England Caps : 18
Goals : 5
Player : 1955 - 1958
As there’s little surviving footage of Duncan Edwards playing it’s difficult to assess him objectively but if the words of his contemporaries are anything to go on he was destined to be one of the world’s greatest players. And those words aren’t all eulogies delivered after his untimely death at the age of 21, even on his England debut the press suggested that he may well be the future replacement for Billy Wright, the veteran captain.
Record Breaking DiscoveryTwo years after becoming the youngest player to appear in a First Division game (when it was the top division), Duncan Edwards became the youngest England debutant of the 20th Century at 18 years and 183 days old, a record that stood until Michael Owen came along. He settled in well, playing at left half, in a 7-2 victory in a Home Championship game against Scotland in April 1955.
The press reviews of the game considered him a great success who looked destined for a long career as an England player. One reviewer said: "Powerfully built, he showed strength and determination in defence and the ability to open up the game with long, accurate passes."
VersatilityThough primarily employed for England as a left half, Edwards versatility was such that he seemed able to play effectively at centre half, inside forward and even centre forward. He was tall, muscular and good in the air but surprising agile and quick, and his strength and accurate passing, coupled with the ability to take on and beat players, made him a valuable asset. He was a key factor in the back-to-back championship wins of ‘Busby’s Babes’, Sir Matt Busby’s new young Manchester United team.
In 18 caps for England he scored 5 goals, impressive for someone playing in what would today be a defensive midfield position. His finest is largely considered to be that against West Germany in Berlin, on a tour of a trio of friendlies that also took in Sweden and Finland. Taking the ball close to the England penalty area, he began a forceful run that took him past a total of five West German players, then unleashed a 30 yard pile-driver with his left foot (his ‘wrong’ foot).
He went on to play in four matches of the successful 1958 World Cup qualifying campaign, although of course, he would never see the tournament itself, and players of the time considered that his game simply did not have a weakness. Many contemporaries consider that had Edwards survived, he would have been in his prime, at 29, during the 1966 World Cup and he would have been lifting the cup rather than Bobby Moore.
MunichThe end came, of course, on a slush-covered Munich Airport runway on 6th February 1958, when a third attempt to take off saw the aeroplane carrying the Manchester United team, staff and members of the press, slither through the airfield’s fence and into a field, tearing off the tail and one of the wings. They had been making a refuelling stop while returning from the second leg of a European Cup quarter-final against Red Star Belgrade, which had ended in a 3-3 draw. This resulted in an aggregate win which ensured United’s progression to the European Cup semi-final for the second year running.
Duncan Edwards was one of eight team members to lose their lives.
Tributes for a Great LossEdwards fought for his life for 15 days, and early on doctors considered that he might survive, though he would be unlikely to play again, such was the extent of the bone damage. But complications set in and he finally lost the battle.
Bobby Charlton famously said "The only player who made me feel inferior was Duncan Edwards, if I had to play for my life and could take one man with me, it would be him." In a church close to his birthplace, St. Francis' in Dudley, a pair of stained glass windows commemorate his short life.