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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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Justin Timberlake says sorry to Jessica Biel for ‘lapse in judgement’

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Justin Timberlake has apologised to wife Jessica Biel after he was pictured holding hands with a co-star.

“A few weeks ago I displayed a strong lapse in judgement,” he wrote in an emotional Instagram post.

“I drank way too much that night and regret my behaviour. I should have known better.”

The 38-year-old said he wanted to make it clear that “nothing happened” between him and actor Alisha Wainwright.

He was snapped hand-in-hand with Alisha in November – they were part of a group pictured drinking on a balcony in New Orleans.

The pair were in the US city filming the upcoming movie Palmer – in which they play lovers.

“I stay away from gossip as much as I can, but for my family I feel it is important to address recent rumours that are hurting the people I love,” the singer and actor wrote.

“I drank way too much that night and regret my behaviour. I should have known better. This is not the example I want to set for my son.”

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Alisha Wainwright and Justin Timberlake are co-stars in the movie Palmer

Justin Timberlake has been married to actress Jessica Biel, 37, since 2012, and they have a son Silas, four.

“I apologise to my amazing wife and family for putting them through such an embarrassing situation, and I am focused on being the best husband and father I can be,” he added.

‘Promoting the film will be awkward’

Analysis from Sarah Packer senior showbiz reporter at MailOnline

“Well, the pictures didn’t look great, did they? It’s not how you might expect to see a married man with a family behaving.

“I imagine he spoke to his people before putting out the Instagram post. Otherwise, it would have been too much of a shock for them.

“I also don’t feel it’s a move to prevent damage to his image – it feels like a sincere apology.

“You do have to credit somebody for stepping forward and saying, ‘Look, I hold my hands up, I made a mistake’. He’s just looking for forgiveness now, and if Jessica has forgiven him then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t as well.

“Going forward, it’ll be massively awkward when it comes to him and his co-star going on the promotional tour for the film. There’s likely to be nervousness between them, especially on her part.

“And because Justin Timberlake has commented on the situation it means journalists can now ask them questions they thought were off the cards before.”

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Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears split in 2002

Justin Timberlake has spent most of his life in the public eye – first appearing on Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club as a child.

He later went on to join the group NSYNC – and has dated Britney Spears and Cameron Diaz.

In interviews after splitting up with Britney he revealed the song Cry Me a River was written two hours after they broke up.

The singer and actor has released five studio albums and starred in more than 20 feature films including Alpha Dogs, In Time and The Social Network.

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Matt Baker to stand down as One Show presenter

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Matt Baker has announced that he is leaving The One Show after nine years.

Baker, 41, who will step down in spring, shared the news on Wednesday’s episode of the BBC One show.

In a statement, he said the programme had been “brilliant” at showcasing the “eclectic mix of Britain”.

He said he was excited about new opportunities – “but most of all I’m looking forward to having dinner with my family and being able to put my kids to bed”.

Baker, who has presented The One Show alongside Alex Jones, will continue to present the BBC’s Countryfile and sports coverage.

He said: “I’ve loved that The One Show has been such a big part of my life for the last nine years.

“It’s been brilliant to showcase the eclectic mix of Britain, meet incredible people along the way and witness so many lives changed with the annual Rickshaw Challenge for Children In Need.

“I’d like to thank all those I’ve worked with over the years and especially you, the viewer, for showing me so much support during my time on the green sofa.”

The former Blue Peter presenter joined The One Show on a permanent basis in February 2011, months after coming second in 2010’s Strictly Come Dancing series. He replaced comedian Jason Manford.

Charlotte Moore, director of BBC Content, said Baker’s “warmth and wit have helped to create many magical moments on the sofa”.

“He has a great connection with BBC One viewers and will continue to play an important role on the channel on Sunday nights in Countryfile and with BBC Sport on our gymnastics coverage,” she added.



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Spassky vs Fischer: How the chess battle became a theatre event

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Boris Spassky (left) and Bobby Fischer duke it out in 1972

When the American Bobby Fischer challenged the Russian Boris Spassky for the World Chess Championship in 1972 the media looked on in fascination. It seemed the Cold War was being played out in Iceland on a chessboard. Now a new play reconstructs the historic match.

It was pre-internet, pre-mobile phone, pre-online comment, pre-news channels, pre-streaming. The match was happening in a place inconvenient for the world’s media. TV satellite space was at a premium: on US networks the updates were sometimes just talking to a reporter in Reykjavik on the phone.

No one had seriously considered chess as prime-time material. But then along came the unique and deeply troubled Bobby Fischer.

Fischer was born in 1943 and grew up in New York. From his early teens the game of chess obsessed him. At 14 he was the youngest ever US chess champion.

But since World War II world championships had been almost entirely dominated by the USSR. Could Fischer be the man to bring the prize back to Brooklyn?

Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer is an attempt to delve into the psychologies of two remarkable men. Spassky, who’s now 82, was usually regarded as the more stable of the two. Fischer died in 2008 after years of bizarre behaviour and extreme statements – he praised the 9/11 attacks for instance.

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Robert Emms (left) who plays Fischer and Ronan Raftery as his rival Spassky

Robert Emms has made his name as an actor in TV series, including Atlantis and Chernobyl. Now he has to make sense of playing Fischer.

“Bobby is packed full of contradictions. He was Jewish but he could be anti-Semitic. He was American but he seems to have felt no real patriotism. He was undoubtedly unstable and I think you need to go back to questions of paternity and the family he grew up in. His relationship with his mother was tense.

“However all that came about, he ended up with a vulnerability which shaped him. Bobby Fischer was a brilliant but self-destructive character and – though this is mainly after the period of the play – eventually he spiralled out of control. There’s real tragedy there.

“As an actor that gives a huge amount to play with but you’re always dealing with what’s in the text: Tom Morton-Smith (the playwright) is always pointing the audience in a certain direction. Bobby probably was never happy and I’m not sure he had real friends. But he was larger than life, which is a gift to play.”

Irish actor Ronan Raftery, currently appearing in the TV mini-series The Rook, plays Spassky. “He always came over on the surface as a much calmer and more focused player. But I think we now know more about how thrown and upset he was by Fischer’s behaviour and we use that.

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Director Annabelle Comyn has the job of making a chess match exciting to theatre goers

“Boris genuinely hated the fact that this game he loved so much had somehow taken on an aspect of superpower politics. As the reigning world champion he just wanted to play the match and win.”

Emms thinks that in 1972 Fischer too was essentially apolitical. “It’s interesting that neither man felt a strong affiliation to his country – what they were passionate about was playing chess and we communicate that on stage.”

Which raises the question of how exactly do you stage chess for the theatre? Two people leaning over a small table holding their foreheads in silent contemplation doesn’t promise great drama.

Director Annabelle Comyn says when she met with Morton-Smith the question of staging the games was high on the agenda. “In the text Tom reproduces them in standard form so chess fans can digest the moves if they want to. But deliberately there was no guidance as to how and to what extent we’d represent that on stage.

“The games soon take on a meaning which goes beyond the game itself. The match is being used both by the Soviets and the Americans for certain ends. So we start with a literal meaning for the moves but then we grow into a language of paranoia and politics and the language of control. That’s a large part of what the play is about.

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Ronan Raftery rehearsing his role as Boris Spassky

“So whether it’s with music or with something more physical, we’re staging the games to dramatise what was happening underneath. They’re very choreographed pieces – you don’t need to understand every single move in detail to see what the story is.”

Comyn says the play is also character driven. “One of the fantastic scenes is when we see Bobby with his mother. That relationship was maybe controlling, volatile and insecure. We see the lack of trust that Bobby has in the world about him and I think the play helps us understand how that translated to his fear of Soviet mind games during the time in Iceland.

“Bobby’s essential mindset was that everything he’d ever achieved in life had been on his own and without assistance. He definitely felt he was fighting against the Soviets – but I think inside he was fighting against the whole world.”

As challenger, Fischer did poorly in the early stages and only later pulled ahead. His complaints against the organisers included that TV cameras were giving off noises which put him off his game (but which no one else could hear).

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Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer had an unofficial rematch in 1992

Comyn says one of the themes is how the relationship between Fischer and Spassky grew. “It would be wrong to say they became great pals. They did not. And maybe that would have been beyond Bobby in any circumstance. But they are in proximity for two months and inevitably something does develop.”

After the match Fischer all but disappeared for 20 years. In Yugoslavia in 1992 he played and won an unofficial rematch against Spassky, which had a total purse of $5m (£3.8m in current money). He lived in Hungary and finally in Iceland, where he died and is buried.

Emms thinks the prospect of taking the world title was vital to Fischer.

“It was the one thing he craved though I wonder if he ever truly believed it would bring contentment. After Reykjavik Bobby virtually gave up the game for years. You could say the whole experience helped define him but also to destroy him. He was a hugely closed personality and everything he tried to achieve was through the chess board.

“Bobby felt victory was rightly his. But would that complete him as a human being? I think probably not.”

Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer is at the Hampstead Theatre in London until 18 January.


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