Showing posts with label India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label India. Show all posts

At long last recognition for 'Forgotten Babe' Johnny Berry

About a year ago published my article about 'Flowers of Manchester' in which I found the name of then United vice-captain Johnny Berry missing. I pursued it with Patrick Burns of Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation (MMMF) and Mike Thomas of Munich58 both are independent fan-led organization that organize the memorial events at ManchesterPlatz, Munich and at The Munich Plaque, Old Trafford every year in association with Manchester United Football Club. Happy to say that my humble request was accepted after four months of deliberations which makes me feel extremely satisfied to have contributed in an infinitesimally small way back to the club I love.

Bit about the legendary wing wizard. It was in India where Johnny Berry while playing for British Army team captured the attention of Birmingham City captain Fred Harris who recommended him despite his short stature. Birmingham City originated as Small Heath similar to Manchester United who used to be known as Newton Heath. Starting out as an amateur in 1944 at the age of 18 and signing professional in the year when the team won the Second Division in 1947-48 and got promoted. Blues lost 0-3 to MUFC at Maine Road on 20th Nov, 1948 when Berry was not in the squad and won the home fixture on 19th March, 1949 1-0 with Berry in the squad as Len Boyd scored the winner in 49th minute. Blues finished 17th in the league. MUFC title challenge capitulated next season when they faced the blues twice during 9 game winless run. Johnny Berry tormented MUFC and scored the 2nd goal on 70th minute in a 2-0 win at Old Trafford on 7th April, 1950 that is hailed as one of the finest post war goals ever scored at Old Trafford as Reds keeper Ignasius Feehan's made his final appearance. Three days later both teams drew 0-0 at St. Andrews. MUFC finished 4th three points behind champions Portmouth while blues were relegated finishing bottom of the league. 

While in the second division Johnny Berry played in all 42 league games of the season for the blues who finished 4th failing to win back promotion. Still managed to beat MUFC in 6th round of the FA Cup when Higgins scored just 44 seconds after kick-off. Blues lost to Blackpool in the semi-finals of FA Cup. In all 114 appearances for the blues Johnny Berry scored 6 goals. Sir Matt Busby pursued Johnny Berry for 18 months to replace Jimmy Delaney and finally got his man for a club record transfer of #25,000 on 01-Aug, 1951 which stood for 14 years as a record outgoing transfer for the blues just shy of 17 year all-time record of England's first million dollar transfer of Trevor Francis! Johnny Berry was part of Blues team that faced MUFC on four occasions, won three and drew one i.e., unbeaten!

In Ivan Ponting's definitive book the 'Manchester United: The Red Army' Busby's pursuit of Berry is described as "When Johnny Berry was Birmingham City player, Matt Busby was sick of the sight of him. Every time the tiny, but tough, right winger faced United he tortured the Red's defense. In the end the Old Trafford boss decided the only way to put an end to the torment was to sign the tormentor."

In his first season Berry played 36 of 42 league matches scoring 6 times as MUFC finally won their first Championship in 1951-52 after 41 year wait. His signing in 1951 was perhaps as significant as Alex Stepney's for 1967 title. His debut for United against Bolton ended in a 0-1 loss on 1st September, 1951. He and captain Roger Byrne are the only two players to have been part of all three championship winning teams of the 50's including in 1955-56 and 1956-57. He scored his first United goal in the Manchester derby on 15th September in a 2-1 win and many of his goals came at critical moments for the team. His most famous goal is against Athletic Bilbao in the quarter finals of European Cup in the 84th minute that clinched the tie 6-5 on aggregate the match played under floodlights in Maine Road on 6th February, 1957 exactly to a year before the tragedy at Munich. On returning from the first leg at Bilbao under heavy snow United players were asked to sweep the snow off the wings of the aircraft before take-off as his son Neil Berry told Manchester Evening News in March, 2012. Neil Berry who watched that unforgettable match in 1957 at Maine Road published a book about his dad aptly titled 'Johnny The Forgotten Babe' which I would love to read to get to know more about this legend who wore the famous number 7 shirt for most of the 50's for Manchester United.

During the 1955-56 league winning campaign MUFC faced their direct rivals Blackpool at home in April which could settle the title with two further games to spare. Captain Roger Byrne had another nightmare dream of missing a penalty before the game and when United got one after being 0-1 down he ordered Johnny Berry to take it. 1-1. As final whistle was approaching Berry provided an inspired cross for Tommy Taylor to score through his outstretched leg after the opposing keeper had slipped. United won by a margin of 11 points as Blackpool with the great Stanley Matthews lost their last four matches to finish second which is still their best ever finish in Blackpool's history. Berry made his England debut with Tommy Taylor on the South American tour match against Argentina which was cancelled due to water-logging after 36 minutes. All four caps of Berry were outside England, three in South America in 1953 and one in Sweden in 1956 (Duncan Edwards also played alongside Byrne, Berry and Taylor). He competed with the greats Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney limiting his chances considerably.

On 6th October, 1956 when Bobby Charlton made his debut vs Charlton Athletic and scored two goals, Johnny Berry captained the side in the absence of club captain Roger Byrne who was away on England duty. In the FA Cup that season United beat Bournemouth the giant killers who had beaten Wolves and Spurs already but trailed 0-1 at half-time with a man down as Mark Jones was forced out injured. Johnny Berry scored two goals in the second half to help United reach  the semi-finals where they met his old cub Birmingham City. It was Bobby Charlton's FA Cup debut "Against Birmingham, we got into our stride very quickly, and when Johnny Berry wriggled through to open the scoring in the 12th minute it meant that our opponents had to open up the game, which immediately made them vulnerable to our great attacking resources." Charlton scored the second goal from David Pegg's cross to win 2-0 at Hillsborough to ensure United progressed through to finale at Wembley for the first time since 1948.


A dip in form in late November 1957 forced Matt Busby to make four changes for the match against Leicester City when he dropped Johnny Berry for an 18 year old Kenny Morgans from FA Youth Cup winning team and a debut for Harry Gregg in goal. In the last match of Busby Babes in England "the greatest league match ever played" ended Arsenal 4 Manchester United 5 at Highbury where United led 3-0 at half-time, Berry who did not make the starting XI rightly reminded the team that game was not over yet. Morgans again started in Belgrade that ended in a 3-3 draw but Munich devastated him psychologically despite surviving the crash without major physical injury.

Johnny Berry missed his passport at the Belgrade airport and plane was delayed from taking off which meant they landed in Munich hours later and under much heavy snow. Was this the reason Berry's name was excluded from the 'Flowers of Manchester'? Definitely not as clarified by Harry Gregg in his biography 'Wild About Football' published in 1961 "There was a mix-up over visas - and I was the one who unwittingly caused it. We had been told to get our passports so that they could be sent ahead to the airport. There was no mention of visas, so when I was going to my room to get my passport, I offered to get Johnny Berry's, as well. It was in his suitcase; so was his visa. I collected both our passports, dropped Johnny's visa back into the case - and promptly forgot about the whole business. But when we reached the airport, it was discovered that Johnny's visa was missing... which was with rest of our luggage on the plane! There was about an hour's delay before the matter was sorted out."

In fact the condition of Johnny Berry was more serious than Duncan Edwards. Professor Maurer took Jimmy Murphy, Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes round the wards to tell about their chances of survival.
 Boss: 50-50,
Blanchflower: OK,
Edwards: 50-50,
Berry: "No, no, I am not God."

Berry was the last United player to be discharged from Munich hospital two months after the crash as he suffered skull fracture, broken jaw, broken limbs which meant he would never play football again. He was the last person to know about the scale of the tragedy as he kept complaining to Sir Matt Busby that his good friend Tommy Taylor had not come to see him. This incident was the most painful of Busby's life. In a Manchester hospital upon his return he read the team news in the newspaper and forced the doctor to reveal the truth about his former team-mates.  

Physically his condition might not have seemed as bad as that of Jackie Blanchflower which led few to falsely believe he might play again. Berry was betrayed by the club when they forced him to leave his allotted house to accommodate the new signing Maurice Setters in 1960. Johnny Berry and Kenny Morgans were in Wembley when United finally won the European Cup in 1968. Berry was the first of the Munich survivor's to die in 1994 at just 68. Johnny Berry, Tommy Taylor and Harry Gregg were the three specialists who were brought by Sir Matt Busby to plug the gaps and help the Babes with experience. It's among those three that Berry deserves the recognition that has eluded him thus far. Perhaps the remembrance events and responsibilities especially for the lyrics were not as organized until Munich58 came about in 2001 and MMMF later. Apart from Munich58 and MMF, I would also like to thank Paul from the 'UtdBeforFergie' twitter group and its amazing followers to have sustained my keen interest in United's history.

From being not sure to tweak the lyrics which many fans treat as an anthem to checking the change log which revealed one pending instance that of word 'brain' to 'frame' in reference to Duncan Edwards, needing a figurehead to champion the cause and consultations with song writer, finally had the confirmation on 14th October, 2020 from Mike Thomas "Well done on a successful campaign :-)".  United face Everton at Old Trafford on 6th February. Covid-19 restrictions will mean a limited ceremony this year, perhaps a bittersweet one for the Berry family who might have felted 'forgotten' for the last 63 years!

Old lyrics:
Big Duncan he went too with an injury to his brain
And Ireland's brave Jack Blanchflower will never play again

New lyrics:
Big Duncan he went too with an injury to his frame
Johnny Berry and Jack Blanchflower will never play again

Time running out for Gomes

Story of Angel Gomes is like a dream. Coming through the youth ranks and finally making his debut in May, 2017 to become the youngest player to play for the first team in 64 years since Duncan Edwards the greatest. Part of England squad that won the U17 FIFA World Cup held in India where team played all their games except one at the country's football capital Kolkata. Gomes started in only 2 games scoring a goal apiece against Chile and Iraq. He was brought on as a sub late in the final after a stunning comeback from 0-2 down was confirmed to finally beat Spain 5-2. Since then much has been heard about his colleagues from that group Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Rhian Brewster, Callum Hudson-Odoi not Angel Gomes. Is this tweet from MUFC another attempt to urge Gomes to sign a new contract before his present one expires on 30, June?
Of all positions to emerge from and settle successfully in the first team midfield is the most challenging where the player is most dependent on others. This season forward Mason Greenwood, left-back Brandon Williams have broken through to first team and done admirably while being younger than Gomes. Competition in midfield is hotting up from James Garner and Dylan Levitt. Levitt was not part of the summer tour last season but his consistent good performances have earned a call from Wales senior squad managed by former United legend Ryan Giggs. Height should not be an issue though Gomes is even smaller than either Nobby Stiles or Paul Scholes who as per Sir Alex Ferguson's autobiography had no chance of making it being dubbed "Too small."

In march Tahith Chong signed a new contract ending speculation about his future after his potential suitors Inter Milan suggested to loan him out next season. He has played in Cup matches since and registered two assists but did miss an easy opportunity to score against Astana in Europa league. In contrast Gomes has also played in Europa league but other appearances have dried up owing to stand-off over his contract while he was being touted all over Europe by his father who is also his agent.

Solskjaer denied Gomes an opportunity to be loaned last January after he took over as United were short of numbers in midfield but was involved in only two games. This year too in January he was denied the chance rightly as his contract negotiation had not concluded. Loan without contract could have only benefited Gomes not the club. Lack of progress under Mourinho after he gave Gomes the dream debut was a greater cause for slump in his progress.

Rebuild under Solskjaer is progressing well but was late to offer Ander Herrera a chance to stay. Same isn't the case for Gomes who has an offer from United for quite some time. In the first part of this season where United struggled with different players in midfield all options were evaluated starting from seniors to juniors in the squad owing to the pressure of gaining points in ultra competitive Premier League. Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira were ahead of Gomes that probably upset some fans but the proportion could have been varied to give Gomes slightly more game time. Consistent run of games given to Fred has resurrected his career and hope Gomes sees this positive influence of Solskjaer that has also turned around Luke Shaw and Nemanja Matic whose United future was in doubt. Arrival of Bruno Fernandes and return of Paul Pogba will mean he needs to deliver at any given opportunity which can only happen if hard work in training and right attitude is never compromised. Eventually when Pogba leaves United can have a home made replacement in Gomes.

Stats do not tell the complete picture though in the 6 senior appearances Gomes could not score nor produce an assist. He took the free-kick against Astana which was superbly saved by their keeper. With the reserve team he has 4 goals and 2 assists having missed many games this season as he was with the first team as standby but not part of match day squad limiting his appearances significantly. He has represented England at every level from U16 to U20. Overall for United youth teams in 66 games he has 29 goals and 17 assists which is very impressive and continuing this into the senior setup needs a bit of patience and planning else frustration creeps in.

Paul Pogba left Manchester United at the end of his contract influenced by his agent as outlined by Sir Alex Ferguson and later became clubs record transfer from Juventus a foreign club. Gomes likely destination is United's direct rivals in Chelsea who have been dominating the Youth Cups but under Lampard and Morris aim to promote youth where United's record of blooding a youth player is unbroken for more than 4,000 games stretching back to 1937. This stat alone should sway the decision of Gomes who has been at United since the age of six and if not Solskjaer's teammate who is also his godfather Nani ring to nudge him to continue his development at United. To have made United to wait till the very last moment would have also given them a clear message. Ravel Morrison's career shows talent alone is not enough and there is a long road ahead for Gomes.

Start of something special

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has left his entire senior squad in Manchester to prepare for next Premier League game against Aston Villa while taking the reserve team with three seniors Axel Tuanzebe, Jesse Lingard and Luke Shaw (none of whom started against Sheffield United) to Kazakhstan to play FC Astana in the Europa League Cup wherein they have already qualified for the next round.

It is a bold move because normally MUFC have had youth players part of every match day squad where as now Solskjaer has taken an entire reserves team to play instead of the main squad. It also shows the ruthlessness of Solskjaer who described the first half performance against Sheffield United "I could have changed 11 players at half time that's so simple apart from the keeper David" at 2:17-2:24. Skeptics have called it as 'Solskjaer throwing the players under the bus' whereas earlier during the bad run of results in April last season Roy Keane said "these are the same players that threw Mourinho under the bus and they will do exactly the same to Ole, leopards don't change their spots" at 0:29-0:36.

Solskjaer does not believe in retribution like the serial winner Jose Mourinho who used to publicly call out and blame individual players making the dressing room toxic. Solskjaer has been impeccable and honest in his interviews maintaining calm under severe pressure and responding to every criticism without making it personal. Solskjaer has saved the first team squad a seven hour long flight to play in severe cold of about -14 degrees and resting them for crucial run-in of fixtures across the league and cup competitions that sees them playing three times in seven days next against Villa, Spurs and City immediately and later six more games before end of December.

Three first team players will be making their debuts: Ethan Laird, Di'Shon Bernard and Dylan Levitt. Lee Grant in goal his first competitive start for MUFC, ahead of Matej Kovar. Axel Tuanzebe will partner impressive Di'Shon Bernard in defense. Ethan Laird back from injury will play at right back. Luke Shaw will be starting his first match since late August. James Garner and Dylan Levitt will anchor the midfield. Tahith Chong, Jesse Lingard the captain, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood will lead the attack. Seven of squad have never played for first, among them three are confirmed starters. Its a rare start for Chong and Gomes who are yet commit their futures to MUFC.

Not just MUFC players and fans but everyone in sport can take inspiration from the fight back from cancer of Max Taylor who makes this travelling squad to defiantly state "I won't let cancer define me."

This squad will help to assess the depth of talent ahead of January transfer window wherein the performances of Brandon Williams has meant that MUFC will no longer be looking to buy a right back as they had originally planned to do. This will also please the board as Solskjaer will review every member of MUFC squad including the reserves before asking for funds thereby solidifying his claim to fill a gap in the squad. The only concern will be if Astana play physically bulldozing the youngsters and if that results in injuries to any of the reserves.

As I had previously mentioned this match remains the closest competitive match of MUFC to watch by travelling from India. Will it turn out to be as historic as the games against Liverpool in November 1951 of 'Busby Babes' or season opener against Villa of 95 'Fergie's Fledglings' remains to be seen. Those two games were in the context of the league while this might be placed with many cup games which weren't the focus of those campaigns down the years that had first team fringe players mixed with youth. Nonetheless its very difficult to re-collect such an wholesale changes to a entire team made up of mainly youth/reserve players. Post Munich there was 9 forced changes in squad that faced Arsenal in the league and Sheffield Wednesday in FA Cup with Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes the only two constants, while here entire starting XI is changed and five subs including Lingard, Grant, Tuanzebe, Garner, Greenwood were part of squad that played Sheffield United now face Astana. Whenever Greenwood has played he has scored or assisted that will definitely guarantee goals.

Epoch making in the MUFC tradition, "Solskjaer's Specials."

On England's 1000th game the best MUFC XI

The squad:
Alex Stepney (GK)
Gary Neville
Gary Pallister
Rio Ferdinand
Roger Byrne
Duncan Edwards
Bryan Robson (C)
David Beckham
Wayne Rooney
Tommy Taylor
Sir Bobby Charlton

Subs: Ray Wood, Phil Neville, Nobby Stiles, Ray Wilkins, Steve Coppell, Teddy Sheringham

England's first, youngest and longest serving team manager was Walter Winterbottom who had a brief spell as a player at MUFC in 1930's. Between 1946 and 1962 he oversaw England participation in all four World Cups wherein the quarter-final defeat to eventual champions Brazil in 1962 was his best result. In 1958 World Cup in Sweden his squad was depleted due to the Munich Air Disaster which robbed him of three first team regulars in Roger Byrne, Duncan Edwards and Tommy Taylor and prior to the event were beaten only once in 17 consecutive games. He did pick a young Bobby Charlton but did not play him even for a single match while Pele debuted spectacularly for Brazil being 3 years younger.  During his tenure a selection committee usually picked the squad and his influence was limited mainly as a trainer which he professionally taught and wrote about. Hungary famously beat England at home 6-3 in 1953 and 7-1 away in 1954.

Jack Mew and Alex Stepney won just one cap, Gary Bailey two and Ray Wood and Ben Foster three is the tale of MUFC goal keepers who have represented England. Alex Stepney has easily been the most successful at club level. Steve Bruce is perhaps the most famous MUFC player for never having represented England (Jimmy Greenhoff and Alan Gowling were also denied) being the first double winning captain of MUFC while his partner at centre-half Gary Pallister earned first of 22 caps while still playing for Middlesbrough in the second division. Rio Ferdinand became the youngest player to debut as a centre-half at 19 years 8 days while still playing for West Ham and ended up with 81 caps. Gary Neville holds the record for most caps by a right back at 85 and played with his brother Phil in the same team 31 times; Phil has 59 caps. Bill Foulkes sole cap came against Northern Ireland in 1954 as a right back. Roger Byrne held the record for most consecutive appearances for England with 33 at left back and being the Captain of the famous Busby Babes.

Duncan Edwards became the youngest post-war player to play for England in 1955 at 18 years 183 days against Scotland, in total played 18 times scoring 5 goals including that 'boom-boom' shot against World Champions West Germany. His England captain Billy Wright had this to say "There have been few individual performances to match what he produced in Germany. He tackled like a lion, attacked at every opportunity and topped it all off with cracking goal."

'Captain Marvel' Bryan Robson leads the team as he carried the side on numerous occasion on his own in the 80's, once scoring a goal in just 27 seconds against France in 1982 World Cup. David Beckham peaked as England captain under Sven-Goran Eriksson scoring that crucial free-kick at Old Trafford against Greece to secure the qualification and was rumoured to want away from MUFC when Sir Alex Ferguson reversed his decision to retire as the Swede Eriksson was lined up to succeed. Paul Scholes had lesser impact than either Nobby Stiles or Ray Wilkins. Steve Coppell's impressive career on the wing with 42 caps 7 goals came to an abrupt end at just 28 years when he sustained a knee-injury while playing against Hungary to qualify for 1982 World Cup.

Tommy Taylor had an incredible goal ratio for both MUFC and England, scoring 131 goals in 191 games for club and 16 goals including two hat-tricks in just 19 appearances for country. Alfredo di Stefano called him 'Magnifico' and was seen as a long term replacement for aging Nat Lofthouse. Wayne Rooney beat the all time scoring record long held by Sir Bobby Charlton at 49 goals for more than 45 years but could only score one of his 53 goals in World Cup competition against Uruguay in 2014 and four at the Euro's across three tournaments! George Wall the left winger who was a key player to during the reds first victorious phase in late 1900's decade comes close to cementing that spot but in terms of best MUFC players to represent England have Sir Bobby Charlton at left wing. Charlton's best came against Portugal in the semi-final of the 1966 World Cup and the great 'Der Kaiser' Franz Beckenbauer summed that glorious World Cup as "England beat us in 1966 because Bobby Charlton was just a bit better than me." Teddy Sheringham's best came in two spells on either side of his MUFC tenure, firstly partnering with Alan Shearer to reach the semi-finals of the Euro '96 and then being used as a tactical sub for his intelligent play especially in the 2002 World Cup in Japan; overall scored 11 goals in 51 games.

Viv Anderson was Sir Alex Ferguson's first signing in 1987 and became the first black player to represent England while playing for Nottingham Forest in 1978. Owen Hargreaves who got most of his caps while playing for Bayern Munich before his move to MUFC to help win the 2008 Champions League was in fact born in Canada. Most notable player born outside England was James Princep who was born in India and held twin records of being the youngest player to represent England in 1879 at 17 years 252 days and to play in FA Cup final at 17 years 245 days. He held both records for around 125 years!


Astana away presents best chance for watching MUFC live in a competitive game from India

For MUFC fans from India the 28-November away match in Europa League between Manchester United and FC Astana presents a great opportunity to watch the Reds live in a major competition by travelling from India. India is one of the countries whose citizens may be issued an electronic single entry tourist visa from their Visa and Migration portal from 01 January 2019 onwards. Few advantages are:

  1. Very short travel time for a UEFA competition involving MUFC: Air Astana flights from Delhi to Almaty is only 3 hours 50 minutes duration and then take another flight from Almaty to Nur-Sultan of duration 1 hour 45 minutes.
  2. Currency exchange rate of 1 INR is approximately equal 5 KZT which is great! 
  3. Time difference is ideal with IST as its either -30 minutes in west (Astana) and +30 minutes in east (Almaty).
Main limitation could be the seating capacity of only 30,244 to secure a ticket and its authenticity. Tickets are not yet opened for sale as per FootballTicketNet. Best to travel with trusted friends and apply for Visa & bookings at least 25 days before the date of journey. Weather in late Nov will be around -7 to -10 degrees Celsius.
Disclaimer: Have never traveled to Kazakhstan before.

About Kazakhstan recall two things from childhood, first the Baikonur cosmodrome famous for Russian space launches and its former capital Alma Ata when most of us had to update our knowledge of capital cities of the world after the fall of communism. Later from the movie "Dr Zhivago" came to know about the Ural mountains and recent news of renaming of its new capital Astana to Nur-Sultan.

Cynthia from Journal of Nomads has captured the varied landscapes and interesting stories of the 9th largest country in the world very beautifully. Do go through all the links on the page to support the richly detailed site with excellent photos and description.

At long last recognition for 'Forgotten Babe' Johnny Berry

About a year ago published my article about ' Flowers of Manchester ' in which I found the name of then United vice-captain Johnny B...

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