Paddy Crerand joined Manchester United from Glasgow Celtic in February 1963 and formed an important part of the post-Munich revival at Manchester United. Eamon Dunphy recounts in his book A Strange Kind of Glory that in the early 1960s the club was still in turmoil, with training haphazard and Matt Busby largely absent. By 1963 however, things were starting to improve. Busby’s scouting for youth talent was paying dividends and shrewd signings like Crerand knitted well with what would become a great team.
The Scottish son of an Irishman had been dubbed the Busby player reincarnated, that adopted son adored by his manager. Signed for £56,000 from Glasgow Celtic, Crerand was a natural fit in Manchester. Perhaps destined to win a European Cup in either Glasgow or Manchester, Dunphy recalled how Crerand was a rogue, and Busby had a particular fondness for rogues who made him laugh.
He made his debut against Blackpool in a 1-1 draw in February 1963. A half back, Crerand was a delicate passer of the ball but according to Dunphy, as slow as Busby himself. He was the type of player capable of bringing the ball from his own box and deftly turning defence into attack. His courage, moral and physical, was never in doubt; traits clearly evident for a lifetime.
By Crerand’s arrival in 1963, things were readily improving at Old Trafford. Players like Dunne, Charlton and Law were well established while George Best was waiting in the wings. Saving his best performances for Wembley, Crerand starred in the 1963 FA Cup Final in his first season in Manchester – the club’s first trophy since Munich and the first indication that things were picking up. Crerand went on to win First Division Titles with United in 1965 and 1967 before famously winning the European Cup in 1968.
Crerand played over three hundred times for Manchester United under Matt Busby and Wilf McGuinness. Later managers would view Crerand as a problem; a potential rival or a rat, and one who should be distrusted due to his closeness with Busby. Busby had considered his fellow Scot for the manager’s job in 1969, but discounted him then for being too young. Even then though, Busby always saw Crerand as a future Manchester United manager. Busby’s successors would be weary of this and Crerand was alienated by Frank O’Farrell while Tommy Docherty took a distinctly unsurprising route, given his reputation, and regaled the Board with the tall tales of Crerand; false stories of unprofessionalism and drinking.
Crerand was to be the fixer in Manchester United life for many years. Following the sacking of Wilf McGuinness and the second retirement of Busby, Crerand personally approached Glasgow Celtic manager Jock Stein with the view to managing United. Republic of Ireland Gerry Daly would later recount his arrival at United in 1974, being picked up at Manchester Airport by Crerand and having Crerand scold him the entire journey to the training ground for smoking and saying, “Make sure the Gaffer doesn’t see you doing that.”
In more recent years, Crerand has been a commentator on MUTV and also appearing in his own show, The Paddy Crerand Show, during which supporters can ring in and discuss any Manchester United issues with the European Cup winner. Crerand is popular with both the media and the fans for his enduring wit and vibrancy, his tendency to grow irate and antagonistic with others live on air along with his unabashedly biased support of Manchester United.
The Scot famously supported Eric Cantona throughout his ban for kicking a Crystal Palace supported in 1995. In 2005 while appearing on Irish radio show Off the Ball, Crerand became furious when mischievously asked if Ruud Van Nistelrooy would be tempted to leave Manchester United should he get an opportunity to join “a big club.” Crerard shouted, “What do you mean ‘a big club?’ He’s at a big club!”
Paddy Crerand turns 80 on 19 February and should be celebrated as one of the all-time great Manchester United characters. A European Cup winner and a hero from another generation; a champion of the club through thick and thin, and someone who continues to represent Manchester United with pride and honour.
Beloved by the fans, and demonstrating nightly on MUTV that even at 80, Paddy Crerand is still a rogue who makes people laugh.