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 ,
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
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
European Cup .
* 1 Biography
* 1.1 Early years
* 1.2 Football career
* 1.3 Death
* 1.4 Legacy
* 2 Style of play
* 3 Career statistics
* 3.1 International goals
* 4 Honours
* 4.1 Club
* 4.2 Individual
* 5 Outside football
* 6 Bibliography
* 7 References
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
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.
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 carpenter .
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 a
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
British Home Championship aged 18 years and 183 days, making
him England's youngest debutant since the
Second World War
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
FA Youth Cup final. The decision to field an England
international player in the youth team was heavily criticised, and
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 captain.
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 display in this thrilling game would impress England
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 of 5–4.
For more details on this topic, see
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
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
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
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
English Football Hall of Fame in 2002. His memorabilia was
Dudley Museum prior to its closure, and was subsequently
sold to Manchester United with a selection to be loaned back for
display at the
Dudley Archives .
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
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
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".
First Division FA CUP
Scores and results list England's goal tally first.
26 May 1956
Olympic Stadium , Berlin
5 December 1956
Molineux Ground ,
1958 World Cup qualifier
6 April 1957
Wembley Stadium , London
British Home Championship
6 November 1957
Wembley Stadium, London
British Home Championship
* First Division : 1955–56 , 1956–57
FA Charity Shield : 1956 , 1957
Football League 100 Legends
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 strong 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
Stretford . He was engaged to be married to Molly Leech, who
was 22 years old and worked in the offices of a textile machine
Altrincham . The couple met at a function at a hotel
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 2009.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to DUNCAN EDWARDS .
English Football Hall of Fame
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Munich air disaster
6 February 1958