*Originally published on 19 August 2011*
On 19 August 2001, English football was stunned by the sudden death of Les Sealey, as the former United goalkeeper suffered a fatal heart-attack at the age of 43. Here, ManUtd.com pays tribute to Mr Angry, with help from his former colleagues…
Lain prostrate in Middlesex Hospital on 22 April, 1991, Les Sealey was recovering from emergency surgery. Hours earlier, his knee had become infected after being accidentally gashed down to the bone by Paul Williams’ studs during United’s League Cup final defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.
Suddenly, Sealey saw through the post-anaesthesia fog. “It’s the Cup Winners’ Cup final in four weeks’ time,” he blurted to the doctor tending his bedside. “What chance have I got of playing in the big one?”
“Playing?” scoffed the doctor. “You’re lucky to be alive.”
Four weeks later, knee heavily bandaged, Sealey sported the widest grin of all as Sir Alex Ferguson’s underdogs cavorted in the Rotterdam rain. Barcelona had been vanquished, and the charismatic stopper had completed an unlikely comeback to bag his second winner’s medal in under a year after turning his loan from Luton into a permanent move.
“You could see that Les wasn’t fit, but he was prepared to go through the pain in order to play,” says Brian McClair. “When anybody’s injured that is the ultimate question to them: if it was a cup final tomorrow, would you be fit? Les wasn’t, but he played anyway. That tells you a lot about him.”
Sealey’s character had never been in question. A year earlier, in just his third appearance for the Reds, the chirpy Cockney stopper was thrust into the 1990 FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace after Jim Leighton’s shaky display in the sides’ first meeting. Even at 32, the goalkeeper was earmarked as a weak link and was bombarded by Steve Coppell’s Eagles, but Sealey’s clean sheet and Lee Martin’s fine strike ensured winners’ medals all round.