On July 4th, Jack Crompton, the last living link to Manchester United’s 1948 FA Cup winning side past away.
Jack was 91 years young, the goalkeeper in that first post-war trophy winning team, a gentleman, a truly likable man, who still found pleasure in watching his beloved United, in particular the Reserves, and would often be seen in attendance with his wife Sheila.
Born in Newton Heath on December 12th 1921, he began his footballing career with Manchester Schoolboys, before joining Manchester YMCA, where he was to enjoy a lengthy association.
Having then moved to the famed Manchester amateur team Goslings, he joined Oldham Athletic as an amateur during 1942-43, while also having a short spell with Manchester City in 1944.
In June 1944, the twenty year old left Maine Road and journeyed across Manchester to join United, again as an amateur, going on to sign professional forms the following summer.
He made his United début against Stockport County on September 16th 1944, a Football League North fixture, going on to enjoy a further five outings, before replacing Breedon between the sticks for all but one of the League North’s ‘Second Championship’ of the 1944-45 season.
1945-46 saw him as United’s first choice ‘keeper, missing only a handful of games, and when the league fixtures returned to normal in 1946-47 Jack Crompton was well and truly employed as Matt Busby’s first choice goalkeeper.
Strangely, Crompton had little inclination of becoming a goalkeeper instead, having dreams of being a match-winning inside forward. But, like many before and after him, he went between the posts, supposedly for nothing more than a ninety minute stint for the YMCA, when their regular ‘keeper failed to show up for a game.
Such was his performance that afternoon, he found himself retained in that same position for not simply the following weekend, but for the rest of his playing career.
Joining the RAF during the Second World War, he was invalided out with a leg injury and at one point was told that he wouldn’t play football again. Jack Crompton, however, was made of sterner stuff and the boots never lost their sheen and were not to see the back of a cupboard for some considerable time.
As a Manchester United player, Crompton’s finest hour (or to be more exact, hour and a half) was in the 1948 FA Cup Final at Wembley against Blackpool. Still considered today as one of the best ever games played out below the twin towers.
It was a game, however, that he almost never took part in, as he had taken a knock against Chelsea the week before, but by the day of the game, there was no doubts over the ‘keepers fitness, which in hindsight was something of a relief, as Jack was to have a major say in the destination of the trophy.
Blackpool went ahead with a Shimwell penalty that Jack was unfortunate not to stop, but he was to pull off a number of fine saves, with two in particular making the difference between defeat and victory.
With the score at 2-2, Mortensen escaped the clutches of Chilton and shot for goal, but Jack was equal to the Blackpool forward’s effort, throwing himself to the right to pull off a notable save. Springing to his feet almost immediately, he threw the ball to Anderson, who in turn picked out Pearson who went past Hayward before giving United 3-2 lead with his shot going in off the post.
United added a fourth and took the cup back to Manchester.
That summer, the United hero hitch-hiked through France, Italy and Switzerland before returning for pre-season training.
Despite his Wembley heroics, he lost his place in the United side to Reg Allen, signed from Queens Park Rangers and who walked straight in to the first team at the start of season 1950-51, a broken wrist during season 1949-50 not helping his subsequent career.
Out of the team, he was to miss out on a League Championship medal at the end of 1951-52, as he only managed 9 appearances during that successful campaign.
Illness, however, curtailed Allen’s United career, but it did mean an immediate return to first team duty for Crompton, as Busby had brought yet another ‘keeper into the fold, Ray Wood. The new arrival, however, was soon to find himself on the sidelines, as Jack played in 25 of the 42 fixtures.
The roles, however, were reversed the following season and Crompton’s career as a Manchester United first team player was almost at an end.
There was still silverware to be won though and as reserve team captain, he lead his young charges to the Central League title in season 1955-56.
With his broken wrist never really having healed, Jack retired from the playing side, joining Luton Town as first-team coach, but he was to return to Old Trafford in their hour of need following Munich, taking up the role of trainer.
He was to leave United again in 1971, when Sir Matt Busby retired, but like a boomerang, returned again in 1973-74, under Tommy Docherty, remaining until the summer of 1980, having also enjoyed a spell as manager, between the reigns of Sexton and Atkinson.
He didn’t walk away from football completely and did sterling work in the lower regions of the game, but never lost his love for Manchester United.