07 February 2008

Character and leadership

One of the things that has struck me reading various articles and listening to interviews about the Munich Air Disaster 50 years ago yesterday is the emphasis on character and leadership. John Giles in a column yesterday in the Irish Independent writes about the leadership of Matt Busby the manager who was gravely injured in the crash. Survivor Harry Gregg, in a radio interview with Eamon Dunphy, who started his career as a professional footballer with United, speaks about Busby’s style as a leader. Everyone referred to him as ‘The Boss. Only twice did Gregg ever hear Busby raise his voice. One occasion, post-Crash, was when two players, who didn’t get along well, got into a row after a game. Matt Busby didn’t allow any discussion after games. In those days most games in Britain were played on Saturday afternoon and Busby analysed the match with the players the following Monday. Everyone saw him as a real leader.

Jimmy Murphy, the assistant manager who wasn’t on the plane because he had been on duty with the Welsh national side the night before, showed his leadership in being a great assistant to Busby. But he was ready to take over while Matt Busby was recovering, had to deal with funerals and finding new officials for the club, as some had died in the crash. An article in the Manchester Evening News paints him as a man who could spot talent. His style was more aggressive than that of Busby but he nurtured the giftedness of the young men in his charge.

When the ‘Busby Babes’ were on the ascendant – and their average age at the time of Munich in 1958 was only 22 – the outstanding Irish team was Shamrock Rovers, the squad at the time all young men and known as ‘Coad’s Colts’ after their manager Paddy Coad, an ‘old man’ in his 30s. These players, unlike those in Manchester, were part-timers but had great pride in what they did. Those who played with that great team speak of Paddy Coad, not only as a man who formed them as a team, but as one who made men of them.

My own father was a carpenter and spent most of his life as a highly-respected foreman on building/construction sites. He led by quiet example, by honesty and integrity. He never swore at a worker, nor at anyone else. My mother told me more than once that she had never heard him swear, nor had I. The summer before my ordination, when I was a subdeacon, I worked as a labourer with my father. I saw what I knew to be true, the deep respect the workers had for my Dad.

Leadership comes from character and expresses itself in different forms. Matt Busby was in charge of his club. Jimmy Murphy was his assistant and it was as such that he showed leadership. My father was a leader as a husband, father and foreman. I doubt if he could have managed a football team or club. But he was a leader where God called him to be a leader and for which God had given him the ability and grace.

The website of Manchester United FC has many items about the 50th anniversary. And the Manchester Evening News yesterday also had many items, both articles and videos.

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