Showing posts with label Stanley Matthews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stanley Matthews. 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

United return after 103 days hiatus to push for top four

Manchester United return today to play the remaining fixtures of 2019-20 premier league season after a gap of 103 days since their last match a 2-0 derby win on 8th March. This beats the 77 day gap in 1962-63 season which was interrupted due to severe snow. During this time both Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba have regained their fitness giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a huge boost in clubs bid to secure a Champions' League qualification with 5 teams within 7 points gap of 4th spot. Major change will be the absence of fans as matches will be played in empty stadiums. Many lifelong United fans will miss their proud record of attending matches for many decades, memories of travel with their buddies, collection of official United Review and match memorabilia, de-stress from work and support the club they have love 'in person'. Latest bulletin from Premier League confirmed one positive for COVID-19 from 1,200 tests conducted on 11th,12th June a stark reminder of lurking danger for players and their families.

During this forced absence from the pitch in the last quarter of the season United have done admirably to support the community, NHS and its match-day staff to fight the covid coronavirus pandemic. Marcus Rashford lead a crusade for free school meal vouchers and made the government do a U-turn. This movement attracted people from all walks of life across club and party lines to ensure kids are not left without free meals during summer. Rashford has made everyone especially those associated with football and Manchester United feel immensely proud. While Sir Bobby Charlton's Foundation is aiding children all across the globe, Rashford has made the start at home in the right direction at such a young age. He has already captained United, and is its fourth youngest player to play 200 games for the club. Charlton got an 8-year contract after winning the World Cup the lengthiest one ever at United and Rashford deserves to get one too. Certainly hope he wins greater laurels with both England and United, this one certainly on a human level eclipses everything.
Bruno Fernandes dream start to his United career being named premier league's player of the month for February and the return from long-term injury to Paul Pogba have made fans excited as to what their combination could mean to regain that old midfield domination infused with ideas against opponents of any type. Pogba's wider range to see a pass deep in midfield and Fernandes' venturing a little ahead gives room for both to play in midfield if backed by a solid central defensive midfielder where McTominay, Fred and Matic can vie for the sole spot. However this is unlikely to manifest in the very first game. Biggest change in the squad has been the transformation of Fred under Solskjaer compared to Mourinho's time in charge and he would relish sending a message to his ex-manager with a strong performance. One more reason to get a good right winger is to reduce the heavy emphasis on the left side favoured by Martial, Rashford, Pogba and Fernandes. Consistent brilliance of Aaron Wan-Bissaka makes him the leading contender for player of the season while Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have had a superb breakthrough year.

Dean Henderson on loan at Sheffield United will try his best to beat the 14 clean sheets record in Premier League held by Michel Vorm even though he will miss the match against Manchester United. Odion Ighalo has had his contract extended till Jan, 2021 while Angel Gomes still has an offer from the club to sign before his present contract expires on 30, June. Solskjaer said "We've offered him a deal, hopefully he'll take it. If not, I wish him all the best. Hopefully, from what I understand it's not too far away, so if not we wish him all the best." during the managers press conference conducted via VC online. Chelsea meanwhile have signed Timo Werner thought to be a target of Liverpool all along. United await the decision of Birmingham City academy player Jude Bellingham who turns 17 on 29th June eligible to sign a professional contract. United's director of football role still remains non-existent as Manchester born Paul Mitchell joins AS Monaco as Sporting Director from Red Bull where Ed Woodward had interviewed him and Jose Mourinho is trying to get Luis Campos at Tottenham but needs to get the support of chairman Daniel Levy.

MUFC won this reverse fixture 2-1 at Old Trafford with Marcus Rashford scoring both goals. Can Solskjaer do the double over Spurs? They will also be rejuvenated with return of captain Harry Kane, Sissoko and South Korean Son Heung-min but will miss Dele Alli due to suspension diminishing their attacking threat. United haven't played yet at their new stadium opened on 03-April 2019 that is slightly bigger than their north London rivals the Emirates of Arsenal. Last year's Champions' League finalists will be probably out of reckoning for top 4 if they lose this game being 7 points off. Master tactician in Jose Mourinho will have taken this extended time to tidy up their leaky defense and missing full-backs. United can knock one rival off the competition for top 4 with a win.

Only ever league game MUFC have played in June was in 1940 when during the war FA organised across 10 regions War Leagues and in West region United played Everton in the last match and their line-up had one and only Stanley Matthews, and two City players Alec Herd and Peter Doherty. United lost 0-3. Sir Matt Busby was supposed to play at right back but could not due to army commitments and was mentioned in the match-day program as A.N.Other, filled in eventually by David Jones from Bury. Alec Herd was close to Busby and his son David Herd joined United in 1961 to propel them back into the big stage.

Since 2016 United have not won the FA Cup and Europa League Cup offers another avenue to claim Champions' League spot but the competition has many top clubs in contention. Solskjaer will hope to continue the good form before the suspension and ride the goodwill created by Marcus Rashford and impact of Bruno Fernandes to finish the season stronger. One thing is certain United will not capitulate like last season due to good squad harmony created by Solskjaer and six of nine league fixtures against bottom half of the table.

Looking at the fixtures below extending into end of August and delayed start of next season in September which has to finish sooner in early May 2021 in order to accommodate the postponed Euro 2021, players might not get to rest any time soon especially if they play for their national teams apart from normal club duties. Football has returned as per wishes of the government to cheer the public in its hour of grief and the same government must not forget about the game when it comes to awarding its top players, managers and administrators for their service and instead chose other sports as it usually does. Marcus Rashford's appeal should see to that this time at least!

Hope nobody does a comeback, quite like United! Superb rendition from Solskjaer.


Remaining fixtures:
Premier League
Sat 20 June: Spurs v Man Utd
Wed 24 June: Man Utd v Sheffield Utd
Wed 01 July: Brighton v Man Utd
Sat 04 July: Man Utd v Bournemouth
Fri 10 July: Aston Villa v Man Utd
Tue 14 July: Man Utd v Southampton
Thu 16 July: Crystal Palace v Man Utd
Sat 18 July: Man Utd v West Ham
Sun 26 July: Leicester v Man Utd

Sat 27 Jun: Norwich v Man Utd
Sat 18-19 Jul: semi-final (tentative)
Sat 01 Aug: final (tentative)

Europa League Cup (single-leg knockout format)
5–6 August: Round of 16 (venues to be confirmed)
10–11 August: Quarter-finals (Cologne, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Gelsenkirchen)
16–17 August: Semi-finals (venues to be confirmed)
21 August: Final (Cologne)

Summer transfer window for England:
01 Aug: Start date unconfirmed
05 Oct: End date

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