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The Salford Lad Who Was The Heartbeat of The Busby Babes

Edward “Eddie” Colman was born on 1 November 1936, and lived in a two-up-two down house at No.9 Archie Street, Ordsall, Lancashire, England to Richard Colman, a plate layer and a footballer (an inside-right), and his wife Elizabeth. Eddie was an only child.

Eddie’s roots were embedded in the working class area of Salford. During World War I his grandfather served in the British Army and as he was of a small stature, he served in the Bantam Battalion, a unit made up of soldiers who were below the normal minimum requirement of 5 feet 3 inches for new recruits to join the army. Young Eddie played football every second of the day when he wasn’t sleeping, eating or at school. And in the school playground he was the boy all of the other kids tried to nick the ball off. Only a handful managed to do so whilst the senior boys, who were almost twice Eddie’s size and double his body weight, stayed well clear of a kid whose vicious hip swerve avoided their brutal tackles, they wanted to cut him down, had previously been once bitten and had no intention of being classed twice shy. They were only too happy to let the diminutive kid from Ordsall make fools of others and save their own blushes.

The young Colman caught the eye of several clubs including Bolton Wanderers and Wolverhampton Wanderers but it was an injury which resulted in joining Manchester United. One day he was playing with his mates in an old air raid shelter near his home. At the time he was playing regularly for his local club, Salford Lads Club, and his club arranged for him to be assessed by the medical team at Manchester United. After playing in a few practice games to fully assess his medical condition following his accident, Matt Busby and his assistant, Jimmy Murphy, liked what they saw in the young kid. The pair were hugely impressed with Eddie’s confidence and his trickery with the ball. Both men knew that he would fit in well with the club’s Youth Team players. Busby was not man who wasted the club’s money, preferring to nurture home grown players rather than buy a quick fix.

In the summer of 1952, Eddie left school aged 15 and signed for Manchester United as a trainee and then as a professional on his 17th birthday. Eddie slotted into the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club side, the Youth Team, like a sword in its scabbard. He played with consummate ease alongside Liam Whelan, David Pegg, Albert Scanlon and Duncan Edwards and helped the team win the inaugural FA Youth Cup in season 1952-53. Eddie played in both legs of the 1953 FA Youth Cup final, a 7-1 home win and a 2-2 away draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers. He was a breath of fresh air in a team which belied its average young age. The Manchester United Youth Team, nicknamed “The Busby Babes,” were that good, many sports writers thought that if they played in the English First Division Championship, they would be a Top 5 side. One of the favourite movies in the cinemas in 1952 was “Jumping Jacks,” a comedy starring Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. Colman and Edwards formed such a formidable half-back relationship, they were able to jump over the opposition which had the United fans smiling with delight.

Colman possessed a devilish body swerve which left many back pedalling defenders trip over their own feet as Eddie twisted and turned them like a mini tornado sweeping through a dust bowl town. He could curve his body and change direction at full speed which earned him the nickname “Snake Hips.” If Eddie looked like he was going to the defender’s left, his opponent moved to counter his forward advance. However, no sooner had the defender committed himself to countering Eddie’s move, the Salford boy had already swivelled his body to go in the opposite direction. Paddy Crerand once famously said that George Best had “Twisted Blood” because of the way the Belfast Boy teased and played with his markers. But George of course had no such blood in his veins, he was just a Genius. No doubt Duncan was thinking something quite similar as he watched his teammate, who was a month younger than Edwards (born on 1 November 1936), embarrass defenders up and down the country.

Duncan’s and Eddie’s different physiques and playing styles complemented one another’s. Edwards was the complete footballer, Mr Versatile, who could play in any position including in goal. He was a powerhouse of a footballer and so intelligent on and off the ball, a leader despite his young age. Eddie just oozed confidence, he was classy and stylish and a player who covered every blade of grass during the 90 minutes of play. His work rate in the middle of the pitch was second to none as he swerved and swivelled his way around and past opponents like a slalom skier negotiating a tricky downhill course. Eddie loved playing for Manchester United and took an enormous deal of pride every time he pulled on the famous red or white jersey of the club he had supported and dreamed of playing for when he kicked a ball in the street with his mates.
Eddie was one of the outstanding young players in the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club, and served his football tutelage under the Legendary Jimmy Murphy. Who knows what extra training he was given to develop his trademark Snake Hips body swerve but it could well have resembled part of the training routine which Rocky Balboa’s boxing trainer, (Mickey Goldmill played by Burgess Meredith), gave “The Italian Stallion” (Rocky played by Sylvester Stallone) in the 1976 blockbuster movie “Rocky.” In the movie, Rocky chased chickens around a pen for hours until he worked out the moves of his flapping foes before eventually catching one. Eddie would have caught a chicken in seconds.

One sports writer once said of Eddie: “Watching Eddie Colman on a fooball pitch was like looking at a precocious school boy scrumping apples from his teacher’s garden while playing truant from school.”

In seasons 1953-54 and 1954-55, Eddie was a key member of Manchester United’s Youth Team which retained the FA Youth Cup. He scored twice in United’s 4-1 home win over West Bromwich Albion in the first leg of the 1955 FA Youth Cup final, and had played in all six legs of the three finals captaining the side. Jimmy Murphy, Matt Busby’s assistant manager and the manager of the Manchester United Youth Team, was one of Eddie’s biggest admirers, along with quite a number of young attractive ladies from Manchester who fell in love with Eddie’s boyish good looks, charm and his trademark quiff haircut. During the summer of 1955, Murphy advised Busby that Eddie was ready to be blooded in the first team. Duncan had already made his first team debut and Murphy was super confident that the two 18-year olds could re-establish their harmonious back-half pairing against the best the English First Division could put up against them.

On 12 November 1955, Eddie was unleashed on the English First Division and handed his first team debut versus Bolton Wanderers aged 19 years and 11 days. But age was never a barrier to Busby who blooded Edwards when he was only 16 years and 183 days old. Eddie took Jeffrey Whitefoot’s place at No.4 and played well in the game against far more experienced players, such as Nat Lofthouse who was hugely impressed with his debut performance, which United lost 3-1 at Burnden Park, Bolton in the English First Division. Lofthouse, the legendary Bolton Wanderers and England international striker scored twice in a masterclass performance upfront with Ray Parry also on the scoresheet for The Trotters. Manchester United’s very own Legend, and prolific striker, Tommy Taylor, scored in the game. Eddie went on to play a further 24 League games (plus an FA Cup tie) during the 1955-56 season winning a League Championship winners’ medal in his first campaign in the senior side.

In the same year Eddie was developing his Snake Hips body swerve, a 20-year old American inadvertently created an image for himself which he never intended to do. Elvis Aaron Presley was born on 8 January 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, USA and in 1955, he performed alongside guitarist Scotty Moore and bass player Bill Black at the Overton Park Shell in Memphis, Tennessee. It was his first paid concert. The young Presley was so nervous about making his debut before a paying audience of 1,000, his legs shook during the concert. However, his unintentional leg movements sent the young girls in the crowd over the edge. “During the instrumental parts, he would back off from the mic and be playing and shaking, and the crowd would just go wild,” Scotty later told biographer Peter Guralnick. And, the Legend was born as Elvis quite quickly attracted a female fan following with his catchy music, his good looks, and, naturally those gyrating hips of his which had the girls swooning and fainting over him in the aisles.

One newspaper, the Daily News, actually reported: “Pop music has reached its lowest depths in the ‘grunt and groin’ antics of one Elvis Presley. Elvis, who rotates his pelvis… gave an exhibition that was suggestive and vulgar, tinged with the kind of animalism that should be confined to dives and bordellos.”

Elvis may well have made the girls swoon with his provocative hip gyrating but hardened defenders in the English First Division were not so easily impressed when Eddie swivelled his hips, and when the opportunity arose, they looked to scythe down Eddie long before Chelsea’s Ron Harris produced his infamous “Chopper” tackle on opposing players. But Eddie did have two things in common with Elvis. He pleased the crowd with his quite mesmerising dribbles and he left defenders in his wake grunting as they pulled a groin trying to stop him running past them. He was the small boy with a mop of shiny black hair who played football with a cheeky smile on his face with a charm which was irresistible.

Despite his small size and lightweight build (5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed just 9 stones, 12 pounds), he was the strongest tackler in the team, a player who was not renowned for being able to strike the ball with any ferocity, but he didn’t need to as he had a deft touch. Eddie floated passes up-field to teammates like Tiger Woods chipping golf balls on to the green. Indeed, it was Eddie’s industry which allowed Duncan Edwards to bomb forward knowing that if the team lost possession then Eddie was behind to him to thwart any counter attack.

In season 1956-57, Manchester United, the Champions of England became the first English club to participate in the European Cup much to the displeasure of the Football League who did not rate this distraction to the English Football League, which was the First Division, Second Division, Third Division North and Third Division South. Eddie had well and truly cemented his place in Busby’s First XI and made 36 League appearances, scoring his first ever goal for the club on 24 November 1956, a 2-2 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur in the League (Johnny Berry also scored), to help United retain their Championship crown in season 1956-57. He also won the 1956 FA Charity Shield when United beat their bitter local rivals, Manchester City, FA Cup winners in season 1955-56 defeating Birmingham City 3-1 in the final, 1-0 at Maine Road, Manchester (scorer: Dennis Viollet). David Gaskell made his debut in goal for United in the 1956 FA Charity Shield final taking the place of Busby’s No.1, Ray Wood, who was injured. Aged just 16 years and 19 days, Wood became the youngest player ever to play for the club.

The game was a break with FA Charity Shield tradition at the time which saw the League Champions entertain the FA Cup holders on their home turf. However, as Old Trafford did not have any floodlights installed in 1956, the game was switched to their neighbours’ home. It was the first competitive Manchester Derby to be played under the glare of floodlights. Prior to this the first floodlit Manchester Derby meeting was played at the Belle Vue Athletic Ground, Manchester on 26 February 1889. The game was also a Charity Match as it was played in aid of the Hyde Coal Mine Disaster which occurred on 18 February 1889. Twenty-three people lost their lives in the disaster. The last of the bodies were brought to the surface 12 hours after the blast.

Jimmy Murphy once said of Eddie: “There is no better tackler in the game than him.” Therefore, it came as no surprise that a 20-year old Colman was handed the task of marking Alfredo di Stefano, some ten years his senior, in both legs of their 1956-57 European Cup semi-final contest. Fifty years later, 2006, the Colombian singer, Shakira, had a huge hit with her song: “Hips Don’t Lie.” Perhaps her father saw Eddie play on TV at their family home in Barranquilla and influenced his daughter because one of the verses from her song perfectly summed up Eddie’s style of play:

“I’m on tonight
You know my hips don’t lie (no fighting)
And I’m starting to feel it’s right
All the attraction, the tension
Don’t you see, baby, this is perfection?”

Eddie’s hips certainly did not lie, they just did what it said on the tin marked “Eddie Colman.”

Matt Busby’s young team were the best in the land and the envy of every opposing football club owner, manager, players and fans. His Busby Babes were like a Crown of Jewels and in Colman, Busby had a very rare, exquisite and truly priceless diamond. Young boys in the 1950s loved nothing better than playing football in the street, hoping to train their skills to a level which would one day see them scouted to play for Manchester United, and reading their favourite comic. One such comic was “The Beano,” which was a weekly publication and include Dennis the Menace, the Crown Prince of British comicdom, his pet dog (Gnasher), pet pig (Rasher) and his lifelong foe (Walter the Softy). But another popular character was Billy Whizz, a character who is a boy who can run extraordinarily fast. His speed would often cause chaos yet at the same time his ability could prove useful. Eddie Colman’s alter ego could well have mirrored Billy Whizz whilst Billy had a younger, Alfie, of similar appearance. Alfie was usually shown as a normal boy but occasionally he was shown to be just as fast as his brother. Eddie’s teammate, Liam “Billy” Whelan, could well have fulfilled the comic role of Billy Whizz’s brother. But, as many English and European club discovered, there was nothing comical about Eddie and Liam’s performances for Manchester United as they made opposing defenders look comical week in and week out.

Eddie started the 1957-58 season for United where he had ended the previous campaign, leaving defenders raising their fists in the air as he shimmied past them, the wing-half with the deadly wiggle. On 22 October 1957, United exacted revenge over their FA Cup final conquerors five months earlier by hammering Aston Villa 4-0 at Old Trafford in the FA Charity Shield final with Taylor netting a hat-trick and Berry scoring a penalty. It was their fifth FA Charity Shield triumph (1908, 1911, 1952 & 1956). Prior to the Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958, Eddie had made 24 League appearances, 2 FA Cup appearances and had played in five of the club’s six European games in season 1957-58, missing the 6-0 away win over Shamrock Rovers in Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Eddie played in the 3-3 draw away with Red Star Belgrade on 5 February 1958. He scored his second, and last ever goal for Manchester United, in their 2-1 home win over the Yugoslavian Champions on 14 January 1958.

But Eddie’s game wasn’t about scoring goals, that was the job of Taylor and Viollet, who Eddie provided a feast of opportunities to score for. On occasion, he would, just as George Best would some years later, incur the wrath of his teammates who thought he held on to the ball too long and should be quicker at feeding passes to the attack. Thankfully, Matt Busby handed the young Salford lad a free rein and relied on his creativity and his ability to ease his way past defenders rather than asking him to score more goals. Eddie was an entertainer with dribbling skills matched only by the legendary Stanley Matthews at the time and he possessed the ability to curve the ball around a defender with pinpoint accuracy to his frontmen. The United fans adored him.

Eddie was the youngest of the eight Busby Babes who lost their lives in the fateful Munich Air Disaster, aged just 21 years, 3 months and 5 days. He had yet to play for England and would have done so on many occasions (he would have been 29 and in his prime when England won the Fifa World Cup final in 1966) had the hand of fate not have taken his life at such a young age. Twenty-seven workers at a Manchester box-making firm were dismissed from their jobs for leaving work to attend Eddie Colman’s funeral, but were all subsequently reinstated.

His former captain in the Manchester United Youth Team, Wilf McGuiness, described Eddie as: “A chirpy lad and a terrific player.” Eddie Colman was the heartbeat of the Busby Babes, with his spirit remaining the legacy of his place of birth, Salford.

Eddie made 108 appearances for the club and scored 2 goals. During his Manchester United career, he won 3 FA Youth Cup winners’ medals in 1953, 1954 and 1955, 2 First Division Championship winners medals in 1955-56 and 1956-57, an FA Charity Shield winners’ medal in 1956 and an FA Cup runners-up medal in 1957.

The words of the song “The Flowers of Manchester” ensures that the memory of Eddie and his seven teammates will live on forever, but the real tragedy of the Munich Air Disaster lies in just how much these eight Red Lancashire Roses could have blossomed.

Did You Know That?
An accommodation building at the University of Salford is named after Eddie Colman, the John Lester and Eddie Colman Court is a block of flats located near the main campus and a Street in Manchester is named “Eddie Colman Close.” In 1960, when Granada Television television first aired Coronation Street, a photo of Eddie Colman’s house at No. 9 Archie Street was the first vision the viewers saw among the opening credits. The character Eddie Duncan was named after two of the Busby Babes, Eddie and Duncan Edwards, and in the show he played for the fictional team Weatherfield County.