Sir Matt Busby with United fans.

When Busby rocked the football world

Friday 14 January 2022 10:00

All good things must come to an end and that was certainly the case, on this day in 1969, when a press conference was held at Manchester United that rocked the football world.

Sir Matt Busby announced he was to step down as manager, under a year after his self-confessed highlight of his tenure, lifting the European Cup at Wembley.

A 2-1 defeat at Leeds United had condemned the Reds to a third successive loss in Division One but the Scot was keen to stress the timing of the announcement was not related to on-field matters. He simply felt it was the right thing to do after a spell in charge that had included the serious threat to his own life in the Munich Air Disaster, and the tragic loss of so many of his much-loved Babes.

Sir Matt Busby at the 1969 press conference announcing he was stepping down.

At 59, and approaching a quarter of a century at the helm, it was a moment no United fan at the time would ever forget as Sir Matt decided to leave the role. He did accept the post of general manager and remained at Old Trafford, ultimately returning for a second stint in charge, albeit for only six months, at the end of the following year. Sir Matt later joined the board and became president in 1980.

Yet the press had gathered in great numbers at the time to hear the shock announcement and speak to the great man.

Secretary Les Olive read out a statement confirming that Busby was leaving the post and the manager's job would be advertised.

"Sir Matt has informed the board that he wishes to relinquish the position of team manager at the end of the present season," said Olive. "The chairman and directors have tried to persuade him to carry on and it was only with great reluctance that his request was accepted.

"The board fully appreciated the reason for his decision and it was unanimously agreed that he be appointed the club's general manager, which Sir Matt is very happy to accept. 

"The position of team manager will be advertised at a later date."

Have you seen the new Busby banner?


Saturday's 5-1 win over Leeds saw the first outing of a new flag that pays tribute to our legendary former manager.

Busby explained the situation and why he believed it was best for everyone involved that he took a step back.

"The decision has been in my mind for a little time," he admitted. "I said that I would retire when I felt that it was the right time to do so. I've told the players: 'You can go on playing for so long but, one day, you have to stop.

"The demands are just beyond one human being. I felt I had got to the stage where I was not spending enough time with the players and to the age when I couldn't run around with the team. Team manager has always been a job for a man in a tracksuit. I lived in one myself for 20 years. 

"Making the decision at this time will give the opportunity for a new man to be appointed and to get to know the whole set-up before the start of the new season. 

"It has been a wonderful life. It has been a demanding one but wonderful. Not only that, it's a wonderful game."


The deal that was worth every penny


Take a look at Sir Matt Busby's historic first contract as United manager, which was signed on this day in 1946.

Of course, speculation immediately started as to who would move into the breach and the fact that it was surely an almost impossible job to replace the legendary Scotsman. Tellingly, the newspaper reports appeared incredibly accurate about the list of candidates with Wilf McGuinness touted as a favourite and, ultimately, anointed as the man to take over.

Don Revie of Leeds United was said to be under consideration but there was a feeling the answer could be to promote from within the ranks, with Jimmy Murphy, Busby's trusted assistant, also rumoured to be a front-runner. Frank McGhee wrote in The Daily Mirror: "Wilf McGuinness, the early favourite, Don Revie, Jimmy Adamson, Jock Stein, Dave Sexton - almost everyone except Uncle Tom Cobley - has been linked with the job. I do not know who will get it. And neither, incidentally, do Manchester United."

There were stories that Adamson, Burnley's assistant boss who hailed from Sir Bobby Charlton's birthplace of Ashington in the north east, held talks with the Reds but he would eventually manage Sunderland and Leeds United instead. Sexton, of course, was clearly held in high regard at Old Trafford as he became manager much later, in 1977.

"I can't help feeling slightly sorry for whoever takes over the mantle of Matt," added writer McGhee. Busby clarified: "There will be no interference from me. I will be there to give advice and help if it is asked for but he will have full control of all team matters, buying and selling. He will have what I insisted on having 23 years ago, when I took over."

Yet it was always going to be a near-impossible job for McGuinness, who was replaced in December 1970. Sir Matt was undoubtedly one of the greatest managers of all time and was the hardest of acts to follow.

Another journalist, Basil Easterbrook, wrote when covering the press conference: "One feels the time will come when Manchester will erect a statue to Busby." He was right.