Hewn from the solid rocks of the coalfield, he was United’s wall of steel. Strong as a bull and sharp as a tack, he was enough to derail any attack.
Bill Foulkes is not the most popular name when you consider the history of football. He was not the most flamboyant of personalities, not the most gauzy either. He didn’t make too many headlines in his playing career, but headlines don’t exactly infer the measure of this man.
Born in St. Helens in 1932, Foulkes was never a cavalier. Throughout his teenage, he continued to be a miner. Though he was admitted to Manchester United’s academy in 1950, he never really had any faith in his footballing prowess. But what he did have was exemplary vigour and strength, which was reflected later in his football career.
Defender by profession, Bill Foulkes made 688 appearances for Manchester United, which puts him in the 4th slot of the all-time appearances list, only behind Sir Bobby Charlton, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. He only managed to score 9 goals in 18 seasons, but he made sure that they were all memorable.
His first goal came against Newcastle United when he scored from the halfway line at St. James’ Park. His last proved to be the winner against Real Madrid in the 1968 European Cup semifinal, a competition they won a few weeks later. But goal-scoring was not really his genre, preventing the opposition from scoring one certainly was.
Playing in the centre of the defense was his fetish. He loved winning the aerial duals and the nippy ground battles against skilled forwards. His potential perspicacity ensured that he always won. His father and grandfather were both national rugby professionals. So, the intrepid outlook did not happen by chance. The phenomenon was partly, if not completely, congenital.
What made Foulkes a stand-out was his relentless desire to play football. Even in his early days, he used to take his football on the coalfields where he worked part-time. On the pitch, he relished taking on bustling centre-forwards. He was not known much for his loquacity, but then he made sure all the talking was done on the football pitch. Sir Bobby Charlton called him “hard as nails” for he never went down limping.
He, along with Sir Bobby, were the only two players to play in 1968 European Cup final after having survived the ominous Munich air crash that happened exactly a decade ago. Destiny favours the brave, you may say.
Foulkes was named the captain of post-tragedy Manchester United squad. His contribution was as pivotal as that of assistant manager Jimmy Murphy. Simply immense. He made sure the team was motivated enough after the crash despite of being in depression himself. Something that speaks a lot about the man’s character. He was one of those very few who played in the both generations of the Busby Babes.
Though he retired in 1970, after 20 years of service to the club at 37, he made sure his affiliation with Manchester United went on. He continued to coach the youth team for the next 5 years. Hence proving to be a true servant to the club.
Sadly, Bill Foulkes met his demise on 25th November 2013. Surprisingly enough, his fellow iconoclastic Busby Babe, George Best passed away on the same day in 2005. Bill was still as proud of his physique as he was in his yesteryears. Our hearts go out to this true gentleman and sportsperson.
The story of Bill Foulkes is no less than that of a superhero. He was brought up under hostile circumstances, but thanks to his sheer will and dedication, he paved his way out to touch the zenith. He wasn’t fazed by tragedies, he came out unscathed. His loyal blood was with the club in their darkest and finest hours.
There’s not much left to say. Words fail to do enough justice.
Goodbye, Bill. Thanks for the memories.