The start of Foulkes's legendary career

Tuesday 13 December 2022 09:00

Seventy years ago, Bill Foulkes made the first of his 688 appearances for Manchester United.

The long-serving defender still stands fourth in our all-time list of games played for the club, with only Paul Scholes, Sir Bobby Charlton and Ryan Giggs ahead of him.

Current first-team member David De Gea is closing but remains some way off in 11th spot.

Matt Busby signs Bill Foulkes - who turned out to be one of his greatest captures.

Foulkes was a miner by trade but came from a sporting family, even if rugby league was their main passion.

"I would leave my bed at 5am, then walk across the fields to reach the colliery an hour later," he said in his 2003 autobiography. "Then I would do my shift and be up on the first winding of the cage at 2.30pm. I would shower at the pithead, snatch my football kit from my locker, and catch a train from Lea Green station, arriving in Manchester at 4.30pm, though training did not start until 6pm."

Even when joining United in 1950 as a trainee, after impressing for Whiston Boys Club, he continued working down the pit until 1954, two years after his senior debut.

The debut game could not have been bigger for Foulkes, at 20, as it came at Anfield against Liverpool.

Not only that but the full-back was charged with stopping the Merseysiders' main man in Billy Liddell. With the hosts on top in the first half, it was a tough task for the rookie defender, and there was a setback when Liddell fired the hosts in front after only 10 minutes.

Although sticking close to Liddell, he took a knock to the leg that he struggled to shake off and was guilty of conceding a free-kick in a dangerous position due to a handball on the edge of the box. United survived but it was proving difficult to the 34,450 crowd that was mostly backing our rivals.

Thankfully, the Reds turned it around in the second half, firstly with a low drive by John Aston Jnr and then Aston turned provided to set up Stan Pearson for a winner, with only 10 minutes remaining.

Bill Foulkes scored a rare, but incredibly important, goal at Real Madrid in 1968.

Foulkes had to meet up with his colleagues in London for the next outing, a week later at Chelsea, that ended in another win, 3-2 with all of our goals coming in the opening half an hour, due to his work commitments.

He had to wait until the following September for his third appearance but, earning the trust of Matt Busby, the reliable performer became a regular and shifted into the centre of the defence. 

During his 18 seasons as a Red, he won four First Division titles, the FA Cup and, of course, the European Cup in 1968. The Munich survivor even spent time as a coach at Old Trafford, following his retirement in 1970.