There was a feeling of overwhelming sadness when news broke that Bill Foulkes, a truly towering figure in Manchester United’s history, had passed away. He was 81.
He had been suffering ill health for some time, but in typical Foulkes fashion he battled to overcome several setbacks but even he had to cede to the passage of time on the morning of Monday 25 November 2013. By a strange twist of coincidence, his passing came on the eighth anniversary of the day we bade farewell to another giant from the club’s past - George Best, a former team-mate of Bill.
Bill was born on Tuesday 5 January 1932, in the town of St Helens, 25 miles from Old Trafford. He played local football, whilst working at a colliery close to his home, before joining United in 1950. His first-team debut, in a 2-1 win against Liverpool at Anfield on Saturday 13 December 1952, was the first step along a road that would lead to 688 appearances for the club. Ryan Giggs, Sir Bobby Charlton and Paul Scholes are the only players to have taken the field on United’s behalf on more occasions.
Beginning as a full-back, Bill later converted into a rock-solid central defender with all the required attributes to succeed in that position. Strong, dominant and a force to be reckoned with in the air, he was one of the pillars on which Sir Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy built their great sides of the 1950s and 60s. Bill’s prominent bow legs earned him the nickname ‘Cowboy’, with reference to those legendary figures from the Wild West.
Although not known for his goal-scoring prowess, Foulkes will be forever remembered for his rare contribution in the second half of the 1968 European Cup semi-final second leg against Real Madrid – his effort made the score 3-3 and gave United an aggregate 4-3 victory, taking the club through to a first-ever appearance in the European Cup final.