Duncan Edwards was born in Dudley on 1st October 1936 and throughout his short life professed his pride at being an ambassador for the town wherever his football career took him.
From his earliest days his love for kicking a football around the streets signified a special feeling and enthusiasm for the sport. By the time he was playing for his junior school his footballing skill was already being noticed. One schoolmaster watching the 11-year-old Duncan noted that the youngster ‘told all the other 21 players what to do and where to go and that included the referee and linesmen!’
That same schoolmaster later wrote to a friend ‘I have just seen a boy of 11 who will one day play for England’. How right he was! Two years later the lad wrote an essay in his classroom in which he mused about ‘playing at Wembley’ and his wish came true that same year as he stood on the ‘hallowed turf’ wearing a white England shirt playing against Wales in a schoolboy international. That day in April 1951 his footwork on the field dazzled everyone and one talent scout was heard to remark ‘by God, they’ve got a good ‘un there!’
The name Duncan Edwards will forever be associated with Manchester United and the so-called ‘Busby Babes’, a concept developed by United’s Manager Matt Busby in the late 1940’s when the club was badly in debt and unable to afford to buy ‘expensive’ players. Busby and his trainer Jimmy Murphy decided to employ a radical youth policy developing their own young players, creating the stars of the future.
Duncan was pivotal in that scheme and he made his debut for the first team on 4th April 1953 against Cardiff City – the team lost 4-0! The lad from Dudley was a mere 16 years and 185 days old. Three and a half years later Duncan celebrated his 100th appearance for United and the ‘Busby Babes’ were beginning to create the sensational legend that took the footballing world by storm.
In this age of footballing megastars who become international millionaires, it must be mentioned that Duncan Edwards was the rising star in a most promising firmament. His contract with Manchester United can still be examined and reveals that this ‘solid gold’ prospect earned a paltry £15 a week during the season reducing to £12 a week during the non-playing summer months.
Of course even in the 1950’s there were other ways to bolster a superstar’s income and Duncan became one of the first footballers to earn money endorsing products. He promoted Dextrosol Glucose Tablets, which his adverts said ‘were a natural source of energy which you could rely on anytime, anywhere’. Whether Duncan actually ever took any of the tablets, of course, remains unrecorded!
Following the Munich crash, Duncan’s body was flown home and was buried in Dudley’s Borough Cemetery. Over 5,000 people stood in silence outside the cemetery and lining the streets in tribute “to the lad from Elm Road on the Priory Estate.
Three years later, hundreds more turned out for the unveiling by Sir Matt Busby of two stained glass windows at St. Francis’ Church in Dudley commemorating the life of Duncan Edwards who died tragically aged just 21. As Sir Matt said that August day in 1961 ‘there will only be one Duncan Edwards and any boy who strives to emulate Duncan or take him as his model, won’t go far wrong’.
At the time of his death, Duncan Edwards had the world at his feet. His footballing skill far outpaced his rivals and young supporters the world over idolised this big lad with the sure feet. Off the field too, things were going well and a few days before he flew to Belgrade, the manuscript of his book ‘Tackle Soccer This Way’ was handed to his publishers and later printed word for word as he wrote it. In the book he offers youngsters hundreds of soccer tips such as ‘always respect the referee and be reasonable at all times’.
Today we are left to wonder what this towering figure (in every sense of the word) would have achieved had there been no Munich. Perhaps the question was answered by soccer supremo Tommy Docherty who said of him ‘You can keep all your Bests, Peles and Maradonas, Duncan Edwards was the greatest of them all!’
Dudley was and still is very proud of its own soccer hero and even now, more than thirty years after that horrific air crash at Munich, visitors in their hundreds enquire about Duncan Edwards. His grave in the Borough’s cemetery is still a shrine for pilgrimage by soccer supporters and often bunches of red and white flowers appear there, especially if Manchester United has a Midlands fixture.
The two stained glass windows in Laurel Road and a display case (containing some of Duncan’s shirts, international caps and other memorabilia) can be found at the Dudley Museum and Art Gallery in St James Road – the exhibition moved there from Dudley Leisure Centre in July 2006.
A statue has recently been erected in the main shopping square in Dudley. The Borough’s Archive & Local History Department at Mount Pleasant Street, Coseley, has an interesting file of press cuttings featuring Duncan and you can see there also copies of three rare books about Duncan plus his own book of footballing hints. The three main biographies are:
Duncan Edwards a Biography’ by lain McCartney and Roy Cavanagh, published by Temple Nostalgia
Duncan Edwards’ by Derek Dougan, Hugh Jamieson & Frank Taylor, published by The Duncan Edwards Sports Medicine Centre Appeal.
Duncan Edwards – Manchester United and England’ by Geoff Warburton, published by The Dulston Press
Duncan’s own book is called ‘Tackle Soccer This Way’ published by Stanley Paul. A rare chance to understand the man, appreciate his total feel for the game and sense the great man’s kindness and modesty.
As Frank Taylor (the only pressman to survive the Munich aircrash) said ‘So Long Dunc! It was great while it lasted!’