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Manchester United: Sir Matt Busby film tells ‘one of the great football stories’

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Sir Matt Busby led Manchester United to five league titles, two FA Cups and one European Cup

A new feature documentary, from the makers of The Class of ’92 and Bros film After the Screaming Stops, details how Sir Matt Busby led Manchester United out of the ruins of the World War Two, through the tragedy of Munich and on to European glory.

For many modern Manchester United fans, former manager Sir Alex Ferguson is the GOAT.

For one of the club’s 1968 European Cup-winning heroes, however, Ferguson will forever be “the apprentice” of another great Scot.

“Matt Busby is Manchester United,” says John Aston Jr.

“He had a very good apprentice in Alex Ferguson, but he’s the man who built it up and he’s the guy who put Manchester on the world map.”

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Suit you sirs! Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby with their respective European trophies in 1991

Aston shone on the opposite wing to George Best when Busby’s United became the first English club to reach the pinnacle of European football.

Now the 72-year-old appears on camera alongside former team-mates Denis Law, Paddy Crerand and Alec Stepney, as well as Busby’s successor Wilf McGuinness, in the film that attempts to explain his legend and legacy.

From Bros to Busby

Titled Busby, the documentary is directed by Joe Pearlman, whose recent work has taken him from Mo Farah to Bros (he got a Bafta nomination for After the Screaming Stops) and now to United.

“There was so much similarity in their stories it felt like the natural move!” he jokes about making the leap from the Goss bros to Busby.

The director sat down with the icon’s friends, family and former players to tell “one of the great football stories”.

“There is no-one in the game who has as interesting a story as Sir Matt Busby,” declares Sunderland fan Pearlman.

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Left-right: Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes, Paddy Crerand, Matt Busby and John Aston after United’s ’68 European Cup win

His eyes lit up when he discovered previously unseen interviews with the often “guarded” Busby – with the help of biographers Eamon Dunphy, Patrick Barclay and Roy Cavanagh.

He then set about trying to “pull out who Busby is” and why people speak about him with such reverence.

“Everyone had grand terms for him, like, ‘He should’ve been the Prime Minister or the Pope’.”

‘Tremendous presence’

Busby enjoyed a playing career with United’s rivals Manchester City and Liverpool, and served as an Army training officer/football coach during the war, before taking his first proper managerial job at United in October 1945.

With the club in debt and its Old Trafford stadium having been bombed by the Nazis, appointing the untried Busby was seen as a risk. But the “forward-thinking” manager oversaw the rebuilding of their ground, and remained there for 25 years.

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The Manchester United squad pictured with the European Cup in 1968

Aston remembers him as a “morale man” with “a tremendous presence”, noting how “when he used to appear in the dressing room a sort of silence fell”.

He hasn’t forgotten how “tight” he was with the club’s money either.

“He had something you can’t measure,” he says.

‘Obsession with youth’

The film shows how, after winning his second league title in 1956, the visionary Busby defied the FA to make his “Babes” the first English side to compete in Europe – declaring football as “world game”.

The director puts Sir Matt’s fixation with nurturing young players down to the fact that, as a youngster in Lanarkshire, he grew up without his own father and uncle – who were killed during World War One.

“He’s a man who was obsessed with youth and as a result understood that if you mould these players in your model, within your club, they’ll become even better,” adds Pearlman.

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“If they’re playing in your town, you must get to that football ground” as the old Manchester United Calypso goes

“I think [journalist and United fan] Michael Crick said it beautifully in the film that they dovetail together and eventually you end up with a perfect XI in front of you of players who were playing exactly the Matt Busby way.

“To have that foresight at 48 is absolutely mind-blowing.”

‘Turning point’

The focus of the film is inevitably the 1958 Munich Air disaster, which took the lives of 23 people, including club staff, journalists and eight of Busby’s young stars – including the imperious Duncan Edwards – on the way back from a European Cup tie in Yugoslavia.

The manager himself was left fighting for his life in hospital, lungs pierced and legs broken.

Pearlman believes the tragedy and the guilt he felt for taking them into Europe was “a big turning point for both Man United and Busby”.

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The “Busby Babes” line up for what would be their final ever match – versus Red Star Belgrade in the quarter-final of the European Cup in 1958.

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Busby in a Munich hospital bed in 1958

If it wasn’t for his wife Jean demanding he carry on for “the boys that have gone”, the film-maker thinks Busby would have walked away.

“You go from Matt Busby – the first-ever tracksuit manager, playing with the players and then Munich happens and he loses essentially his children and you take a step away.

“One of the first lines you hear from him, in an interview when he returns, is, ‘Football is a business. It used to be a sport, now it’s a business’.

“For him to say that – the man who adored the sport, he’s clearly changed as a person. I think it was important for us to try and get that across.”

The football taught by Matt Busby

Once he was back on his feet and had “got his head around it”, Busby set about building another team for a new decade. Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best all picked up Ballon d’Or awards (only Cristiano Ronaldo has achieved that in a United shirt since) as United lit up the terraces, winning leagues and cups with their “rock ‘n’ roll football”.

Pearlman notes how Busby was constantly “at the forefront of each era”.

“With the Babes he was the face of post-war England, bringing entertainment back to the working classes,” he says.

“Then in the 60s he had Best, with his Beatles haircut, and that exciting team that epitomised that period of time.”

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“El Beatle” George Best and Busby look at his Ballon d’Or trophy for world player of the year in 1968

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Manchester United have been champions of Europe three times – in 1968, 1999 and 2008.

Ex-midfielder Crerand declares on screen how they all wanted to win the European Cup for their manager. But when Busby’s Holy Grail was finally found in ’68 it was bittersweet because of the ghosts of Munich.

Aston, who now runs a pet food stall in Glossop, Derbyshire, was the second youngest player in that team at 20 and admits he found the experience all “very strange”. It took him 10 years to fully understand the impact of what had happened to Munich survivors like Busby, Charlton and defender Bill Foulkes.

“To rebuild in such a short space of time – not just to get the club up and running again, but to become European champions… It wasn’t until I was 30 so when I sat down one day and I thought, what an achievement.

“After the game, people like Foulkes and Charlton didn’t celebrate at all – they just went quietly to bed because they must have had their own private thoughts about the lads they’d played with and lost.”

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A statue of Sir Matt Busby stands outside Old Trafford today, opposite another one of three of his greatest players – Sir Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best

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Jimmy Murphy led a makeshift United team to the 1958 FA Cup Final, while Sir Matt was still recovering from injuries sustained in Munich

While Busby changed the course of English football history, he didn’t do it alone. He was aided by his trusted number two Jimmy Murphy – “the team talk king” – whom he met through the army football set-up.

Murphy missed the Munich air disaster because he was away managing the Welsh national team. His son, Jimmy Murphy Jr – who also appears in the film – says the pair were like chalk and cheese.

“Matt liked to go out and enjoy himself in restaurants, and play golf and have a bit of a gamble. My dad just liked a ciggie and a pint!”

If you’re good enough, you’re old enough

The press notes for the Busby documentary describe it as a kind of “prequel to The Class of 92”.

Two graduates from that class, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville, appear towards the end to show the through-line from the Busby Babes to Fergie’s treble-winning Fledglings and beyond.

“Matt has a name that resounds around football, like Brian Clough or Bill Shankly – for different reasons – for producing a ‘footballing’ club,” concludes Murphy.

“They emphasised that young players could make it… if given a chance.”

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From the Busby Babes to Fergie’s Fledglings – aka the Class of 92

Busby is in cinemas from 11 November, on digital on 15 November and on DVD from 18 November.



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BBC director general Tony Hall: ‘Nicholas Parsons was a legend’

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The BBC’s director general Tony Hall has paid tribute to the broadcaster Nicholas Parsons who has died at the age of 96.

Parsons, who hosted Radio 4’s Just A Minute since its inception in 1967, died after a short illness.

Speaking to BBC Media Editor Amol Rajan, Mr Hall said he was “immensely saddened” at the loss of Parsons, who he described as a “wonderful, charming, witty, warm man”.

Read more: ‘Broadcasting legend’ dies aged 96 after short illness



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Neville Buswell: Coronation Street pays tribute to former soap star

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Buswell’s character left wife Deirdre and daughter Tracy for a life in Amsterdam

Coronation Street has paid tribute to actor Neville Buswell, who played womaniser Ray Langton in the ITV soap in the 1960s and 70s.

Buswell, who has died at the age of 77, starred as Deirdre Barlow’s first husband and the father of her troubled daughter Tracy.

He joined Corrie in 1966 and was a regular on the cast before being written out in 1978.

A statement from the show said they were “saddened” to hear of his death.

The news was first reported in an obituary by a funeral home in Las Vegas. He had moved to the US city after leaving the cobbles.

Buswell made a cameo appearance as Ray in the one-off Coronation Street special Viva Las Vegas in 1997.

He then returned for a six-week stint in 2005, which ended with his character dying of lung cancer at Deirdre and Ken’s second wedding.

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Buswell moved to the US after leaving the soap

A Coronation Street spokeswoman said: “His portrayal of Deirdre’s first husband Ray Langton in the 1970s made him a part of Coronation Street history.

“We were delighted when he returned to the role in 1997 for a special DVD set in Vegas and again back in 2005 when Ray turned up on the cobbles to visit Deirdre and his daughter Tracy.

“We would like to extend our sympathies to his family and friends at this sad time.”

According to the Palm Eastern Mortuary & Cemetery, he died on Christmas Day and the funeral was held on 3 January. The cause of death is unknown.

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Buswell met Corrie’s Bill Tarmey and Liz Dawn in Las Vegas when filming a Coronation Street special

Buswell was first seen in Corrie in 1966 and began a 10-year run on the soap from 1968.

His character had many affairs during his time on the Street, but it was his fling with waitress Janice Stubbs that finally killed his marriage.

Ray wanted to start afresh in Amsterdam with his wife and daughter, but Deirdre decided to stay in Weatherfield.

In 2012, in real life, Buswell faced allegations of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl in his dressing room in the 1960s.

Buswell denied the claims as “not true” and said he had never met or heard of the woman behind them.

Buswell was born in 1943 in Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, and began his acting career on the stage, performing in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and plays.

After leaving Coronation Street, he moved to the US, where he worked in the casino business before becoming a mortgage broker.

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Sir Philip Pullman calls for 50p boycott over Oxford comma

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The commemorative coin will come in to circulation later this week

Author Sir Philip Pullman has declared war on the new Brexit 50p – but it’s nothing to do with politics.

Sir Philip has taken umbrage because the Oxford comma is missing from the coin’s wording: “Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations.”

The Oxford comma is included before the final “and” in lists but it is not used universally and is often a topic of debate for grammar enthusiasts.

The coin will come into circulation on 31 January, when the UK leaves the EU.

Stig Abell, editor of the Times Literary Supplement, agreed with Pullman, tweeting: “The lack of a comma after ‘prosperity’ is killing me.”

But Susie Dent, from Countdown’s Dictionary Corner, said the Oxford comma was optional.

“Yes it is optional: it clarifies things quite often though, and I just find it easier and more consistent to use it all the time,” she tweeted.

And broadcaster Joan Bakewell tweeted that she was taught that it was wrong to use the comma in such circumstances.

The new coin was unveiled by Chancellor Sajid Javid at the weekend.

Mr Javid had first ordered production of the coins in advance of the UK’s original 31 October departure date from the EU.

But the Brexit delay meant about a million coins had to be melted down and the metal put aside until a new exit date was confirmed.

On Sunday, Tony Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell said he would be asking shopkeepers for “two 20p pieces and a 10” rather than accept the new 50p coin.

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