Stan Crowther: Gritty midfielder who went to Manchester United as an emergency signing after the Munich air disaster

 

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The Independent Online

Abrasive England under-23 international wing-half Stan Crowther was one of two emergency signings made by Manchester United in the immediate wake of the Munich air disaster of February 1958.

The crash claimed the lives of eight United players and two more were maimed so badly that they never played again, so acting manager Jimmy Murphy – standing in for Matt Busby, who was hovering between life and death in a German hospital – was forced to cast around urgently for reinforcements.

Thus the tall, wirily inelegant Midlander was signed from Aston Villa for £18,000 and scheming inside-forward Ernie Taylor arrived from Blackpool in time for the reconstituted Red Devils’ first match, only 13 days on from the tragedy.

On an unbearably emotional Old Trafford night, United beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals, with Crowther applying all his characteristic grit and vigour to achieve midfield domination, the FA having waived their rule which normally prevented anyone figuring in their knockout competition for different clubs in the same season.

Thereafter he remained in the side as Murphy’s heroes somehow battled through to the final, which they lost 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers.

Crowther had faced United in the Wembley showcase only a year earlier, working unflaggingly as Villa won 2-1, a triumph which was controversial in the light of a collision between the northerners’ goalkeeper Ray Wood and opposing attacker Peter McParland, in which the net-minder was seriously injured.

At that stage, the Birmingham club nursed high hopes for Crowther, who had been orphaned in his teens, then concentrated fiercely on football, arriving at Villa Park in August 1955 from his home-town club, Bilston, after a brief stint on the groundstaff of West Bromwich Albion.

His gutsy approach earned international recognition and rapid promotion to the senior side, but then came his switch to Old Trafford, where he never truly fitted in. Indeed, it’s unlikely that Murphy would have signed him had the promising Wilf McGuinness not been injured at the time – and duly, after the ebullient Mancunian had returned to fitness, Crowther was sold to Chelsea for £10,000 in December 1958.

He made half a century of appearances for the Pensioners but made little lasting mark before switching to Second Division Brighton in March 1961. An edgy character, he fell out with Goldstone Ground boss George Curtis after refusing to play for the third team and soon joined Rugby Town, whom he helped to rise to the Southern League’s premier division. There followed a stint with Hednesford Town before he left the game, still in his twenties and sadly disillusioned.

Ivan Ponting

Stanley Crowther, footballer: born Bilston, Staffordshire 3 September 1935; played for Aston Villa 1955-58, Manchester United 1958, Chelsea 1958-61, Brighton and Hove Albion 1961; married (two sons); died 28 May 2014.

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