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Old 25th November 2004, 04:41   #1
tomclare
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Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
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Default Duncan Edwards - "The Top Player In The Top Team"

"The Top Player In The Top Team"

During the Summer of 1957, Duncan was demobilized from the Army, giving him the benefit of full time training, and helping him improve his already marvelous skills.

Manchester United, on the other hand, were out to improve on the previous season and were going all out to win that glorious treble of the First Division Championship, the F.A. Cup, and European Cup. The First Division Championship had only been won three seasons in a row on two previous occasions, in the years 1923 -26 by Huddersfield Town, and between 1932- 35 by Arsenal.

So, breaking with tradition and going for the first time abroad for pre-season, United visited Germany and recorded victories in the cities of Berlin and Hanover, giving magnificent displays. It seemed to have done the trick, as they began their treble bid with a fine 3-0 victory away at Leicester City who were newly promoted, and all three goals were scored by Billy Whelan.

Duncan was back in his red number six shirt, charging about Filbert Street as if he had been playing all through the Summer, and not just competing his first ninety minutes of the season. The opening victory was no flash in the pan, as United won their next five games and had scored a total of 22 goals into the bargain.

In the second home match of the new term, against Manchester City, Duncan opened his scoring account with a brilliant opening goal in United's 4-1 win. His performance in the local Derby was truly outstanding to say the least, as he gave a complete football display combining defence and attack with ease, earning the deep admiration for his ability from the 63,103 crowd.

United's first reversal of the season came on September 14th, just a few miles up the road from Old Trafford, at Burnden Park, the home of Bolton Wanderers. Ironically, United had not won at Bolton since 1949-50, and even the presence of over 10,000 United supporters could not prevent a 4-0 defeat.

In direct opposition to Duncan that day, was his cousin, Dennis Stevens the Bolton inside right. All family ties were forgotten during the match, and just on the half hour mark, everybody realised it! At that moment, Stevens was hitting a pass up field to his outside partner Brian Birch, which Duncan tried to cut out, but his block tackle left cousin Dennis, writhing on the ground. Ambulance men were called on to the pitch, and the Bolton star was carried of to sympathetic applause. After the interval, he was able to return as the injury was only a paralysed nerve above the ankle. No sooner had the second half got under way, than Dennis and Duncan were tangling again, Duncan appeared to bring him down in full flight, with this time the players seeming to have an exchange of words, which Dennis recalls; "....Duncan went over the top of me, and I thought that my leg was broken." Stevens continued;..."I didn't think that he would do that to me. Duncan always wanted to win, but at times he could be a very hard player"... After this incident, there was no more evidence of the "family feud", and the Wanderers outplayed United and sent them home empty handed.

Eleven days after that first defeat came the opening match of the season's European Cup campaign, with United playing a preliminary round first leg against Shamrock Rovers in Dublin. The Republic of Ireland side could put up little resistance to United and surrendered six goals without reply. Duncan celebrated his twenty first birthday on the eve of the second leg, but as Tom Jackson pointed out in the United Review on 18th September when Blackpool visited Old Trafford. "It is just four and a half years since Duncan Edwards made his League debut for Manchester United, but what a crowded and memorable soccer life he?s packed in between. Not many professionals of Duncan's age will ever experience such a rapid rise to the top."

As he was a full-time professional, Duncan found himself with a bit more time on his hands. He enjoyed listening to records, and after training he would often ask some of the other players back to his digs to listen to the latest records that he had bought. Two other off field activities helped to keep him busy and also earn him some extra money. One was in lending his name to advertising, while the other was writing a weekly guest column in the Evening Chronicle. The advertising with which he was involved with was for Dextrosol Glucose Tablets, and a full page advert often appeared in the Charles Buchan's Football Monthly magazine. This showed an action photograph of Duncan alongside a couple of paragraphs extolling the virtues of the tablets. He was quoted as saying; "Playing in top gear until the final whistle can really take it out of you. That's why I find Dextrosol Glucose Tablets so handy. They're a natural source of energy that you can rely on, anytime, anywhere." Whether Duncan actually ever took the tablets or not is not known. But just because he was associated with the product, there would be countless requests for them over the counter of chemist and grocers up and down the country.

His column in the Evening Chronicle was widely read by both United and football supporters in general.. It appeared every Saturday in the Pink Final, and although United were a popular topic in his weekly column, he also discussed everyday football goings on. In his column for Saturday 5th October, the same day that he missed his first league match of the season, Duncan "exclusively" revealed that he had not been approached by any Italian Clubs to move there. His opening paragraph read; "In common with Tommy Taylor and most other star footballers in this country, my name has been linked with Italian Clubs. Right now, I should like to say that there has been no official approach to me, and if there were, I would refer it immediately to my manager Matt Busby." Duncan went on .."I say emphatically, that I am more than happy at Manchester United and can foresee no possibility of my wanting to leave."

Thankfully, no more was heard of any underhand approaches from Italian teams, and following a bout of Asian 'flu, which forced him to miss the Villa League game, the return European Cup match with Shamrock Rovers, which turned out to be a disappointment as United could only manage a 3-2 win of the Republic of Ireland side, along with his twenty first birthday celebrations. Duncan returned to the team for the trip to Nottingham Forest. A 2-1 win against a side up with them at the top of the table was followed by two defeats in a row, 3-0 at home to Portsmouth, and 4-3 to West Bromwich Albion.

Duncan however, missed defeat by Portsmouth because on the same day he was at Ninian Park in Cardiff playing for England against Wales. Manager of the Welsh side that day was none other than Matt Busby's Assistant at Old Trafford, Jimmy Murphy, a great admirer of Duncan's. When recalling his memories of Duncan, which are many, Jimmy Murphy often talks about that particular International match. The story goes that, during his pre-match team talk, he was running through the England players, talking about their strengths and their weaknesses, when he came to Duncan. His words were brief and to the point, "Edwards has pretty strong legs, so if any of you have the misfortune to tackle him, just make sure that you kick the ball and not his legs. If you do, then you are liable to break your own!" said Jimmy.

As the game went on, the Welsh side were fortunate if they got a kick of the ball, never mind a chance of one at Duncan. In fact with England leading 4-0, and the minutes slowly ticking away, Jimmy Murphy was trying to urge his team on, when the ball went out of play close to his touch-line seat. Ironically, it was on Duncan's side of the field, and as he came over to take the throw in, he quietly said to the Welsh team boss, "Are there no early trains back to Manchester Jimmy, as you're certainly wasting your time here." Jimmy Murphy, keeping a serious look on his face, simply replied "I?ll see you when we get back to Manchester my lad, and I?ll tell you where you are going wrong." Back in Manchester after the game, the matter was taken lightly, as nobody appreciated the comments made by Duncan, more than Jimmy Murphy.

Revenge for the previous season?s defeat in the F.A. Cup Final by Aston Villa, came in the Charity Shield match at Old Trafford on 22nd October. Villa were no match for a fully fit United XI and were soundly beaten 4-0. At the top of the First Division the battle was continuing, with Wolverhampton Wanderers slowly edging ahead from the rest of the pack. But in Duncan's column in the Football Pink, he made the message clear when he wrote "Don't write us off yet!"

November was European Cup time again, and on the 21st, Dukla Prague came to Old Trafford, a week later than the original date due to the death of the Czechoslovakian President. The delay did not help Dukla in any way as United won 3-0,, but the visitors had shown enough promise to warn United that the second leg would be no easy match.

Before that second leg game, Duncan was appointed the United penalty taker following two failures in a row by Johnny Berry. Manager Matt Busby revealed the new appointment prior to the match at Newcastle. It was also reported that Duncan had been practicing spot kicks the week before the match, and would not be attempting to place them, but would be hitting them hard at the target. He did get on the scoresheet against Newcastle but not from the penalty spot. His goal didn't in fact, come until the 85th minute, and equalized an earlier Newcastle goal. Tommy Taylor scored the winner in the dying seconds to give United the two points.
There was no chance of goalscoring in the second leg tie in Prague, as United faced a ?backs to the wall? battle, with Duncan and his fellow defenders doing extremely well to to keep Dukla to only one goal. This gave United a 3-1 aggregate and a Quarter Final tie against Red Star of Belgrade which was to be played early in the New Year.

Duncan celebrated two further International appearances in November, which brought England varying fortunes. The first match saw a rare Wembley defeat, with Northern Ireland snatching a dramatic 3-2 win, despite a fine Edwards goal. A superb display by the Doncaster Rovers goalkeeper, Harry Gregg, thwarted England, and impressed Manchester United Manager Matt Busby so much, that he broke the World record fee for a goalkeeper by paying 23000 pounds to bring him to Old Trafford. Later in the month, Duncan had more luck, as he helped England to defeat France 4-0 at Wembley with club mate Tommy Taylor scoring twice. The other two England goals incidentally, came from Bobby Robson who was making his England debut.

Before United could renew acquaintances with Red Star, the team that they had played at Old Trafford in the 1951 Festival of Britain match, they had to complete their League games for 1957, and also begin their quest for F.A. Cup glory.

Duncan was in his typical swashbuckling style as he blasted home his first penalty kick for the Club against Luton Town at Christmas, as United's form picked up with a 3-0 victory. 1958 began with a trip to Cumbria, and a visit to the outpost of Workington. There was no chance of any giantkilling as a Dennis Viollet hat trick put United into the fourth round.

Ten days later, the quality of the opposition had improved greatly, as the Yugoslavian Champions, Red Star Belgrade, came to Manchester for the European Cup Quarter Final tie. Red Star, were perhaps, the Yugoslavian answer to United, as they had many International players to choose from. They in fact brought fifteen "capped" players to Manchester, and played ten, whilst matt Busby played five out of the ten "capped" players on Manchester United?s books at that time.

The visitors shocked the partisan Old Trafford crowd by taking an early lead, when a shot by Tasic beat Harry Gregg and went into the net off the crossbar. In the end, Gregg's opposite number, Beara, kept the score down to 2-1 in United?s favour, and on their display in Manchester, Red Star looked as though they were going to provide a few problems in the return, although Duncan had also shown his worth in the first leg, and his form would cause Red Star one or two worries on their journey home.

One of Duncan's tackles certainly left impressions on the superb Yugoslavian inside forward Sekularac. He was giving the Manchester crowd an exciting display of his football skills, on one occasion running back to tackle Duncan as the United left half forced his way forward.. Unfortunately, nobody could have forewarned him of Duncan, as no sooner had he taken the ball from the United player and started to run upfield than he was sent crashing to the turf after feeling the full force of a Duncan Edwards tackle! ?. Following that incident, little was seen again of Sekularac, and Duncan came more into the game, gradually running things from the centre of the park, inspiring United to their 2-1 victory.

In the League, United were now adrift of the leaders, Wolverhampton Wanderers by six points, even after a commanding 7-2 victory over their bogey side, Bolton Wanderers. It was a match in which Duncan again scored from the penalty spot. Tom Jackson of the Manchester Evening News wrote after the match that, since he took over the task of United?s penalty taker from Johnny Berry several weeks ago, Edwards has scored with two spot kicks of the power variety. I've little doubt that England's goalkeeper, Eddie Hopkinson, will not face a fiercer shot than that which registered United?s seventh goal against Bolton."

January continued as cup tie month with a former United Manager, Mr. Scott Duncan, returning to his old stamping ground with Second Division Club, Ipswich Town, with whom he was now Secretary, for a 4th Round F.A. Cup tie. Bobby Charlton followed up his hat trick of the previous week against Bolton with a couple which were enough to see United through into Round Five, and another step in the road to the treble dream.

Goals had certainly flowed thick and fast in the last two United matches, eleven in all, and a visit to Highbury Stadium on February 1st produced another nine in a thrill-a-minute match which saw United winning through 5-4 against Arsenal. Those who were fortunate enough to be present in the 63,578 crowd, witnessed an epic confrontation, one which will be forever etched in their memory.

The pitch was ankle deep in mud, but that did not stop United from slipping into top gear direct from the kick off, and into a 3-0 lead by half time. Goal number one came after only ten minutes. Ken Morgans , at outside right for United, had begun the match really well, and after cutting in from the wing, he squared the ball into the the path of Duncan who was moving towards goal. From twenty five yards out he let fly with a terrific shot all along the ground, which Jack Kelsey, although he got his hands to it, could only help it into the net. Duncan practically monopolized the whole of that first half, in which United increased their lead with goals from Charlton and Taylor. No team could have lived with United in such devastating form, but as the second half got under way, Arsenal soon showed they were far from beaten. Sixteen minutes into the second half, the scores were level, with all three goals coming in a three minute spell from Herd, and two from Jimmy Bloomfield. The atmosphere was now electric, as both sides attacked each other in a frenzy of action, which had the huge crowd swaying and roaring their approval in a match full of all that is good in Association Football.

United now regrouped, Dennis Viollet made it 4-3, and eight minutes later, Tommy Taylor netted number five. Arsenal still refused to lie down, and with thirteen minutes to go, Tapscott completed the scoring with Arsenal's fourth. At the end of the game, the players left the field arm in arm, Duncan went over to Vic Groves and shook him firmly by the hand before putting his arm around Tapscott as they made their way towards the tunnel.

Later, the Arsenal goalkeeper, Jack Kelsey said; they just kept coming at us, and the score could have been 10-7. It was that type of game, even one that was played in ankle deep mud, which would pack grounds all over the country at any time. It was certainly the finest match that I ever played in, and in Duncan Edwards, Manchester united had a player with all the promise in the world. Even in the conditions that day, his strength stood out - he was a colossus"

Manchester United's next fixture was their toughest to date, and would be perhaps, the match to decide whether or not they could achieve Championship success three seasons in a row. It was to be a home fixture with Wolverhampton Wanderers, but before that could take place they had to pack their bags for a trip to Belgrade, where a 2-1 advantage had to be defended in the second leg of the European Cup Quarter Finals.

Around 55,000 packed the ground with a further 10,000 locked outside, as the game got underway. With only 90 seconds gone, Dennis Viollet had increased United's lead to 3-1 with an opportunists goal, giving United an excellent start in a very difficult match. By the half hour mark, United were 3-0 in front on the night with the goals coming from Bobby Charlton. The first was a long range effort which gave Beara, in the Red Star goal, no chance, whilst his second came from a misdirected shot by Duncan which rolled to the feet of his grateful team mate.

Duncan was actually putting on a brave display, as he had injured his ankle early in the game. Mind you, it would take more than that to pull him out of any match, let alone an important European Cup tie. He certainly didn't let him affect his determination, and indeed, he was even booked by the Referee after disputing a free kick given against Eddie Colman. Later in the game, he also had the distinction of actually bursting the ball with the power of one of his shots! That was something that he had been threatening to do for some time!

So with a half time lead of 3-0, United looked set for the semi finals, but the second half turned out to be a backs to the wall forty five minutes for the United defence, as the Yugoslavians came out fighting. Within two minutes of the restart, the home side had pulled one back, and shortly afterwards pulled another back, following a dubious penalty award by the Austrian Referee. At 3-2 the match was really bubbling. The crowd spilled over onto the running track, and the United defence found themselves hanging on as the minutes ticked away. It was literally seconds to go when the equalizer came froma free kick, after Harry gregg had handled outside the penalty area. Luckily, the final whistle soon went for United, who needed all their skills and professionalism to carry them through to the semi finals of the European Cup for the second year running.,

It was now a case of "bring on the Wolves" as the United party celebrated at the after match banquet, before getting some sleep before the trip back to Manchester the following day.

As he traveled home, Duncan could think of his future, both on and off the pitch. On the field, the world was his oyster, while off it, things were going well for him too. Before flying to Belgrade, he had just finished the manuscript for a book that he had written for the Publishers, Stanley Paul.

The book was basically a youngsters guide to professional football, giving them ideas on how to improve their game in the various positions of play. With the respect that Duncan had gained over the few years that he had been a professional, the book would be widely read, Not only by Manchester United supporters, but by football supporters throughout the country.
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