Showing posts with label UtdBeforFergie. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UtdBeforFergie. 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

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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