Academy Weekly: Legends remembered, record goes on

Tuesday 24 October 2023 12:14

It was with great sorrow that everyone at the Manchester United Academy learned of the death of Sir Bobby Charlton on Saturday. The World Cup and European Cup winner was one of the finest representatives of our club’s youth system both on and off the pitch and the thoughts of everyone at the Academy are with his family and friends at this time.

Charlton was spotted by legendary scout Joe Armstrong while playing for East Northumberland schools in 1953. Within three years, he had won the prestigious FA Youth Cup on three occasions — the joint-most of any United player — as part of Busby’s record-setting ‘Babes’, nurtured by then-youth team coach Jimmy Murphy. Pictured above is the 1955 FA Youth Cup-winning team.

He made his senior debut on 6 October 1956, scoring twice against Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford, despite carrying a sprained ankle. It was the first of a remarkable 758 appearances for United, in which he scored 249 goals. Both were records until recently, with Ryan Giggs (2008) and Wayne Rooney (2017) breaking them respectively.

Charlton survived the Munich Air Disaster and became the central figure in Busby and Murphy’s rebuilding of the club. United would go on, they insisted, and go on we did. A first post-Munich trophy came in 1963, an FA Cup victory, and then league titles in 1965 and 1967 before finally that holy grail of the European Cup in 1968, a decade on from Munich. In that time, Sir Bobby also played a pivotal role as England lifted the World Cup in 1966.

How to pay your respects to Sir Bobby


Fans can leave tributes for the United legend both online and at Old Trafford.

He played a further five seasons at United after European glory before several years away from the club in roles at Preston North End, Waterford FC and Wigan Athletic. He returned home to United in 1984 and served the club with humility and dignity for the rest of his life. In 2016, Old Trafford's South Stand was renamed the Sir Bobby Charlton Stand.

Charlton will forever be a role model and inspiration for every child passing through the Academy. Nobody embodied the values this club aspires to better than him.


How appropriate, then, that as we remember Charlton, the Academy’s unique record continues. This week, our feat of including a homegrown player in every matchday squad reaches an incredible 86 years following this Sunday's Manchester derby, our final outing before the anniversary date.

The sequence started on Saturday 30 October 1937 when Tom Manley and Jack Wassall were involved in an away game at Fulham.

Manley was already an established first-teamer by that point, having debuted at Old Trafford in December 1931 against Millwall. The Fulham game was his 161st outing. Wassall, meanwhile, was appearing for the 15th time.

But the key fact is this: since that day at Craven Cottage, United have continued to feature a youth player in the squad for over 4,000 consecutive games.
The epic stat, now sitting at 4,220 games, was uncovered by historian Tony Park and you can read more about it here.

“The beauty of the 85-year run is it has been achieved organically,” said the club's director of Academy, Nick Cox, as we passed the 85-year mark. “It hasn’t been manufactured or, indeed, something we were conscious of (the statistic was only ratified in recent seasons). It’s just the way things are done here!”

In Saturday’s away victory over Sheffield United, five Academy graduates were in the squad, with four involved on the pitch: Jonny Evans, Scott McTominay, Alejandro Garnacho and Marcus Rashford. Hannibal was an unused substitute.

Long may the run continue and long may United be the proud standard-bearer for the development of young, talented footballers.


October is Black History Month and so it’s right that we pay tribute this week to the first Academy graduate of mixed heritage at Manchester United.

Dennis Walker died in 2003 and for many years, his daughter told United Review in October 2021, “we all felt like he’d been forgotten."

But, two years ago, the Walker family were invited to Old Trafford for United’s UEFA Champions League game against Atalanta, a few days before what would have been his 77th birthday. It was described as the “brilliant and perfect” ending to a “beautiful” Academy project.
Dennis Walker was United's first player of mixed heritage, and was an Academy graduate.
Led by Tony Whelan, a former Academy player and now a long-serving and distinguished staff member, and Wayne Cahill, Academy education officer, the project sought to engage the U15s and U16s players on the significance of Dennis Walker’s career to their lives.

Many have mistakenly labelled Whelan as United’s first black player. While he played for the club’s Academy, he never made a first-team appearance and was preceded by Walker by half a decade.

The first session with the youth teams was a talk by renowned author Phil Vasili who detailed the history of black footballers in the UK. A second looked specifically at Dennis’s life and career and a third allowed the boys to study memorabilia, provided by the family.

With the help of Whelan and Cahill, the boys created a book to present to the Walker family. In it was a series of letters written by the players. Rather than factual retellings of a player’s life, they were personal messages of what Dennis Walker meant to them.

Walker today is rightly viewed as a pioneer whose courage inspired future generations of black players, breaking down barriers in the not-always beautiful game.

Last week, the Academy’s work around Black History Month continued as Academy players joined young people from Manchester United Foundation’s partner high schools to mark Show Racism the Red Card’s ‘Wear Red Day’ at Carrington.

Ten players joined the activities at Carrington, participating in a series of anti-racism workshops to help the young people improve their understanding of racism and discrimination. Fifty young people from the Foundation’s partner schools took part and each of our Academy players assisted the pupils as they were split into smaller groups.
The players and pupils shared ideas together.

Pupils were tasked with coming up with social action ideas on how to combat racism and discrimination and the players got involved by helping to put forward their own ideas. The players got involved in a series of friendly, small-sided kick-abouts, bringing a smile to the children’s faces.


Nick Cox, director of Academy, recently spoke at TGG Live, a conference in Manchester focused on high performance.

He spoke of the need to recognise that while young footballers can endure difficult times at academies, “our programmes provide a life-changing experience that enriches their lives, that leaves them better and prepares them for adult life.”

You can read the full speech here. It certainly seems timely as another cohort of young Reds are challenged to learn more and improve themselves and society during Black History Month.


The U18s were beaten 1-0 in a tight game at Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, but remain top of their U18 PL Cup group.

Leon Chiwome scored the only goal in the Midlands. You can watch highlights below.

U18s highlights: Wolves v United Video

U18s highlights: Wolves v United

Watch the key moments from our U18 Premier League Cup clash with Wolves...


United’s U19s take on FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Youth League. Fans are encouraged to attend Tuesday's 14:00 BST kick-off at Leigh Sports Village, with free entry for all.

United were beaten at FC Bayern in Munich on matchday one and triumphed comfortably over Galatasaray at home on matchday two. FC Copenhagen will bring a very strong side. The Danes currently top the group after impressive wins away in Turkey (5-1) and at home to Bayern (3-2).

At Tuesday's fixture, a wreath will be laid and a minute's silence held to remember the great Sir Bobby Charlton.

In a busy week, the U18s then travel to Leeds United for a midday BST kick-off on Saturday in Yorkshire.

Travis Binnion’s U21s, meanwhile, are in action at Fulham on Friday evening (19:00 BST) before preparations continue for our final EFL Trophy group-stage game, against Salford City on Tuesday 31 October (19:30 BST).