DUNCAN EDWARDS: ‘The best of them all’ (Sir Bobby Charlton)
What they say about me almost scares me.
“He has everything to play the game of football; physical strength, technique and moral qualities.”
“He will be the future captain of the England national team. And that future is closer than you think!”
“He will become the greatest of them all. This young man will tarnish the memory of Stanley Matthews and Tommy Lawton.”
… these are just some of the headlines that have recently appeared in the British tabloids.
I even find it hard to believe they are talking about me.
I’ve been playing football all my life.
It’s an absolute, total passion.
All I care about is playing.
I would play the same way in a park in Wolverhampton, the town where I was born, on a Sunday morning with friends.
But now I play for Manchester United, one of the biggest teams in England.
Our manager, Matt Busby, is not satisfied with that.
He says we can do better, much better than that.
Achieve much more.
Europe, always snubbed by English football until a couple of seasons ago, has now become the real test where we can measure our qualities and our true value.
I don’t know if we are ready to go to the top yet, but we are trying.
The team built by the great Matt is young, very young.
There are a lot of us in our ‘early 20’s’.
I’m 21 and there’s even someone younger than me, like Bobby, who at 20 is the ‘cub’ of the group.
Many of us have been playing together for years, first in the youth team and then for a very short time in the ‘Reserves’ team, the real anteroom to the first team.
But many of us have stayed there for very little.
Because Matt trusts us.
It is with us that he wants to build the future.
It is with us that he wants to take Manchester United to the roof of Europe.
In England we have already made our mark.
In the clearest and most unequivocal way.
By winning the league last season.
Surprisingly so say the sports commentators, but we won it … clearly and deservedly.
I carved out my starting place, even though I often played ‘bedside’ as we say in our parts, playing here and there … where I was needed.
Sometimes in the centre of defence, sometimes as a striker, often in midfield where I like it best.
I love running back and forth across the field, I like to be in the centre of the action, I like to touch the ball often.
I like to throw myself into tackles without too much calculation.
Which you can’t do in defence … and I like to insert myself from behind to get into the air and surprise the opposing defences.
Last night we played in Belgrade, against Red Star.
Mamma mia what a great team! What talent and technique they have!
Individually they are better than us. No point in hiding it.
But they don’t have our team spirit.
They don’t have our determination, our competitive ferocity.
Matt told us clearly, ‘guys, they’re good and they’re good, but they’re not organised enough’.
All true Boss!
In fact we got through the round.
It was a spectacular 3-3, but after we beat them 2-1 in Manchester a week ago.
We are in the semi-finals, together with AC Milan, Vasas Budapest and Real Madrid.
But now we only think about going back to England.
We have a very important FA CUP game against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.
It’s Thursday and each of us, players and staff alike, can’t wait to get back to Manchester to tuck ourselves warmly under the covers.
And it certainly won’t be as cold as it is here anyway!
We stopped in Munich for refuelling.
Crazy snow is coming down!
And it’s so cold that as it falls it turns to ice immediately.
When we get off while waiting for the plane to refuel, we are hit by freezing air.
We turn up the lapels of our coats and slip into the airport bar.
Matt is usually very strict about alcohol but even he knows that if there is an occasion to be a little ‘elastic’ it is tonight!
I don’t drink.
In England it’s almost offensive!
I’m used to my mates’ teasing by now, but tonight they are even more insistent than usual ‘Dunc, put some heat in your guts! In this cold weather you’ll freeze everything … even what you still use very sporadically for now!”
But it is a great group we have.
We have hardly suffered the transition to the first team because unlike in other teams we have not had to suffer the harassment of the ‘old men’, which in some cases can be very heavy.
Here in the meantime we are discussing whether or not to try to take off.
The pilot seems very calm and confident.
Some of the airport staff a little less so.
Some call home, the wives and girlfriends.
Tommy for example is getting married soon.
I hear him telling his fiancée to put a beer in the fridge for them to drink together when he returns.
Geoff is the most terrified.
He hates planes and flying.
He tried to the last to convince Matt not to take him with him.
‘Boss, I just can’t do it. I always get nosebleeds on planes!”
But Matt convinced him, as usual.
OK, the captain waves us on.
It’s back home.
And tomorrow we’ll know who we’re up against in the next round.
We’re one step closer. The Champions Cup final is really close.
We are kids, but Matt, as usual, was right.
Duncan Edwards, along with seven other teammates, will never return home. British European Airways flight 609 will never take off from Munich airport. It will crash into a house just off the runway and then end its journey against a fuel depot, which will explode, enveloping the plane’s carcass in flames.
Duncan Edwards, ‘The Tank’, would fight, as he did on the football field, against death for 15 long days, before surrendering on 21 February 1958. Duncan Edwards was the most promising of the ‘Busby Babes’, the fantastic band of youngsters forged by Sir Matt Busby who were preparing to dominate English and probably European football for at least a five-year period. He, a humble boy from Dudley, near Wolverhampton, had already made his debut for the English Lions’ national team almost two years earlier, in a match against West Germany, won by the English 3 to 1 and with a goal by the not yet 20-year-old Edwards. It is February 5, 1958 and Manchester United play the return leg of the European Cup quarter-final in Belgrade against Red Star. The match ended 3-3, allowing Manchester United to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup for the second year in a row thanks to the 2-1 victory in the first leg at Old Trafford. At the end of the match, Red Star manager Dragoslav Sekuralac said: ‘Today I saw probably the best player in the world in action. He talks about him, about Duncan Edwards.
This, however, is destined to remain the last football match played by young Duncan. On the way back to Manchester from Belgrade the Manchester plane has to stop off in Munich to refuel. The weather conditions are bad: snow and ice on the runway, very poor visibility. The plane attempts two take-offs, but without success. All the passengers return to the terminal. Duncan Edwards sends a telegram to Mrs Dorman, his landlady in Stretford, Manchester. “All flights have been cancelled. We will arrive in Manchester tomorrow.” The last kind and thoughtful gesture of this big boy who was as strong and brave on the field as he was humble and kind in everyday life. But the British airline pilot BEA Elizabethan decides to make one last attempt … it will be the one that costs the lives of 23 people, including Duncan Edwards and seven of his teammates. It has rarely happened in the history of football that a player after not even five years of professional football has left such an indelible mark. Despite his young age, his charisma on the pitch was very evident; an imposing physique and an uncommon elegance and personality. Bobby Charlton described him in no uncertain terms as the greatest British player of all time and the only player, in Sir Bobby’s words, ‘who made me feel inadequate’. Charlton continues in his description of Edwards ‘every great footballer stands out for one or two specific characteristics; dribbling, header, speed, tactical intelligence or physical prowess. Duncan Edwards was simply the best at each of these ‘specialities’.
Tommy Docherty, manager for several seasons of Manchester United, has no doubts and his regard of Edwards is, if possible, even greater ‘he would have become the greatest player of all time … and I’m not just talking about United. George Best was special, as were Pele and Maradona, but in terms of completeness as a player Duncan Edwards was superior to all of them’.
There are many, including Terry Venables, an excellent English footballer of the 1960s and 1970s and highly regarded manager of Totthenam, Barcelona and the England national team, who claim that without the Munich tragedy it would most likely have been Duncan Edwards and not Bobby Moore who would have lifted the World Cup won by the English national team in 1966. One of the most significant anecdotes about Duncan Edwards is told by Sam Pilger in his book ‘Best XI Manchester Utd.’ where the English writer draws a beautiful profile of the 11 best players in the history of the Red Devils at Old Trafford.
“Four months before his tragic death Duncan Edwards played one of his last games with the England national team against Wales at Ninian Park in Cardiff. On that day in November 1957, Wales’ coach was Jimmy Murphy, Matt Busby’s right-hand man at Manchester United. During his pre-match speech in the Welsh national team’s dressing room, Mr Murphy spoke about every single player on the English national team, highlighting their merits but above all making known the flaws of the Whites of England. He spoke in detail about 10 players on the England national team and as he prepared to close his talk, Newcastle’s Welsh midfielder Reg Davies intervened. “Mister, didn’t you tell us about Edwards?” “Try never to run into him during the match. Simply turn away from him. That is the only advice I am able to give you.”
That was Duncan Edwards.
DUNCAN EDWARDS is one of 21 biographies told in http://www.urbone.eu/obchod/storie-maledette