RED STAR PUBLISHING: john ludden: cfieldsoffire@aol.com

                TAKEN ''FROM THE STARS''

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN - THE LAST BATTLE CRY

 

Encore: Wednesday 15 May 1969:

 

  If this is to be my last encore in the European Cup, then I am glad Jimmy is going to stand beside me. Once upon a time we shared a dream. We were going to build the greatest team in the world and we were going to do it by using our own boys. Our ripe apples. Reared from a Mancunian tree, taught by Jimmy, the finest red.

And I believe we succeeded, only for our dreams to be torn from the sky. Tonight we are facing a fine AC Milan team that are two goals up and I am convinced already feel they are in the final. We shall see.

This competition in time I have learned to love, loathe, fear and adore. It has broken me both physically and mentally, only then to raise me back up again. And so to my last game. If there is one thing I have learned in managing this magnificent club of ours for twenty-four years it is that nothing is impossible. For we came from nothing to the stars.

My team for the last encore: Rimmer, Brennan, Burns, Crerand, Foulkes, Stiles, Morgan, Kidd, Charlton, Law and Best.

The Italians are not just confident of going through; they are a little cocky with it, I believe. Their coach Nereo Rocco declared yesterday: ‘When we knocked out Celtic last year in Glasgow after drawing 0-0 at home we had nothing to lose and were hoping for a miracle. This match against Manchester United is very different. The Italian public and press expect us to go through. And if we resist for twenty minutes at Old Trafford, I am sure that here in Manchester, you will witness a great Milan.’ 

Fifteen minutes before the game begins I address the players. It feels strange as they sit there in an all white strip. A rule stipulated by UEFA after we played in red in Milan. I look around at the faces.

They look ready.

‘Now lads we know what we have to do so let’s get after them from the first whistle. Play hard, let the ball do the work. But keep your cool, don’t let them rattle you. George and Willie, I think you owe your markers a game after the first leg. Don’t you?’

‘Yes boss’ they both reply.

‘Their coach Rocco seems to feel they are already in the final. So let’s ruin his night shall we? Let’s send the Italians home crying.’

With that I step away. I have always been a support act to what is to follow. I nod to Jimmy and he steps forward. You can hear a pin drop, not a rattle of a stud, even the crowd noise outside seems to diminish. I imagine a huge hush settling over the terraces, as if even they wish to listen in. He says nothing for a moment. The calm before a raging storm. Jimmy simply smiles and stands with his hands in his suit trouser pockets facing the players. He loves them all. For a second their faces disappear and he sees instead Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan, Mark Jones and Geoff Bent.

He looks to his left and sees the beloved Tom Curry and Bert Whalley. His dear departed friends and fellow trainers killed at Munich stand at his side. They are smiling. Jimmy rubs his eyes. He looks again and they are all gone. He composes himself. He takes a deep breath and begins - the last battle cry

‘I want to tell you all a quick story. We have time. Now you all know me, I am a man who likes the simple things in life. A quiet pint, a sing song in the midnight hour. I have even been known to twinkle on a piano or two.’

The players smile, their love and respect for Jimmy obvious.

‘I want to tell you a tale about a rainbow. It is a magical rainbow. It does not need sunshine and showers to light up the skies because it only exists in our world. You see boys it is a Manchester United rainbow and its colours are red, white and black. And it is filled with miracles and wonder and awe. Now the great thing about our rainbow is that if you don’t believe you cannot see it. Now this lot we are playing tonight. They cannot see our rainbow and do you know why? Anyone?’

A laughing George Best puts his hand in the air. ‘They don’t believe in it Jimmy.’

‘That’s right George’ smiles Jimmy. ‘And do you know what lads? For me that is a sin. And so we are going to have make these non believers pay. And how do we do that?’

‘We knock the bastards out Jimmy’ replies Brian Kidd. 

‘Exactly Brian’ say Jimmy. ‘Tonight we have to ensure our rainbow is glowing over Collyhurst to make sure your Mum and Dad can see it, okay?’

Brian nods.

‘Now for me the story is almost over lads. Soon I retire to my piano and I sing songs of past deeds. Of glorious heroes whom have gone before you. Boys who performed as men, who were taken before their time and who form that rainbow which we treasure as our own. I love three things in this word. My family, my God and this club. Now let’s get out there and do this lot and ensure our rainbow is shining over Madrid when we go there for the final. For they love us there, boys. This tonight is the one, we get to the Bernabeu and I promise you a glory night under Spanish stars.’ Jimmy clenches his fist and roars out: ‘Now come on!’  

The players jump to their feet. There are roars and screams of encouragement. Jimmy Murphy has done his part. He can do no more. With such passion and fire he departs the stage. Without this man there would not be a Manchester United as we know today.

As kick off draws near, 63,000 file inside Old Trafford, and the ground heaves with both excitement and trepidation. The Stretford End rocks and sways and then explodes in a cascade of red and white as the two teams come out of the tunnel into full view. And so it begins and for seventy minutes we huff and puff and at times bang loud, but Milan, these supreme masters of the defensive arts, remain unyielding. They are defiant.

None more than Angelo Anquilletti, once more, whose man marking of George has been ferocious but fair. His has been a dark shadow, one George has struggled all night to escape from. But George keeps going. As does Willie Morgan, who has been equally sedated by the German stopper, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger.

In all honesty Rocco’s men could have finished the tie off in the first half as they broke twice from defence with the ever dangerous Sormani and Prati to give us heart attacks. Luckily we survived but as the clock ticks ever down the European Cup is surely slipping from our grasps. We desperately need divine intervention, a slice of luck. A moment of inspiration.

A thirty yard Bobby Charlton thunderbolt to rip through the sky and the Italian net. A Denis Law blistering scissor kick through a heap of bodies. A drop of the shoulders and a rasping drive into the goal from my magic man, George. Come on George, one last time. For me George.

For me.

Still we charge as George beats one, two. I am off my seat.

‘Go on Bestie’ screams Wilf. George flies into the box, he lays off the ball for an incoming Bobby Charlton who lashes a shot past the keeper Fabio Cudicini into the net. Old Trafford explodes, it ignites!

Jimmy punches the air. We need one more to force extra time. The Italians are rocked. The ground is shaking.  We have a corner. Please just one more time. One more time. Brian Kidd’s header is cleared off the line. Torture, sheer unmitigated torture.

Time drops off, seconds turn agonisingly to minutes. I so wish I could stop the clock. I glance over to the Milan bench and the coach Rocco appears a man close to jumping off a mountain. Still my boys attack, the crowd are near exhaustion. Voices hoarse, nerves shattered and done for. We all are. The ball is once more in the Milan penalty area. Paddy crosses it into the six yard box to Denis who scores! We’ve done it! Wilf is hugging me and Jimmy’s smile is wider than the Irwell. But wait, what is happening?

No, no, no! The French referee Roger Marchin has deemed the ball did not go over the line. A diabolical decision. Anquilletti fished the ball out but it was clearly four yards over the line! Paddy comes to the touchline and shouts: ‘It is a bloody disgrace. Willie was stood on the line. He did not even bother to follow it in he was so certain.’

I tell him to forget it. ‘Keep going Pat. They are on the rack.  It is just a matter of time.’

Time, time, time stops for no man and time has run out for Manchester United. And then the darkness. The final whistle.

We are out.  

I look across to Jimmy, he is sat head down, slumped. His rainbow has gone now. A last goodbye. I feel it is only right for us to form a tunnel and applaud the jubilant Milan players off the pitch.

Rocco appears. ‘A long night Mr Busby. I think another five minutes and you would have scored again. In defeating your great team I feel we have already won the final.’

He offers me his hand and we shake. ‘Congratulations on your victory my friend. I wish you luck in the final.’

I go to commiserate with Jimmy but he has disappeared. Then another hand is thrust upon my shoulder. I turn around and it is Denis. The referee Marchin strolls past but will not meet my eyes. Denis goes to confront the Frenchman but I pull him back.

‘That ball was over the line boss. We have been robbed.’

I put my arm around him.

‘Nothing we can do now Denis lad. It is over. It is all over.’

*

In the Manchester United dressing room before the last league game of the season against Leicester City, I say a last few words.

‘Gentlemen, it has been a privilege to call myself manager of this great club for the last twenty four years. Of course there have been periods when it has not been so good. Tragic even. There was a period just after Munich when I did not think I could do this job any more. But ultimately I decided I had to come back and give it a go. Sometimes I think I was given a push by angels. I think you know who I am talking about.

‘Last year winning the European Cup was, I have to admit, a final chapter of a book I should have closed after the final. Anyway,’ I smile, ‘I am here now. And today I pass the baton on to a man who has my complete trust and backing. To Wilf here.’

Wilf steps forward to stand alongside me. I continue. ‘A red to the core. A United man and babe. My final words to you all is to show him the same loyalty and passion you have me over the years…

‘I ask you now to stand by your new manager.’

                                       

 

                                          ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

                                                 JOHN LUDDEN

 

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