He grew up in a poor, working-class environment in industrial Lanarkshire, without the guidance of a father, killed during the First World War, and in later life would survive life-threatening injuries suffered during the Munich Air Disaster, which took the lives of some of Manchester United's greatest-ever talents. 

But Matt Busby would eventually take United to the pinnacle of European football, and become Scotland's first footballing knight. 

Now, Patrick Barclay has written The Definitive Biography of Busby's life and times, helped by Busby's family, friends and players.

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Today, Herald Sport print extracts from the book, featuring the game that secured Busby and United's place in history, the 1968 European Cup final.​

UNITED wore all blue and Benfica all white as [Bobby] Charlton and Mario Coluna led the teams into a stadium dressed in red. It was a very hot evening for late May but [Johnny] Aston was less interested in the weather than Benfica’s No.2. 

Busby, as usual, had preceded his basic message with brief observations about each player’s direct opponent. 

“He’d have them written on a small sheet of paper,’’ said Aston, “and, when it got to me, it might be, ‘Right, Johnny, you’re up against So-and-so. He’s as fast as anything. Don’t try and go past him’. Or it might be the opposite.” 

What he had said about Adolfo led Aston, as he surveyed the athletic-looking defender, to test him without delay. No sooner had Wembley’s welcome subsided than the United No.11 rebuilt the wall of noise. “I ran him – and straight away knew I’d got him. So I ran him two or three times more and he became very nervous.”


If Benfica had been wary of [George] Best on the right, they now realised an equal threat came from the left. But United could not afford to throw too much forward. Not while Eusebio could evade [Nobby] Stiles’s lunges. [Alex]Stepney gaped as Eusebio hit the crossbar. Then [David] Sadler pulled a good chance wide. It was a cautious first half of few chances. 

United resumed at a higher tempo and soon Sadler, drifting out to Aston’s left flank, turned back and slanted in a cross to which Charlton applied a glance of his head so judicious that, while his comb-over reared like a cobra, the ball followed a gentle arc into the far corner.

United were ahead for nearly half an hour. Until Jose Torres won a ball in the air and Jaime Graca flashed it across Stepney. 

Then came the moment that would be remembered as vividly as any goal in the campaign. With Benfica threatening to obviate extra-time and Stiles’s socks round his ankles, Eusebio sprinted clear. He had only Stepney to beat and a shot like a mule’s kick in his right boot. Why he took this one with his left could be pondered at leisure, of which Stepney felt he had none; once the ball had safely lodged in his arms, looking to throw it out to Tony Dunne rather than savour his relief, he seemed to be rebuffing Eusebio’s attempt to congratulate him on the save.

Why? Did Stepney think his opponent was indulging in a bit of gamesmanship, trying to slow the counter-attack?

“No. I was thinking more of the friendly we’d played in Los Angeles. There had been a bit of trouble because they were still angry about the 5–1 in Lisbon. Eusebio scored twice. Put two penalties past me. And he had this habit of smashing them, then running into the net to get the ball. And as he ran past you he’d ruffle your hair.” Irksome. But Stepney did also have an eye to the counter-attack.

“What I can remember of the save itself was that, when the ball was played through for Eusebio, I thought it was a 60–40 for me and came out a fraction, only to realise that the Wembley turf was so lush it would slow the ball up. So I went back again. He was obviously going to whack it and, when someone does that, it can go anywhere. It went straight at me. It wasn’t a great save. But I did somehow hold on to the ball and my first reaction was to throw it out to Tony. And as these thoughts were going through my mind I wasn’t really aware of Eusebio. I didn’t know what he’d done until after the game, when people mentioned what a gentleman he had been.”

Best stole the ball but put it into the side netting before Concetto Lo Bello’s whistle signalled a 90-minute stalemate. As Busby and [Jimmy] Murphy walked among their players, of course they could see how glad they were of respite. But they kept stressing that their opponents looked wearier. Busby, pointing to Best and Aston, told everyone else to ply them with possession. But they had to stay up the field. So Stepney, when he got the ball, opted for route one. He booted it long. The back of [Brian] Kidd’s head flicked it on and Best ran by. It was a 50–50 between him and Jacinto Santos. No contest. 

A delicate touch had Jacinto scything warm air. And suddenly the only 
obstacle was an advancing, scrambling goalkeeper. A gossamer thread would have given Best more trouble. In an instant he was round Jose Henrique and the ball rolling into the net. This was in the 92nd minute.

By the 99th United were 4–1 up and the celebrations could safely begin. There were photographers in St Joseph’s Hospital, Whalley Range, to capture a pyjama-clad Law joining in.

Kidd, after a game of head-tennis, had marked his birthday with a goal and then made a crisp one for Charlton at the near post. Young enough to be Bill Foulkes’s son, Kidd had done more than his duty to the haunted generation. Charlton felt his eyes prickle but held back the tears. They were flowing by the time the final whistle had sounded and Busby reached him. They embraced. Crerand cajoled Busby to go up and receive the trophy, but that was Charlton’s role. He showed it to the ecstatic crowd and seemed almost to collapse under its weight. This was the burden of history. 

“We had never spoken about Munich,” said Stepney. “Never, ever. Bobby never mentioned it. Bill Foulkes never mentioned it. I knew, when I arrived at the club, that it was a no-go area. You didn’t have to be told. Yet when the final whistle went we all instinctively went to Bobby, Bill or Matt. We never really celebrated among ourselves. And we knew the families of the lads who passed away were in the stands.” 
For Busby it was “the proudest night of my life”. Again, no mention of Munich. No need.