In the Sixties Pat Crerand and Denis Law used to argue about who should be selected for the ugliest football team in Britain and the craggy midfielder would consistently nominate his electrifying goal-scoring team mate as Britain’s ‘least handsome player’. When, ‘for some strange reason’, Denis didn’t agree, Pat set out to prove it to him: ‘Look in the mirror’, he said, ‘Now just imagine you’re bald. Without that blond hair you’d be frightening.’
It was partly for dressing room contributions like this that Manchester United manager Matt Busby bought Pat Crerand from Celtic on 6 February,1963, the fifth anniversary of the Munich Air Crash. It was an inspired signing which prefaced five years of unprecedented success for United, culminating in winning the European Cup for the first time in 1968.
In recent years we have come to understand just how hard and sometimes violent relations can be behind the scenes at professional football clubs,even at successful ones such as United, with tales of almost daily punch-ups and fierce rivalries amongst players on the training pitch. This goes back a long way. We now know for instance that Bill Foulkes, the tough defender who survived Munich was known as ‘PB’ or ‘Popular Bill’ for his brutal take-no-prisoners tackling in practice matches, even with aspiring juniors, even when he was club captain. There is no doubt things could get very feisty, sometimes egged on by the coaching staff such as United’s assistant manager, the fire-eating Welsh dragon, Jimmy Murphy, himself a combative half-back in his playing days at WBA. And yet, behind this apparently ruthless competitiveness there was paradoxically also a deep commitment to a collective ethos which bound players together into a formidable unit that somehow transcended the personalities involved. In the process friendships were often created which have endured for decades.
Paddy Crerand has always been the embodiment of those values, not just in his playing days at United but right down to today as a passionate co-commentator on United’s in-house cable station, MUTV. He’s a religious man, a Catholic, and no-one could forget his ecstacy on witnessing a thunderous dipping volley from the raw Portuguese youngster Bebe in a reserve match against Wigan on a recent chilly November night: ‘That’s a tremendous goal, that, God Almighty! Oh fantastic!’
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