A Strange Kind of Glory: Sir Matt Busby and Manchester United : Book
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Sir Alexander Matthew Busby, CBE [1] (born 26 May 1909 - died 20 January 1994) was a Scottish football player and manager, most noted for managing Manchester United between 1945-1969 and again for the 1970-1971 season. He is the longest serving manager in the history of Manchester United, ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson, although the latter has contested the most games as manager.

Early life

Born in a two-roomed pitman’s cottage in the mining village of Orbiston (now part of Bellshill), North Lanarkshire; he was raised a practising Roman Catholic and of Lithuanian ancestry [1]. His father and all his uncles were killed in World War I.

Playing Career

As a player, Busby began his career at Manchester City where he won an FA Cup Winner's medal in 1934, this following the cup runners-up medal he got the season before. Liverpool manager George Patterson then signed Busby for £8,000 in the March of 1936. He made his debut for the Reds on 14 March away to Huddersfield, a game that ended in a 1-0 defeat for Liverpool sadly. He opened his account a month later, his 47th minute strike helped his team to a 2-2 draw with Blackburn at Ewood Park.

Busby soon made the number 4 shirt his own, ousting Robert James Savage in the process. He rarely missed a game over the following three seasons. This consistency earned Busby the Liverpool captaincy and he led the club with great distinction.

Busby started out as an inside-forward but was switched to right-half early in his career. Busby, along with Jimmy McDougall and Tom Bradshaw made up what is considered by many to be the best half-back line Liverpool had ever had - as "half-backs" had been replaced by "midfielders" by the time of Liverpool's most glorious years during the 1970s and 1980s.

Soon after Bob Paisley joined Liverpool from Bishop Auckland and it was Busby who took him under his wing and showed him the ropes at Anfield. This led to a lifelong friendship between two of the most successful managers in English football history.

The Second World War brought an end to Busby's playing days. Like many of the playing staff, he signed on for national service in the King's Liverpool Regiment.

Busby carried on playing during the war, making three appearances for Chelsea. He also turned out for Middlesbrough, Reading, Brentford, Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic and Hibernian.

Busby made his first 'official' international appearance for Scotland on 4 October 1933 at Ninian Park, Cardiff in a 3-2 British Championship defeat to Wales. He also made 7 'unofficial' appearances for Scotland during the war.

Coaching Career

After peace was declared in 1945, the 36 year-old Busby was offered a job on the coaching staff at Anfield. However, Busby had requested that he be given more responsibilities over the playing side of the club, a job that was traditionally reserved for the club secretary. Liverpool's directors refused to budge, and when Busby was offered the chance to manage the club with no interference from the board, Billy McConnell, the Liverpool chairman at the time, eventually persuaded Anfield directors to let Busby leave.

Busby took over the reins at Manchester United at the beginning of October 1946. He immediately put his mark on the side leading them to the runners-up spot in the league, behind his former employers Liverpool, by the end of the 1946-47 season. Manchester United were runners-up in the league in 1947, 1948, 1949, and 1951 before winning the championship in 1952. By this stage, the side captained by Johnny Carey was beginning to show its age, and a new set of players had to be found.

Busby, who had achieved a great deal of success in spite of his lack of previous managerial experience, was expected to spend large sums of money on high profile players. Instead, he gradually replaced the older players with players as young as 16 and 17. These included right-back Bill Foulkes, centre-halves Mark Jones and Jackie Blanchflower, wingers Albert Scanlon and David Pegg and forward Bill Whelan. Among them was Duncan Edwards, judged by many to be England's finest player of his era, and capped by England at 18 - setting a record for the youngest-ever full international that remained unbroken for more than 40 years.

During this period, the team picked up the affectionate nickname the Busby Babes, due to the youthfulness of some of the players he fielded. They won the league in both 1956 and 1957, and were runners-up to Aston Villa in the 1957 FA Cup Final. The young side was so successful that centre-forward Tommy Taylor and goalkeeper Harry Gregg were United's only major signings over a spell of four years.

Busby and his team began the 1957-58 season full of ambition for an assault on the Football League title, FA Cup and European Cup. On the way home from a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade on 6 February 1958, their plane crashed on the runway at Munich Airport. Seven players and three club officials were among the 23 people who were killed. Duncan Edwards later died from his injuries, while two other players were injured to such an extent that they never played again. Busby suffered multiple injuries and twice received the last rites, but he recovered from his injuries and left hospital after two months. He was present at a new-look United side's FA Cup final defeat against Bolton Wanderers at Wembley three months later, and resumed full managerial duties from assistant Jimmy Murphy for the following season.

Busby had been appointed as Scotland's temporary manager and took charge of the team for two games later that year against Wales and Northern Ireland, giving Denis Law his first cap.

After the crash, Busby built a new side around Munich survivors including Harry Gregg, Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes. He also brought in players from other clubs - these included David Herd, Albert Quixhall and Denis Law. By 1964, Busby had discovered an exciting young talent in the shape of Northern Irish forward George Best, rated by many as the finest footballer of the decade.

In 1963, Busby had successfully rebuilt United as he guided them to a 3-1 victory over Leicester City in the FA Cup final. They were league champions in 1965 and again in 1967, with only a defeat on the final day of the 1965-66 season stopping them from recording a rare championship hat-trick.

The biggest success of his career came on 29 May 1968 when the team won the European Cup. He retired as manager a year later but remained at the club as a director, handing over managerial duties to trainer and former player Wilf McGuinness. When McGuinness was sacked in December 1970, Busby briefly returned to his managerial duties, although there was never any question of him returning as manager on a permanent basis. He then reverted to director for 11 years, being made president in 1982.

Busby was awarded the CBE in 1958 and was knighted following the European Cup victory in 1968. His testimonial was held at Old Trafford in August 1991, in which a Manchester United side featuring a new generation of star players including Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce took on a Republic of Ireland XI, the result was a draw 1 - 1.

He died of cancer, aged 84, in January 1994. He was buried in Southern Cemetery, Manchester.

Busby was made an inaugural inductee of the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002 in recognition of his impact on the English game.

Career statistics

Managerial career

Team Nat From To Record
G W L D Win %
Manchester United   1 February 1945 8 June 1969 1138 570 300 268 50.08
Scotland   September 1958 December 1958 2 1 0 1 50
Manchester United   28 December 1970 2 June 1971 21 11 7 3 52.38


As a player

Manchester City (1929-1936)

  • FA Cup winner: 1934
  • FA Cup runner-up: 1933

As a manager

Manchester United (1945-1969, 1970-1971)

  • First Division winner: 1951-52, 1955-56, 1956-57, 1964-65, 1966-67
  • First Division runner-up: 1946-47, 1947-48, 1948-49, 1950-51, 1958-59, 1963-64, 1967-68
  • FA Cup winner: 1948, 1963
  • FA Cup runner-up: 1957, 1958
  • European Cup winner: 1968 European Cup Final
  • Charity Shield winner: 1952, 1956, 1957, 1965, 1967
  • Charity Shield runner-up: 1948 and 1963
  • Intercontinental Cup runner-up: 1968


  1. ^ Some sources, such as Manchester City's unofficial stats website (MCFCStats.com), cite Busby's given names as Matthew William

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