Posted: 4/12/2013


           The European Forum: in Manchester is always a delight to attend, as the world gets together to talk about The Beautiful Game. It's held at the Convention centre in the heart of the city, in the converted Central train station.

          I hadn't moved 20 yards when Denis Law, Mike Summerbee and Ossie Ardiles and entourage passed by. There were lots of booths for everything to do with the football industry and some interesting folk to talk to. The FA, PFA, Bahia Brazil, Lagos State Soccer, KwaZuu Natal, Gauteng, Kevin Keegan's, stadium designs, National Football Centre, lighting, seating, ticketing... Also a couple of large theatres offering talks and discussions.

         The most enjoyable one I attended was with Sir Bobby Charlton, 75 years young, up on stage talking about the past, the present and the future. When he came down to Old Trafford from the North-East he was a teenager and fell under the influence of Matt(later Sir) Busby and Jimmy Murphy his assistant.

        "When I arrived it was all dark and black. Old Trafford was in Trafford Park the largest industrial park in Europe with gloom and dirt and smokestacks. Before the stadium was developed there were no giant stands and everywhere you looked there was smoke and dirt."

        The legend made it, 758 matches for United -249 goals: and 106 for England-49 goals.

      We all know what happened on 6th February 1958 on the runway at Munich- Riem Airport, The Day a Team Died.   Bobby and Matt survived critical injuries and returned home by train. " Matt said "This club WILL SURVIVE". It had little money and the future looked bleak. The first game after the disaster was against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA CUP. The official programme is a famous one. The list of Manchester United players was blank, as they signed new players such as Ernie Taylor for 6,000 from Blackpool and Stan Crowther from Aston Villa at the last minute.

      The stadium was a shambles and European Cup matches under floodlights had to take place at Manchester City's Maine Road stadium. The young Duncan Edwards died two weeks after the crash in the Rechts de Isar Hospital in Munich. " Duncan had it all. He was the greatest player I ever played with" said Sir Bobby.

      I watched on black and white television and United won and went on to the final only to lose 2-0 on May 3rd to Bolton Wanderers. BUT MANCHESTER UNITED AND THE BUSBY BABES SURVIVED. The club is now worth about 3 BILLION pounds. Ten years later United defeated Benfica at Wembley, the first English club to win the European Cup. (Celtic had won the year before). 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes  Bobby Charlton and team won 4-1 in OT. Bobby scored twice that evening. Up on the stage with him was Eusebio, who, after a magnificent save by Alex Stepney- he went over to applaud him. Only Charlton and Bill Foulkes played from the 1958 team.

    "When Alex Ferguson came from Aberdeen he gave the youngsters a chance, and wasn't afraid of playing the;, Beckham, The Neville brothers, Scholes etc. David had been on loan at Preston North End and he brought him back to Manchester. Sir Alex used to say to players " I know what you are capable of and would hold you to the highest standards of your very best game.  He manages players and gets the best out of them."

         "I made a joke and said that I would be very angry if anybody beats my scoring record, but that's not true. I hope that Wayne Rooney will break that record".

        Who was the best player he ever played against?  "Alfredo Di Stefano of Real Madrid. ( I agree with that). We played in Madrid and before substitutes I had to sit way up in the stadium since I wasn't playing. I had never seen such football played before."   I could go was a marvelous talk, aided by questioner Jeff Powell.

       I also enjoyed a one on one talk from Gary Neville, now a superb television pundit and assistant coach for England.  We also had talks from The Russian FIFA 2018 official, Gianni Infantino the UEFA General Secretary, David Bernstein, Chairman of the FARoy Hodgson, Kevin Keegan, Gordon Strachan, Bryan Robson, Michael Owen and many more.

       Great buffet  lunches and evening parties with 6 giant screens to watch a couple of Champions League matches across the road in The Halle Suite The Radisson Blu.  I spent time in the press room and shared a round table and stories with 2 journalists from Aljzeera Sport and two ladies from China Central TV.

      From next year in late November,  Manchester, the birthplace of professional football 125 years ag,o will host the Soccerex Global Convention, after 4 years in Rio de Janeiro.