Football: Old Trafford mourns Sir Matt: Fans place flowers and scarves outside United's ground as an English institution grieves

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SIR MATT BUSBY died in his sleep last night at the age of 84, having realised his dream of seeing the restoration of Manchester United, the light of his life, to their rightful place at the forefront of English football.

While he lived long enough to see the world-famous club he built end their 26-year wait to be crowned English champions again, this great Europhile died just two days short of another great Manchester celebration: the draw for the European Championship, the finals of which are to be to be staged in England in 1996.

The Football Association has arranged for delegates, who are gathering in Manchester, to watch United's Premiership match against Everton at Old Trafford the same day, but that will now be very much a sombre event.

Supporters gathered outside the ground last night placing flowers and scarves at the entrance to the suite and museum named after him. 'This will become something of a shrine to the great man over the next few days,' Father John Ahern, a local priest, said.

'I was just passing and felt I had to come and say a little prayer for him. He was bigger than United, he was Manchester, he bridged both clubs and gave the city some great memories.'

Other tributes poured in from around the world in honour of the man who during his time as manager at Old Trafford made the name of Manchester United synonymous with style and excitement, football played as it was meant to be, with a cavalier spirit and no concessions to negativity.

Bobby Charlton, who, with Busby and a handful of others, survived the Munich air disaster in 1958, was distraught at the news. 'I'm too overcome to say anything at this moment,' he said.

Nobby Stiles, another of the great post-Munich side, , however, was able to put his tribute into words. 'Matt was a marvellous, lovely man. I joined United in 1957 and Matt had created a lovely family atmosphere.

'I used to clean the boots of the star players but it was a joy just to be part of that family atmosphere. There will never be anybody like him. He was always like a father to us all. Even after a game if you'd been badly beaten I never saw him lose his temper. I never heard him swear.'

For Jackie Blanchflower, whose career was cut short by the Munich disaster, it was the second loss in a short time. Only last month his brother, Danny, another of football's legendary figures, died. 'This man was like a second father to me,' he said.

'As a manager, he was the best there ever was. They all copied him, even the likes of Shankly and the other greats - he was the first tracksuit manager, a psychologist, an inspirational leader of men.

'He carried the scar of Munich with him for the rest of his life, I believe. But it was a measure of his greatness that he built the greatness of United again.'

One of its lesser known players, John Doherty, who spent five years at the club but only played 26 first-team games, was preparing an 85th birthday party in Sir Matt's honour. It is an indication of the respect which all players, great and small, had for the man.

Sammy McIlroy was the last player Busby signed before retiring in 1969, a fact of which the Ulsterman has always been proud. 'He was Mr Manchester United, there is no doubt about that. He always told us to go out and express ourselves, to enjoy it,' he said. 'His words always stick in my mind.'

Tommy Docherty, one of the many United managers who strove to attain those standards of excellence set by Sir Matt, was close to tears. He said: 'He will be up there now with Shankly and Mercer and I can just hear Shanks saying, 'come up and join the top table'. They will be picking a team now and I wish we could all see it. You would see real football then.'

Ken Jones, page 34

Obituary, page 14