Coppell: Meeting Sir Matt was sensational

Monday 11 April 2022 17:00

Manchester United legend Steve Coppell covers a lot of ground in this week's episode of the UTD Podcast, reflecting the playing style of a winger who ran countless miles for club and country.

The former no.7 holds a unique record in Reds history, the longest sequence of consecutive league appearances which spanned 207 games from 1977 to 1981. But it's for his attacking skills, such as the ability to beat an opponent and deliver a deadly cross, for which fans of a certain age best remember Coppell, rather than his remarkable durability.

He joined the club earlier in the decade that was synonymous with the Reds' storming return back to the top flight and scintillating FA Cup runs, and that impeccable timing brought him into contact with Sir Matt Busby, who was still very active within the club despite stepping down as manager for the second and final time in 1971.

It was on his first pre-season tour and, indeed, his first-ever flight that Coppell found himself in the company of the great Scot, a man regarded as the founding father of the modern-day Manchester United. Steve takes up the story brilliantly, in conversation with our podcast hosts Helen Evans, Sam Homewood and former defender David May.
UTD Podcast: Meeting Sir Matt Busby Video

UTD Podcast: Meeting Sir Matt Busby

Steve Coppell explains how he discussed all things football on a flight with a legendary United figure…

"In those days, United did five-week world tours at the end of the season. I missed the first two weeks because I was doing my exams," said Coppell, who had insisted on completing his economics degree before becoming a full-time footballer.

I joined up with the team in Hong Kong. I had never flown before. My first flight was from Manchester to Hong Kong with stop-offs in Rome and Mumbai!

"I'd been told Sir Matt was on the flight [but when I asked] the stewardess, she said, 'No, no, he'd be up at the front but he's not here.'

"After a couple of hours flying, I just went for a walk around the plane. This was in the days when you could smoke [on a flight]. Right at the back of the plane, just in front of the toilets, was Sir Matt, smoking a pipe, along with about 40 or 50 other people who were smoking. You can imagine the haze!
"I sat next to Sir Matt and, talk about dreams come true, to listen to this man for what was almost eight hours, off and on, talking about football, talking about life, in this beautiful Scottish burr he had, was just sensational.

"I ended up doing the last three weeks of the tour. Again bearing in mind I had never flown before, it was to Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Los Angeles!"

Coppell was en route to earning one of his 42 caps for England, away to West Germany in a friendly, when he next found himself in awe of Sir Matt during a flight.

The destination was Munich and the match date was 22 February 1978, almost exactly 20 years after a plane crash close to the same German city claimed the lives of 23 people, including eight of Busby's United players and three of his colleagues.
Steve Coppell received the club's Player of the Year award from Sir Matt Busby in April 1978.

The former United manager was on board as a member of the FA's international committee, while the Reds winger was a key player in the national team under Ron Greenwood.

"As we flew into Munich, there was something like two feet of snow at the airport," recalls Coppell in the podcast.

"Just by some sheer fluke, by the configuration of the aircraft, as we were coming into land, I was looking directly across at Sir Matt's face. I was thinking 'what on earth is going through his mind?' Two feet of snow, landing in Munich...

"But he did not twitch a muscle. I saw him afterwards and I didn't ask him specifically, I just said, 'Are you okay?' And he said, 'Yes, I'm fine. Looking forward to the game.'"

Coppell considers that first-hand experience of Busby's bravery to be another of his "brilliant memories" and he shares many more in an essential episode of the UTD Podcast, available now in the United App.

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