The fans give Busby a hero's last journey: Jonathan Foster sees thousands salute cortege at stadium

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The Independent Online
THE cortege halted. Utter silence fell on the thousands of mourners but, from within the stadium, you imagined a great roar as the body of Sir Matt Busby paused outside Old Trafford yesterday on its procession to burial.

He was 84, and 23 seasons had elapsed since he last sent out a Manchester United team. There could be no shock about his death, but the sense of bereavement was still keenly felt.

His hearse had stopped beneath the clock that read seven minutes past noon, the time at which eight of Busby's players were killed in the Munich air crash on 6 February 1958. The manager almost died with them, but recovered to build a side that enchanted millions.

The Rt Rev Patrick Kelly, Roman Catholic Bishop of Salford, spoke of the manager's magical powers and great humility. He told mourners during the requiem mass in Chorlton cum Hardy how Sir Matt's life was one of healing and inspiration, of challenge renewed.

Three miles from the church, the fans began arriving three hours before the cortege was to pass. Many stood silently viewing the acre of stadium forecourt strewn with flowers, scarves and replica team shirts.

'We never saw his teams,' two young supporters said. 'But he made Manchester United, and everything is judged by what he did.'

Older fans along Sir Matt Busby Way were there, they said, as a mark of respect. A Busby family, extended far beyond Manchester, had lost its most venerated figure.

It may never be seen again, the streets of a British city lined for the funeral of a common man. Busby came from a Lanarkshire coalfield that is no longer worked. He never abandoned a devout Catholicism, never exploited celebrity, felt no restraints in decorum. He was a working- class hero for a class that may no longer exist.

'If you look at managers today, and the players, there's no comparison with Sir Matt's days,' an elderly fan said. 'He's the last of those who never got paid big wages but were bloody grateful to be playing football.'

Some 90 of his players attended the service at his parish church, the first successful Busby team, from 1948, represented by contemporary stars including Charlie Mitten and Jack Rowley. They rode in three coaches at the rear of the cortege.

The coffin looked huge, a United scarf draped on it. Club scarves tied to lamp- posts and railings jerked in a cold wind. The vehicles stopped, a hooter sounded two minutes' silence.

Seated in the rear of one coach, George Best turned briefly and sadly to look at the stadium as the thousands gave thanks through their sadness.

(Photograph omitted)