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Born: Wednesday 26 May 1909, Bellshill, Scotland
Died: Thursday 20 January 1994, Cheadle, England (aged 84)
After a solid if unspectacular playing career, Scotland's Matt Busby forged a reputation as one of the greatest coaches of all time during nearly a quarter of a century as manager of Manchester United. Not only did he build one great side in the 1950s, but after that side was tragically torn apart by the Munich Air Disaster he set about rebuilding his squad and put together another hugely successive team in the 1960s.
Matt Busby was born in Bellshill on 26 May 1909. His father was killed in action during the First World War and a few years later his mother considered emigration to the United States, but Busby wanted to stay and pursue a career in football. He was watched by Rangers and Celtic and offered a trial at Ibrox, but Rangers turned him down as he was a Catholic and Celtic lost interest after learning of his trial at Rangers. Early in 1928 he was offered a contract by English Second Division side Manchester City. He soon signed for the club but did not break into the first team for some 18 months.
Initially an inside forward, his manager decided that he was better suited as a half-back. Through the early 1930s he was a regular at right half and helped the club to reach two consecutive FA Cup finals. Although beaten by Everton in 1933, a 2-1 win over Portsmouth twelve months later gave Busby what would prove to be the only major honour of his playing career. The 1933-34 season also brought his one and only appearance for Scotland, in a 3-2 defeat to Wales. Pat Crerand, who he signed for Manchester United in 1963, suggested that it was because he was a Catholic that he was regularly overlooked for Scotland.
Over the next two years he gradually fell out of favour and left Manchester City for Liverpool for £8,000 in the spring of 1936, after more than 200 league appearances for the club. For three years Busby formed part of one of Liverpool's most successful half-back lines, with a reputation and a skilful and accurate passer of the ball. Like many players of his era, the outbreak of the Second World War brought a premature end to his professional career. During the war, he served as a football coach in the army and also made guest appearances for a number of teams, including 38 games back in Scotland with Hibernian.
After the war Busby was offered the job as assistant manager at Liverpool but his views were regularly at odds with club directors and he ended up seeking alternative employment. That came at Manchester United, where he took over as manager in October 1945. His team finished second in the league in the first post-war season of 1946-47, just a point behind champions Liverpool, and were runners-up again the next year. A 4-2 win over Blackpool in the 1948 FA Cup final gave Busby his first trophy as a manger, 14 years after he had won the competition as a player for United's fierce rivals City. That year he also coach the Great Britain team to fourth place in the Olympic Games in London.
After two more second place finishes in the next three seasons, Busby finally led Manchester United to the league title in 1951-52, 41 years on from the club's last championship win. They were not able to repeat the success however and by the mid 1950s, Busby had begun to rebuild his team around a core of young players, mostly in their early 20s. These were the players who would be known as the 'Busby Babes'. Busby's team realised their potential in 1955-56, when with an average age of just 21 they stormed to the league title, finishing 11 points clear of Blackpool and Wolves.
Title success brought Busby into conflict with the Football League, who had prevented the previous year's champions Chelsea from playing in the new European Cup. Busby wanted his team to enter, and defied the authorities to make sure they could play. Ultimately beaten by Real Madrid in the semi-final, they nevertheless ensured another chance in the tournament by retaining the league title in 1957. It was that second entry into Europe that was to bring tragedy, when on the flight home from a quarter-final success against Red Star Belgrade, their plane crashed on takeoff following a refuelling stop in Munich.
Seven of Busby's team were killed in the crash, and an eighth, Duncan Edwards, later died in hospital. In all, 23 people lost their lives and Busby himself was critically injured, twice being given the last rites in hospital. He made a remarkable recovery and when his team amazingly reached that season's FA Cup final, Busby was there to watch the match. There was no fairytale ending however, as they were beaten by Bolton Wanderers. In the following months Busby felt guilty about the crash, having been the one who had pushed for the team to participate in European football. He considered retiring, but ultimately decided to stay on and rebuild his team.
Late in 1958 he took temporary charge of the Scottish national team for two games, but there was never a chance of that being a permanent move. Busby was committed to his job at United, and gradually put together another strong team. Although they fought relegation for much of the 1962-63 season, the win over Leicester in that season's FA Cup final showed that they were a force to be reckoned with. First Division runners-up in 1964, Busby then led his team to the title in 1965, triumphing on goal average ahead of Leeds United. Just seven years on from Munich, Busby had created another title winning team.
His dream was still to achieve success in Europe, and although another semi-final defeat in 1966 put that on hold again, he would have another chance in 1967-68 after the fifth league title of his time at the club in 1967. After narrowly failing to defend their league title in 1968, United went one better than in their previous attempts at the European Cup and reached the final. In the match at Wembley, Busby watched his team defeat Benfica 4-1 after extra-time to become the first English winners of the trophy. Two of the team were survivors of the disaster of ten years earlier, Bill Foulkes and two goal hero Bobby Charlton.
After that success Busby was knighted, and with his ambition achieved he announced midway through the 1968-69 season that he was going to retire that summer. Despite his retirement he didn't leave the club altogether, staying on as 'general manager' and remaining as a director until 1982. He even took temporary charge of the team again after the departure of his replacement Wilf McGuinness in 1970. In 1982 he was made club president, a position he would hold until his death.
Manchester United struggled to repeat the successeses of the Busby era and by 1992 had gone 25 years without a league title. However, the club won the inaugural Premier League championship in 1993 and the 83-year old Busby was there to celebrate with the team. He died of cancer less than twelve months later on 20 January 1994, at the age of 84. Just over five years after his death, the club won their second European Cup on what would have been Busby's 90th birthday. A statue of him stands outside the club's Old Trafford ground, and the road on which the ground is situated his been renamed in his honour.
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- Published on Thursday, 09 February 2012 15:38