Book Review: ‘Duncan Edwards: The Greatest’ by James Leighton

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NO doubt groups of ancient Greeks once sat a shared a glass of wine while discussing who they believed was their greatest wrestler or most accomplished discus thrower.

It’s what sports fans have done since time immemorial and as organised sport originated in Greece, it’s reasonable to assume that such debates began there too.

Similar conversations are no less commonplace today and while they certainly cover a greater number of sports, whenever a ‘who was the greatest’ debate gets under way, you’re more likely to hear participants talking about football than any other sport.

The problem is that (in the UK at least) a Stalinist-style censorship applies to anything that happened in the pre-Premier League age.

In fact, footballers plying their trade in the years before 1992 were just as skilful, talented and powerful as their modern-day counterparts, a point James Leighton makes in his compelling biography of Duncan Edwards who, sadly, perished in the 1958 Munich air disaster.

“While I felt that players from the 1950s would struggle in the modern game,” the author writes, “I realised it would probably be the other way around. How would today’s pampered, richly rewarded superstars react to two years National Service in the middle of their careers? Would they be happy to play for a few pounds a week? Would they look as quick and skilful after playing more than 90 matches a season, on poor pitches, with a heavy ball and ankle-high boots?”

Furthermore, Edwards would cycle to Old Trafford before a match rather than drive there in a fancy car. Not something you’re likely to encounter nowadays.

Clearly, it was a different age and it’s impossible to say how the likes of Edwards would fare when playing with today’s stars, but James Leighton makes a fine case for suggesting that he would still be a mainstay of any Manchester United or England team as he was during his all-too-brief life.

This is not a book of match records or statistics, but a fine, well-written tribute to a man who contributed so much to football. Though your reviewer is not a Manchester United fan, (far from it), you don’t need to be to appreciate how good Duncan Edwards was. Leighton has obviously undertaken extensive research before writing this book which contains the most poignant account of the Munich disaster I have ever read.

Like many football fans, I’d question whether Edwards was the greatest-ever British footballer, but Leighton’s contribution is nonetheless welcome addition to that perennial debate.

Quiz question:

Sports Book of the Month & have two copies of ‘Duncan Edwards: The Greatest’ to give away.

To win this week’s sports book, go to their website www.sportsbookofthemonth.com and answer the following question:

In which year did Manchester United win their first European Cup?