On this day: Sir Matt Busby passes away

Sir Matt Busby poses for a photograph on January 01, 1991.
© Getty Images
Twenty years ago today, former Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby passed away after a short illness.

Ordinarily, someone with connections to both Manchester City and Liverpool from their playing days is not looked upon fondly by Manchester United supporters. Sir Matt Busby was different, though.

Having played for two of United's biggest rivals, he became the club's first manager following the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945. One of the Scot's first acts was to appoint Jimmy Murphy as his assistant and the pair would go on to oversee numerous successes.

The FA Cup was lifted courtesy of 4-2 victory over Blackpool at Wembley in 1948 and, after four runners-up finishes, Busby guided United to the Division One title during the 1951-52 season. It was after then that the manager started to blood the young players who would become known as the 'Busby Babes'.

The likes of Bill Foulkes, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Liam Whelan, Eddie Colman and Duncan Edwards all broke through as United won back-to-back titles in 1956 and 1957. Those triumphs prompted Busby to make a bold stand when he insisted that his club would accept the invitation to become the first English team to compete in the European Cup, despite the protests from the Football League management committee.

Their first outing among Europe's elite saw United defeated at the semi-final stage in 1957, but a year later disaster struck. On February 6, 1958, the plane taking Busby and his players home from a tie in Belgrade crashed in icy conditions at Munich Airport, where it had stopped to refuel. Twenty-three people lost their lives, including eight of Busby's players: Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Billy Whelan, Tommy Taylor, Colman, Edwards, Jones and Pegg. Busby himself was twice read his last rites, but he defied the medical experts to recover.

He returned to his management duties in August 1958. Among others, Denis Law and Paddy Crerand were recruited in the campaigns that proceeded and the duo were present as United won their first trophy since the Munich air disaster in the form of the FA Cup in 1963. Law scored the first goal in a 3-1 victory over Leicester City.

The Scottish centre-forward would go on to form part of the 'Holy Trinity' over the coming years alongside Sir Bobby Charlton and George Best. Titles in 1965 and 1967 saw United qualify for the European Cup again. In 1966 Busby's men reached the last four, just as they had done nine years earlier, but in 1968 they went one better by reaching the final at Wembley against Portuguese outfit Benfica. Charlton and Best were among the goals as United won 4-1 after extra time, which crowned Busby's greatest achievement at the United helm.

He stepped down in 1969, selecting Wilf McGuinness to replace him, but by December 1970 he was back in the hotseat to take over from his struggling successor. There was never any suggestion that he had returned for the long haul, though, and in June 1971 he retired for good, with Frank O'Farrell taking charge.

After football Busby was made Knight Commander of St Gregory by the Pope in 1972 and in 1980 he was named the president of United. Then, in 1993, the Warwick Road North, which ran in front of Old Trafford, was renamed Sir Matt Busby Way in his honour.

It was on this day 20 years ago that Busby passed away at Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle after a short illness. His funeral a week later saw thousands line the streets of Manchester as his cortege drove from Chorlton to Manchester's Southern Cemetery.

Five years after his death, United, managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, matched Busby's finest accomplishment when they won the Champions League in dramatic fashion at the expense of Bayern Munich at Camp Nou. Poignantly, the match took place on what would have been Busby's 90th birthday.

Members of Manchester United board the BEA Elizabethan to Belgrade.
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