Two days after Sir Matt Busby’s death, United hosted Everton on an incredibly poignant afternoon at Old Trafford. Match referee Rodger Gifford relives the day from the middle of the action…
It was one of those days that will live on in the memory forever.
The appointment system for referees back then was different; on the last Friday of each month, we would get a booklet with our games for the next four or five weeks of appointments, so it would be a mad scramble to see who we had. I spotted that I had Manchester United and Everton and thought: ‘That’ll be a good game.’
It was two days before the game, on the Thursday, that the secretary of United, Ken Merrett, rang me with the sad news about Sir Matt. He said: “It’ll be a special day on Saturday, do you have any objections if we pay our own tribute to him and have a Scottish piper lead the teams out?” I said: “You just do what the club needs to for the man himself.”
There was so much admiration for Sir Matt Busby, and it shone through on the day. I believe there were around 15,000 supporters outside the ground who only arrived to pay their respects on the day, and Everton’s supporters won Carling’s sportsmanship of the month award for the way they respected the minute’s silence.
For anybody who’s connected with football, certainly of my era, you could say that Sir Matt was the Sir Alex Ferguson of his time. I remember I was getting ready for the game and Alex, whose room was near ours, came in, sat down next to me and asked: ‘What sort of game are you hoping for today?’ I just said: ‘One which would make Sir Matt Busby proud,’ and he just nodded.