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Obituary: Stan Pearson

Stan Pearson was a lovely footballer, a beguiling mixture of subtle visionary and unflashy technician, and he was one of the most satisfyingly complete inside forwards of his day.

He provided the attacking brains, and a lot of the goals, for the swashbucklingly attractive Manchester United side assembled by Matt Busby after the Second World War; and, but for the fact that he numbered Wilf Mannion and the incomparable Raich Carter among his contemporaries, he might have added significantly to his inappropriately meagre total of eight England caps.

A supporter of his local club since the age of seven, the Salford-born Pearson rose irresistibly through the ranks of junior football before achieving his boyhood ambition by joining the Red Devils, signing amateur forms as a 16-year-old in 1935 and turning professional 18 months later. There followed a sensational senior debut in November 1937, when he set up four goals in a 7-1 victory at Chesterfield, and by season's end he was a powerfully emerging force in the team that secured promotion to the old First Division.

Then, with the gifted rookie on the threshold of what promised to be a majestic career, the war intervened to consign a whole generation of emerging talent to footballing limbo. However, though army service took him to India and Burma, there was time to guest for Newcastle, Brighton and Queen's Park Rangers as well as to represent his own club in wartime competitions, and when the conflict ended the unscathed 26-year-old was eager for the game and approaching his prime. And how he blossomed. Slotting stylishly into one of the most exhilarating of all forward lines - Jimmy Delaney, Johnny Morris, Jack Rowley, Pearson himself and Charlie Mitten - he became a key factor as Busby's buccaneering side enchanted the massive post-war crowds, hungry for entertainment after six years of being denied top-level soccer.

Pearson scored heavily, 149 times in 345 outings for United, but his greatest worth was in creating opportunities for team-mates through an instinctive awareness of where they would run and a knack of reaching them with adroit first- time distribution. His hallmark was accuracy, whether delivering raking crossfield passes or delightful close-range flicks and glides, and, though there was nothing flamboyant about him, the supporters loved him for his craftsmanship.

He was never the fastest man afield and his shot was not the most powerful - the majority of his strikes coming from inside the penalty box - but he made up for that through his sharp intelligence, masterful ball control and enormous stamina which enabled him to forage ceaselessly for possession. Yet, even though Pearson and his attacking partners could take the breath away, the United side they graced so thrillingly was to endure a nightmare of championship frustration. They finished as title runners-up in four out of the five seasons immediately after the war and did not claim the coveted crown until 1952.

In 1948, however, they beat Blackpool to win the FA Cup in what was recognised as the most captivating final to date; there are those who maintain, even now, that Wembley has yet to host its equal. The Seasiders, who included Stanley Matthews, led 2-1 at half-time but United fought back to win 4-2, with Pearson supplying the crucial third goal 10 minutes from the end.

That year, at the age of 29, the Old Trafford stalwart was rewarded for his sparkling form with an overdue international call-up, and he continued to represent his country on an occasional basis for the next four years, his most memorable contribution being the two goals which beat Scotland at Hampden Park in 1952. On the club front, Pearson's consistency became a byword in Manchester and he missed only a handful of games through injury before a combination of age, and the new wave of precocious youngsters known as the Busby Babes, overtook him in 1953/54.

That February he was sold to Second Division Bury for pounds 4,500 and he served the Shakers royally for three years, netting 56 times in 122 League starts, before moving to Chester in the Third Division (North) as player-boss in 1957. Still in splendid physical fettle as he approached his 40th birthday, Pearson helped his new club reach the Welsh Cup Final in 1958 before retiring as a player in 1959. He remained at Sealand Road as manager but his team struggled in the League's lower reaches and this charming but quiet fellow did not relish the pressure, so he resigned in November 1961.

Thereafter Pearson, who was twice widowed, ran a newsagent's shop and post office in Prestbury, Cheshire, until the 1980s. He continued to be an avid fan of his beloved Red Devils.

Stanley Clare Pearson, footballer: born Salford, Lancashire 11 January 1919; player for Manchester United 1935-54, Bury 1954-57, Chester 1957- 59; capped eight times for England 1948-52; manager for Chester 1957-61; died Alderley Edge, Cheshire 17 February 1997.