As athletes, we all have that one coach who played a very pivotal role in our life. The coach that taught us about the sport, but that also taught us about life.
We’re talking to a number of players about the coaches that played a pivotal role in their lives. We’re exploring those relationships ahead of the US release of the film Believe. In the movie, legendary manager Sir Matt Busby takes over coaching duties for a local under 12 boys team. The movie touches on the relationship between players and coaches and how important that relationship can be. So we are talking to a number of players about who that coach was in their lives. We were lucky enough to be able to chat to a player who played for Sir Matt Busby. It was fascinating to hear of some of the stories about one of the greatest managers in the history of the sport.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Paddy Crerand. Paddy just so happens to be a former Manchester United player. He also happened to play for legendary manager Sir Matt Busby. And he also happens to be a European Cup winner. Not a bad resume.
He also happens to be an amazingly nice guy who tells some terrific stories.
Paddy is currently a co-commentator for MUTV and was with the team during their recent US tour. I connected with him while the team was here in Los Angeles. I sat down with Paddy to chat about Sir Matt Busby. There are few managers in soccer that are as revered as Sir Matt Busby was, and still is. I wanted to find out from someone who played for Sir Matt, what the guy was really like. So Paddy and I chatted. He told me some great stories about the type of man and manager that Sir Matt was.
And he started off with this gem:
“George Best came to Manchester from Ireland at 15. Irish sons are very close to their families and orientated to their mothers. And the bloke was leaving is family. He stayed one day and went back to Belfast. Matt realized the great talent that he was and brought him back to Manchester. The great thing that Matt did was he kept bringing the family over to be with George. That’s what Matt did for George.”
Paddy is talking about Sir Matt Busby and George Best. Referring to them casually as Matt and George respectively.
Paddy is part of that crew. He knows these guys. He played for Sir Matt. He was a teammate of George Best. Sir Alex Ferguson is from the same part of Glasgow that he is from.
Paddy tells me this story from early in his career.
When I first came down to Manchester from Glasgow, I brought the girl down with me that I eventually married because Matt Busby wanted to meet her. Make sure we were both happy. He cared about those things.
When I first signed for Manchester United I wasn’t even shown a contract. I just signed. That’s the kind of charm that Busby had. No player would do that now, but I just signed.
Paddy dropped this on me too. I think I will borrow this from him, if I ever meet someone who this applies to:
He had tremendous charm. He could charm the bugs out of the trees.
Paddy would just kind of drop little things on me about Sir Matt. A story here. A fact there. Sprinkling anecdotes and lessons learned along the way. Like the fact that Sir Matt never used bad language.
When we would be in the dressing room, everyone in that environment swears. The moment he would walk in, nobody would swear anymore. That was the power of the man.
I asked Paddy if there was anything he learned from Sir Matt Busby that still stands out to him today. His response was immediate and without any hesitation.
The first thing I learned from Sir Matt Busby was to be a decent human being.
Often times we learn things from our coaches that we take with us for the rest of our lives that have nothing to do with the sport. Life lessons passed on to us by those that we look up to. Those that not only coach us on the field, but in the game of life. Ask anyone who has ever had an influential coach, and I guarantee you that they learned as many life lessons from the coach as they did lessons about the sport.
How about this one:
He was a very, very strict man.
I was late to get on the team coach one day for an away game at Stoke. I get on the bus about five minutes late and he’s fuming. All the players are on the coach. The directors of Manchester United are on the coach. As soon as I step on the coach he says “who do you think you are? Do you think you’re someone special? To hold up the coach with the manager and the directors of Manchester United? How dare you”
I was about to crap myself. I said “I’m sorry boss. But this is the earliest I’ve ever been late.”
He looked at me and said “get to the back of the bus.” I think that threw him a little bit. But I can tell you I was never late again after that.
You know a coach or manager is special when other coaches and managers admire them.
He was idolized by every manager in the country.
The one thing he never did in his life. He never told you a lie. That goes on a lot in this business. But if you went and met him and he told you something, that happened. So you respected him for that. Totally honest.
I asked Paddy if Sir Matt had a big influence on Sir Alex. Again, there was no hesitation in his answer.
Sir Matt Busby had a huge influence on Sir Alex Ferguson, without question. I know Alex very well. Alex came from not very far from where I lived in Glasgow. When Alex first got to Manchester United he got a lot of abuse from the newspapers because things weren’t going his way. It takes awhile to build things the way you want them, but the expectancy at Manchester United is “now.”
Alex goes to Matt one day and says the papers are slaughtering me. What should I do? And Matt says, “don’t read them.”
He was a big help to Alex when he first got there. Alex brought a lot of young players in to the team and wanted to build around them. Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and built from there. And Matt knew that was happening and he had the patience and knew that it would take some time. Where as the rest of us didn’t have the patience and we wanted things now, now, now.
The class of ‘92 was all because of Matt. He had done that before when he rebuilt the team after the war (WWII) with all young kids in 1952. Mostly local lads. He built something that inspired Manchester United.
I asked him how much of the success of Manchester United over the last 50 years can be attributed to Sir Matt Busby. His response:
Alex Ferguson would be the first to say it. I think it is all down to him. He has laid the foundations. Alex was the one that it all came together for.
Matt had an office for years after he stopped managing. It was down the hall from Alex’s office. Alex said he always knew when Matt was in because he smoked a pipe and he could smell the pipe smoke. Alex would sometimes go down the hall and have a chat with Matt. Of course he would do that. If you were doing your job, and there was somebody right there that had done your job for 50 years before you, you would go and speak to them.
Imagine that for a minute. Two of the great managers in the history of the game, certainly the two greatest Manchester United managers in history. Having offices in the same building. Just down the hall from one another. Popping into each other’s office to have a chat. Talk about wanting to be a fly on the wall. That would have been absolutely amazing.
Paddy said the following about Sir Matt Busby:
He had a great sense of humor. He was a funny man. He was a great man. A gentlemen of the highest quality.
I’m not sure a man could be paid a much higher compliment or be given a much better description than that right there. It was very clear that Paddy Crerand, and I’m pretty sure anyone who knew Sir Matt Busby, holds the man in the highest of regards.
Check for Believe in theaters September 12th.