Football: Busby's legacy of spontaneity: In his theatre of dreams, it was a tribute fit for the king. Ken Jones watches United beat Everton 1-0

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The Independent Online
FROM their fathers, small boys heard tales of the sweet long ago, special things, not just of Matt Busby's inspirational leadership but the anecdotal hand-me-downs of legend; things they could not possibly have experienced for themselves yet comfortably claimed from the legacy. Busby said this or did that, and once when. . .

Holding a toddler aloft to view the carpet of tributes that lay beneath the Munich Memorial, people speaking in reverential whispers, a man turned to his neighbour. 'I met him once you know,' he said. 'Not properly, like we were introduced or anything. But I was standing on the pavement when he stepped out of a taxi and I spoke to him respectfully. He smiled and laid a hand on my shoulder and that's the most important I've ever felt.'

All was fitting. The piper's lament, 'A Scottish Soldier', the solemn tread of teams uniquely entering a great arena in silence. Two gulls wheeling undisturbed overhead. The presence of yesterday's heroes - George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Pat Crerand, Willie Morgan, Wilf McGuinness. 'A legend is dead but the legend will live on,' said McGuinness, beaming because sadness somehow was not appropriate.

Busby's children, Sheena and Sandy, had requested smiles not tears, and that was fitting too because in truth their father was not sentimental. What are dreams unless they can be fulfilled? What is purpose unless it is accompanied by a sense of reality? For Busby there was the reality he strove to defend his abiding faith against, the pervasive onset of unromantic processes entirely alien to his sense of values. Harold Riley, the distinguished painter, who grew close to Busby recalled: 'Once when he was sitting for me, Matt said that nothing - results, trophies, no amount of acclaim - mattered more than the spirit of the game.'

When news of Busby's death was announced last week, Law, essentially a private man, took refuge in his answerphone. Within an hour it had recorded upwards of 20 messages and he would return all of them. 'I couldn't hide from the responsibility,' he said.

A sense of sadness? Hardly. More of celebration and eventually football that, in its thrilling spontaneity, was a tribute to Busby's ideals.

A goal from Ryan Giggs - unusual in that it came from the Welshman's head - was more reminiscent, as his surging forays are, of Cliff Jones, a great compatriot, than George Best with whom he is most closely associated.

And Eric Cantona. How Busby must have been captivated by the Frenchman. A glance, a touch, skills to make his manager, Alex Ferguson, drool. 'Everton made life difficult for us early on,' he said, 'but in the second half we were brilliant.'

But for Neville Southall and misfortune, Cantona might have scored four. Once, taking a perfect centre from Giggs, he controlled the ball on his chest in mid-air and shot against an upright. And when Giggs and Andrei Kanchelskis realised the importance of width, it seemed that the extent of United's victory would fit to the occasion.

That it was not to be did not jar. Charlton once said of Busby's teams of the Sixties: 'We couldn't be trusted. Brilliant one week, ordinary the next. But I knew a man who was at every game, home and away, because he didn't want to miss the incomparable performance of which he was convinced we were capable.'

Busby, the ultimate football man, has been paid no greater tribute.

Goal: Giggs 27 (1-0).

Manchester United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin; Kanchelskis, Keane, Ince, Giggs; Hughes, Cantona. Substitutes not used: Sealey (gk), McClair, Dublin.

Everton (4-4-2): Southall; Jackson, Snodin, Moore, Ablett; Warzycha (Hinchcliffe, 80), Stuart, Ebbrell, Beagrie; Angell, Cottee (Barlow, 45). Substitute not used: Kearton (gk).

Referee: R Gifford (Llanbradach).

(Photograph omitted)