Monday, 25 November 2013

In praise of...Bill Foulkes

It is always sad when a true footballing legend passes away. Some leave too soon, some live a full and happy life grateful that they have fulfilled their career to the best of their ability in spite of certain obstacles put in front of them and in the process become iconic for that club and can be called a club great by their retirement and in their passing become legend.

William Anthony Foulkes was born on 5th January 1932 and sadly passed away this morning 25th November at the age of 81.  Foulkes was a one club man for the 17 years at Old Trafford and played 688 matches for the Red Devils, the fourth most for the club - behind Bobby Charlton, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

Foulkes won four league titles (1956, 1957, 1965 and 1967), one FA Cup in 1963 and the European Cup in 1968, ten years after perhaps the biggest obstacle of his career was overcome.

In February 1958 on the way back from a European Cup tie in Belgrade, Manchester United were waylaid in Munich and despite the unsavoury conditions the plane attempted a take off. The plane crashed yet Foulkes survived, whilst several team-mates of the Busby Babes died.

Oddly Foulkes benefited from the death of Mark Jones and the forced retirement of Jackie Blanchflower due to sustained injuries in the crash. They were first choice centre-halves so Foulkes had to step into the fold and be a leader for the newly formed team.  He was in the words of Bobby Charlton "as hard as nails, as tough as teak – I was always glad I didn't have to play against him."

Yet listening to Foulkes' contemporary Jimmy Armfield on BBC 5 Live this evening, Armfield mentioned how following the Munich Air Disaster Foulkes had to be an example to the team and two weeks following the crash Foulkes was playing again in an FA Cup tie at home to Sheffield Wednesday.  United won the match 3-0 and got to the final at Wembley, which they lost.  Armfield also mentioned how Foulkes would say how he had to mask some of the difficulties of dealing with the disaster and how his grit and toughness embedded in him by his work in the mines and his National Service in 1955.

It is telling that Armfield chose to mention this story on the same day that English cricketer Jonathon Trott decided to leave the Ashes tour of Australia due to stress-related issues with immediate effect.  Trott's issues will not be disclosed and he is allowed his privacy. 

My praise for Foulkes is that following the death of team-mates and the fact he faced death down, Foulkes easily could have taken as much time of as he wanted.  Instead Foulkes manned up and decided to be an example to those around him, and hence enhance his reputation not only as a professional but as a human being meaning his legend grew.

Sometimes when you hear of individuals such as Trott or Marcus Trescothick talk of the stress related issues such as depression in a sporting context - where you travel the world and are paid handsomely for being quite good at a sport - in contrast to the careers of Foulkes and Charlton and what they had to overcome, a turn of phrase from another bygone era, 'You never had it so good'.

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