As everyone knows Manchester United have such a rich history of youth football. It’s something that the club has prided itself upon, a long standing cornerstone of the Old Trafford club. Over time United’s reputation as a centre of youth footballing excellence became the envy of other football clubs around the world. Players such as Sir Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, Ryan Giggs, Eddie Colman, George Best, David Beckham and Gary Neville have all featured for United in the F.A. Youth Cup. With that in mind, it’s no surprise to learn that United have become the most successful club in the history of the Youth Cup. United’s proud record in the tournament is testament to the clubs youth coaches. The club has had many skilled coaches but there are two names that come to mind, namely Jimmy Murphy and Eric Harrison. Jimmy Murphy was born in 1910 in Ton Pentre, South Wales. During the 1930’s he turned out for West Bromwich Albion more than two hundred times and won fifteen international caps for Wales. Murphy’s playing career came to an end just as the Second World War was beginning. After the war Sir Matt Busby’s first act as United team boss was to bring Jimmy Murphy to Manchester United. An important and somewhat fortuitous moment in United’s history occurred during the war involving Murphy and Busby.
As history tells us, Murphy was giving a football talk to a group of people that consisted mostly of young soldiers, also in that audience was Matt Busby. Busby was so impressed by Murphy’s skills, that he acquired his services the first chance he got. Murphy was named Chief Coach at Old Trafford in 1946, many years of success lay ahead for the Welshman. Later in his career Murphy would lead Wales to the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. That feat of Murphy’s still remains the last time Wales qualified for a World Cup. His great talent as a coach together with his strong loyalty to the club ensured Jimmy Murphy would become a legend of Manchester United and British football. Of course everyone has heard of the Busby Babes, Murphy was vitally important in the development of those young players at United. The term “Busby Babes” was originally coined by Manchester Evening News journalist Frank Nicklin. Nicklin came up with the term after Busby handed eighteen year old Jackie Blanchflower and twenty two year old Roger Byrne first team debuts in the Division One match, against Liverpool on the 24th of November 1951. By all account Busby wasn’t that impressed by the moniker, he preferred “Red Devils” but no one can deny that “Busby Babes” encapsulated everything about the team, it’s a term that harks back to such an emotionally charged chapter in the history of Manchester United. Jimmy Murphy was Matt’s number two who threw himself into the task of building United a youth set up that would be the envy of the world, and how he succeeded!
“When I arrived down here I went to see Jimmy Murphy. Both Matt and Jimmy were at stages in their careers where they had time to offer me advice. Jimmy was still scouting for the club and I went and had lunch with him and he expressed this great desire to see youth coming back into the club. He was a very emotional man, a great servant to the club, and I would have liked to have listened to him more over the years” Sir Alex Ferguson.
“If it hadn’t been for Jimmy, there wouldn’t have been a Manchester United. It was a pleasure knowing him because he had a passion for the game – he liked me because I got stuck in! He was a lovely man.” Nobby Stiles.
“I was scared to death when he signed me, if you didn’t listen he would crucify you! He knew everything about everybody at the club; it was all in his head. Jimmy and Matt complemented each other; you couldn’t have one without the other.” Albert Scanlon.
“I know those lads better than anyone. I found them. I nurtured them. I was there with them every morning, noon and night, piss and rain and gales and snow. They let me mold their lives from the ground up. They repaid me; they repaid this club with their skill, their passion and now their lives. It’s not about honouring their memory. It’s about showing who we are to the world. Showing we’ll not be bowed by tragedy. Because how we are in the future will be founded on how we behave today.” Jimmy Murphy.
Eric Harrison is another legendary youth team coach of Old Trafford. Harrison’s time with United started in 1981 when Ron Atkinson brought him into the United fold to work as the youth team manager. Harrison got to work, and it wasn’t long before another United youth player was thrust into the limelight in the full team. Norman Whiteside was on his way to becoming a United Great of the modern era. The Shankill Skinhead would go on to serve United and Northern Ireland extremely well, making records and collecting silverware.
When Big Ron was sacked in 1986 in came Ferguson to usher in a glorious era in the clubs history. Ferguson kept Harrison on as youth team manager obviously impressed with the Yorkshireman’s work at Old Trafford. Eric Harrison was a vital and integral part of the rise of “Fergie’s Fledglings” during the early to mid-1990’s. No one needs reminding of that fantastic time in the clubs history when Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs announced themselves to the world of football. Like Jimmy Murphy, Eric Harrison was an excellent servant of Manchester United.
The F.A. Youth Cup began at a time when England was still recovering from the Second World War, thankfully rationing was about to come to end but it was still a country in recovery. To be honest, the concept and formation of the F.A. Youth Cup tournament was a bit of a slow burner, it wasn’t something that happened overnight. During the first few months following the end of the war, the English F.A. decided to organise a youth tournament for the county football associations up and down the country. Basically, the idea was to revitalize the game for those players not yet senior enough to play full professional football; the F.A. didn’t stop there as they also organized youth team internationals into a regular occurrence in the football calendar. It was Sir Joe Richards who initially put forward the idea for an F.A. Youth Cup, a new and innovative step forward for English football.
Apparently not many clubs were impressed with the idea, however the FA were and quickly put the idea into practice. The FA Youth Cup was born. The inaugural season for the FA Youth Cup was the 1952 – 1953 season. The United first team set an example for the Youth team by starting the new 52 – 53 season as Division One champions. The previous season Sir Matt Busby’s United had finished top of Division One with fifty seven points, four more than Tottenham Hotspur who finished as runners up. No pressure then for the youth side! The first few years of the FA Youth Cup belonged to United’s youth team; they won the first five Youth Cups on the bounce. Many of United’s youth team players of the early 1950’s would go on to prove themselves not just United Greats but also legends of world football.
1952 – 1953.
Jimmy Murphy’s young United side of the 1950’s was the best youth team in the country and they were eager to lift the first FA Youth Cup. They did this in impressive style when they made light work of their opponents over the two legs of the final. The lambs to the slaughter were the youth side of Wolverhampton Wanderers who were then managed by Stan Cullis. Cullis was a Wolves man through and through having played for the club for over a decade and would continue his long association to Wolves in a managers role for many years. Stan Cullis was a great servant to the Molineux side; the club has since honoured him by commissioning a statue of Cullis that today takes pride of place outside of Molineux. The youth team sheet of Manchester United during the early 1950’s was a roll call of United legends.
When the 1952 – 1953 season began Eddie Colman from Salford was fifteen years old, he had joined the club straight from school. Someone else who was fifteen old like Colman was Duncan Edwards, a wing half from Dudley in the West Midlands. Joe Mercer who was the then England youth coach (who went on to manage Manchester City) urged Busby to sign the young Duncan Edwards, Edwards duly signing for United during the June of 1952. Also in the team were David Pegg and Billy Whelan. Pegg was from Doncaster in South Yorkshire, he joined the club as a fifteen year old in 1950. Pegg was an impressive winger, or outside left as the position was known in those days. Eighteen year old Billy Whelan hailed from Dublin in the Republic of Ireland; he had joined United from Dublin club, Home Farm. Billy came from a footballing family, his brother John played in Dublin for both Drumcondra and Shamrock Rovers. The team captain was a player by the name of Ron Cope.
Cope was a centre half from Crewe; he would be with United for ten years eventually being sold to Luton Town in 1961. United’s youth team goalkeeper was Gordon Clayton from Staffordshire. Also in there was Noel McFarlane, a young forward from Bray in County Wicklow. Another local boy in the team was the young forward Albert Scanlon, a seventeen year old from Hulme. I think it’s fair to say that Albert Scanlon is one of those United players of the past that doesn’t get anywhere near as much praise and recognition as he should. Scanlon arrived at United in 1950, he signed professional terms in ’52 and would go on to win silverware with the club and he would also go on to become a Munich survivor in 1958. Still in his teens and a junior player Scanlon had the ability and skill to make fools of more experienced professionals. Indeed, there was one particular practice match during a training session at United and in that practice match, the young talented Scanlon was up against United’s first team defender who was also an England international. The former United defender and the then United coach Bert Whalley happily said to Scanlon…
“You’re doing well, young Albert. You had Bill in two minds; he didn’t know whether to kick you over the stand or into the dressing room.” Bert Whalley, United Coach.
The defensive partnership consisted of Paddy Kennedy from Dublin and Bryce Fulton from Ayrshire in Scotland. Mancunian Eddie Lewis completed the forward line up; the young centre forward would only be at Old Trafford until 1955 when he was duly sold to Preston North End. So getting back to the two-legged final, as mentioned earlier Jimmy Murphy’s young reds were to play Stan Cullis’s Wolverhampton Wanderers youth team with the first leg taking place at Old Trafford in the early May of 1953. Well over 20,000 fans saw Murphy’s United rip Wolves apart with a scintillating performance. United got to work as soon as the match had started when eighteen year old Noel McFarlane put the Red Devils in front in the third minute of the match.
It didn’t take long for Wolves to draw level which they did a couple of minutes later through striker Harry Smith, after that though it was all United. Barely had Clayton in the United goal retrieved the ball from his net when Edward Lewis put United back in front, 2 – 1 United. The crowd had seen three goals in six minutes, however, ten minutes after Lewis’s goal up popped David Pegg to make it 3 – 1 in United’s favour.
The second half saw United continue in similar vein, with the second half barely three minutes McFarlane scored his second of the game to make it 4 – 1 United and about ten minutes later Edward Lewis scored his second of the game to make it 5 – 1, sadly for Wolves though the rout was not yet over.
In the final twenty minutes of the first leg, United added another two goals to their tally through Albert Scanlon and Billy Whelan. Five days later the two teams reconvened at Molineux before a crowd of just over 14,000. The second leg was much more of a contest, it finished 2 – 2, both goals for the home side came from Harry Smith; United’s goals came from Edward Lewis and Billy Whelan. That meant United claimed the first ever FA Youth Cup 9 – 3 on aggregate.
1953 – 1954
For the new season, Jimmy Murphy brought some new faces into the United youth team. One of these new faces was goalkeeper Tony Hawksworth. The eighteen years old Hawksworth was a Yorkshireman from the steel city of Sheffield, the talented goalie would go on to represent England at schoolboy and youth level. Another new addition to the youth team was Bobby Harrop originally from Margate in Kent who was centre back who was also very useful in the midfield position. Other new faces included Alan Rhodes and Ivan Beswick in defence, another recent addition to the youth set up was Wilf McGuinness. Mancunian McGuinness arrived at Old Trafford early in 1953 as a talented fifteen year old wing half, as talented as he was I dare say few people thought McGuinness would go on to serve United in the loyal and passionate manner that he has over the many years since 1953.
Another new face on that team and someone who signed for United at the time as McGuinness was a fifteen year old by the name of Bobby Charlton. After the end of the war, Joe Armstrong replaced Louis Rocca as United’s chief scout; Joe is credited for unearthing Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton, quite the find I am sure you would agree. Charlton was turning out for the East Northumberland Schools football team when he was spotted by Armstrong, roughly a year later the highly talented Charlton would sign professional terms with Manchester United.
Duncan Edwards was still in the side, emerging not just as one of the best young players around but quite likely the very best. The final of the FA Youth Cup for the following season saw both United and Wolves reach the final yet again, the Midlands team eager for revenge for the drubbing they received the year before at the hands of Murphy’s young United team. Once again the final took place at the end of the season in May and once again Old Trafford would host the first leg of the FA Youth Cup final. This time Wolves made much more of a go at it, Cullis’s young side refusing to be the whipping boys that they were the year before.
A crowd of over 18,000 saw the two youth teams grind out a 4 – 4 draw, it must have been some match for the fans. Duncan Edwards opened the scoring for the Red Devils only to see Joe Bonson of Wolves score to gain parity for the young Midlands side. Bonson was a very competent striker scoring goals everywhere his career took him, after leaving Wolves he went to play for Cardiff City, Doncaster Rovers and Scunthorpe to name three. Not long after Bonson had scored the equalizer, Bonson’s team mate Jimmy Murray scored to out Wolves 2 – 1 ahead, after turning professional Murray would score nearly two hundred goals for Wolves over eight seasons, he then went on to Manchester City. Wolves were on a bit of roll in the match and things got better for them when Bobby Mason made it 3 – 1 for his side. Step forward the young man who would be United’s star man in the FA Youth Cup final of 1954, David Pegg.
Pegg had taken over as club captain from Ron Cope and in this particular FA Youth Cup final as team captain David Pegg, the young outside left from Doncaster, played his part perfectly. Pegg’s first major task in this game was to score the penalty that brought United back into the game, it was 3 – 2, the Wolves youth side determined to take a lead into the second leg at their place. Sadly for them Duncan Edwards had other ideas scoring to made it 3 – 3. Wolves thought they had won the first leg after John Fallon had made it 4 – 3 to the visitors, however up popped team captain David Pegg again to score the leveler for United. That’s how the first leg finished, 4 – 4.
The fans didn’t have to wait long for the second leg; it was penciled in for three days after the Old Trafford encounter. The Wolves fans must have thought revenge was most definitely on as over 28,000 fans were at Molineux for the second leg of the final, an increase of 10,000 from the previous year’s second leg of the final. It was a close match, but as mentioned team captain Pegg was the man who led United over the finish line with the only goal of the game to go with his brace in the first leg, United retained the FA Youth Cup with a 5 – 4 aggregate score, Jimmy’s boys were the toast of Youth football.
1954 – 1955
By now Jimmy Murphy was well into his stride with the youth set up, a well-oiled and trophy winning youth team fashioned in the way Matt Busby had envisioned, Busby’s hunch that Murphy was the right man to lead young United forward more than justified. For the following season Jimmy Murphy once again brought new faces into United’s youth team, in came defenders Alan Rhodes and John Queenan. Also making their first appearances that season in United’s youth team was Peter Jones a defender a local boy from Manchester and striker Terry Beckett.
Another new face in defence was Shay Brennan another, a Mancunian like Beckett. Despite being born in Manchester Brennan would go on to play international football for the Republic of Ireland, Brennan would also go on to win two league titles with United not forgetting the European Cup and a couple of Charity Shields. Joining Brennan up front was another addition to the team, Dennis Fidler. Fidler was from nearby Stockport; sadly Fidler’s stay at United would be relatively short lived as he was transferred to Manchester City in 1956. The first leg at Old Trafford took place in late April.
A crowd of almost 17,000 saw the young Baggies side brushed, aside as United ran out 4 – 1 winners. Goals from Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards with a brace from team captain Eddie Colman made sure United were firm favourites to retain the F.A. Youth Cup, therefore winning it three times on the bounce. Barry Hughes was the scorer of West Brom’s consolation goal. As I’ve said, the United youth team were winning silverware on a regular basis and there was a strong confidence within the team, their dominance in the F.A. Youth Cup was testament to the excellent work Jimmy Murphy was doing with the United youth team.
I wonder if Jimmy realised back then that he was actually developing and molding players that would become not only legends of Manchester United and British football, but genuine legends of world football. The second leg of the F.A. Youth cup at The Hawthorns, was a formality. There was only going to be one winner, United romped home 3 – 0 winners. So United lifted their third F.A. Youth Cup, the trophy yet to leave Old Trafford since its introduction into English football.
“The toughest match that season was against Barnsley, but once we beat them I was really confident we would go on and win the Youth Cup. After the first leg of the final against West Brom and being 4-1 up I knew we would win it. There was no way they were going to score four goals against us. I remember running down the eighteen-yard line on the right wing and I just hit the ball across the ’keeper from an acute angle and the ball just flew past him into the corner of the net. I scored the first goal and it was all over really.” Terry Beckett.
It was around this time that Duncan Edwards was playing in the United first team, the young gifted left sided player from Dudley leaving Busby in no doubt about his maturity and ability. If you read the books, read the interviews of people who knew him and played with him it becomes obvious that Edwards was the best player around.
“When he first came to Old Trafford I tried to find fault with Duncan, but I couldn’t find one. He was never really a boy, in football terms. He was always a man.” Sir Matt Busby.
“He was more than a great player – sometimes he seemed like some bright light in the sky. He was a giant, and even today his loss is the hardest thing to bear.” Sir Bobby Charlton.
“He was the greatest player I ever seen.” Terry Venables.
“You can keep all your Best’s, Pele’s and Maradona’s, Duncan Edwards was the greatest of them all.” Tommy Docherty.
“When I used to hear Muhammed Ali proclaim to the world he was the greatest I used to smile. You see, the greatest of them all was an English footballer named Duncan Edwards.” Jimmy Murphy.
1955 – 1956
A new season and once again Jimmy Murphy brought in a new batch of young players into the youth set up at Manchester United. Dubliner Joe Carolan was a left sided defender and was brought into the Old Trafford from Irish club Home Farm, Joe wouldn’t be the last player United would recruit from Home Farm. Carolan would go on to play over sixty times for the United first team before being sold to south coast side Brighton & Hove Albion in 1960.
Reg Holland from Sutton – In – Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, was a young defender who could also play well in midfield. Also new in the side for that season was Kenny Morgans from Swansea, who played in the outside right position (right winger). Morgans signed straight from school during the summer of 1955. Morgan’s stay at Old Trafford would be somewhat brief, leaving for his home town club Swansea City in 1961. Mark Pearson was from nearby Ridgeway in Derbyshire, Pearson was an inside forward (playing just behind the centre forwards). Mark Pearson was the original “Pancho”, nicknamed so because of his Mexican style sideburns.
Of course much later United would have another “Pancho” in the side, this time it was the superb striker Stuart Pearson who was given the nickname in honour of Mark. The young Pearson would be at Old Trafford until the mid-sixties when he was sold to Sheffield Wednesday for a fee of just under £20,000. Striker Alex Dawson was from Aberdeen, he would go onto to play in United’s 1957 Division One title winning team. Dawson would go on to be sold to Preston North End in the early 1960’s where he would feature for them in the 1964 FA Cup final, sadly for Preston they went down to 3 – 2 to Ron Greenwood’s West Ham. The Preston Fans would certainly take to him giving him the nickname “The Black Prince of Deepdale”.
As in previous seasons despite Murphy bringing in a few new faces into the United youth set up, towards the end of the 55 – 56 season, United’s young players had reached another FA Youth Cup final. This time they would be playing Chesterfield in the two legged final. The two teams walked out onto the Old Trafford pitch on the evening of Monday 30th April before a crowd of almost 25,000, could Murphy’s young United team retain the trophy they had held since its inception? With hindsight United retained the trophy in the first 30 minutes of the first leg of the final. The young Irishman Joe Carolan put United 1 – 0 up in the tenth minute, around seven minutes later Mark Pearson had made it 2 – 0 in United’s favour, on the thirty minute mark the nineteen year old Charlton had made it 3 – 0.
The Chesterfield team must have gone in at half time wondering what had hit them. Interestingly, who was the Chesterfield goalkeeper? It was a young Gordon Banks. Of course, the young Charlton and Banks would go on to win the world cup together with England a decade later. Despite that one sided first half the Derbyshire team got themselves back in the game after scoring a couple of goals without reply in the second half, their goals coming from Jim Mellors and Peter Ledger. The second leg of the final was played about a week later at The Recreation Ground, Chesterfield, the young Chesterfield team had everything to play for after coming back from three goals down to answer with a couple of their own in the first leg.
The first half was goalless, it wasn’t until half way through the second half that the 16,000 crowd saw a goal and it came from the boot of Keith Havenhand, the Chesterfield striker. Chesterfield were now on level terms with Murphy’s team. However it wasn’t to be for Chesterfield against a young but experienced Manchester United. United grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat when Dennis Fidler scored in the last minute of the game to make it 1 – 1 on the night, therefore giving United a 4 – 3 victory on aggregate. It was left to team captain Eddie Colman to lift the trophy. By now Bobby Charlton was well on his way to proving himself a world class footballer, Bobby would have many ups and downs with Manchester United but one thing is for sure he proved himself a superb servant of Manchester United and England which is still the case to this very day.
“Charlton, as we all know, covered the whole pitch. Played on the left, on the right, in the middle. He never stopped running and he had a very powerful shot and scored a lot of great goals. I have many more good than bad memories from my career, but some of the bad memories come from when I crossed paths with Bobby Charlton. It was Bobby Charlton who spoiled my day in the World Cup semi-final of 1966 and later the European Cup final of ’68, but I’ve forgiven him and we are still good friends now. He’s a real English gentleman.” Eusebio.
“If he was in the centre of the field and coming through, and if he was 30 yards from goal, I knew that he was going to have a shot. And I knew that if he got it on target, and the goalkeeper saved it, the chances of him holding it cleanly was very rare. Therefore, as soon as I saw him line up for a shot, I would be in on the goalkeeper. So I got a lot of my goals from Bobby, really.” Denis Law.
“To score that many goals from midfield is just a remarkable achievement. He was a great player, capable of a brilliant shot but also a brilliant player to have in the team. He was a clever player, won so much and will go down as one of the all-time greats in world football.” Sir Geoff Hurst.
“He had a grace, and a change of pace, and a strike of lightning. Both change of pace, and from his boots; the power in his shooting was immense.” Terry Venables.
“What a pleasure to play alongside. I don’t think I’ve even seen anybody who could beat players as easily as him, myself included. I often used my pace, but Bobby made it look effortless. And once he got within 30 yards of goal, he was lethal with either foot. Because he played a lot on the left, many people assume he was a natural left-footer, but I don’t think he was. He was just so good with both feet.” George Best.
“He was a naturally gifted player, and was two-footed as well, one of the most two-footed players you’ve ever seen. He could go either side, shoot with either foot.” Sir Geoff Hurst.
“This is a man who survived the Munich air disaster in 1958, won the World Cup in 1966, the European Cup in 1968 and played a key role in the appointment of Alex Ferguson as Old Trafford manager in 1986. He’s history in the flesh is Bobby Charlton. He’s our greatest living football man.” Jimmy Greaves.
1956 – 1957
For the ’56 – ’57 season Jimmy Murphy once again ushered in new talent into the United youth team. Old Trafford was buzzing, United had just lifted the Division One title and they had won it in fine style by finishing a huge eleven points in front of second placed Blackpool. The average age of the new champions was just twenty two, the youth policy put into place at the club by Busby and Murphy was now paying handsome dividends. The new talent that was brought into the youth team? Harold Bratt was a local lad from Salford, a defender by trade who would go on to play to play for Doncaster Rovers. Reg Hunter was a striker from Colwyn Bay in Wales, after leaving United he would return to Wales to play football for Bangor City and Wrexham. Another new face in the team was Nobby Lawton from Newton Heath in Manchester. Lawton would eventually sign professional terms with United in 1960; he would be at Old Trafford until 1963 when he was sold to Preston North End. Other new additions to the youth team were defenders Barry Smith and Ray Maddison, midfielder Bob English and goalkeeper David Gaskell. Gaskell was originally from Orrell in Wigan, Lancashire.
Gaskell was signed the year before from Orrell St. Luke’s; he would go on to sign professionally for United shortly after impressing in the youth set up. His first appearance for the United first team was the Charity Shield match of 1956 at the age of sixteen years and nineteen days, when United beat their very bitter neighbours City 1 – 0 at Maine Road, United’s winning goal scored by Dennis Viollet. Gaskell finished his playing career playing in South Africa for Arcadia Shepherds. Once again Jimmy Murphy’s young United side made the final of the FA Cup Youth for the 56 – 57 season, this time United would be lining up against Bill Robinson’s West Ham. During his playing career Robinson was a respected striker who turned for Sunderland, Charlton Athletic and West Ham.
The first leg of the final was to be contested at Upton Park, home of the Hammers. Interestingly, playing in the midfield of that West Ham youth side was John Lyall who would go on to take them to two FA Cup final victories as manager and a third place finish in the old Division One in 1986 which remains West Hams highest placed finish in the English top flight. Well, in front of a crowd of 15,000 at Upton Park West Ham certainly gave United a game.
Alex Dawson opened the scoring for United in the 26th minute, however the West Ham forward John Cartwright equalized for his team about twelve minutes later. Halftime came, it was all square. Recent addition to the team Nobby Lawton put United 2 – 1 up about seven minutes into the second half and about four minutes after that recent name in the team Reg Hunter made it 3 – 1 in United’s favour. About ten minutes later West Ham got themselves back in the tie when George Fenn converted a penalty for the Hammers. That’s how the game finished 3 – 2 to United. It was decent away result for Jimmy Murphy’s team but there was still a job to do at Old Trafford in the second leg. About a week later a crowd of almost 16,000 saw United put West Ham to the sword with ease. With a goal from Kenny Morgans and with Mark Pearson and Alex Dawson scoring a couple each United romped to victory 5 – 0. Jimmy Murphy’s young lions had won by an aggregate score of 8 – 2, United had lifted the FA Youth Cup five times out of five.
As everyone knows less than a year after that FA Youth Cup victory over West Ham the Munich Tragedy would decimate a football team. Over twenty people would lose their lives in that horrendous chapter in the history of Manchester United, eight of those fatalities were players. David Pegg, Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, Liam Whelan, Mark Jones and Duncan Edwards, Edwards would lose his fight for life at the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich. The gut wrenching feeling of loss was immense; millions of people were in mourning with some people even asking if United as a club could survive such a devastating catastrophe. Whilst Matt Busby was thankfully recuperating in his hospital bed in Munich, it was down to Jimmy Murphy to keep the ship afloat in Manchester. Murphy hadn’t travelled with the United team to Belgrade, he had stayed in Britain in his other job as Wales national team manager. At the same time United were playing Red Star Belgrade in Yugoslavia, Wales had a World Cup qualifying match against Israel penciled in. Murphy travelled to Munich where he was told by Matt Busby to keep the red flag flying, Murphy did exactly that with strength and determination.
“Matt Busby fired Manchester United with the challenge of winning back horizons that had been so cruelly withdrawn, but it was Jimmy Murphy who kept the club on the road after Munich. It was Murphy who held the line against any submission to disaster. It was Murphy who reminded us of what we had been, and what we could be again.” Nobby Stiles.
Murphy had it all to do, he had to find players to fill the team, youth players were brought in and even Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest got in touch with the offer to loan players to United. Jimmy had to act fast as United had an FA Cup match on the horizon against Sheffield Wednesday only a matter of days away. Murphy got in touch with Aston Villa regarding the purchase of Stan Crowther. The then Villa team boss Eric Houghton spoke to Crowther about the move to United however Crowther told his manager he was happy at Villa.
Despite this Houghton asked Crowther to go with him to watch United play Sheffield Wednesday and Crowther agreed to go. On their journey to the game Houghton turned round to Crowther and said to him that he really should help United and sign for them, Crowther replied he hasn’t brought his boots but Houghton told him that he had brought Crowther’s boots. Both Houghton and Crowther met Jimmy Murphy at the hotel that the United team were staying at and a fee of £22,000 was agreed, Crowther signed for United with less than an hour to go before kick-off. United beat Wednesday 3 – 0 with goals from Shay Brennan and Alex Dawson, the emotion and the will of the crowd made sure United were not going to lose that day.
“It must have been a terrible time for Jimmy and everyone at the club after the crash. It needed someone who, though feeling the heartbreak of the situation, could still keep his head and keep the job going. Jimmy was that man.” Sir Matt Busby.
United would reach Wembley that year for the cup final, an enormously impressive feat considering; however they would ultimately lose to Bolton Wanderers. The scorer of one of the goals that beat Sheffield Wednesday in that 5th round tie Alex Dawson spoke to The Daily Record a few years ago of that extremely difficult time in United’s history.
“When I heard the tragic news I thought I had better ring my mum because she would have expected me to be on the plane. I used to go on those trips and had a passport and visa all ready but the boss just told me I wasn’t going this time. I had already been on two or three trips just to break me in. Chief coach Bert Whalley said to me, ‘There will be another one for you,’ but I wouldn’t have wanted it in those circumstances. I know now how lucky I was to be left in Manchester. The omens were on my side. I was at the ground playing snooker with Kenny Morgans when a boy came in and nearly broke the door down. The boy said, ‘Haven’t you heard? The lads have been in a crash’. There was a man putting the flag at half-mast because one of the directors had died before that. We told him to wait. We thought straight away of Duncan, Roger and the rest of the lads. I just couldn’t believe it. We couldn’t say anything. We were absolutely in shock. It was unbelievable. I thought it can’t be right. You are hoping it can’t be right. But of course we knew it was right once we switched the news on. We were all so close and Duncan was also a good friend to me before the accident. We were all friends and you could speak to any of them. They never looked down on you. They couldn’t do enough for you. Jimmy Murphy was marvellous with the youngsters. He picked the team around Bill and Harry and said, ‘We are going out there and we are going to play and win for those lads who died’. He said, ‘I know you will do it. We will show them what this club is all about and those lads were all about’. Jimmy was absolutely marvellous. His team talks were inspirational. We did it and we took it from there. The crowd were marvellous. There were 60,000 inside and 60,000 outside and that really got us going. The reserves played the same day with a load of juniors playing and both United teams won by the same score which was incredible. In the dressing room I remember thinking, ‘Come on, let’s just get out there’. This was my chance to repay those boys. I remember going down the tunnel to this amazing roar and it made me shiver. I thought, ‘This is it, this is where the new Manchester United begins’. Jimmy got us to the Final which was a great tribute to the team. United would have been a major force in Europe if it hadn’t been for the disaster. Real Madrid were a good side at that time but United were going to overtake them. The players were just coming into their prime. Duncan was such a good player; there is no doubt about that. He was a wonderful fellow as well as a real gentleman. I will never, ever forget him because he died on my birthday, February 21, and before that he was the one who really helped me settle in.” Alex Dawson.
The phrase “unsung hero” could have been invented for Alex Dawson. Of course during that period of United’s history the club had many unsung heroes but for me Dawson is an obvious example, young men being asked to dig deep and produce not just on the pitch but off it too. Ron Cope is another one, as was Mark Pearson. United’s next league game after Munich was a home game against Nottingham Forest, three days after the 5th round FA Cup win against Sheffield Wednesday. As you can understand the Old Trafford crowd for behind the team, with an endless supply of passion and love for Manchester United. The game ended in a 1 – 1 draw, however the press were full of praise for the young players of Manchester United, the team showing a rare strength under adversity.
“It was the performance of two young men, Cope at centre-half and the 17-year-old Pearson at inside-left that left us rubbing our eyes in astonishment. Their maturity, polish and skill left one wondering what other magic is hidden away in Old Trafford.” The Times.
1963 – 1964
After that victory in 1957 United would taste success again in the FA Youth Cup until 1964. The beginning of the 1963 – 1964 season for United was one the club could forward to with confidence. Its first team had lifted the FA Cup at Wembley at the end of the previous season by beating Leicester City 3 – 1, the Red Devils goals coming from Denis Law and a couple from David Herd.
It was United’s first senior trophy since the Munich disaster, Busby’s rebuilding of the club was at last paying dividends and it wasn’t about to stop there as United would become THE team of the 1960’s. Jimmy Murphy was still in charge of the youth team and Bobby Noble was captain of the youth team. Noble, a defender, was another local lad from nearby Reddish in Stockport, he had signed for United as a youth in 1961 and he would be at United until 1970. He would win himself a Division One title winner’s medal in 1967 however he was involved in a car crash before the club were crowned champions that season; happily Noble would recover from that crash but was unable to continue his career in football retiring from the game to go into the printing industry.
Jimmy Rimmer was in goal, a native of Southport in Lancashire, he signed for the club on youth terms in 1963, a very recent addition to the side he proved himself a very competent goalie. Jimmy would be at the club until 1974 when he was sold to Arsenal. Jimmy would pick up a European Cup winners medal with United but his glory days were not over after he left Old Trafford. He would pick up a clutch of silverware with Aston Villa in the early 1980’s including a Division One title winner’s medal and a European Cup winner’s medal.
Other new faces in the team were Alan Duff in defence and David Farrar and Peter McBride in midfield. Another new face in midfield was the Scot John Fitzpatrick from Aberdeen. Fitzpatrick is noted for being United’s first ever substitute when subs were first introduced into the game during the 1965 – 1966 season coming on for Denis Law during a heavy 5 – 1 defeat at White Hart Lane. Striker Albert Kinsey was also in there, originally from Liverpool he would only be at United for three years before being sold to Welsh club Wrexham. Another new face was local lad John Aston, a left winger who signed for United on youth terms in 1962. Aston would be Old Trafford until 1972 when he was sold to Bedfordshire club Luton Town. Another Liverpool born player in the youth team was Willie Anderson. Winger Anderson signed for United on youth terms in 1962 and would be at United until 1967, despite failing to hold down a regular place at United he would go onto to win medals with a number of clubs including Aston Villa and Portland Timbers in the N.A.S.L..
David Sadler signed for United as a seventeen year old from Maidstone United in 1963; he would prove himself an extremely valued member of the United team as he was able to play in various positions on the pitch. As we know Sadler would go on to prove himself a United Great. Last but certainly not least was George Best, a player who needs no introduction whatsoever. George was discovered by the highly respected United scout Bob Bishop (many years later Bishop would also discover Norman Whiteside), Best had been overlooked by his local club in Belfast Glentoran but Bishop could something special in the slightly built Best. Of course George would go on to be one of the greatest players the game of football had ever seen. Amongst other things George would go on to win the European Cup with United, as well as being remembered as one third of the United Trinity. George was a one off, a favourite with the ladies, a man who every other man wanted to be. Yes he had his faults like we all do but George was such a special footballer.
“Boss, I think I’ve found you a genius.” Bob Bishop to Matt Busby on discovering George Best.
“He could control the ball with his left foot, his right foot; it was not a great problem to him. He could turn on a six-pence. He had unbelievable vision, he could tell everything that was happening around him, he knew exactly where people were, and that gave him all the time that he needed to actually express him.” Sir Bobby Charlton.
“I think if you talk about the best players in Europe, you talk about five or six and if you talk about his qualities he’d always be in there. It was a short career but if you go back to the basic qualities he was exceptional.” Johan Cruyff.
“He was the finest player I ever played with or against. I treasure my memories of him even though on occasions he made me look rather foolish.” Pat Jennings.
“The great football critics said that because of his technical skill, he was like a Brazilian athlete who danced the samba with the ball at his feet. George Best, until today is a footballer without comparison and his technical skills will never be forgotten.” Pele.
United’s opponents in the final of the 1963 – 1964 season was Wiltshire club Swindon Town. The first leg took place at Swindon’s County Ground, the game finished in a 1 – 1 draw. It was Swindon who took the lead on the half hour mark courtesy of a goal from Don Rogers; United equalized about half way through the second half thanks to goal from the Belfast Boy, George Best. The second leg at Old Trafford took place only a matter of days after the first leg. The second leg is notable for David Sadler’s hat trick with John Aston scoring United’s fourth goal. Bruce Walker scored the Wiltshire club’s consolation goal, United had another youth cup thanks to a 5 – 2 aggregate score line.
1991 – 1992
The FA Youth Cup final of ’92 was a repeat of the 1990 FA Cup final, United versus Crystal Palace. A couple of years previous Alex Ferguson’s United had won its first trophy after defeating Palace after a replay thanks to a Lee Martin goal, Eric Harrison’s United youth team hoped to emulate that cup triumph. As I mentioned at the beginning Harrison arrived at United from Merseyside club Everton during the managership of Ron Atkinson. When Big Ron was replaced with Ferguson in 1986, the new United manager made a point of keeping Harrison in the fold, Fergie obviously saw something in Harrison. However Ferguson wasn’t entirely happy with the youth system and he wasn’t entirely happy with the scouting system at Old Trafford, improvements had to be made.
The fact that Ferguson wanted fast improvement led Harrison to make his own condition, which was United had to vastly improve its scouting network, if United did then Harrison claimed he could give Ferguson more youth players from which to bring into the first team. It would take time, but as the 1990’s got underway it was about to pay off good style, Fergie’s Fledglings were about to make their entrance. In that 1992 FA Youth Cup side were certain players that would go on to enjoy fantastic careers in the first team at United.
In goal was Kevin Pilkington, from Hitchin in Hertfordshire. Pilkington arrived at Old Trafford in 1990, after being seen playing for Lincolnshire club Harrowby United. In defence was John O’ Kane, George Switzer, Chris Casper and team captain Gary Neville. Neville joined the club in 1991 and would go on to play a major part in United’s dominance of English football, winning trophy after trophy at home and in Europe. During and after his playing career Neville has always been a very popular figure with United fans, outspoken and to the point.
“Fantastically consistent for club and country, he played a hell of a lot of games for both. He could play wing back, or drop in as one of your three central defenders.” Stuart Pearce.
“He didn’t mind getting forward but he enjoyed defending and was very good at it. He was also good at getting balls into the box and he liked to attack, but because of his fitness and agility he could get up and down the line. He was a very good defender and an organiser.” Alan Shearer.
“Gary was the best English right-back of his generation. He is an example to any young professional; hard-working, loyal and intelligent. As a United fan born and bred, his fantastic career at Old Trafford has cemented his place in the affection of the club’s supporters everywhere.” Sir Alex Ferguson.
“Young players nowadays should look back at the way that he played the game, not just in terms of his defending but the way he overlapped and attacked.” Rio Ferdinand.
In the midfield were Robbie Savage, Ben Thornley, Nicky Butt and David Beckham. Like Gary Neville, Nicky Butt would go on to establish himself as a United legend. Butt would go on to play nearly three hundred games for United winning six Premiership winner’s medals, three F.A. Cups, Champions League winner’s medal and an Intercontinental Cup winner’s medal (World Club Cup). Not only that but he would win himself thirty nine international caps with England. David Beckham was also in there, like Butt and Neville he would go on to become a United regular in the first team and becoming a football icon to many. Last but not least were Simon Davies in midfield and Colin McKee up front.
The first leg of the 1992 FA Youth Cup final was played at Selhurst Park, the Croydon home of Crystal Palace. On the whole it was fairly comfortable victory for Harrison’s young United side. It was Nicky Butt who opened the scoring, about a quarter of an hour into the first half and on the half hour mark David Beckham made it 2 – 0. Seemingly on their way to a good 2 – 0 first leg away win United found themselves pegged back with about four minutes of the match remaining when Stuart McCall found the United net for Palace, it was 2 – 1, however Nicky Butt scored his second of the game with only moments of the game remaining to restore United’s two goal cushion. The final score at Selhurst Park was 3 – 1 to United.
For the second leg United brought in Ryan Giggs who had already tasted first team football at Old Trafford. Before a crowd of over 14,000 the visitors gave a decent account of themselves charged with the task of having to come back from a first leg 3 – 1 score line. Indeed it was Palace who took the lead in the first minute of the game thanks to a goal from Andrew McPherson. United wouldn’t draw level until the half hour mark when Ben Thornley found the Palace net. Midfielder Simon Davies put United 2 – 1 in front about five minutes into the second half, however about ten minutes later up popped Stuart McCall again to gain parity on the night for Palace. Thankfully for United a few minutes later Colin McKee found the Palace goal to make it 3 – 2 to United. United had won another FA Youth Cup, the score 6 – 3 on aggregate.
1994 – 1995
Three years after that victory over Crystal Palace United found themselves in another F.A. Youth Cup final, this time they would contest the final against Des Bulpin’s young Tottenham Hotspur side. The United youth team of 1995 looked totally different to the one of 1992. In goal was Paul Gibson from Sheffield, in defence was team captain Phil Neville (brother to Gary), Ronnie Wallwork a local lad from Newton Heath, Ashley Westwood from Shropshire and Michael Clegg, another locally born player from Ashton under Lyne. In midfield was Daniel Hall, Neil Mustoe of Gloucester, Terry Cooke from Marston Green near Solihull in the Midlands and Phil Mulryne from Belfast. Playing up front was David Johnson from Kingston Jamaica and Dessie Baker from Dublin.
United had another Neville as team captain, this time it was Phil, two years Gary’s junior. At United Phil would go on to win six Premiership winner’s medals, three FA Cup medals, three Community Shields as well as the Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup in 1999. In 1994 he was awarded the Jimmy Murphy Young Player of the Year. In his youth Phil loved cricket as well as football and he was on the books of Lancashire Cricket club as a youth player. Phil is noted for being the team captain of the England under-15 cricket team and he is also noted for being the youngest player to play for Lancashire’s second eleven at the age of fifteen.
So, the first leg of the 1995 FA Youth Cup was played in early May at White Hart Lane. At the final whistle it was Spurs who were the happier side as they would be taking a 2 – 1 score line to Old Trafford. Simon Wormull opened the scoring in the game in the 7th minute and the North London team went 2 – 0 in front when Rory Allen found the United net. With five minutes of the game left it down to Terry Cooke to score for United, the final score was 2 – 1 in Tottenham’s favour. I was sat in the crowd of over 20,000 greeted the two teams walked out at Old Trafford a few days later.
It was close game, there was nothing between the two teams, when half time came the fans had yet to see a goal. The second half was a mirror image of the first, as the game was entering its closing stages it looked as though Spurs were going to claim the cup; with two minutes to go it was still goalless. We thought that was it, it wasn’t a nice feeling knowing that we were about to watch another team win a trophy against United at Old Trafford. However, I like to think past Youth players of United were “up there” watching United willing them on, the likes of Duncan Edwards, David Pegg and Eddie Colman et al urging United to score a goal that would see the game go into extra game, and that’s what exactly happened, young Terry Cooke slotting the ball past Simon Brown in the Spurs net to make it United 1 Spurs 0 in the last minute of the game. The crowd who had been busy all night singing United songs went ballistic. To say it was a bit of relief seeing Cooke’s goal go in is a bit of an understatement to be honest.
Extra time came and went without goals; both teams would be facing a penalty shoot-out. I wasn’t that confident to be sure, we had seen the first team bow out of the UEFA Cup on penalties to Torpedo Moscow two years before; I couldn’t get that out of my head to be honest. It was Spurs who would take the first spot kick; Neale Fenn converted cleanly, next up stepped United team captain Phil Neville who missed. Thankfully Spurs missed their second penalty so were still in it, kind of. United midfielder Neil Mustoe converted for United to make it 1 – 1. Both teams had scored their next penalties, when it was the turn of Stephen Carr, the Spurs defender, to take his penalty, thankfully for United Gibson saved it. That meant it was still 2 – 2 on penalties. Baker and Cooke converted their penalties for United; Kevin Maher converted for Spurs, that meant United had won the penalty shoot-out 4 – 3. All United’s young players played well that night but the person who could take the most credit for United’s latest FA Youth Cup triumph was the team coach, Eric Harrison. Harrison gave United everything he had as youth team coach, he had ushered in the class of ’92 giving United a clutch of young players who soon go on to prove themselves world class. It wouldn’t be an easy ride for Harrison’s young players, there were times when Harrison had to be a strict disciplinarian.
“They were all frightened of me, they had to be. I had to make them scared. In the first team they were going to have to cope with Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane. Anyway, I’m ashamed to say I’ve always been a very, very bad loser and I did sometimes give them the hairdryer treatment. Occasionally I had to apologise. One Saturday morning my wife came and watched us train before going shopping. ‘You’re a disgrace,’ she said. ‘The way you treat those kids.’ I had to explain there was method in the madness and, if I wasn’t like that, it was going to be very, very difficult when they began playing for Sir Alex and found themselves on the wrong side of him. They needed mental courage.” Eric Harrison.
“Youth coaching is 10% about kicks up the backsides and 90% about arms round the shoulders. You have to let boys use their imaginations and relax. You can’t play good football if you’re tense – but you can be relaxed and hard-working. We worked hard on team play. Some youth coaches don’t do it but I was preparing them for Manchester United’s first team and they needed to learn football wasn’t all about glory on the ball. The group became so close and had such strong telepathy Sir Alex and I decided to keep them together playing Under-18 football for an extra year. We wanted to really bond them and eventually they went virtually straight into the first team having played very few reserve games. They had unbelievable desire, fed off each other’s energy and were all totally dedicated. Not one of them ever got into trouble with drink, drugs or anything. To get such magnificent players together at the same time was incredible. Coaching them was fantastically exciting.” Eric Harrison.
“I was a big believer in talking to young players one to one, telling them how incredibly talented they were and letting them know if they were going to play for the first team. It was a massive motivation. I’ll always remember asking Paul Scholes how he was doing and, typical Paul, he gave me a one-word reply: ‘Alright.’ I said, ‘You’re doing more than alright, you’re going to play for the first team.’ The look on his face was amazing. Just seeing it light up was like winning the lottery.” Eric Harrison.
2002 – 2003
United’s next FA Youth Cup triumph was in 2003. Brian McClair had replaced the retiring Eric Harrison as team manager of the United Youth team. Two years previous McClair had guided the United reserve team to the Premier Reserve League trophy so he was already used to winning silverware as a manager with United junior teams. McClair first arrived at United as a highly respected striker in 1987 as part of Alex Ferguson’s rebuilding of Manchester United. He was purchased from Glasgow Celtic for a fee of £850,000, it was money extremely well spent as McClair did not disappoint. In his first season McClair went on to score twenty four goals therefore becoming the first United player since George Best to score over twenty goals in a season.
During his time playing for United McClair picked up four Premier League winner’s medals, three F.A. Cup winner’s medals, a League Cup winner’s medal, a European Cup Winner’s Cup winner’s medal, a Super Cup winner’s medal as well as five Charity Shield winner’s medals. So with that in mind you could say United’s youth team were in very good hands. United’s opponents in the 2003 F.A. Youth Cup final was east coast side Middlesbrough, their youth team managed by former Boro midfielder Mark Proctor. Understandably, United’s youth team had changed somewhat.
In goal was Luke Steele from Peterborough, in defence was Lee Sims, Lee Lawrence a local boy from Salford, Phil Bardsley also of Salford and Paul McShane from County Wicklow of the Irish Republic. In Midfield was team captain David Jones from Southport, Chris Eagles from Hertfordshire, Kieran Richardson from London and Ben Collett from nearby Bury. Up front was Sylvan Ebanks Blake from Cambridge, and Eddie Johnson from Chester. The first leg took place in mid April at Boro’s Riverside Stadium in front of over 8,000 fans. When the ref blew his whistle for the start of the game it didn’t take long for United to get into their stride, in fact it was United who drew first blood in the fourth minute, when Kieran Richardson put the ball in the Boro net.
That’s how it stayed right up until the final moments of the match; everyone thought United would be taking a narrow lead back to Old Trafford. However United weren’t quite finished, with only seconds to go Ben Collett scored for United to make it 2 – 0. The second at Old Trafford took place ten days later with over 14,000 fans expecting to see another United victory in the F.A. Youth Cup. The second leg finished in a 1 – 1 draw, Eddie Johnson scoring for the Red Devils about fifteen minutes into the first half and Gary Liddle equalised for Boro with about ten minutes of the game remaining. So United had once lifted the F.A. Youth Cup, a tournament they had dominated since day one.
2010 – 2011
United’s youth team made the final of the 2011 final of F.A. Youth Cup thanks to an impressive victory in the semi-final, over Chelsea’s youth team. The first leg of the semi-final was at Stamford Bridge which saw the home side scrape a narrow 3 – 2 win, however the second leg at Old Trafford saw the young west London steam rolled by their opponents to the tune of 4 – 0. Awaiting United in the two legged final was the youth team of Sheffield United, a team that included a certain Harry Maguire! The first leg was played at Bramall Lane on the 17th of May. Nearly 30,000 fans were at the west Yorkshire ground, most of them hoping to see the home team take a lead to Old Trafford.
The young United side took the lead in the fourteenth minute courtesy of Jesse Lingard, the home team drew level in the closing moments of the first half when Callum McFadzean gained parity for the home side. In the second half it was United who took the lead in the 70th minute thanks to goal from Stockport born Will Keane, however the home team were not to be outdone and only three minutes later Jordan Slew, a local boy from nearby Gleadless, made it 2 – 2 and that’s how the game finished, all nicely poised for the return leg in Manchester. The second leg was played about a week later, 23,000 fans inside Old Trafford hoping to see United win another F.A. Youth Cup.
The Old Trafford crowd had to wait until he thirty-seventh minute to see United get going thanks to a goal from Ravel Morrison. Right on half time Will Keane made it 2 – 0 in United’s favour thanks to a converted penalty kick, Sheffield United had it all to do. Roughly half way through the second half Ravel Morrison got his second of the game, it was 3 – 0 United were strolling to another F.A. Youth Cup.
Joe Ironside got the visitors on the score sheet about three minutes after Morrison’s second but it was all to no avail. To rub salt into the wounds Will Keane got his second of the game with less than ten minutes of the game left. United lifted their tenth F.A. Youth Cup by an aggregate score of 6 – 3.
United’s history in the F.A. Youth Cup is something for all United fans to treasure; it’s a tournament that has given rise to many of the legendary names of Manchester United. Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs are just a few of names to bring glory to United in the FA Youth Cup. It’s a story of triumph over adversity, it’s a story about great leadership and great players, it’s a story never to be beaten.