Busby Review

A miner’s son and modestly talented footballer, Matt Busby was appointed manager of Manchester United in 1945 — with no management experience, a bombed-out stadium and threadbare squad. Emphasising youth and a swashbuckling style, he led them through tragedy to become the first English club to win the European Cup.

by Nev Pierce |
Published on
Release Date:

08 Nov 2019

Original Title:


“I couldn’t live in memories,” reflects Sir Matt Busby, in one of the illuminating interview clips in this insightful, moving documentary. He’s reflecting on his move from playing into management, taking an unlikely step from solid professional player — for Manchester City and Liverpool — to the first post-War manager of Manchester United. Of course, memories forever fuel football fans — and he would go on to create some of the greatest for United. And be part of the most harrowing.

A deft, engrossing portrait of a man who was, really, an extraordinary father figure.

As former player and biographer Eamon Dunphy observes: “Before Matt Busby there were no football managers” — he wasn’t a traditional besuited, distant administrator, but a “tracksuit manager”, who coached on the pitch with the players, as well as attending to every detail of how the club was run.

Contrary to now, the club wasn’t rich — and necessity was the mother of invention as he scoured the country for young talent, getting around employment restrictions by having potential players work on the ground as administrative staff. The resulting team, dubbed the ‘Busby Babes’, won consecutive league titles before disaster destroyed them in 1958. On the way back from a European game their plane crashed, killing 23 of the 44 people on board (including eight players). This forms the heart of the film — as it did, it seems, the man. He remembers with intense sadness, as do fellow survivors — including World Cup-winning England midfielder Bobby Charlton. It is, quietly, devastating.

Using invigorating archive footage and fresh interviews with former players, Joe Pearlman, one of the directors of Bros: After The Screaming Stops, delivers a deft, engrossing portrait of a man who was, really, an extraordinary father figure – all the more surprising given he barely knew his own, who was killed during World War I. There isn’t much of a sense of the man outside of football, nor is his post-management life really addressed. But perhaps that’s apt, given how much he gave to the game — and how much the club and players meant to him.

An absorbing portrait of a revolutionary football figure, Busby offers insights into leadership and community even if you’re not an admirer of the beautiful game. For United fans it’s unmissable.
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