50 Years On – Albert Scanlon – Mr. Happy Go Lucky
Albert Scanlon was, and still is, a thoroughbred Mancunian. He was also the nephew of former Manchester United left winger, Charlie Mitten. He was born in the inner city district of Hulme, just over one mile away from the Manchester city centre on October 10th 1935. Hulme was a tough district to survive in at that time and Albert attended a tough school, St. Wilfred’s Catholic school. He was the typical inner city boy who spent most of his leisure time outdoors playing football with his young pals. Albert was brought up in a family that was ardent Manchester City supporters and as his abilities as a schoolboy footballer progressed, it was Manchester City who seemed to be favourites to sign him.
By the time he was 14 Albert was the star player in his school team. Although he had played for his Area Boys team, and had made it into the Manchester Boys team, he was not always first choice for Manchester. Unbeknown to him though, he had come to the notice of Manchester United’s chief scout, Mr. Joe Armstrong. However, in 1949, fate decreed that this would soon be remedied. The first choice left winger in the Manchester Boys team was a youngster named Will Smith from the Xavarian College. In March of 1949, Manchester Boys played Barnsley Boys in the semi-final of the English schools shield at Manchester City’s Maine Road. It was a game they won by 1-0, but unfortunately it was also the game in which young Smith also broke his leg.
The following Monday morning Albert was playing with friends on a croft in Hulme when they were approached by a Mr. Whetton. He enquired which one of them was Albert Scanlon and was met with a wall of silence. In those days kids and people were suspicious of anybody who was well dressed coming and enquiring about local people…for all they knew, the enquirer could be a policeman! However, Mr. Whetton did identify Albert and he then asked him had he got a Birth Certificate! Albert replied that he had but it was at home and his parents were at work. It turned out that Mr. Whetton was a member of the Manchester Schools Football Association and they had selected Albert to fill Will Smith’s place in the City schoolboy’s team. The English Schools Trophy Final was just six days away and they needed a copy of the Birth Certificate to make sure that Albert was eligible.
Without ado, Mr. Whetton took Albert to the Manchester Register Office which was then situated in All Saints, and a copy of his Birth certificate was obtained. Mr. Whetton then told him that he had to be at the Queen Victoria monument in Manchester’s Piccadilly at 3p.m. the following Wednesday afternoon, where he would congregate with the other boys and that he would be playing against Bolton Boys that evening. His family were ecstatic when they were told and they were all present at the game to watch young Albert score in a 3-0 win. He then went on to play in the English Schools Trophy Final against Swansea Boys.
Albert also found himself in the Lancashire Schoolboys team that played Yorkshire schoolboys in a game that was played at Rochdale’s Spotland Ground and he scored three goals in a 5-3 win. His family had travelled to watch him and when they caught the bus to return back to Manchester. Also on the bus was Joe Armstrong. The bus was crowded with passengers and many people were standing as it trundled it’s way back along the Rochdale Road. The Scanlon family were unaware of who this little grey haired old fellow was who was standing near the bus platform, but he stood up and called out:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like you to give a round of applause to this young lad here who has just scored three goals in a football match against Yorkshire Boys.”
The bus resonated to the sound of applause and Albert had tasted his first experience of fame! Although they lost that English Schools Final to Swansea, several of the boys went to League clubs immediately afterwards. The captain and right half was Colin Booth who went on to have a wonderful career with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Several were snapped up by Manchester United including Albert.
Albert initially wanted to be plumber and there was an apprenticeship lined up for him, but upon his arrival as a youngster at Old Trafford, Bert Whalley and Jimmy Murphy decided that plumbing was not for him and that he was joining the Ground Staff. On his first day as a Ground Staff Boy at Old Trafford in the summer of 1949, Albert, together with a few other young boys, was given a paint brush and a tin of red paint, and they were sent out into the Old Trafford Stadium, to paint all the stands and hoardings that were coloured red. Upon the completion of that task, they had to go and wash their paint brushes, collect another tin of paint, this time white, and paint over everything that was coloured white inside the stadium including the lines on the various passageways around the stadium and the picket fence that surrounded the running track! From there they progressed to mopping out the gymnasium daily! What an introduction to life as a Manchester United footballer!
Albert’s first game for Manchester United was in the Junior team which played in the Eccles and District League. It was an away fixture at a park in Burnage at the back of the old Hans Renold factory which I believe later became Mellands playing field. Back then though it was on land that was surrounded by a pig farm. Albert recalls:
“We’d all meet up and travel to our matches on the bus. We were under the watchful eye of Bert Fishbourne who looked after the junior team. He would pay the bus fares there and back, but playing on that pitch, you can imagine the smell of pig shit that permeated the air! When the match was over and we’d again travelled back on the bus, Bert would give each player a Half Crown (12½ pence!) for their expenses!”
Unfortunately after just a few games in his initial season, Albert injured his back and didn’t play another game that season nor did he do any training. Instead he did ground staff duties around the stadium which also included cleaning out the dressing rooms after matches.
The following year Albert began his progression through the United ranks. It was hard going because there were so many good youngsters arriving on the scene at Old Trafford, including the new painters, Eddie Colman and Duncan Edwards! The FA instituted the FA Youth Cup for the 1952-53 season and for Manchester United, it was like manna from heaven. The very first youth team in the competition read; Gordon Clayton; Paddy Kennedy, Bryce Fulton; Eddie Colman, Ronnie Cope (Capt), Duncan Edwards; Noel MacFarlane, John Doherty, Eddie Lewis, David Pegg, and Albert Scanlon. They took the competition by storm and won it very easily and over the next five years, it was to become their own personal property. David Pegg was converted into an outside left and it was he who made the break through into the first team first, making his first team debut at aged just 17, in December of 1952. Over the next two years, he vied for the first team place with the ageing Jack Rowley. Albert was patient and became a regular in the Reserve team.
On November 20th 1954, the day that he had long awaited arrived – his first team debut and it was against Arsenal at Old Trafford in a 2-1 victory. In early 1955, Jack Rowley left United and the left wing berth was then a battle for the shirt between Albert and David. Immediately after two bad defeats by Manchester City in February of 1955, David Pegg was reintroduced to the first team in place of Rowley. However the next two games ended in a 4-2 defeat at home to Wolves and a 3-0 defeat away at Cardiff. For the game against Burnley on March 5th, Albert was recalled and was ever present until the season ended. He scored his first goal for the club against Everton on March 19th and was to score a further 3 before the season ended. Albert had at last arrived!
He began the 1955/56 season as first choice but unfortunately, after just six games he suffered and injury in a game at Everton, and David Pegg replaced him for the following game. Such was Pegg’s form that Busby could not leave him out of the team and when Albert regained fitness, it was back to the Reserves. This was the season in which the “Babes” won their first First division title, but sadly, those six games Albert played in that season were not enough to warrant a winner’s medal. It was much the same the following season, 1956/57 and Albert only played 5 games towards the end of the season. Again, it was a Championship winning season and the team reached the FA Cup Final at Wembley…but once again, Albert missed out on the medals.
The following season 1957/58 started off where the previous season had left off. In October of 1957, Albert passed his 22nd birthday and he was restless for first team football. There were stories about a move to Arsenal for him but nothing materialized. In November in the game against Dukla Prague at Old Trafford, right winger John Berry picked up a niggling knee injury and for the following three games, Albert returned to the first team, but at outside right, not outside left. When Berry regained fitness again, Al;bert returned to the Reserves. The first team were not firing on all cylinders and suffered some careless defeats. On December 20th 1957, Busby surprised everybody for the game against Leicester City at Old Trafford by leaving out Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, and David Pegg. I say surprised everybody because it was thought that the attack were performing well and scoring goals, but that the defence was leaking silly goals which were proving costly. Into the team came 18 years old Kenny Morgans, 19 years old Bobby Charlton, and Albert. He seized the opportunity with both hands and his performances were electric, none more so than in that wonderful game at Highbury on February 1st 1958, when United beat the Gunners by 5-4. He was instrumental in three of the goals that afternoon and Stan Charlton the Arsenal full back who faced Albert reckons it was the biggest chasing that he ever got in a first class game. It was such an enthralling and exciting game that kept the fans rooted to the spot – nobody left the ground early! Both teams left the field when the final whistle wnet to thunderous applause. Albert recalls a conversation with Dennis Viollet as they got into the dressing room:
Viollet: “Nobody’s moved, Nobody’s moved” (meaning the spectators). “You’d better go back out there and help him (meaning Stan Charlton the Arsenal full back) because he’s not moved either! He’s still trying to work out which way you went!”
Albert went to Belgrade with his young mates and played his part in the 3-3 draw that took this great young team into the semi-final of the European Cup for the second year running. He recalls the evening after the game with much fondness and just how happy the players were. The following morning after breakfast they left for the airport and the first leg of the journey to Munich which proved to be uneventful. He remebers the ill fated third attempt to take off. Just prior to the attempted take off, Tommy Taylor and little Eddie Colman decided to move to the back of the aircraft. David Pegg who had been sat alongside Albert playing cards, also decided that he was going to the back as well. Johnny Berry called out; “We’re all going to get fornicate killed”. Billy Whelan who was across the aisle from him said; “Albert, if this is death then I’m ready for it.” Albert recalled watching the wheels through the bulkhead window churning through the slush…. And then nothing… everything went black. He has no recollection of the actual accident at all. He woke up in the hospital wrestling with a lady who was on top of him (he was later to find out that it was a nun) trying to hold him down whilst they operated upon his head. He’d suffered head injuries, shoulder injuries, kidney injuries, and leg injuries. He was to stay in hospital in Munich for more than 9 weeks encased in plaster.
Although he suspected the severity of the accident and that there had been fatalities, but it was an Australian Catholic priest, Father O’Hagan, who eventually gently broke the news to him of who had perished. Although BEA offered to fly Albert back to Manchester when he was fit enough, he opted to return by rail and ferry. He’d missed the outpouring of grief in the city by the time he got back home, and as soon as he was able, he began the battle for fitness and the quest to return to first team football. It is a tremendous credit to his resilience, determination, courage and bravery, that he was ready to play again by the start of the 1958/59 season. Albert played in every game that season and his form was astonishing. He played 42 games and scored 16 goals helping United to the runners-up spot in the First Division and just missing out to Wolves for the actual title. It was an astonishing feat coming so soon after the disaster as it did.
The 1959/60 season was nowhere near as successful and theteam struggled. It was to be expected really and the effort at keeping the club at the forefront of English football took it’s toll on a lot of the players and their form was erratic. Albert played in 35 first team games that season but was nowhere near as prolific as he had been the previous season and sometimes, like the others, couldn’t find the consistency he needed. The following season 1960/61 was his last at Old Trafford and his final appearance in a Manchester United shirt was on November 2 1960 away at Bradford City in an inglorious 2-1 defeat in the newly formed League Cup competition. Busby had started to play Bobby Charlton at outside left in a number of games, and you could say that Albert’s days were numbered. There was no inkling of his departure though although there was some stories about off the field discretions, but he left for Newcastle United in November 1960.
Shortly after his arrival at St. James’ Park he broke a leg in a league game and was never the same again. Although he was at Newcastle some 20 months, he only made 22 appearances for the Magpies before he moved down the league to Lincoln City where he stayed just over a season making 47 appearances. He then moved to Mansfield Town and stayed for 3 years making 108 appearances. In 1966 shortly after moving to Newport County, Albert retired from football.
From then on life was somewhat of struggle. He finally took a job as a docker on Manchester Docks under the shadow of the ground which he had graced for so long as a young man. Unfortunately, containerization was about to began it’s march into industry and Manchester Docks was hard hit, eventually becoming a redundant port. Today Albert lives alone in Pendleton, one of the five survivors of the disaster. He still retains his sense of humour. The bitterness has disappeared and his love for Manchester United is as deep rooted as it ever was. He attends games, but in his quieter moments, he is able to return his thoughts back to those halcyon years of the 1950’s and still see those young friends with whom he grew up with at Old Trafford, so clearly.
Albert is now 72 years of age – live long and happy Albert and thanks for the memories. (Edit by Mod: Albert died during the evening of December 22nd 2009-aged 74. Rest In Peace)
Albert Scanlon played 115 games for Manchester United and scored 34 goals.
He was capped 5 times at England Under 23 level and played 1 game for the Football League.