February 21st 1958 is a day all Manchester United fans across the World should remember, it’s the day Big Duncan Edwards was taken from us at the age of 21. Despite his young age Duncan was already regarded as one of the best players to ever play this wonderful game we call football.
Duncan was born in Dudley on 1st October 1936, Edwards signed for Manchester United as a teenager and went to become the youngest player to play in First Division of the Football League and the youngest player to represent England since the Second World War. In a professional career that lasted just five years, he helped Manchester United win two League Championships and reach the semi-finals of the European Cup.
Although Duncan is remembered as a defensive midfielder, Edwards had the ability to operate in any of the positions on the football pitch except maybe in goal although would still probably have excelled in this position if he had ever been asked to play there. In one match he had started the game as a striker in place of an injured player and switched to centre half in place of another injured player during the match. His greatest assets on the football pitch were his great physical strength and his level authority, which was said to be remarkable for such a young player. He was also noted for his great stamina, Stanley Matthews described his being:
Like A Rock In A Raging Sea
Bobby Moore likened him to the Rock of Gibraltar when defending but also noted that he dynamic when coming forward. His imposing physique earned him nicknames like Big Dunc and The Tank. 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 striking fierce long range shots.
In his early years Duncan had to choose between Football and Morris Dancing as he represented his school in both, he had been selected to complete in the National Morris and Sword Dancing Festival but had also been offered a trial for the England Schools Football Association under 14s team, which fell on the same day and he opted for the later.
He impressed the selectors and was picked for England Schools XI, making his debut for them against Wales at Wembley Stadium on 1st April 1950. He was soon appointed captain of the team and by this stage was attracting attention from all the top clubs in England. Manchester United scout Jack O’Brien had already spotted Edwards in 1948, reporting back to Busby that he had:
Today Seen A 12 Year Old Who Merits Special Watching. His Name Is Duncan Edwards Of Dudley
Edwards signed for Manchester United as an amateur on 2nd June 1952 and a year later on 17th birthday he signed as a professional although some reports suggest he already signed as a professional a year earlier. Edwards began his career in the United youth team and made several appearances for the team that won the 1953 Fa Youth Cup, by this time though Edwards had already made his first team debut at the age of 16 years and 185 days on 4th April 1953. The 1953/53 season saw Edwards emerge as a first team regular, he appeared in 24 league games for United in this campaign while also remaining an active figure of the youth team and was part of the team that won the Fa Youth Cup for the second consecutive season.
The following season Duncan made 36 appearances for the Manchester United first team and notched his first senior goals, finishing the campaign with 6 goals to his name. He made his full England Debut on 2nd April 1955 against Scotland in a British Home Championship game aged 18 years and 183 days, making him England’s youngest player since the second world war, a record which stood until 1998 when Michael Owen made his debut for England.
Duncan was still eligible for the youth team at this time and was selected as United won the Fa Youth Cup for the third consecutive year. In May 1955 Edwards was selected for an England squad that travelled to mainland Europe to play games against France, Portugal and Spain, Edwards started all three matches.
On returning from the tour Edwards began a two year stint in the British Army with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. Army service was compulsory at this time for all men of his age under the National Service scheme. He was stationed at Nesscliffe near Shrewsbury along with team-mate Bobby Charlton, he was allowed leave to play for United, he also played for the army and in one season played nearly one hundred games.
The 1955/56 season saw United win the League Championship by 11 points from Blackpool and Edwards made 33 appearances in this season despite missing two months of the season with influenza.
The following season he made 34 league appearances as United once again won the league and also helped the club to the Fa Cup final where they lost 2-1 to Aston Villa, meaning Edwards and United missed out on winning the Double of League and Fa Cup. He also made 7 appearances as United entered the European Cup for the first time, including a 10-0 victory over Anderlecht which still remains Manchester United’s biggest ever margin of victory.
In the 1957/58 season Edwards was playing at the top of his game and was said to be attracting interest from the top Italian Clubs. His last ever match on English soil took place on 1st February 1958 as he helped United beat Arsenal 5-4, five days later he played his last ever match as Manchester United drew 3-3 with Red Star Belgrade to progress to the semi-finals of the European Cup as they won the 5-4 on aggregate.
Edwards has been commemorated in many ways in his home town of Dudley and still to this day many Manchester United fans still visit Dudley to see all the memories of Duncan in his home town. I myself visited Dudley in the last week to see these. I started by viewing the statue of Duncan Edwards in Dudley town centre, this is currently being reconditioned, so I couldn’t get as close as I would have liked to it but still managed to view the statue.
Next was a visit to Priory Park where there is a games facility which was opened in 2006, Priory Park is where Duncan used to play as a boy, after having a spot of lunch in the park I then visited St Francis Church, where they are two stained glass windows depicting Edwards, sadly the church was closed on the day I visited but was able to view the windows from the outside.
Next I headed back up to the town centre and I visited the Dudley Museum and Art Gallery where there is room dedicated to Edwards. on display in this room are the medals that won whilst playing for Manchester United, including League Championship medals and trophies he won for being part of the United Fa Youth Cup winning sides.
Also you can see the England Caps that Edwards won along with some of the England shirts he wore and shirts of some of opposing national teams he played against. Also there are pictures and newspaper cuttings of and about Edwards and some match programmes of matches that Edwards played in.
After this I headed down to the Dudley Cemetery to view the grave of Duncan Edwards, it took me about 15 minutes to walk from the town centre to the cemetery. The grave is regularly visited by Manchester United fans and still covered in flowers and United scarfs to this day. This was an emotional moment for to stood at his grave. I just stood there for about 5 or 10 minutes looking at his grave and thinking how this is the one Manchester United player I wished I seen play in the flesh, if only it was for one game. After spending time at graveside I walked across the road from the cemetery to see Duncan Edwards Close.
Finally Please Watch This Great Tribute To Big Dunc
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