Harry McShane: 1950s Manchester United stalwart

As a scout he helped unearth talent like Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and the Neville brothers

Harry McShane – believed to be the oldest surviving Manchester United footballer until his death last week – was a dashing, hard-running winger with no pretensions to artistry who put in a spirited shift for the club between two generations of more stellar Old Trafford wide men. Matt Busby's team was in urgent need of an experienced attacker capable of patrolling either touchline when he signed the diminutive Scot from Bolton Wanderers in exchange for defender Johnny Ball and £5,000 in September 1950.

The flamboyant Charlie Mitten had recently departed to seek his fortune in Bogota, 36-year-old Jimmy Delaney was about to enlist with Aberdeen and the manager was a year away from persuading Birmingham City to part with the excellent Johnny Berry. Meanwhile the youthful likes of David Pegg and Albert Scanlon, soon to emerge as part of the Busby Babes revolution, were still at an early stage of their development. So McShane was pitched into a League Championship challenge which gathered pace as the season progressed and fell only narrowly short of success, United finishing as runners-up to Tottenham Hotspur.

The pacy newcomer started on the left wing, demonstrating invaluable versatility when tactical considerations dictated a switch to the right midway through the season. He was not one for fancy footwork, adopting the direct approach, invariably aiming to outpace his marker before dispatching a cross in the direction of potent marksmen such as Jack Rowley, Stan Pearson and the temporarily converted full-back John Aston.

McShane began the ultimately triumphant 1951-52 campaign on the right, this time reverting to the left in September to make way for the newly arrived Berry, and he made a dozen mostly impressive appearances before he was sidelined by knee problems for the remainder of the season.

Come the spring United claimed the title, their first under Busby, but with 14 games needed to qualify for a medal he missed out in an era when the unsentimental Football League was not disposed to stretch a point. McShane, an affable, level-headed individual, later reflected: "It was pretty frustrating because I felt I had played my part, but it wasn't the end of the world." It was, however, pretty well the end of his Old Trafford tenure as he was approaching the veteran stage and was selected only a handful of times during the following season before giving way to the sumptuously gifted teenager, Pegg.

McShane's career had commenced with a fleeting stint with Blackburn Rovers as a teenager before the war, in which he served in North Africa and Italy with the RAF. When the conflict was over there followed another brief sojourn, this time with Huddersfield Town, before he was recruited by Bolton in July 1947. After a tentative start at Burnden Park he flourished on either wing until Matt Busby came calling some three years later.

United banked £750 when they sold McShane to Oldham Athletic in February 1954. He remained at Boundary Park until 1955, when he entered non-League circles as a part-timer, variously playing or coaching with Chorley, Wellington Town, Droylsden, Stalybridge Celtic and Altrincham. He he made his living as a personnel officer with the tractor company Massey Ferguson in Stretford, Manchester, until his retirement in 1981.

However, he continued to retain close links with Manchester United, becoming a familiar voice at Old Trafford in the 1960s and '70s as public-address announcer and disc jockey, and he was influential in the formation of the club's former players association, which has raised large amounts of money for charities.

His football expertise continued to benefit the Red Devils, too, as he proved a shrewd talent scout, discovering the likes of Nicky Butt, Gary Walsh and Andy Ritchie, and having a hand in the unearthing of Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers.

McShane's son, Ian, is the screen actor best known for his starring roles in the television series Lovejoy and Deadwood.

Henry McShane, footballer: born Holytown, Lanarkshire 8 April 1920; played for Blackburn Rovers 1937-46, Huddersfield Town 1946-47, Bolton Wanderers 1947-50, Manchester United 1950-54, Oldham Athletic 1954-55; married, one son; died Manchester 7 November 2012.


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