Pitchside Europe

On This Day in 1969: Sir Matt Busby retires as Man Utd manager

Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby announced his retirement on January 14 in 1969 having made the club the first English side to win the European Cup.

The legend, who was forced to rebuild his league-winning team after eight players died in the 1958 Munich air disaster, vowed to quit the game at the end of that season.

Sir Matt, a Scotsman who was born just 12 miles from United’s second European Cup-wining manager Sir Alex Ferguson, coached the club for 24 years.

He won the league five times and the FA Cup twice during a glittering managerial career - and he also helped Manchester City win the FA Cup as a player in 1934.

Strangely enough, Sir Matt’s erstwhile team - United’s bitter local rivals – won that trophy again on the day he finally quit the game aged 59. The Reds also finished the 1968-1969 season without any silverware.

Nevertheless, Manchester United fans could at least cheer the man who had helped them become the biggest club in Britain.

And Sir Matt, who was knighted shortly after his European Cup victory, had been perhaps the greatest pioneer in the British game.

The former right half - who also played for Liverpool, where he became good friends with later European Cup-winning boss Bob Paisley - began managing United in 1945.

And during the 1950s when most British managers believed European competition was a folly, he was one of the few to take it seriously during its inception.

His United side first won the English league in 1952 season – but he would have to wait a few more years before he would have the chance to play on the continent.

Then came a homegrown team who were nicknamed the Busby Babes due to their average age of 21 when they won the First Division in 1956 by an 11-point margin.

The players – including Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton – were so good that Sir Matt only made two signings – Tommy Taylor and Harry Gregg – over four years.

His ambition peaked after they won the league again in 1957 and went on a run in the European Cup the following season.

But tragedy struck on the way home from a tie against Red Star Belgrade on February 6, 1958.

Their ice-laden plane crashed on the runway at Munich Airport - instantly killing seven players, three club officials and 13 others on board.

The footballers were Roger Byrne, 28, Eddie Colman, 21, Billy Whelan, 22, Tommy Taylor, 26, David Pegg, 22, and Geoff Bent, 25.

Duncan Edwards, 21, died two weeks later, while Jackie Blanchflower, 24, and Johnny Berry, 31, were injured to such an extent that they never played again.

Sir Matt himself was so hurt that he twice received the last rites - but he recovered after nine weeks in hospital. And he was determined to rebuild his team and win the trophy that had so painfully eluded him.

Over the next few years he signed a host of new stars – such as midfield ace George Best – to complement the survivors of the Munich crash, including Charlton.

While doing so, his team were just pipped by Scottish champions Celtic in becoming the first British club to win the European Cup.

The 1967 victors were managed by Jock Stein, who - like Sir Matt and Sir Alex - was also born within 15 miles of Glasgow city centre.

But the following year, Manchester United reached the final – and, luckily, it had been scheduled to be held at Wembley.

A British Pathé newsreel shows them thrashing Portuguese champions Benfica 4-1 in the 1968 final in front of 100,000 roaring fans.

With United unusually in blue, Charlton hit the back of the net twice and Best and Brian Kidd scored one apiece against a side that included the great Eusebio.

For Sir Matt, who died aged 84 in 1994, it was the peak of his career, although he regretted failing to win the league, FA Cup and European Cup in a single season.

That feat was later achieved by Sir Alex, who emulated the great maestro with a young homegrown side nicknamed Fergie's Fledglings which won the treble in 1999.

But Sir Matt’s departure was also followed by sour times for the club – with Manchester United even being relegated in 1974.