiving end of it! As the Scottish attack moved forward, Duncan’s man to watch, wee Bobby Johnstone, the Manchester City inside forward, moved across the field with the ball. Duncan quickly spotted the danger and was soon in pursuit of his opponent. Johnstone’s small frame didn’t compare to Duncan’s 5’11” and 12 stones 12 pounds, and he found himself on the receiving end of a hard, but fair tackle. The unfortunate Johnstone found himself being helped back on to the field of play, whilst Duncan just got on with the game. In later years, Johnstone spoke of Duncan as “the greatest player he ever saw or played against.” Following that tackle, Duncan was soundly booed every time he came into contact with the ball or a Scottish player, but this had no effect on him at all and he continued to blot out the home attack as England held out on Scottish soil for a 1-1 draw.

The England trio changed their white shirts for the familiar Red of Manchester united the week after, as Portsmouth came to Old Trafford for the final match of the season. Prior to the kick off, Capatain Roger Byrne was presented with the League Championship trophy by Mr. Joe Richards of the League Management Committee. United ended the season instyle by defeating Pompey 1-0, with their wing half partnership of Duncan and Eddie Colman again the most effective players on the pitch. As the final whistles sounded on grounds around the country, most players were looking forward to a few months rest, but for those blessed with the ability to represent their country, there wer still International matches to play. Duncan did have one other United match to deal with first though, helping them to a 4-0 win in Gothenburg.

On 9th May, Brazil played at Wembley and 97,000 fans were entertained to one of the most amazing Internationals ever seen at the venue. The South Americans delighted with some clever ball play, whilst England produced the power and the goals. Duncan, along with Ronnie Clayton and Billy Wright, was the backbone of the home side, but it was another United player who stole the show with a fine display and two goals. Tommy Taylor. Roger Byrne also missed a penalty in this match.

The week after, England began a tour of the Continent, with matches against Sweden, Finland, and West Germany, which got off to a goal less start in Stockholm against Sweden. Four days later the goals came against Finland, but sadly Tommy Taylor had to go off injured, and Duncan and one or two others came in for some mild criticism for holding on to the ball for too long. Despite this, the 5-1 win put the team in good heart for the match against the World Cup Holders, West Germany. In the end, the tour was wound up in glorious fashion as England won by 3-1. It was also a game to remember for Duncan. With twenty seven minutes gone, he opened his International scoring account with a goal that any player would have been proud of. Goalkeeper Reg Mathews began the move when he threw the ball to Duncan, who was then, just standing inside his own half. He quickly brought the ball under control and moved off into the German half, shrugging off a couple of would-be challengers. Suddenly from just outside the penalty area, he unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot which flew past the hapless German goalkeeper before he could move and blistered into the nack of the net. Some of the 90,000 crowd were unaware of the ball’s position until the back of the net bulged with the impact of the shot.

The British Servicemen in the crowd went wild and even the normally partisan german crowd were still applauding the goal as their team restarted the game. After the match, Duncan became known as “Boom Boom Edwards” due to this goal. That memorable effort set England on the road to their 3-1 victory, with Colin Grainger and Johnny Haynes getting the other goals. It was a fitting finale to a successful England tour, and had been a particular triumph for the teamwork in ths side, with the half back line especially. Nat Lofthouse, the Bolton Wanderers centre forward, was with the England team at the time, and he recalled Duncan’s celebration after the Berlin match. “After the game, a few of the lads, including Duncan, had a few drinks. There was plenty of strong German Wine being drunk at the banquet as well as we celebrated victory. Duncan didn’t normally have much to drink, and some of the lads warned him about it being stronger than anything that he was used to. He assured us that he would be alright, but in the end, the German wine did a better job of stopping Duncan, than did its football side, and he finished up in the toilet, much the worse for wear. Even at 19, Duncan was already half the England side.”

That sort of praise from someone as worthy as Nat Lofthouse was praise indeed for a young boy still in his teens!
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