As challenges go, the manager's job at Manchester United in 1945 seemed to be the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest in bare feet.
During the 1930s, the club was twice relegated from the top division and was close to bankruptcy. Then in 1941, during the Second World War, the Luftwaffe (Nazi Germany’s air force) bombed Old Trafford, leaving United to play their home games at Maine Road - the ground of local rivals Manchester City.
Such matters were, however, incidental to Matt Busby when he agreed to take charge at United on 19 February 1945. For Busby had a glittering vision: he saw beauty in that bombed-out stadium, and the chance to create a phoenix from those flames.
A native of Bellshill, a coal-mining community in Lanarkshire, Scotland, Busby knew the value of hard work, and recognised what honest endeavour could achieve. Crucially, too, he knew both Manchester and its people, having played for Manchester City in their 1934 FA Cup success. His partnership with United would change the face of English football.
Liverpool wanted Busby back after the war as player-coach. But Busby wanted to shape the future - he dreamed of younger, fresher legs, players to mould in his image. He knew youth held the key, not only to United’s success, but the future of the game. He found a kindred spirit in his predecessor Walter Crickmer, who remained club secretary. Crickmer helped to establish the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club (MUJACs) in 1938 and from those seeds Busby’s empire was born.
Busby set up an office two bus rides from Old Trafford. “In that small office there was not much room for dreaming, or much time but dream I did,” Busby reflected. He quickly appointed an assistant, his old army mate Jimmy Murphy, who took charge of the reserves, paying special attention to the youth team.
Within two years, Busby’s pioneering, hands-on management delivered United’s first trophy for almost 40 years. The FA Cup was won in 1948 with attacking football against a Blackpool side featuring the legendary English player Stanley Matthews.