Duncan Edwards (1 October 1936 – 21 February 1958) was an English
footballer who played for Manchester United and the England national
team. He was one of the Busby Babes, the young United team formed
Matt Busby in the mid-1950s, playing 151 matches for the
club. One of eight players who died as a result of the
disaster, he survived initially but succumbed to his injuries in
hospital two weeks later.
Born in Woodside, Dudley, Worcestershire, Edwards signed for
Manchester United as a teenager and went on to become the youngest
player to play in the
Football League First Division and the then
youngest England player since the Second World War, going on to play
18 times for his country at top level. In a professional career of
less than five years he helped United to win two Football League
championships, two FA Charity Shields and reach the semi-finals of the
1.1 Early years
1.2 Football career
2 Style of play
3 Career statistics
3.1 International goals
5 Outside football
Duncan Edwards' signature
Edwards was born on 1 October 1936 at 23 Malvern Crescent in the
Woodside district of Dudley, which at the time was part of the
county of Worcestershire. He was the first child of Gladstone and
Sarah Anne Edwards and their only child to survive to adulthood, his
younger sister Carol Anne dying in 1947 at the age of 14 weeks. His
cousin, three years his elder, was Dennis Stevens, who also went on to
become a professional footballer.
The Edwards family later moved to 31 Elm Road on the Priory Estate,
also in Dudley. Edwards attended
Priory Primary School from 1941 to
Wolverhampton Street Secondary School from 1948 to 1952.
He played football for his school as well as for
Worcestershire and Birmingham and District teams, and also
represented his school at morris dancing. He was selected to
compete in the National Morris and Sword Dancing Festival, but was
also offered a trial for the English Schools Football Association's
under-14 team, which fell on the same day, and opted to attend the
Edwards impressed the selectors and was chosen to play for the English
Schools XI, making his debut against the equivalent team from Wales at
Wembley Stadium on 1 April 1950. He was soon appointed captain of the
team, a position he held for two seasons. By this stage, he had
already attracted the attention of major clubs, with Manchester United
scout Jack O'Brien reporting back to manager
Matt Busby in 1948 that
he had "today seen a 12-year-old schoolboy who merits special
watching. His name is Duncan Edwards, of Dudley".
Joe Mercer, who was then coaching the England schools team, urged
Busby to sign Edwards, who was also attracting interest from
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa. Edwards signed for United
as an amateur on 2 June 1952, but accounts of when he signed his
first professional contract vary. Some reports state that it occurred
on his 17th birthday in October 1953, but others contend that
it took place a year earlier. Those accounts that favour the
earlier date usually state that a club official, either Busby himself
or coach Bert Whalley, arrived at the Edwards family home soon after
midnight to secure the youngster's signature as early as possible, but
other reports claim that this occurred when he signed his amateur
contract. Wolves manager
Stan Cullis was indignant at missing out
on a highly touted local youngster and accused United of improperly
offering financial inducements to Edwards or his family, but Edwards
maintained that he had always wanted to play for the Lancashire
team. To guard against the possibility that he might not make a
success of his football career, he also began an apprenticeship as a
Edwards began his Manchester United career in the youth team and made
several appearances for the team that won the first ever FA Youth Cup
in 1953, but by the time of the final had already made his debut
for the first team. On 4 April 1953, he played in a Football League
First Division match against Cardiff City, which United lost
4–1, aged just 16 years and 185 days, making him the youngest
player ever to play in the top division. Mindful of the fact that
his team contained a large number of relatively old players, Busby was
keen to bring new young players through the ranks, and Edwards, along
with the likes of
Dennis Viollet and Jackie Blanchflower, was among a
number of youngsters introduced to the team during 1953, who came to
be known collectively as the Busby Babes. Reviewing his performance
on his first team debut the Manchester Guardian newspaper commented
that "he showed promise of fine ability in passing and shooting, but
will have to move faster as a wing half".
The 1953–54 season saw Edwards emerge as a regular in the United
first team. After impressing in a friendly against Kilmarnock he
replaced the injured Henry Cockburn for the away match against
Huddersfield Town on 31 October 1953, and went on to appear in 24
league matches as well as United's
FA Cup defeat to Burnley.
Nonetheless he was also still an active part of the youth team and
played in the team which won the Youth Cup for the second consecutive
season. He made his first appearance for the national under-23 team
on 20 January 1954 in Italy, and was considered for inclusion in
the full England team, but on the day when the selection committee
watched him in action, against Arsenal on 27 March, he gave a poor
performance and was not called up.
The following season, he made 36 first team appearances and scored his
first senior goals, finishing the season with six to his name. His
performances revived calls for him to be selected for the senior
England team, and a member of the selection committee was despatched
to watch him play against Huddersfield Town on 18 September 1954, but
nothing came of it in the short term, although he was selected for
Football League XI which played an exhibition match against a
Scottish League team. In March, he played for England B against an
equivalent team from Germany and, despite being criticised in the
press for his "poor showing", was called up for the full national
team a week later. He made his debut in a match against Scotland on 2
April 1955 in the
British Home Championship aged 18 years and 183
days, making him England's youngest debutant since the Second World
War, a record which stood, until
Michael Owen made his England debut
in 1998. Three weeks later, United took advantage of the fact
that he was still eligible for the youth team to select him for the
club's third consecutive
FA Youth Cup
FA Youth Cup final. The decision to field an
England international player in the youth team was heavily criticised,
Matt Busby was forced to pen a newspaper article defending
Edwards' selection, which paid off for United as the player was
instrumental in a third Youth Cup win.
In May 1955, Edwards was selected for the England squad which
travelled to mainland Europe for matches against France, Portugal and
Spain, starting all three matches. Upon returning from the tour,
he began a two-year stint in the
British Army with the Royal Army
Ordnance Corps. Army service was compulsory at the time for all men of
his age under the
National Service scheme. He was stationed at
Shrewsbury along with team-mate Bobby Charlton, but
was allowed leave to play for United. He also took part in army
matches, and in one season played nearly one hundred matches in
total. In the 1955–56 season, despite missing nearly two months
of action due to a severe bout of influenza, Edwards played 33
times as United won the championship of the Football League by a
margin of 11 points from Blackpool. The following season, he
made 34 league appearances, taking his total past the 100 mark, as
United won a second consecutive league title, and was also in
the team that contested the 1957
FA Cup Final, in which United missed
out on the Double after a 2–1 defeat to Aston Villa. He also
made seven appearances during United's first ever foray into the
European Cup, including a 10–0 win over Anderlecht which remains
the club's biggest ever margin of victory. By now he was also a
regular in the England team, featuring in all four of England's
qualifying matches for the 1958 World Cup and scoring two goals in the
5–2 win over Denmark on 5 December 1956. He was expected to
be a key player for England in the World Cup finals, and was seen as a
likely candidate to replace the veteran Billy Wright as national team
Edwards began the 1957–58 season in good form and rumours abounded
that top Italian clubs were seeking to sign him. His final match
in England took place on 1 February 1958, when he scored the opening
goal to help United defeat Arsenal 5–4. The press were critical
of his performance, with the Sunday Pictorial's correspondent writing
that he did not "think [Edwards'] display in this thrilling game would
impress England team manager Walter Winterbottom, who was watching. He
was clearly at fault for Arsenal's fourth goal when, instead of
clearing, he dallied on the ball". Five days later, he played his
last ever match as United drew 3–3 away to
Red Star Belgrade
Red Star Belgrade to
progress to the semi-finals of the European Cup by an aggregate score
Munich air disaster
Edwards is buried in
Dudley Cemetery, and his grave still attracts
many tributes from fans.
Returning home from
Belgrade on 6 February, the aeroplane carrying
Edwards and his team mates crashed on takeoff after a refuelling stop
in Munich, Germany. Seven players and 14 other passengers died at
the scene, and Edwards was taken to the Rechts der Isar Hospital
with multiple leg fractures, fractured ribs and severely damaged
kidneys. The doctors treating him were confident that he stood
some chance of recovery, but were doubtful that he would ever be able
to play football again.
Doctors had an artificial kidney rushed to the hospital for him, but
the artificial organ reduced his blood's ability to clot and he began
to bleed internally. Despite this it is said that he asked
assistant manager Jimmy Murphy "What time is the kick off against
Wolves, Jimmy? I mustn't miss that match". By 14 February, his
condition was reported to have "dramatically improved". However,
on 19 February it was reported that he was "sinking rapidly", with use
of the artificial kidney machine developing into a "vicious circle,
gradually sapping his strength". Doctors were "amazed" at his
fight for life, and the next day a "very slight improvement" in his
condition was reported, but he died at 2:15 a.m. on
21 February 1958. Hours before his death, by coincidence, a new
issue of Charles Buchan's Football Monthly was published in the United
Kingdom, with a photograph of a smiling Edwards on the cover.
Edwards was buried at
Dudley Cemetery five days later, alongside
his sister Carol Anne. More than 5,000 people lined the streets of
Dudley for his funeral. His tombstone reads: "A day of memory, Sad
to recall, Without farewell, He left us all", and his grave is
regularly visited by fans.
A street in
Dudley was named in honour of Edwards.
Edwards is commemorated in a number of ways in his home town of
Dudley. A stained-glass window depicting the player, designed by
Francis Skeat, was unveiled in St Francis's Church, the parish
church for the Priory Estate, by
Matt Busby in 1961, and a statue
in the town centre was dedicated by his mother and
Bobby Charlton in
1999. In 1993, a cul-de-sac of housing association homes near to
the cemetery in which he is buried was named "Duncan Edwards
Close". The Wren's Nest pub on the Priory Estate, near where he
grew up, was renamed "The Duncan Edwards" in honour of him in 2001,
but it closed within five years and was subsequently destroyed by
arsonists. In 2006, a £100,000 games facility was opened in
Priory Park, where Edwards often played as a boy, in his memory.
In 2008, Dudley's southern bypass was renamed '
Duncan Edwards Way' in
his memory. Until its closure in 2016,
Dudley Museum and Art
Gallery hosted an exhibition of memorabilia devoted to his career,
including his England caps. A housing complex called Duncan
Edwards Court exists in Manchester, among a network of streets, named
after his fellow
Munich victims, including Eddie Colman, Roger Byrne
and Tommy Taylor. On 8 July 2011 a
Blue Plaque was unveiled by
Bobby Charlton at the site of Edwards' former digs in Stretford,
and in 2016 local dignitaries in
Dudley launched a fundraising drive
with the aim of placing a similar plaque in the town.
In 1996, Edwards was one of five players chosen to appear on British
stamps issued as part of a "Football Legends" set issued to
UEFA Euro 1996
UEFA Euro 1996 tournament. He was portrayed by Sam
Claflin in the 2011 British TV film United based on the Munich
Contemporaries of Edwards have been unstinting in their praise of his
Bobby Charlton described him as "the only player that made
me feel inferior" and said his death was "the biggest single tragedy
ever to happen to Manchester United and English football". Terry
Venables claimed that, had he lived, it would have been Edwards, not
Bobby Moore, who lifted the World Cup trophy as England captain in
Tommy Docherty stated that "there is no doubt in my mind
that Duncan would have become the greatest player ever. Not just in
British football, with United and England, but the best in the world.
George Best was something special, as was
Pelé and Maradona, but in
my mind Duncan was much better in terms of all-round ability and
skill." In recognition of his talents Edwards was made an
inaugural inductee to the
English Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
His memorabilia was exhibited at
Dudley Museum prior to its closure,
and was subsequently sold to Manchester United with a selection to be
loaned back for display at the
Style of play
Physically, he was enormous. He was strong and had a fantastic
football brain. His ability was complete – right foot, left foot,
long passing, short passing. He did everything instinctively.
Although he is primarily remembered as a defensive midfielder, Edwards
is said to have been able to operate in any outfield position on the
field of play. His versatility was such that on one occasion he
started the match playing as an emergency striker in place of one
injured player before being switched to central defence in place of
another. His greatest assets were his physical strength and his
level of authority on the pitch, which was said to be remarkable for
such a young player, and he was particularly noted for his high
level of stamina.
Stanley Matthews described him as being "like a
rock in a raging sea", and
Bobby Moore likened him to the Rock of
Gibraltar when defending but also noted that he was "dynamic coming
forward". His imposing physique earned him the nicknames "Big
Dunc" and "The Tank", and he has been ranked amongst the toughest
players of all time.
Edwards was noted for the power and timing of his tackles and for his
ability to pass and shoot equally well with both feet. He was
known for his surging runs up the pitch and was equally skilled at
heading the ball and at striking fierce long-range shots.
After scoring a goal on 26 May 1956, in a 3–1 friendly win against
West Germany, he was given the nickname "Boom Boom" by the local press
because of "the Big Bertha shot in his boots".
Scores and results list England's goal tally first.
26 May 1956
Olympic Stadium, Berlin
5 December 1956
Molineux Ground, Wolverhampton
1958 World Cup qualifier
6 April 1957
Wembley Stadium, London
1957 British Home Championship
6 November 1957
Wembley Stadium, London
1958 British Home Championship
First Division: 1955–56, 1956–57
FA Charity Shield: 1956, 1957
Football League 100 Legends: 1958
Inducted into the inaugural
English Football Hall of Fame in 2002
PFA Team of the Century (1907–1976): 2007
Edwards was a teetotaller and outside football was known as a very
private individual, whose interests included fishing, playing cards
and visiting the cinema. Although he attended dances with
his team mates he was never confident in social surroundings. He
was described by Jimmy Murphy as an "unspoilt boy" and retained a
Black Country accent which his team mates would impersonate.
He was once stopped by the police for riding his bicycle without
lights and fined five shillings by the authorities and two weeks'
wages by his club.
At the time of his death Edwards was living in lodgings in Gorse
Avenue, Stretford. He was engaged to be married to Molly Leech,
who was 22 years old and worked in the offices of a textile machine
manufacturer in Altrincham. The couple met at a function at a hotel at
Manchester Airport, dated for a year before becoming engaged, and were
godparents to the daughter of Leech's friend Josephine Stott.
Edwards appeared in advertisements for Dextrosol glucose tablets and
had written a book entitled Tackle Soccer This Way, commercial
endeavours which supplemented his wage of £15 per week during the
season and £12 per week during the summer. The book was published
shortly after his death with the approval of his family and, after
being out of print for many years, was re-published in November
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