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Remembering Albert Scanlon: A Fan’s Tribute

He hurtles down the muddy left touchline, shoulders square on, head down, shorts hitched up, plain white socks a blur, heavy brown lace-up football at his feet as he bursts past floundering defenders to the by-line before launching a cross into the path of an on-rushing team-mate. It could be to Bobby Charlton for a net-ripping thunderbolt, or for gaunt-faced Dennis Viollet to ghost onto and despatch into the far corner with a shimmy of the hips, or perhaps golden-haired Albert Quixall will silence the critics – again – with a volley of unstoppable power. That’s how I like to remember Albert Scanlon, one of the last of the Busby Babes, much loved survivor of the Munich Air Crash and a favourite Manchester United star of my childhood, who died on 23 December, 2009, aged 74.

I was only 11 when the aircraft bringing home the United team from a 5-4 aggregate victory over Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup crashed on take-off at Munich on 6 February 1958, ultimately killing 21 people including 8 players and three members of the coaching staff. It was a shattering event but it was also the starting point of my enduring commitment to United, drawn into the dream that the club could rise from the ashes and stand again for the highest standards of creative attacking football. Day after day I followed what had happened to the survivors, initially focussing on the mighty Duncan Edwards, who tragically died some three weeks later,but then on all the others, including Albert. To me the players became almost like family and have remained so in my affections these fifty-odd years later, even though I never knew them personally.

I’m not claiming that my story is important in relation to me, as an individual, but my experience, and the loyalty I came to feel towards United after Munich is undoubtedly part of a much wider phenomenon, the process by which the club became first a national and then an international sporting institution, revered by some, no doubt hated, envied and reviled by countless others. I don’t come from Manchester, I’m not from Salford or from Hulme, where Albert came from, and I’m not working class (although the idea that middle class interest in football started with the Premiership is plain wrong, as photos of my schoolmaster grandfather as an amateur footballer in the 1890s might indicate, not to mention his memories of going to St James’s Park in the 1900s) but I was one of the many far from Old Trafford who came to love United. What needs saying over and over again, Albert Scanlon was part of that process, for me and for many others. He helped create United as a ‘heritage’ club, even if he didn’t inherit much benefit himself.

What saddens me in particular about Albert’s passing is that, having been a vital part of United’s extraordinary recovery from tragedy, he missed out on more substantial playing success with the club and perhaps for that reason his very real contributions in the early post-Munich seasons somehow came to be largely forgotten. But not by me.

To read this in full purchase Red Matters by Giles Oakley.




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20 Comments

  1. bchilds says:

    Nice one Scott, RIP.

  2. aig alex is god says:

    I salute you Sir Giles Oakley. What a great read. For a fan like me who started following United in 2002 this is the only way to learn more about the rich history of our fantastic club. Keep them coming.Absolute joy to read
    Take care and get well soon

  3. MG says:

    Again Scott less we forget – and also considering the times and attitudes of the era how players like Albert Scanlon were left behind to get on with there lives by a club that maybe just did not know what to do – and how to react.

    It is sad – Sir Bobby Charlton always keeps on saying if only the club could have done more – if only he and other’s could have done more. Other players of course come to mind – and then of course George Best who had nothing to do with Munich.

    At least now SAF has built a dynasty in which no one does get left behind – the recognition of the Babes that we have now is partly due to what the gaffer has done for the club.

    I hope that we never forget – I hope that there is a lasting legacy of these true heroes of Manchester United – one that never ends. For the embodiment of the club lies in a team that didn’t make it – who’s legacy lies in the words of ‘what if’ – and more than ever as the club lies in debt through no fault of it’s own and in the hands of foreign ownership – may that be a beacon for us all to strive to make sure that under no circumstances this club is left to fall.

    Manchester United will never die. In it’s darkest hour it rose on the day in Munich in 58 and now when the world is against us we’ll do it all over again.

    They can knock us, can hit us, can try to undermine us but when it’s tough it’s a lesson to us all that we have to hold on – together. That is the lesson that humble people like Albert Scanlon were taught as the Babes – that is the lesson that he lived his whole life by. We too must never waver – never abandon the principles that this club and it’s foundation is based on.

    Youth Courage Success

    Everything else is left for those that don’t and never believed.

  4. Macheda IS GOD says:

    I really love to know More on the History of this beautiful club
    They’re my local and i love em But im young and never experienced such Dramatic Events
    Thank you for telling me these such sad stories yet inspiring

  5. Gotta hate tiny tears says:

    I try and read up as much about manchester unitedhistory as i can but I dont think I have a real insite into anything before the fa cup final in 1985. When I heard about the sad news about Albert Scanlon I understood the reasons of his passing and new his history and his near death in 1958 and his terrible injuries but I never seen Albert Scanlon play nor could I ever call myself a fan of his or the busbys or anyone before 1985. as I say I love respect and name my kid after former United players but Ive never experienced the magic of watching Norman Bruce Ronaldo Rooney Eric and everyone in between but Mr. Oakley had the insite that I knew only Giles could share on this site. That was an amazing read and I thank Giles for another wonderful post

  6. KingAbdullah says:

    Articles like these really help the international supporters build a greater respect for the club we love and cherish

  7. Gotta hate tiny tears says:

    I dont want to change the course of this read nor the way the comments are set but reading about Albert Scanlon and the rest of the Busby babes in Munich or reading how they bombed our ground and it makes united stronger it puts the glaziers into perspective. the red flag will always fly high

  8. READ CAREFULLY WHAT I says:

    Thanks Giles.
    We are fortunate to have someone contributing from a position of seniority.
    (Hope I found a way of not making you feel old)

    I never knew much about Albert Scanlon and therefore do not feel the loss as subjectively as yourself.
    I dread to think what I will feel like, if one day as an old man, they report on the news that Cantona or Giggsy or one of my heroes has passed away.

    I cannot imagine anything so sad.

    RIP

  9. Superhans says:

    Very touching, uplifting read.
    And a good article for us younger fans

  10. Superhans says:

    and for non english fans also i must add

  11. mags the red says:

    “Our memories of The Flowers of Manchester just like United will never die…”God Bless you Albert Scanlon RIP

  12. Sad Ol Red says:

    Never posted before but wanted to thank Giles Oakley for a great piece..Top site..Please keep it up..We’ll never die!

  13. BD says:

    Brilliant account Mr. Oakley.
    This is just the kind of story that makes one feel proud to support this team.
    Thank You.

  14. Fze123 says:

    Thank you Mr Oakley for this fantastic read. It’s very informative to us fans who did not have the privilege of watching Scanlon and the rest of the Busby Babes play, nor see the Munich air disaster survivors come back as strong after such a tragedy. I always look forward to reading more of your stories. Learning about the history of the club is indescribable in words; it makes me feel proud and love this club even more. Scanlon somehow overcoming the trauma of losing dear teammates and playing a huge part in reaching the FA cup is truly inspiring for any fan of any club of any age.

  15. 20legend99 says:

    Fantastic read. Really couldn’t take my eyes off it. I was born in ’89, so I can only imagine what it was like to follow football, and especially United, back in the ’50s and ’60s. I went to George Best’s funeral back in 2005 (met these two old Northern Irish chaps I met again the last time I was at OT oddly enough), and there was something about it hard to put into words.

    Even though I obviously never got to see these teams play, I try to know as much about our history as I possibly can. Reading the words from someone who lived it is really priceless.

    Amazing read Giles Oakley.

  16. Red Devil says:

    Respect…..Thank you Mr. Oakley
    For someone following United for 12 years or so ( since 1997 I think when I first came to understand what the sport of football was all about), I try to read up all I can about the United history, but reading books and pieces is nothing compared to reading the mind of a living great and hearing our history directly from an eye-witness’ mouth.
    Thank you for this wonderful article once again.
    And in the spirit of the article,
    We’re MAN UUNITED, WE’LL NEVER DIE!!

  17. Red Devil says:

    Sorry for the typo…
    It Man United….

  18. raj k says:

    Great article Sir! Would love to read many more. Please keep them coming.

  19. King Eric says:

    Hi Giles . Hope you are ok pal. Just haven’t had time to read this yet but I will do later on, no mistake.

  20. Stagman says:

    i saw most of Albert’s games at the Stags and a feature of his play was his pin point crosses for Bill Curry another ex Newcastle player who sadly passed away at a young age. Albert Scanlon was a fine servant for the Stags.

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