RIP Tony Husband: 'Best, Law and Charlton sparked his imagination'

Monday 11 December 2023 15:00

When the cartoonist Tony Husband passed away suddenly in October, aged 73, the media teemed with heartfelt encomiums to the ‘warmth’, ‘empathy’ and ‘delightfully offbeat’ humour of his work.

Admirers spoke emotionally of how they’d been moved by Husband’s simple, thought-provoking pieces. Yes, he was most famous for the long-running ‘Yobs’ strip in the legendary Private Eye magazine, but it quickly became clear that his talent had spread far beyond that, such was his knack for examining the profound areas of human existence.
Perhaps understated within the tributes, however, was Tony’s joyous love of Manchester United. The Reds were not only a big passion throughout his life, but also a huge inspiration on his work. He had even previously contributed to our official club magazine, and Reds’ fanzine United We Stand.
Tony always tried to show the humour and humanity of the game we all love.
“Best, Law and Charlton were where his imagination was first sparked,” says Paul Husband, Tony’s son.
“Before the Stones, before Bowie, it was that magic that they created on the pitch. Imagine being 10, 12 years old and seeing some of the things they were doing, in such a miserable country that had gone through such hardship? It must have been absolutely amazing.
“United had always been there. One of my dad’s earliest memories was my grandad consoling my nana because of the Munich crash. My grandad used to play for the youth academy – in fact, he used to get the bus to games with Jack Crompton. Jack would get off a few stops earlier and jog down as a warm-up!”
The family’s roots were Mancunian, but Tony was born in Blackpool before his parents later settled near Hyde. Paul remembers United as a constant topic of discussion, and Old Trafford as a regular place of pilgrimage. 
“He always loved it when we came together, and all the songs and funny chants. And, with reservations, he liked the tribalism. But it was the art of Best, and Law and Charlton, really.
“It was a big part of his personality. I was brought up learning the names of Best, Law and Charlton as you might learn the names of the disciples. Stuart Pearson, Matt Busby, Tommy Doc... they were like mythical figures, almost.”
A photo taken by Husband's son, Paul, in more recent times – Tony never could stop scribbling!
Tony had an especially piquant interest in the late, great Duncan Edwards – and even wrote a biopic on the Busby Babe, which sadly fell through.
“I’m pretty sure he saw Duncan play, because my grandad used to take him when he was little,” says Paul. “But a lot of it [the fascination] would have been word of mouth. People spoke about this giant figure that was capable of anything, could play in any position, and no-one could knock him down. It must have been like a thousand years ago, if you were a little kid growing up in the Roman times and hearing about this great centurion. Because people speak about United in mythical ways, don’t they? I’ve still got the screenplay here, so maybe something good can still come of it!”
Even when work was the priority, the club was never far away from the cartoonist’s thoughts. 
“He was always on to something,” marvels Paul. “You couldn’t even chat to him without giving him an idea. Then he’d go into his office and listen to Neil Young or Low or the Stones and just concentrate on his art. He has this gorilla in there that always had a United scarf around it, and there’s a picture of Mark Hughes too, which he nicked off me!”
The talent and tragedy of the Duncan Edwards story made him a figure of huge fascination to Tony.
Poignantly, Paul tells us Tony was even buried in a 1977 FA Cup winner’s shirt, with a United scarf and a Rolling Stones badge. His brothers, Ronnie and Keith, are also big Reds, and when Sir Bobby Charlton died three days after Tony, Keith laid a Bobby flag over his brother’s grave as a mark of respect.
Football frequently appears in Husband’s cartoons, along with oodles of humour. But you’ll also find disarming, fresh perspectives on life’s more existential challenges, all the more powerful for their lightness of touch.
“A lot of it was double-layered and really deep,” says Paul. “Very introspective. It was always him looking at his own feelings. One of my favourites is of this guy who’s just completely depressed, drinking on the couch, and his dog’s wagging his tail at him, and the guy is saying: ‘Go away, I’m not who you think I am.’ But the dog is seeing him for what he is – it’s us who don’t see ourselves as we actually are. It’s just very relatable to a lot of people.”
Tony’s passion for football and music never diminished throughout his 73 years.
Football is, of course, often dismissed as unintelligent fluff by its detractors. But Husband’s life and football-related work suggest the opposite: that it can have a potent, inspirational effect on the imagination; that it helps people to connect with the world and those around them.
Paul has little doubt that the game, and particularly United, not only assisted his dad’s creativity but also offered comfort during tough times.
“United and music gave him all the escapism he ever needed,” he says. “As frustrating as they were to him at times, United was there for him and my dad was always there for United, whether it was on the terraces or sat at home on the couch. His support never wavered.”
See the Tony Husband Cartoon Archive @tonyhusband1 on X/Twitter to enjoy some of Tony’s work.