"I have untold affection for Bill Foulkes. We went through so much together."
- Sir Bobby Charlton
"I owe so much to Bill. Without him my career might have panned out differently."
- Nobby Stiles
Quotes from Inside United in December 2012.
As a footballer and as a man, Bill Foulkes defined the strong, silent type. Undemonstrative, implacable, near-metronomically reliable and utterly ruthless in the execution of his job, he was a key cornerstone of the Manchester United rearguard for more than a decade and a half, selected more times by Matt Busby than any other player during his managerial reign.
Even the exuberantly ungovernable talents of Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best, the acknowledged icons of Busby's glittering empire in the 1950s and 1960s, needed a solid platform from which to unfurl, and that's where Foulkes came in.
Seldom did he garner headlines of his own - though he made a glorious exception one heady night in Madrid when he fired the Reds into the final of the European Cup - but the Old Trafford boss, a master at blending disparate individuals into a compelling whole, recognised the incalculable worth of the whipcord-tough ex-miner to the United cause.
Together they collected two league titles when Bill was still a young man learning the game as part of the legendary Babes, a tag of which Busby, incidentally, was not unduly fond. They both survived the Munich catastrophe of 1958, then were at the heart of a painstaking reconstruction process which led to FA Cup triumph, two more league championships and, the ultimate achievement, the lifting of the European crown 10 years on from the tragedy.
Along the way the modest, taciturn Lancastrian shattered the United appearance record previously held by between-the-wars marksman Joe Spence, an outcome that frankly astonished certain sceptics at the club, who were less than impressed by his ball skills when he appeared in a trial game at St Bede's College, the headquarters of the Lancashire FA, in 1950.
In all honesty, Foulkes, too, harboured his own doubts, which is why he insisted on enlisting as a part-timer when he was offered an Old Trafford contract in 1951. Thus he kept his job at Lea Green colliery near his home in St Helens, spending five days a week below ground, heaving trucks of coal which had slipped from the track back on to the rails, and training with United on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
It was back-breaking labour at the coalface, but Bill was a fitness fanatic who relished the task, and he was still a pitman - albeit by now a trainee assistant manager - when he was called into Matt Busby's office in December 1952 to be informed that he was to make his senior debut at right-back the next day against Liverpool at Anfield.