100-year-old Arthur's red-letter day

Friday 07 April 2023 06:00

Would you rather receive a birthday card from King Charles or Denis Irwin?

That would be a difficult question to answer for some, but not for 100-year old United fan Arthur Lilly. Because he has both.
The Ashton-born Red celebrated his century on Sunday 5 March – a week before he was invited to Old Trafford to watch the Premier League match with Southampton.
Arthur and his family join Sir Alex pitchside as the club honour his lifelong support and 100th birthday.
He’d already received a birthday greeting from Buckingham Palace by then, but that day he received a card from Irwin, signed by several legends and the whole United first-team squad.
“My granddaughter’s husband knew someone at Old Trafford,” Arthur told our matchday programme, United Review, when we meet at his house in Stockport.

“They found out about me [being 100] and decided to give me an invitation. They said: ‘You’re going to Old Trafford for a birthday present, and you’re dining in the directors’ room.’ I couldn’t believe it!”
Arthur was invited to sit in the seat that bears Sir Matt Busby’s name – on the same row as Denis Law – and he met Sir Alex Ferguson pitchside before the game.

Ten minutes ahead of kick-off, the crowd rose to applaud when the public address system announced that Arthur had been watching the Reds since 1946.
“Alex said, ‘Don’t call me Sir, just call me Alex,” smiles Lilly. “I said: ‘I’ve cursed you terribly and I’ve praised you but, being honest, you were the best! 
“Then at half-time, Alex said: ‘We’ll have to pull our finger out to beat this lot today, Arthur,’ and he was right!”
Arthur takes his seat – which bears Sir Matt Busby's name – before the match against the Saints.
To chat to Arthur is a wonderful, mind-expanding experience.  A 90-minute conversation takes us from the factory floor in Stockport to the deserts of North Africa and the battlefields around Monte Cassino – where he served in the Second World War.
But the conversation always keeps coming back to United – whether it’s his favourite wingers, Charlie Mitten and Jimmy Delaney, or his match-going partner, Bill, who accompanied him to United games from 1946 to 1979. “I carried on until I was 90,” Arthur reveals.
“Then my eyes started going. I get Radio Manchester now on the TV and, if United are playing, I can listen to it. But it’s not the same. I miss it. So when I was 100 and I got this invitation, I couldn’t believe it.
“I’d just like to say a thank you to all the fans that applauded me,” he concludes, with his voice clearly moved by the emotion of it all. “It was so special to me; it meant so much. So I’d like to put on record my appreciation to everyone who was there.”