Soccer's spirit withers in Busby's birthplace

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The Independent Online
JOHN McGLADE walked to Brandon Park yesterday to watch his local football club, Bellshill Athletic, take on Cumbernauld.

The names of the Bellshill first eleven are unremarkable but players and public in the Lanarkshire town are mourning Sir Matt Busby, who died on Thursday. He was born in the Orbiston district of Bellshill, 10 miles east of Glasgow, in 1909.

Mr McGlade, 64, who has played for and managed amateur teams in the town for 34 years, said: 'Everyone here knows of Matt and feels his loss. He was one of the greatest - better than any of today's continental managers. He, more than anyone else, knew how to motivate players. The record speaks for itself.'

As manager of Manchester United, Busby achieved his finest victory in 1968 when they won the European Cup.

The man who was forced to relinquish the trophy that year was another Scot, Jock Stein, the first British manager to win the competition. Stein, who died nine years ago, aged 62, became Celtic's first Protestant manager in 1964 and later manager of Scotland. He was born three miles away from Bellshill and the mining town produced one of his successors, Billy McNeill, as well as two of the most distinguished names in Scottish football, Alex James and Hughie Gallacher. Gallacher played for Airdrie and Newcastle and James joined Arsenal after Raith Rovers and Preston North End.

Busby's relatives who still live in Bellshill say that during the Lanarkshire coal rush in the early 1900s - the town's population doubled between 1911 and 1931 as pits were sunk - colliery, village and street teams were formed and a footballing tradition began. Cathie Busby, 80, his sister, recalled: 'All the men played. They would start at school and then go down the mines. Every street had a team and they used to organise tournaments. Away from the pithead, football was life.

'Amateur team managers used to come to the mine and shout 'I need a couple of centre halfs' and you could almost hear the rush underground.'

Busby worked at two collieries before signing for Manchester City when he was 17. Cathie dismisses suggestions that her brother and other miners turned to football to escape mine work. 'That's the cliche but it was not true. Boys played football because there was nothing else to do. People scarcely had enough money for cigarettes let alone anything like going to the pictures. Football was a hobby, friendship, entertainment, everything.'

Mr McGlade agrees: 'Men just played for the love of the game. On the light summer evenings they would finish a shift underground and come up and play for a couple of hours, then go away and have their teas, and return to play for another couple.' But as Stein and Busby achieved success, the town they had left began to decline sharply. By the 1960s all the pits in Lanarkshire had closed and in the next 20 years Bellshill's Mossend Iron and Steel Works shut down, followed by Ravenscraig in nearby Motherwell. Thousands were thrown out of work.

Those who grew up with Busby say that Bellshill has fallen so far that it could never again produce an international football manager.

Jimmy Mathie, 74, Busby's half-brother who was a talent scout for Manchester United for 21 years, said: 'The spirit has gone and the town has become a bitter place. When I was at Manchester United I used to go and speak to a young player and he would drop everything because it was United. 'These days youngsters just seem to be annoyed that you are interrupting their video game, stereo or drink. They are just not interested. It is sad, but Bellshill will never again be revered.'

(Photograph omitted)