The following article is reproduced with the kind permission of John White, Branch Secretary of the Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club. You can visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/carryduffmusc
On 8 April 1957, Manchester United’s Youth Team, famously dubbed The Busby Babes, lost their first ever FA Youth Cup game since the inaugural edition of the competition was held in season 1952-53.
The Babes won the 1953 FA Youth Cup final, a 9-3 aggregate victory over two legs against Wolverhampton Wanderers. They retained the trophy the following season beating Wolves again, this time with a 5-4 aggregate win, and they made it three a row when they defeated West Bromwich Albion 7-1 over two legs in the 1955 FA Youth Cup final. Their fourth consecutive win in the final arrived in 1956 with a 4-3 victory versus Chesterfield, again over two legs.
However, despite losing 3-2 to Southampton at Old Trafford in the second leg of the 1956-57 competition, the team coached by Matt Busby’s right hand man, Jimmy Murphy, reached their fifth FA Youth Cup final in succession having beaten The Saints’ junior team 3-1 at The Dell, Southampton in the first leg. In the 1957 final, the best Youth Team in the history of the FA Youth Cup, turned on the style and hammered West Ham United 8-2; a 3-2 first leg win at The Boleyn Ground, London and a 5-0 drubbing of their southern opponents at Old Trafford.
The Busby Babes were by far the best Youth side in England and during the 1950s they could have gone toe to toe against most of the professional clubs and competed against them on an equal footing. When they took to the pitch their opponents were already staring the inevitable in the face, a loss, but the only question was, by what score line? The players may well have been aged 18 and under but the tenderness of age of Murphy’s young charges was not a barrier to their self-belief or to their immense talent. On the contrary it was their strength. It was what gave them solidarity, some 28 years before the birth of Solidarity, the first independent Trade Union recognised by a Warsaw Pact country, Poland. Solidarity was formed in August 1980, at the Lenin Shipyard, Gdańsk, Poland, not too far from Stadion Miejski in the Polish city where Manchester United lost the 2021 Europa League final to Spain’s Villarreal CF.
Manchester United’s Youth Team simply steamrolled every team that stood in their path. In every FA Youth Cup game, Murphy, the genial Welshman who doubled-up his role as the assistant manager of Manchester United (1955-71), with his part-time role as the coach/manager of the Welsh international football team from 1956-64, knew his boys were just quite simply too good for their rivals. But, perhaps with the exception of a few of his FA Youth Cup winning teams during the 1950s, namely Bobby Charlton, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, Wilf McGuinness, David Pegg and Liam Whelan, Jimmy would not tell a player just how good he believed he was. Murphy never let any of his team become too carried away with themselves or get too big for their boots.
Complacency was not a word in the Welshman’s dictionary but humility was. Murphy was not only Matt Busby’s assistant manager, he was the one man at the club that Busby relied upon to produce a player from the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club to the level whereby that teenager was good enough to be told by Busby on the Friday before an English First Division Championship game: “Son. You are making your first team debut on Saturday. Now go home and rest. Get to bed early tonight night. Get up early tomorrow morning and get on your bike or get the bus to Old Trafford five hours before kick-off. I’ll be waiting for you.”
These words were like manna from heaven to a Busby Babe. It was their Greek Mount Olympus moment, an acknowledgement by Murphy and Busby, that not only were they ready to make the next step in their young career to the senior team, but the ultimate reward for all of the hours they spent running up and down the steps of the Stretford End at Old Trafford during an arduous, and intensive, training session. Not to mention the countless number of pairs of football boots they had to clean for the senior players and cleaning the First Team dressing room.. This was their “One Moment In Time,” which is the name of a song recorded by Whitney Houston. And they did not fail their audition. The opening lines of Whitney’s song are:
Each day I live I want to be
A day to give The best of me
I’m only one But not alone
My finest day Is yet unknown
When Murphy told Busby about a “very special” player he had in the Youth Team, their one moment in time had arrived. Their debut for Manchester United was not only their one moment in time, it was their finest day because they pulled on the jersey of the world’s most famous Football Club, Manchester United.
On 6 February 1958, the Munich Air Disaster claimed the lives of eight Busby Babes, FA Youth Cup winners, Colman, Edwards, Jones, Pegg, and Whelan as well as Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor. The loss of these young players crushed the heart of their mentor, their father figure, Jimmy Murphy. Jimmy loved every player who came under his charge. His ultimate goal was that if a kid wanted to join the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club, then it was his duty, if not responsibility, to coach that young player as best he could in the hope that one day, Matt Busby would accept Murphy’s recommendation that the teenager was ready to progress to the first team. Jimmy Murphy was not on the fateful flight from Munich to Manchester as he had to take charge of Wales for their 1958 World Cup qualifying games versus Israel.
Six years after the Munich Air Disaster, the Manchester United Youth Team won the FA Youth Cup for a sixth time. Jimmy Murphy guided his young stars to the 1964 final versus Swindon Town and once again the Welshman had carefully crafted a team together packed with potential. Duncan Edwards may well have been Murphy’s crown jewel in his 1952-53, 1953-54 and 1954-55 FA Youth Cup winning teams but in season 1963-64, a young Irishman was his priceless pearl. Seventeen year old George Best had already announced himself to football fans having made his senior debut for Manchester United on 14 September 1963, in a 1-0 win against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford in the English First Division. The mercurial Best tore the Swindon Town back four to pieces and scored United’s goal in the first leg of the 1964 final, a 1-1 draw at The County Ground, Swindon. In the second leg at Old Trafford, Best tortured the visitors once more and although he did not score he helped his teammate, David Sadler, score a hat-trick. John Aston Jr also scored in the 4-1 victory over The Robins. Ironically, when Best made his first team debut it was Sadler, who made the step up to the first team in a 3-3 draw away to Sheffield Wednesday in the League on 24 August 1963, who scored the only goal of the game.
Did You Know That?
During the 1960s, Jock Stein the legendary manager of Glasgow Celtic, the first British Club to win the European Cup in 1967 (they beat Inter Milan 2-1 in the final in Lisbon, Portugal), adopted the Busby/Murphy model and set-up his own Youth Team. Stein set out to attract the best young talent in Scotland to Parkhead, Glasgow in the hope that one day they would be good enough to pull on the iconic green & white hooped jersey of the Scottish giants. Indeed, so prodigious was the young talent at Stein’s disposal that in 1968, he contemplated playing them as the club’s second team and ask the Scottish Football Association for permission to let them join the Scottish Second Division. However, the clubs already in the Division were fearful that this group of teenagers would quite simply just be too good for them and the permission was never granted. Stein saw these young men as the heirs apparent to his famous 1967 Lisbon Lions and dubbed them “The Quality Street Gang.” In 1968, the Glasgow Rangers Reserves side looked set to be crowned Reserve League Cup winners as the Celtic Boys needed to beat Partick Thistle by at least seven goals to win the trophy. They won 12-0 with a future Manchester United striker scoring four times, Lou Macari.
On 7 October 1968, Bobby Brown, the manager of the Scotland international football team, asked Stein to play his kids against the national side as a warm-up for the Scots’ encounter versus Denmark nine days later. The Quality Street Gang outclassed a full international Scotland team which included Ronnie Simpson (Glasgow Celtic goalkeeper), Colin Stein (Glasgow Rangers) and the Leeds United pair of Eddie Gray and club captain, Billy Bremner and ran-out 5-2 winners. Scotland went on to beat Denmark 1-0 away and were captained by Bremner.
John White, the Branch Secretary of Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club has just had his 18th book about Manchester United published which is entitled: Manchester United: The Making of a Football Dynasty: 100 Great Matches – 1878-2021 (Manchester United: The Making of a Football Dynasty 1878-2021)
John has set-up a new Facebook Page called: MANCHESTER UNITED – DID YOU KNOW THAT? John would like you to Like, Follow and Share his new Facebook Page with fellow Reds.