Sir Matt Busby

The beginning

Alexander Matthew Busby, now known to football fans around the world as Sir Matt Busby, was born in the mining village of Orbiston, Glasgow, in May 1909. With his father and uncles being killed in World War One, he had a humble upbringing but he was always obsessed with football. This obsession was to lead him to become one of the most successful football managers ever to grace the sport. Despite being a legend in Manchester United’s history, with a statue in his honour standing at Old Trafford, Busby’s playing career started at United’s fierce local rivals, Manchester City, in 1929. This brief spell at City brought success for the young player, when in 1934 they won the FA Cup. Busby joined Liverpool in 1936 and his contribution to the team’s success during the following seasons was acknowledged when he was made captain. Like many of his teammates, however, Busby’s playing days were unfortunately cut short by the Second World War.

The post-war era

The end of the War brought a new opportunity for Busby. At 36, he no longer saw a future as a player but still had a keen interest in the sport. Liverpool offered him a job on their coaching staff but he turned down this opportunity since he wanted to be more involved with hands-on coaching of the first team. This led to him accepting the job of Manchester United manager in 1946. United had been hit hard by the Second World War and the club was in total disarray. They had not won a trophy since 1911 and the fans were becoming disillusioned with the style of the first team. Busby’s belief that football should be about winning but also about exciting the crowd helped to change this malaise. His success at the club was immediate, as the team finished second in the league at the end of his first season in charge. 1948 brought an FA Cup win, as Blackpool were defeated in the final by 4 goals to 2. United also finished as runners-up in 1948, 1949 and 1951.

Busby’s magnificent revival of the club was epitomised in 1952, when Manchester United won the league as a result of their free-flowing and free-scoring football. However, despite this success, Busby was not overly optimistic about the club’s future, since many first team players such as captain, Johnny Carey, were ageing. It became clear that the team would have to undergo numerous drastic changes in a short space of time.

The Busby Babes era

Many expected Matt Busby to make several expensive and high-profile signings in order to replace the club’s older players. However, he chose to replace the older players gradually with youngsters, some as young as 16. One such player was Duncan Edwards, who set the long-standing record for being the youngest ever full international, making his England debut at just 18.

This new team of young and exciting players, were given the nickname, the ‘Busby Babes’. They were an instant success and their youthful flair made football fashionable. The Busby Babes won the league in 1956 and 1957 and were unlucky to lose the 1957 FA Cup Final to Aston Villa. The team started the 1958 season confident of success in the league, the FA Cup and the European Cup. United were the first English team to enter the European Cup and despite condemnation from the Football authorities, Busby viewed participation in Europe as imperative to the club’s future success.

Tragically, on the trip home from a European game against Red Star Belgrade in February 1958, Manchester United’s team plane crashed at Munich Airport. A total of 21 people were killed, including 8 players. Duncan Edwards was among those who died. Several other players were so severely injured that they would never play football again. Busby himself was badly injured and lucky to escape with his life. The effect of this event upon football in England was extreme, as fans from all over the country were united in grief for the club’s loss.

European success

After two months in hospital, Busby returned to Manchester United determined to honour those who had died by winning the European Cup. Those who had survived the crash and were still able to play, such as Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes, became the foundations of the new first team. Busby also made several important signings, amongst them Denis Law. 1963 brought FA Cup success to United, as they beat Leicester in the final. He also discovered a new talent in the form of George Best, in 1964. Busby’s new team, who had rediscovered the flair and excitement of the Busby Babes, won the league in 1965 and 1967.

Matt Busby was still not content, though, since the team had not been successful in the European Cup. However, on May 29th, 1968, Manchester United won the Cup after beating Benfica 4-1 in the final. The entire nation recognised how important this success was, not just for the club, but for English football as a whole.

Busby retired from management the following year after achieving his dream. He was also knighted as an acknowledgement of his success. A further honour came his way, as he was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory in 1972. As one of the highest honours in the Roman Catholic Church, this meant a lot to the highly religious Busby. He stayed at United as a director and even became manager again for a brief spell during the early 1970s. The club made him President in 1982 and he also became involved in the Football League authorities.

Busby’s final days

Sadly, Sir Matt Busby died of cancer, on 20th January, 1994, aged 85. He was buried in Manchester, a city which had grown to love and respect him. Fortunately, he was alive to see the exciting revival of the club under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, although he missed the club’s Treble win in 1999. He will always be remembered as the man who laid the foundations for the global club which Manchester United has become today.