Across from the main entrance at Old Trafford, an imposing statue stands to celebrate the Manchester United team of the 1960s and, in particular, the magical trio of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best: the ‘United Trinity’. They are names revered in the history of the Reds. Each won the coveted European Player of the Year award during the period from 1964 to 1968. They represent, in Bobby Charlton’s words, the “colour and excitement” that Matt Busby sought from his team. The unveiling ceremony, in May 2008, took place exactly 40 years (to the day) after Manchester United lifted the European Cup for the first time.
Philip Jackson’s fine statue at Old Trafford brilliantly represents not only a tribute to three of United’s finest but a tribute to a team, a style and a magic that were the best of the 1960s.
Bobby Charlton was the oldest. Making his league debut as an 18-year old in 1956, he was in the Busby Babes team that suffered the horror of the Munich disaster. Charlton, injured, survived and became integral to the team’s rebuilding. The image of Charlton advancing to the penalty area and unleashing a fiercely-struck shot from distance is a compelling memory. It has been said that, for a decade or more, four words in the English language could be understood by more people, anywhere around the globe, than any others: “Bobby Charlton, Manchester United”.
Denis Law was a record signing in 1962 by Busby. Full of aggression and agility, with a keen sense of opportunity, the Scot was a born goalscorer. So often he would score a seemingly simple goal, a short sharp strike or header, followed by the trademark celebration – captured here in this statue – the arm in the air, hand clutching his sleeve, finger pointing to the sky.
George Best was the youngest and perhaps the most gifted of the trio. Combining speed, balance, vision, courage and strength with either foot, he was a winger with a striker’s eye for goal. Best became the first celebrity icon of British football in a television age - succumbing, sadly, to an extravagant and debilitating lifestyle for the tempted. It was a sign of things to come; the time when the life of a star footballer changed. Best could not cope and the influence of Matt Busby could no longer restrain him. He died in 2005 aged 49. Perhaps only now are we again able, with joy, to recall those times of utter brilliance from one of soccer’s most talented players. “Maradona good. Pele better. George Best.” (Irish saying)