Willie was no ordinary businessman, though. As United fan and writer Tom Clare recounts: ‘Willie Satinoff loved life. He worked hard and played hard. He possessed unbounded energy and, however insignificant the task, he did it with all his heart and soul.
‘In the Manchester world of commerce he was known as a ‘human dynamo’; as an employer he was well respected by his employees, who looked upon him as a friend rather than a boss. He took great interest in the lives of those who he employed.’
Work was only half the Satinoff story. He was a sports fanatic – playing football daily at the old YMCA building on Peter Street, where United trainer Jack Crompton occasionally brought the Babes to train during the ’50s. He was an excellent ‘fives’ player – a game not dissimilar to squash, where the hand is used rather than a racquet. Willie was also excellent at tennis, and an expert skier – as the photo above confirms.
He was also a racehorse owner, and was well known on courses around Manchester and the north of England, striking up long-standing associations with trainers like Harold Wallington, who operated out of Malton in North Yorkshire.
Journalists Michael Crick and David Smith would later write that Satinoff ‘rarely drank’, was ‘slim’, ‘dressed immaculately’ and was ‘extremely popular with everyone’. And it was on the social circuit around Manchester that Satinoff befriended Matt Busby. Tommy Appleby, the manager of the Manchester Opera House – who was believed to have pulled out of the trip to Belgrade at the last moment, and flew over to Munich to see Busby after the accident – was a mutual friend, and both Willie and his wife Ethel became part of the Busby circle.
‘The Cromford Club, in an alley off Market Street [where the Manchester Arndale now lies], became known as the place for sportsmen and other celebrities to enjoy cabaret and surprisingly good food,’ explains Paddy Barclay in Sir Matt Busby: The Man Who Made A Football Club. ‘Matt and Jean Busby were the first two names on an A-list featuring friends such as [bookmaker Johnny] Foy, Appleby, [businessman] Louis and [wife] Muriel Edwards, and the Satinoffs.’
Here, Busby could let off steam, away from football, but it surely drew Willie Satinoff increasingly closer to his beloved United.