Football: Resentment after glory for the anonymous legends

Three decades after scaling the heights of Europe, Derick Allsop finds changed fortunes for United's forgotten heroes
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The Independent Online
THEY were a disparate bunch of players, united by a mission that was accomplished on a sultry evening at Wembley. Thirty years on, they are a desperate bunch of middle-aged men, some of them enduring luminaries, some barely recognised.

Even European champions are not immune to the star system, and so it is that while the revered triumvirate of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law - who actually missed the final through injury - and George Best continue to farm the glory, others eke out a living in relative obscurity.

A perceptible undercurrent of resentment should surprise no one. Football teams are no different from a thousand other microcosms of society in that regard. The trick in life is to know your place and get on with it.

David Sadler, one of the brighter members of the 1968 Manchester United side, said: "I long ago came to terms with the fact that there were certain players who would always be the stars."

John Aston confounded everyone with the performance of his life against Benfica and now sells pet food and accessories. He maintains he wants nothing more to do with United, who released him and sacked his father, a former player, coach and scout.

Tony Dunne, one of the game's most admired full-backs, runs a golf driving range and harbours a sense of betrayal. He claims Matt Busby let him down over his testimonial and that United had become a business rather than a football club.

Bill Foulkes, who along with Busby and Charlton survived Munich to realise the European dream, had to turn to America, Norway and Japan to stay in the game. Returned to Sale and the bosom of his family, he admits he envies today's players and the salaries they command.

"These guys are secure for the rest of their lives, most of them," he says. "I'm not bitter but I just feel we were exploited a bit. Over a five year period we made a real impact. We reached the pinnacle."

Sadler, Best's house-mate in their formative years, has a corporate hospitality business and organises the United's old boys' association. He also has a realistic perspective on his ability.

"I admit with regard to myself that you become a much better player than you ever were the older you get, and the further away from it you get. I know I was a reasonable player, but time glorifies things to a certain extent.

"What you can say is that we had some undisputed great players in our side - Charlton, Best, Crerand, Stiles and, although he didn't play on the night, Law. And then in Tony Dunne we had the best full back around. Equally, you have to say that people like Schmeichel, Keane, Giggs and maybe Beckham would have been great players in our period. Cantona certainly would have been."

Stiles, the scourge of Eusebio in the 1996 World Cup semi final and again in the 1968 European Cup final, has made an unlikely niche for himself on the after-dinner circuit.

"I've never been happier," he says. "I never dreamed I could do anything like this, but it just shows. People around the country are lovely. They remember me with no teeth and the dance with the World Cup."

Shay Brennan, the lovable Irish-Mancunian, had a brief flirtation with management before building up a courier service in Waterford, which has been run by his wife Liz since he suffered a heart attack.

He considers himself fortunate to have made the United side and contents himself today with his golf and much practised socialising. "I would never have got into the first team but for the accident," he says. "I'll go to a function where Denis or Bobby is the chief guest and the MC will say 'we've got one of the greatest players of all time... did this... did that...' and I stand up. I can get away with that."

Alex Stepney, who made that vital save from Eusebio near the end of normal time, has just experienced relegation to the Second Division as Manchester City's goalkeeper coach, while Brian Kidd, who celebrated his 19th birthday with United's third goal, is assisting Alex Ferguson's continuing quest for that huge trophy.

Pat Crerand is a pugnacious speaker and local radio pundit, Best is entertaining audiences worldwide with his repertoire and Charlton is... Charlton, the consummate ambassador for club and country.

Charlton was one of those unable to enjoy the triumph that evening. "I was completely dehydrated, I couldn't go to the reception. There was so many people I wanted to see, old players and parents of lads who died in the crash. My wife had to go on her own. She came back and said it was a pity I didn't make it because the Old Man had stood up and sung: 'What a Wonderful World'."

l Derick Allsop is the author of Reliving The Dream - The Triumph and Tears of Manchester United's 1968 European Cup Heroes, published by Mainstream.

The team who conquered Europe