Eddie Lewis: Manchester United centre-forward who went on to become a pioneer of professional football in South Africa

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When the Manchester United manager Matt Busby was seeking a long-term replacement for centre-forward Jack "The Gunner" Rowley, as that prolific powerhouse of the Old Trafford attack began to show signs of ageing during the 1952-53 season in which the Red Devils saw their championship crown slip away to Arsenal, there was a brief but enthralling interlude when the teenager Eddie Lewis looked capable of stepping up to the mark.

The burly Mancunian scored seven minutes into his debut against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns in November, then embarked on a post-Christmas spree of eight more goals in 10 matches. He was gorging himself on the pinpoint deliveries of wingers Johnny Berry and David Pegg while linking promisingly with the shrewd veteran inside-forward Stan Pearson, and there were observers on the Stretford End who believed they were witnessing the birth of a star.

Alas for Lewis, his manager, although impressed by the rookie's progress, was not quite convinced. Accordingly, he signed the strapping young leviathan Tommy Taylor from Barnsley for the then-colossal fee of £29,999 – Busby handed the odd pound to the tea lady because he didn't want to encumber his new recruit with a £30,000 tag – and thereafter the local boy was given scant opportunity by the brilliant newcomer.

When it became clear that any Old Trafford future for Lewis would be as a reserve, he elected for a fresh start and in December 1955, after inquiries from Sunderland and Wolverhampton Wanderers had been knocked back, accepted a £10,000 transfer to Preston North End, at the time a formidable force. Having contributed 11 goals in 24 appearances for United, Lewis arrived at Deepdale carrying considerable expectations, but he failed to settle there and in November 1956 he moved on to second-tier West Ham United in a swap deal which saw the Irish international wing-half Frank O'Farrell travel in the opposite direction.

At Upton Park his tally of 15 goals in 36 games was better than respectable, but he could not claim a regular berth in the side which lifted the divisional title in 1957-58 and that summer he switched to Leyton Orient, where finally he found a hugely productive niche. Following one largely ineffective term in the Orient front line, Lewis was converted into a left-back, a role in which, after a couple of seasons of acclimatisation, he flourished superbly.

A watershed in the fortunes of both Lewis and the Brisbane Road club came with the arrival as manager in August 1961 of Johnny Carey, who had been captain of Manchester United when the young spearhead had made his entrance nearly a decade earlier. Now Carey, who praised Lewis as an all-round footballer and did much to boost his confidence, transformed Orient from strugglers into a buoyant combination which secured promotion to the top flight as Second Division runners-up to Bill Shankly's Liverpool in 1962.

As part of a trusty defensive unit which included his fellow full-back Stan Charlton, centre-half Sid Bishop and wing-halves Malcolm Lucas and Cyril Lea, Lewis performed with admirable consistency and missed only one game during that glorious campaign. Sadly, though, critics who maintained that the east Londoners were being promoted above their station were proved correct, as they floundered among the élite and finished bottom of the First Division in 1962-63, 10 points adrift of the pack.

With first Les Gore and then Benny Fenton having replaced Carey as manager, Orient laboured back in the Second Division and in 1964 Lewis – who had been judged surplus to requirements by the Os, for whom he had made 164 senior appearances – entered non-League circles with Folkestone Town. He went on to manage clubs in the Greater London League before emigrating to South Africa in the 1970s. At first he worked as an insurance salesman then became a successful coach, and eventually one of football's most prominent figures in his adopted country.

During the era of apartheid he ran two major clubs in different leagues, guiding Wits University on a Saturday and Kaizer Chiefs on a Sunday. In time he passed on his wisdom to many more teams, including Manning Rangers, Free State Stars, Sharp Highland Park, D'Alberton Callies, Giant Blackpool, AmaZulu and Moroka Swallows, of whom he became technical advisor in 2007, a post he occupied until his death.

A strong, forthright personality recognised as one of the pioneers of the professional game in South Africa, Lewis was also a respected analyst on television. He died after a long battle with cancer, demonstrating remarkable resolution as he refused to bow the knee to the disease, continuing with his gymnasium sessions until a short time before the end.

Edward Lewis, footballer and coach: born Manchester 3 January 1935; played for Manchester United 1949-55, Preston North End 1955-56, West Ham United 1956-58, Leyton Orient 1958-64; died Johannesburg, South Africa 2 May 2011.