In commemoration of the forthcoming 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, we are running a series looking back at some of the lesser celebrated ‘Babes’ who lost their lives and some lesser known information about their careers.
First up today is Salford’s own Eddie ‘Snakehips’ Colman.
To begin, an admission.
This series will 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. So, whilst this opening feature will concentrate on Eddie Colman, I will open with a short piece about Duncan to not miss him completely.
Edwards was a freak. He was so good that while he was playing for the first team and reserves, he was still eligible for the team that played in the FA Youth Cup. This angered coaches of the teams United would face at that level, so much so that they would complain United had an unfair advantage.
Edwards made his debut for the first team in April 1953 after a handful of games for the reserves in the Central League earlier in that season. His first goal at that level came, ironically, against the biggest rivals United had to sign him, Wolves, though United lost that game 2-1. His next game was more successful, featuring in a 7-1 win at Bury on 7th March 1953. Less than a month later and Edwards, as said, played against Cardiff in the First Division.
The Midlander was then given a run of games in the number 6 shirt, his favoured half-back role at the start of the 1953/54 Central League season. His last game for the second string that season again came in a win at Bury, this time 3-1, on 10th October. On the 31st of that month he was back in the first team in a goalless draw at Huddersfield and, from that point on, Edwards featured no more for the reserve side. The rest, as they say, is history. There is relatively little to report about Edwards’ time at Central League level because he was, clearly, too good.
Before moving on to Eddie Colman, I wanted to make a short note about Tommy Taylor, who also will not feature in this series. That is not to do a disservice to Tommy. There are some brilliant stories about Tommy’s United career which I researched for the biography of Jimmy Murphy. Tommy was a big signing and didn’t come through the youth system – the intention of this series is 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.
Having featured in the 1953 FA Youth Cup winning run, Eddie Colman – a lad so ‘Salford’ that he lived on Archie Street, the road which was used in the original opening credits of Coronation Street – did not have quite the typical path to the United first team.
Colman’s United career was almost an accident – he was sports mad as a kid, always playing football or cricket, but he used to joke that he was only picked to play football to make up the numbers. However, in a game for Salford Boys at the Cliff, he impressed the watching Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy so much that they made advances to get him signed up right away. They couldn’t believe he’d gone unnoticed for so long.
Colman was very small, and the other coaches expressed reservations about him – reservations which were quickly alleviated when it was apparent how well his style complemented that of Duncan Edwards.
Colman was again part of the Youth Cup team in 1954 but didn’t get a taste of Central League action until the 54/55 campaign, and even then, he played just two games, at Bury in a 0-0 draw on 4th December 1954, and at West Brom in a 2-0 win on 5th March 1955.
Perhaps owing in part to the wonderful partnership he had established with Edwards, Colman essentially skipped the reserves.
Roy Cavanagh, who wrote this highly-recommended biography on Eddie, recalls watching him play. “I saw his debut in November 1955,” says Roy. “He played all games as a number four, who would be expected to cover penalty area to penalty area. He did not score enough goals but was a complete part of the side and knew where Edwards was, so they covered each other perfectly having been in the youths from the age of fifteen.”
Eddie played a handful of games at Central League level in October 1955, against Leeds away in a 4-0 win on the 1st, Sheffield Wednesday away in a 1-0 defeat on the 8th, Huddersfield Town at home in a 5-0 win on the 15th, at Blackburn in a 2-2 draw on 22nd and finally in a 4-0 against Blackpool at home in front of 7,500 on the 29th, but the following month, he was selected for the first team, and immediately became a regular.
He played 26 senior games in the successful 55/56 season, and 51 as United won the league and reached the FA Cup Final in 1956/57.
‘Snakehips’, as he was called, due to his ‘hula dancer’ body movement (as described by Bert Whalley) had played 31 times in the 1957/58 campaign before he became the youngest person to lose their life as a result of the Munich air disaster.
No player could claim to be responsible for Duncan Edwards’ brilliance, and no coach tried to take the credit either, but Colman’s tigerish commitment made him the perfect foil for the Midlander to play his own natural game.
Colman made 108 appearances for the United first team, winning two First Division medals and scoring two goals. His unusual jump which saw him make just eight appearances at Central League – even more surprising given his relatively small frame – made him even more of an interesting case.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, though, when considering the esteem his coaches held him in. For Colman was given the task of man-marking the great Alfredo di Stefano when United met Real Madrid in 1957. Jimmy Murphy once said of Colman that there was ‘no better tackler in the game’.
“His role in Madrid showed he could create, mark and play all aspects of the right half role,” remembers Roy. “He was a very lively character around the side, loved by all who ever knew him. Bobby Charlton was virtually brought up by Eddie’s family, him and Eddie were always together.”
Colman was, without doubt, one of the most-loved members of the Manchester United team. So adored was he that twenty seven workers from local firm ‘Boxmakers Limited’ were sacked for skipping work to attend his funeral (they were later re-instated). It said everything you need to know about one of United’s most loved ‘Babes’.
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.