Where Roger Byrne had been retrained into a full-back, and where Geoff Bent had essentially followed the same path to be Byrne’s deputy, as explained earlier in this series, so a position had opened up in United’s number 11 shirt.
When Byrne moved into the first team, and Bent moved to the left back in the reserves, that outside left spot first of all went to Laurie Cassidy. Cassidy was a regular at this level and it was becoming evident that he wouldn’t be lasting long term at United. Another contender for the shirt was Harry McShane, or more or less became a semi-regular having won a medal with the first team for the league title the previous season.
Another player who was a hopeful in that area was David Pegg. Ironically, another Pegg – Jimmy ‘Ken’ Pegg – is credited with having played some games for the reserves in 1951 and 1952 in the number 11 shirt, despite being known as a goalkeeper in the brief career he made as a professional footballer.
Pegg – David, again, and from now on in this piece – was hardly a prolific goalscorer, but then again, that was not the area in which he was expected to be useful to the first team.
Pegg had scored a fair few goals in United’s successful Youth Cup runs – in fact, he was widely considered to be the man of the match in United’s first ever Youth Cup game against Leeds United – but it was the quality of his delivery which his coaches focussed on.
Jimmy Murphy and Bert Whalley would have Pegg put through hours of repetitive crossing training and the player consequently became a master of the art.
Days after featuring against Leeds in the FA Youth Cup, Pegg was called into the first team, where he made an immediate impression. He scored 4 times in 19 games in the league in his first season before he dropped back into the reserves for a development spell of around two years (he made fifteen appearances for the first team in the spell between the summer of 1953 and the summer of 1955).
He made the number 11 shirt more or less his own in the second half of the 53/54 Central League season, having fought off that competition from Cassidy, McShane and Bent. With just one goal in twenty games, Pegg’s goalscoring scarcity was evident, though that tally improved to an impressive 12 in 35 Central League appearances the following campaign. His understudy in the role was Albert Scanlon.
Scanlon was the mainstay in the shirt throughout the 55/56 Central League, as a decidedly more potent Pegg returned to the first team, scoring nine times in 36 games to help United win the title. He played 52 of United’s 57 first team games in 1956/57 as they won the title again, and made his debut for England in 1957.
Pegg’s form had been so fantastic that he was tipped by many to succeed Tom Finney at international level but despite such lofty praise and expectations, he knew he could not afford to rest on his laurels at club level. Scanlon’s form in the Central League had caught the eye in 1956/57 and he continued to impress in the opening weeks of the 57/58 season.
Eight goals from outside left by early December meant he was knocking on the door of a first team place and so he displaced Pegg in the number 11 shirt, retaining it all the way up until and including that fateful match in Belgrade.
Pegg, though, much in keeping with the attitude of this fantastic squad at the time, resolved to play well in the Central League and get his place back. He scored a hat-trick in a 5-3 win over Leeds and then scored another 2 against Wolves in a 4-3 win on the 1st February, a performance which clearly put him back in the mind of Matt Busby, in much the same way as Geoff Bent, Jackie Blanchflower and Liam Whelan had done.
The quartet all played against Wolves and made the trip to Belgrade despite not featuring against Arsenal in that last league game. None would play against Red Star, though three, of course, would lose their lives on that trip.
There was no doubting Pegg’s pedigree, according to United author and historian Roy Cavanagh. “Pegg was a truly great left winger who scored a lot of goals as well,” Roy says. “He was a perfect combination of Beckham and Giggs in that he was a great crosser and could score. Tom Finney got hurt in the 1958 World Cup finals and there was no replacement, David would have been perfect. I remember him as a very good looking lad years before his time in that way, would have blown fashion away in early 1960’s if he had lived.”
Pegg may have been in and out of the side but at 22 he had a glittering future ahead of him at Old Trafford.
It is said that Real Madrid were so fearful of coming up against Pegg again, that they signed a new full-back in anticipation of playing against him in 1958 – which is somewhat reminiscent of the fear Italian sides used to have of Ryan Giggs in the late 1990’s. Tommy Taylor and Dennis Viollet loved playing alongside Pegg because of his delivery – the combination would surely have helped United dominate for years to come if not for Munich.
This article is part of a ‘Lost Babes’ series which will run through the following days. If you have enjoyed it, please consider purchasing the forthcoming biography of Jimmy Murphy, “The Man Who Kept The Red Flag Flying”. The book has been heavily researched and is the official biography of his life as authorised by the Murphy family.
Additionally, this series did not feature Duncan Edwards in great detail. So much has been written about Duncan that there was little point writing an individual feature about him, but he was featured in the first in this series which included Eddie Colman. Tommy Taylor also didn’t feature due to the intention of this series, to shine a light on those young players who came through the Central League, and to present some facts and figures that most supporters are unlikely to know.
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