Bert Whalley: A father figure for United

Wednesday 28 July 2021 10:50

Former Manchester United player and legendary coach Bert Whalley was honoured by the PFA on Tuesday night, when Bryan Robson unveiled a commemorative plaque at Stalybridge Celtic, where he began his professional playing career in 1933.

To mark the occasion, we're recalling the career of this incredible man, whose work ethic and father-figure persona left a lasting legacy at the club.

Born in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Bert began his football career with local sides Droylsden and Stalybridge Celtic, before moving to Old Trafford at the end of the 1933/34 season. In the midst of their yo-yo years, the Reds had come close to relegation to the Third Division and were looking for fresh talent.

A letter sent to Bert, known to some as Arthur, confirming his first-team debut.
Whalley made his United debut in 1935, against Doncaster Rovers, and would make over 30 appearances for the first team before the outbreak of the Second World War. During the war, he played almost 200 games for the Reds and also featured as a guest for Oldham Athletic and Bolton Wanderers.

The resumption of peacetime football allowed Whalley to make another seven first-team appearances, although most of his time was spent in the reserves. In late 1947, he injured his eye whilst running a coaching session for a schoolboy side. Hospitalised, the worried player came to realise that the issues he was experiencing with his sight meant that his playing career was over.


On Christmas Eve, Matt Busby visited the hospital, and promised that whatever happened, there would be a place for Whalley at Old Trafford. The injured man would always maintain it was the finest Christmas gift he had received.

Having already trained as a coach, Bert joined Busby's staff at Old Trafford.
Bert Whalley's coaching certificate, 1947.

Working predominantly with youth sides, Whalley became a knowledgeable father figure to a generation of United footballers, offering a contrast to the more tempestuous approach of Jimmy Murphy.

Whalley talks tactics with Busby and Murphy at Old Trafford during a training session in the 1950s.
Known as a friendly, welcoming figure who specialised in picking players up after they’d had a bad game, his presence helped to make the club feel like a family.

You can hear former reserve-team player Graham Smith reminiscing about his first encounter with Bert in the video below.


LISTEN: Graham Smith fondly recalls his first meeting with Bert Whalley.
Expecting a lot from the young men he trained, Whalley would have them focus on improving their weaknesses.

After Murphy officially became assistant manager in 1955, Bert stepped into the position of chief trainer. Whalley was serving United in that important coaching role in February 1958 when he was among the 23 people - including eight players and three club officials - who lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster.

We will never forget them.