Les Sealey barks out orders to his defenders.

Remembering Les Sealey

We’re thinking of our former goalkeeper Les Sealey who died of a heart attack on this day in 2001 at the age of 43. Here’s the tribute published by the club magazine, Inside United, after his tragic and untimely death.

In a 24-year playing career, Les Sealey travelled as far afield as Plymouth Argyle and Blackpool to play the game he loved, but, at Manchester United, he proved he was far more than a journeyman professional.

Sealey first came to United on a month's loan from Luton Town in December 1989 and he quickly made an impact in the dressing room.

“Les was a very quiet, unassuming man…” joked Brian McClair.”... No, he was exactly the same as you saw him on the pitch! A larger than life figure with a great sense of humour who loved his football and worked hard. He realised he had a marvellous opportunity coming to United and he made the most of it.

Les Sealey celebrates winning the European Cup-Winners' Cup in Rotterdam.
Les Sealey was key to the European Cup-Winners' Cup victory in 1991.

Alex Ferguson was equally impressed and, the following March, he again borrowed Sealey from Luton as back-up for Jim Leighton. And when Ferguson controversially decided to drop Leighton for the 1990 FA Cup final replay, he had no qualms about throwing Sealey into the breach.

“I took a gamble replacing Jim Leighton,” admitted Sir Alex. “But I knew Les had the character and personality to play on the big stage.”

Sealey's solid performance helped United to a 1-0 replay win over Crystal Palace and the 32-year-old keeper was rewarded with a permanent transfer to United. “Every day Les was here was like a birthday for him because he came out of nowhere to play in the cup final,” said team-mate Mike Phelan. “He was always saying, 'I'm happy to be here' and the players took to him because of his attitude. Les was thrust straight into it but his off-the-cuff personality allowed him to adjust quite quickly. He could be relaxed or hyper, loud and funny or sometimes just a pain! With Les, what you saw was what you got.”

Room-mate McClair certainly suffered more than most by his association with Sealey. “Les would watch the telly until about two in the morning and insisted on having the windows open so the room was always freezing,” smiles Choccy. “A great lad, but the worst room-mate I ever had!”

Daft antics didn’t deflect from the fact that Sealey was an excellent and courageous goalkeeper though. He was United’s no,1 throughout the 1990/91 season and his raging refusal to be substituted in the 1991 League Cup final against Sheffield Wednesday, despite a horrific knee injury, said everything about his indomitable character.

“His knee was cut right down to the bone,“ recalls Clayton Blackmore. ”But he didn't want to go off because he was desperate to play in the Cup-Winners' Cup final a few weeks later. He had a big, big heart.

Against all odds, Sealey declared himself fit for that final against Barcelona and helped United to a famous 2-1 victory. It was the peak of his colourful career and his post-match collapse due to blood poisoning underlined the risk he'd taken just by playing. But then again, bravery and determination was the very least we came to expect from Les Sealey.

Les Sealey pulls a face during a United game.
Les Sealey was a larger-than-life character.

United career: 
Signed: June 1990
Re-signed: January 1993
Debut: v Queens Park Rangers (a), 14 April 1990
League: 33 apps
FA Cup: 4 (1 sub) apps
League Cup: 9 apps
Europe: 8 apps
TOTAL: 54 (1 sub) apps

Clubs: 
Coventry City 1974-1983 (apprentice: April 1974, turned pro: March 1976)
Luton Town 1983-89
(on loan to Plymouth Argyle from October to November 1984 and on loan to Manchester United December 1989 and March to May 1990)
Manchester United 1990-91
Aston Villa 1991-93 (on loan to Coventry City March 1992)
Manchester United 1993-94
Blackpool 1994-95
West Ham 1995-96
Leyton Orient 1996-97
West Ham 1997-98
(on loan to Bury March 1998 before being appointed West Ham's goalkeeping coach)

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