Skip to main content
Dudley Council
Dudley Skyline

England and Manchester United football legend, born on 1 October 1936 in Dudley

  • Duncan Edwards England cap Germany 1956
  • Duncan Edwards memorabilia in case
I have just seen a boy of 11 who will one day play for England

Football career

By the time Duncan was playing for Priory Primary School his footballing skill was already being noticed.  Geoff Groves, the schoolmaster watching the 11 year old noted that the youngster told all the other 21 players what to do and where to go and that included the referee and linesmen’. 

In April 1951, he stood on the hallowed turf at Wembley, wearing a white England shirt playing against Wales in a school international.  His footwork dazzled everyone and one talent scout was heard to remark ‘by God, they’ve got a good ‘un there!’

At the age of 14, a Manchester United scout recommended the manager and future mentor of Duncan, Matt Busby, go to Dudley and watch the boy for himself. Busby did visit and watch. Over two years the club watched him develop.

On 4 June 1952, Bert Whalley, club coach, drove through the night to get to Duncan's house for sunrise to make sure he signed the contract with the Old Trafford outfit. Duncan made his debut for Manchester United at the age of 16 years and 185 days becoming the youngest player to feature in a top-flight game. 

Duncan Edwards will forever be associated with Manchester United and the ‘Busby Babes’, a concept developed by United’s Manager Matt Busby in the late 1940’s when the club was badly in debt and unable to afford to buy ‘expensive’ players.  Busby and the club's assistant manager, Jimmy Murphy decided to employ a radical youth policy developing their own young players. This was a way of creating the stars of the future. 

Three and half years later Duncan celebrated his 100th appearance for United and the ‘Busby Babes’.  

He was called to the senior England team, in 1955, at the age of 18. 'Big Dunc' earned 17 caps for his country, netting five times. 

Munich air disaster 1958

On Thursday 6 February 1958, the return flight to Manchester via Munich the British European Airways Elizabethan aircraft landed to refuel shortly at 2.17pm local time. The weather was appalling, the snow covered runway was only just open and it was sleeting heavily. Just 40 seconds into take off the pilot shut down the throttle and braked and it was announced that because of a technical fault the aircraft would be returning to the terminal. A second attempt was also aborted and again the aircraft returned to the terminal.  At that stage the players assumed that the flight would be cancelled until the following day. 

Duncan sent a telegram to Mrs Dorman, his landlady in Stretford, Manchester telling her that “all flights cancelled – flying tomorrow”. To everyone’s astonishment, passengers were recalled and the aircraft travelled down the runway for the third time at 3.04pm. 

Flight ZU609 crashed 54 seconds after take off killing 21 people on board instantly. Two people, including Duncan, died later from their injuries bringing the total to 23 people, eight were journalists and three were club staff.

There were 44 passengers, 17 of whom were Manchester United players. Only 21 people survived. 

Duncan died 15 days after the crash, at 2.15am on Friday 21 February 1958. He had sustained multiple injuries including chronic kidney damage, broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a broken pelvis and a smashed right thigh. 

He was 21 years old.

Early days in Dudley

Duncan was born on Thursday 1 October 1936, weighing 9lbs and 8oz. He lived at 23 Malvern Crescent, Holly Hall, Dudley. He was the first child of Gladstone and Sarah Anne Edwards. He was their only child to survive to adulthood, his younger sister Carol Anne died in 1947 at the age of 14 weeks.  

The family later moved to 31 Elm Road on the Priory Estate in Dudley.  Duncan attended Priory Primary School from 1941 to 1948 and Wolverhampton Street Secondary School from 1948 to 1952.

He played football for his school as well as for Dudley schools, Worcester County XI and the England under-14 team.

He signed a professional contract with Manchester United in the early hours of 4 June 1952. 

Life outside football

Duncan Edwards was teetotal and outside football was known as a very private individual, almost shy and retiring, unassuming but confident whose interests included fishing, playing cards and visiting the cinema.

Lance Corporal Edwards D. 23145376 served in the Army, based at Nesscliffe near Shrewsbury as ammunition storeman for two years doing National Service. 

Duncan became one of the first footballers to earn money endorsing products.  He promoted Dextrosol gluclose tablets that supplemented his wage of £15 per week during the season and £12 per week during the non playing months.

Duncan’s football skill far outpaced his rivals. A few days before he flew to Belgrade his manuscript for his book ‘Tackle Soccer This Way’ was handed to his publishers and later printed word for word. The book was published shortly after his death with approval of his family and after being out of print for many years was re-published in 2009.

Duncan became engaged to his fiancée, Molly Leach around 12 months after they had met and just days before Duncan flew to Munich. Molly lived in Sale, Cheshire and worked for Cook and Co Ltd, a textile machine makers in Altrincham in Cheshire. She was just 22 at the time of his death. They had met at a social event at Manchester Airport Hotel after being introduced by mutual friends. Duncan and Molly had discussed marriage and would most likely have got married after Duncan had completed his next busy football season had he survived.

After Duncan’s death Molly moved to Weston Super Mare to live with her brother eventually marrying a semi-professional footballer and gave birth to two daughters. She came back to Manchester twice a year to visit friends and family but would never discuss the Munich Air Disaster and the loss of her beloved fiancé Duncan.  She later emigrated to America. Sadly, she died in September 2004.

The greatest player I have ever played with and possibly the most skilful player I have ever seen. He was the only player to make me feel inadequate.

Sir Bobby Charlton