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Matt Busby: When Football Lost Manchester United's Father Figure On This Day in 1994

Matt Busby was a pioneer of football
Matt Busby was a pioneer of football

On January 20,1994 the football world mourned the loss of one of the greatest managers of all time as news began to filter through that Matt Busby, a pioneer of the game, a winner and above all a true gentleman had passed away at the Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle, aged 84.

Busby’s association with Manchester United began way back in 1945 during the last throes of World War II and he remained at Old Trafford pretty much until his dying day, becoming one of the most recognisable names in the game and leading the club to a period of greatness that would cement their place as one of the best-known clubs in the world.

Busby began his playing career with Manchester City as an 18-year old and spent eight years at Main Road plying his trade as a tricky inside forward. He then joined Liverpool in 1936 for a fee of £8,000 in March 1936 having made more than 200 appearances for The Blues and helping them to an FA Cup final success in 1934.

An ever-present in the Liverpool side over the next three seasons it wasn’t long before Busby was made captain, leading the club with great distinction and forming what is considered by many to be the best half-back lines of its time along with Jimmy McDougall and Tom Bradshaw.

When Bob Paisley joined Liverpool from Bishop Auckland in 1939 Busby took him under his wing at Anfield leading to a lifelong friendship between the pair who would go on to become two of the most successful managers in English football.

Busby’s first taste of management came during his time in the army in the Second World War as a football coach in the Army Physical Training Corps, he immediately revelled in the position and soon caught the eye of Manchester United who offered him the opportunity to take the reins at Old Trafford in 1945; a job in which he would thrive for the next 23 years.

After just three years he was leading his team out at Wembley for the FA Cup final, which United would win 4-2 against Bristol City and one of the greatest love affairs in football began.

With a stern and statesmanlike approach which he had adopted from his years down the pits in Scotland as a young man, combined with a natural charm and uncanny ability to match names with faces; Busby was a natural fit while also being extremely good at developing young footballers and generating a fantastic team spirit throughout the club.

His emphasis on youth development was rewarded in 1956 and then again in 1957 when his young “Babes”, as they became known, won the First Division title thanks to their hunger, enthusiasm and natural ability resulting in an attacking style of play which became renowned throughout the land.

There was a hard side to Busby too which became evident when he stood-up against the Football League in 1956, after he decided, contrary to their wishes, that United would become the first English club to play in the new European Cup; feeling that it was an important step in the evolution of English football.

The previous year’s champions Chelsea had abided by the League's decision and not entered the fledgling tournament but Busby felt it was a must if his young side were to progress to become one of the all time greats of the game.

Having reached the semi-finals at their first attempt United earned the right to play in Europe again when they won the title in 1957, but this time fate would ensure Busby’s Babes would be cruelly cut down in their pursuit of glory on foreign soil when tragedy struck on a Munich runway as they returned from a European Cup match in Yugoslavia.

Busby lost eight of his side in the crash on February 6, 1958 and was twice himself given the last rites, but after making an astonishing recovery and returning to the dugout by the end of the season he quickly set about rebuilding from the devastation to once again take United to the pinnacle of English football.

An FA Cup win in 1963 was soon followed by league titles in 1965 and 1967 before in 1968 the European Cup, which so many people thought they would have lifted a decade earlier but for the tragedy at Munich, was finally theirs after an emotional night at Wembley.

The European Cup triumph would be Busby’s curtain call at his beloved United. A combination of greater day-to-day responsibilities and a once great side that had since aged and become the shadow of its former self saw Busby eventually retire as manager at the end of the following season.

United struggled with the transition as players and coaching staff found it difficult not having the man they had called “Boss” for the last 23 years around with Sir Matt twice returning to the hot seat as the club struggled to adjust to life without him in charge.

In the years that followed Busby became a director and then later president of the club he had served so loyally for so much of his life, even being credited with helping a young Alex Ferguson during those difficult early years that followed after he arrived at the club in 1986.

In the years since his death Busby’s reputation as one of football's great visionaries has remained intact with Sir Matt Busby Way leading to the stadium honouring his legacy, along with a statue overlooking the Old Trafford forecourt ensuring that the man who many people feel created the modern day Manchester United maintains a permanent presence at the club he helped to transform into one of the most famous in the world.

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