Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

From the Pits to European Glory ; Stuart Mathieson Charts the Life of the United Great Who Spent 17 Years at Old Trafford, Winning Every Honour in the Game after Surviving Munich

Newspaper article Manchester Evening News

From the Pits to European Glory ; Stuart Mathieson Charts the Life of the United Great Who Spent 17 Years at Old Trafford, Winning Every Honour in the Game after Surviving Munich

Article excerpt

THREE generations of Matt Busby United sides were gloriously littered with players of outrageous talent. But the early entertainers from the 1950s, the famous Babes, the distraught post- Munich team and the dashing 60s selection needed a Bill Foulkes in their midst.

The Reds wouldn't have had the solid platform from which to function without the gritty, determined qualities of a Lancastrian defender who learnt all about hard work down the pit at Lea Green Colliery.

Both his father and grandfather played rugby league for St Helens and Bill brought all the power and strength in his genes to creating his own niche in some of the most glamorous eye-catching football teams ever produced.

His 17-year Old Trafford success was a victory over some self- doubt and desperate tragedy and, in his later playing years, his sheer will power overcame the ravages of time and injury.

Stubbornness Foulkes, who died yesterday aged 81, didn't exactly woo his new employers in 1950 when United first took a peak at him in a trial at St Bede's College where the Lancashire FA were based.

His area of expertise was brute force, iron-strong stubbornness and an indomitable work ethic.

He knew where he stood on that but didn't initially think he belonged in the Busby side which had won the 1952 title.

And when Reds boss Matt Busby called him to his office to tell the 20-year-old he would be making his debut, Foulkes thought he was about to get the bullet.

He was so unsure of his ability to cut it as a professional at Old Trafford that when he was offered pro terms, he insisted he should sign on parttime and keep his job as a miner.

He continued as a pitman, thanklessly performing his back- breaking job below ground while training with United in the evenings.

He was eventually to turn full-time pro but still he was only looked upon as a modest right-back as the transition from Busby's first side to the Babes took place.

Bill continued to be a largely unheralded component of the team that was ripped apart at Munich.

After the tragedy there could be no more formidable a figure than Foulkes to steer the shellshocked Reds out of those traumatic months and years.

Just 13 days after returning from Germany by train he was leading United out as captain on an emotional Old Trafford evening in the FA Cup against Sheffield Wednesday.

Somehow Foulkes and goalkeeper Harry Gregg appeared that night to keep the Red flag flying.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, a new positional job was handed to Foulkes.

The workaday full-back became a no-nonsense, nofrills, fit-as-a- butcher's-dog, old-fashioned central defensive stopper.

As United's attacking geniuses did their business, Foulkes was the first name on the team-sheet as the side's very foundation stone.

No forward relished a tussle with Bill. …

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