On this day 111 years ago, one of football’s greatest managers was born.
Sir Matt Busby is regarded as the founding father of Manchester United, a hero among the club’s supporters for transforming the Old Trafford side into champions of Europe and for the birth of the Busby Babes.
Tragedy would strike on that path, with the Munich air disaster in 1958 claiming the lives of 11 on the club’s charter. Busby was pulled from the wreckage, his life and legacy hanging in the balance.
However, the Scot’s return to health saw him also return to the dugout to change the face of Manchester United.
Using his own words, GoBonus Scotland charts the remarkable life and times of Sir Matt Busby:
From Bellshill to Liverpool
1909: Alexander Matthew “Matt” Busby is born in Orbiston, Bellshill in Lanarkshire Scotland.
“I was born in a pitman’s cottage and the doctor who delivered me said ‘a footballer has come to this house this day’. He may have said that about most of the boys he delivered, but in my case he was very nearly proved wrong.”
1925: Busby leaves school and starts work as a collier. Despite encouragement from his teachers to continue his education and perhaps become a school master, he plays football with local club Alpine Villa.
“There were only two ways for boys to go in those days: down, working in the pits, or up if you happened to be good at football.”
1928: He is scouted playing for Stirlingshire junior club Denny Hibernian and is offered a contract by Manchester City for £5 per week.
“I had a form of complex at the time. I think it was an inferiority complex. I thought the first-team players were gods and during this spell I didn’t do too well probably for the best part of a year and a half.
“One Sunday night, I had my case packed and thought ‘I must get out of here’. A first-team player Phil McCloy talked me into staying.
“In an emergency [in 1929] I was called upon to play right half-back in a northern midweek league game and in truth in that position and from that moment on success came to me.”
1936: Joins Liverpool for a transfer fee of £8000, going on to become captain.
1939: At the outbreak of World War Two, Busby enlists in the army and rises to the rank of company Sgt Maj in the Army’s Physical Training Corp.
Busby the coach emerges
1945: After becoming assistant manager at Liverpool the previous year, Busby is named boss of Manchester United.
”The ground had been blitzed and they had an overdraft at the bank. What is more I had no experience as a manager and I felt they were taking a great risk in appointing me. All I had apart from playing experience were certain ideas as to what a manager should do and faith in those ideas and faith in the future of the club.”
1947-48: First trophy at United: United win the FA cup for the first time in 39 years, beating Blackpool 4-2.
1948: Busby takes charge of the Great Britain team at the Olympic games, reaching the semi-finals to be beaten by Yugoslavia.
1951-52: Manchester United win the first division for the first time since 1911. Busby then starts dismantling the team to introduce players from the United youth system.
”We’d played a friendly game in Kilmarnock in Scotland on the Wednesday following a 1-0 win over Aston Villa but I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t satisfied about it and we played this match and I put a lot of these young boys in and we won 4-0. I remember the following day walking along the golf course thinking ‘we won 4-0, but what was the strength of the team?’.
“This went on for a couple of days. All of a sudden I said ‘Right I’m going to put them all in’ and that was against Huddersfield the following Saturday. I think we played three of the championship side and eight new players. It was a big decision, but sometimes you have to face these things, it worked out the right way.”
1955-56: United are champions again with the team that’s become known as The Busby Babes. It featured players like Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton, Harry Gregg and Wilf McGuiness.
”It’s every manager’s dream I suppose to build a team by coaching, that’s why I started a youth system.”
1956-57: United play in the European Cup for the first time despite resistance from the Football Association. They reach the semi-finals where they are beaten by Real Madrid. United retain the English championship.
”I’ve always been European Cup conscious, the only way to become the best team in Europe is by winning the European Cup.”
1958: Tragedy strikes when travelling home from a European cup tie in Belgrade, Manchester United’s charter flight crashes on take-off following a stopover at Munich Airport.
Eight United players and three staff members are among the dead. Busby is pulled from the wreckage by goalkeeper Gregg. Seriously injured, he has the last rites administered twice in hospital.
”It was a terrible experience and I remember my feelings when I did come to a bit of sanity and realised the situation. The last thing I thought at the time was that I would ever be associated with football again.
“Jane [his wife] said ‘Football is your life, you’ve got to face it. You’ve got it in your mind and these boys would probably want it’.
“It was a good job I went back, I forced myself to go back because I became occupied and I got that obsession again that Manchester United were going to the top, and it occupied me morning, noon and night.”
1958: With only one cap to his name, Busby takes charge of Scotland for two matches – against Northern Ireland and Wales, giving a debut to teenage centre forward striker Denis Law.
1964-65: United are champions of England again, beating Leeds United to the title on goal difference. Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton play starring roles.
1965-66: The Old Trafford club reach the semi-finals of the European Cup but are beaten by Partizan Belgrade of Yugoslavia.
1966-67: Busby’s team win the league championship again. Matt Busby is given the freedom of Manchester.
“I’ve spent my life in the game that I love. As a player, I’ve had the privilege of playing with the finest in my day. As a manager, I’ve had the honour of serving what I believe to be the best club in the world.”
1968: Ten years after the Munich air disaster, Manchester United win the European Cup, beating Benfica 4-1 after extra-time at Wembley.
“This is the greatest moment of my life, the fulfilment of my dearest wish to become the first English club to win the European Cup.
“I’m proud of the team, proud of Bobby Charlton and Billy Foulkes [Munich survivors] who have travelled the long road with me.”
1969: After being knighted the previous year, Busby retires, becoming general manager of Manchester United.
”It’s time to make way for a younger man, a tracksuited manager. United is no longer a football club, it’s an institution. I feel the demands are beyond one human being.”
1970: Returns as Manchester United manager on a temporary basis after his successor Wilf McGuiness is sacked.
”I’m getting tired of a lot of things, I thought when I gave up the managership I was going to get a bit of peace and quiet. Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case.
“I can never understand this situation and the controversy about Sir Matt Busby’s image and Sir Matt Busby looking over everyone’s shoulder and doing this and that. I don’t interfere.”
1980: Busby becomes president of Manchester United, a position he would hold until 1993.
“Winning isn’t everything. There should be no conceit in victory and no despair in defeat.”
1994: Death of a legend: Sir Matt Busby dies aged 84.