Dennis Allen Walker was born on 26 October 1944 in Northwich, Cheshire, England to a single mother, Mary Walker. Mary was born in Limerick, Republic of Ireland and was white. Up until a few years ago very little was known about Dennis’s father as his name does not appear on the birth certificate, although Dennis always described himself as half Iranian and half Argentinian. His father was Afro-Iranian and when he was a young boy, Dennis’s mother told him that his father died at sea when he was just a baby. The young Walker learned to speak Arabic and Farsi in order to correspond with his father’s family in Iran.
In his second year at secondary school Manchester United’s local scout spotted Dennis and recognising that the young kid had talent in abundance, he recommended him to his manager, Matt Busby. United had the best, and most coveted youth football system in English football and regardless of the city or town of their birth, every schoolboy dreamt of becoming a Busby Babe and following in the football boots of the legendary Duncan Edwards, Bobby Charlton and many others. Dennis was recruited by United and aged only 15, he left school and signed for the club as a trainee in September 1960. His boyhood dream was fulfilled, he became a Busby Babe, the first and only black Busby Babe.
Dennis was an outstanding talent at schoolboys level and was on the verge of playing for the England schoolboys Under-15 side before agreeing terms at Old Trafford. When Jimmy Murphy, assistant manager to Matt Busby, and the man in charge of Manchester United’s Youth Teams, knocked on the front door of the home of the parent/parents of a young boy who he wanted to join his set-up at Old Trafford, it was perhaps one of the most difficult things in the world to do and not invite Jimmy in. Murphy was Busby’s most trusted lieutenant, his Consigliere when it came to getting a deal done and acquire the signature of a promising young footballer. But more than this, Murphy was a genial Welshman, whose demeanour was so intoxicating, and whose words of comfort and wisdom were so reassuring, that it may have been bordering on a parent committing a sin to refuse him permission to look after their son. Jimmy never promised to take the place of either parent in their son’s life but what he did give them was his unequivocal guarantee that he would look after him like he was his own son. Busby knew that Murphy was the Patriarch of his Babes and both treated the young boys under their charge as men. Mary Walker, just like the parents of Edwards and Charlton had done in previous years, placed her trust in Manchester United, and in Jimmy in particular, to look after her son and help him become a man. Had Dennis been selected to play for the England schoolboys Under-15 side, he would have been the first black player to represent England at any level. However, he became ineligible for a call-up as he had signed terms for Manchester United.
A right-sided midfielder or forward, Dennis signed as a full-time professional in November 1961 but had to wait until the end of the 1962-63 season before making his first-team debut. On 20 May 1963, Busby gave Dennis his first team debut and selected him in his team which lost 3-2 at the City Ground, Nottingham to Nottingham Forest in the English First Division Championship (scorers: Johnny Giles & David Herd). Amazingly, neither Charlton or Denis Law (Best was still a Youth Team player) played in the game which was not only Dennis’s first for Manchester United, but also his only ever game for the club. Busby rested Charlton and played Dennis in his position, making him the first black player to play in a competitive game for Manchester United. Walker’s debut was Manchester United’s final League game of the 1962-63 season, and five days later, Charlton and Law both played in United’s 3-1 win over Leicester City in the 1963 FA Cup final (Best was sitting in the stands at Wembley Stadium watching the game, still only a trainee at Old Trafford). Law scored in the final as did David Herd who scored twice for United under the Twin Towers to win the FA Cup for the third time in the history of the club, winners in 1909 & 1948.
After making the breakthrough into the Manchester United first team, Dennis remained on the periphery of the first team and when the club embarked on a 1963-64 pre-season tour of Italy, he was not chosen by Busby for any of the matches. But then again, his competition was Charlton and Law and a Manchester United Legend awaiting, literally in the wings, the iconic, devilish, wizard of the dribble, silky, stylish, mesmeric, iconic, genius of world football, George Best. The 17-year old George Best eventually made his first team debut on 14 September 1963. In April 1964, Dennis left Old Trafford and moved to York City who had just finished third from bottom of the English Fourth Division and had to apply for re-election to the League, which was approved. On 13 June 1964, Dennis married Patricia Cropper in the Parish Church of St Clement, Chorlton-cum-Hardy, and his former Manchester United teammate, David Sadler (George Best’s best friend at the club), was his best man at his wedding. After 169 appearances for York City he moved to Cambridge United in 1968 and played for the club in the Southern League and then in the Football League from 1968 until October 1972. In October 1972, he moved to Poole Town Football Club for £1,600, making 74 League appearances for the club and scoring 4 goals. Poole Town were relegated from the Southern Premier League to the Southern League Division 1 South at the end of the 1972-73 season, and at the start of the 1973-74 season, Dennis was made player/manager. In July 1975, he accepted an offer of a football coaching role in South Africa.
He then returned to the UK to become the Operations Manager at the Arndale Shopping Centre in Manchester. Dennis was on duty on 15 June 1996, when a telephone call came through claiming that a bomb had been planted in the Arndale Shopping Centre. The Troubles were in their 27th year in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) had carried out many bombing campaigns in England during this time. However, hoax calls about bombs being planted at key points in English cities were not uncommon at this time, and any decision to evacuate a major shopping complex or a financial institution would undoubtedly cause a great deal of disruption and financial loss. Thankfully, Dennis decided he would go with the gut feeling he had following the telephone warning and supported the decision to evacuate the Arndale Shopping Centre which was packed with shoppers. Seconds after ensuring everyone was safe a 3,300-pound IRA bomb was detonated, hurling Dennis across the road and into the window of Debenhams Department Store. Miraculously he was unhurt, and no one died in the aftermath of the explosion, mainly thanks to Dennis’s quick decision making.
Sadly, Dennis suffered a massive stroke and lost the use of the right side of his body. This was difficult for Dennis to endure as he was such a positive outgoing person who loved playing sports, particularly golf. He never fully recovered from the stroke passed away on 11 August 2003, in Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport aged 59.
But Dennis’s legacy lives on and thanks to him, the Manchester United team today is a diverse one. Dennis Walker paved the way for those players today to represent the club freely and without the prejudice players like Dennis had to suffer and tolerate during the 1960s and 1970s in order to play the sport they loved.
He was the first black player to play for Manchester United and the only black Busby Babe.
Remi Moses, Manchester United 1981-88, was the first black player to score for Manchester United. On 21 October 1981, United beat Middlesbrough 1-0 at Old Trafford in the English First Division Championship with Moses scoring the only goal of the game in the 82nd minute.
Did You Know That?
Consigliere is a position within the leadership structure of the Calabrian, Sicilian and American Mafia. The word was popularised in English in the 1969 novel, The Godfather, and in the 1972 movie of the same name. In the novel a consigliere is an advisor or counsellor to the Boss, who also represents the Boss and his family in important meetings both within the Boss's own crime family and with other crime families. The consigliere is a close, trusted friend and confidant, the Mafia's version of an elder statesman, a “right-hand man.” Jimmy Murphy was undoubtedly the equivalent of a Consigliere to Matt Busby who himself has been referred to as the Father of Manchester United.
100yearsofcoconuts are saddened to hear about the recent death of Attu Mensah.
Attu was the first black player to play for Cambridge United although he only played once for the U's while on trial at the club.
The 20-year-old Ghanaian came to England in 1964 and did the rounds of trials at Charlton, Norwich, St Neots, Newmarket and Cambridge City before landing at the Abbey.
His only U’s appearance was in the Mithras Cup, in which United had drawn Hornchurch. In the second leg at the Abbey on October 5, Mensah scored his team’s second goal in a 4-1 win, dictating the midfield play and supplying pinpoint passes. ‘The crowd loved the Ghanaian, who responded to the praise of the fans,’ said the Cambridge Daily News.
Sadly, that was the last those fans were to see of Mensah. He moved on to Ely City, St Neots and Port Vale.
Read the match press report from the Hornchurch game below
Enjoy the game, a repeat of the end of the last time we met here would be quite nice, wouldn’t it! And in case you were wondering, on this date in 1966 Walt Disney, subject of these pages formerly, passed away.
Bye for now,
MEMORIES DOWN CUT THROAT LANE WAY
Hullo, again. Most readers will not know the ad slogan “I told ‘em Oldham” but it’s something I have always treasured as my old man always used to pipe up with it, particularly around games involving the Latics. It was a brand of car battery by the way.
Many special games involving these guys over the years but most of all the groundbreaking FA Cup ties in January 1974 involving ‘free’ admission on a Sunday and two replays culminating in defeat for the U’s by 2-1 at the neutral City Ground in Nottingham on a dank Monday afternoon.
Coming back to today’s date and 5 December and it’s only right that we concentrate again on our inaugural season in the Football league and yet again we must confront our early nemesis, Col U. Remember we had already been trounced at Layer Road 5-0 in the first round of the League Cup just four days after our FL baptism against Lincoln. A week later in December we were due to meet them again but this time in the FA Cup second round which saw a pretty resounding 3-0 reverse. Less than two months later we were back at Layer Road for a D4 fixture which saw their U’s run out 2-1 winners. You may say the pointers for this home fixture on 5 December were not good but who said “football, bloody hell!”?*
George Harris and Roly Horrey ensured we ran out 2-1 winners in front of a decent derby crowd of 5,183. Not even Ray Crawford, who felled the mighty Leeds the following February in the FA Cup(a week after our encounter), could stop the mighty U’s although he did level Harris’s early opener. Enjoy the programme for today and don’t get too misty-eyed over what one shilling would buy you in the day!
*Alex Ferguson, May ‘99, Barcelona, post Champions League Final.
And just a moment to pause and reflect that on this day in 1901 Walt Disney was born. That’s all folks!(I know, wrong one).
Bye for now,
A bit mixed in truth in that time and overall the Stags have the upper hand since we first locked horns with them in the 1972/73 season. Us oldies of course remember how that season ended up and whom we beat to clinch promotion to the third division! “And the whole of Barnwell shook with the deafening roar”.
Wandering down Cut Throat Lane it seems that not an awful lot has transpired on this date in the past. With the promotion season of 1972/3 above in mind we are focusing on 2 December 1972 and a home fixture with the Gulls from Torquay. This ended in a rather turgid 0-0 draw in front of just 3,244 although we had suffered a preposterous 5-1 thrashing at Workington the previous week. Not promotion form, seemingly although remarkably after the Workington thrashing we were still third in the table. This week’s featured programme from the Torquay game shows us as well that at that point the Stags were heading the table after twenty games which if nothing else demonstrates a season is a marathon not a sprint. Note the programme price of 5p including the Football league insert(about a fiver in today’s money), manager Bill Leivers was due to collect the October manager of the month award that afternoon(sponsored by Bell’s Scotch Whisky of course) and for Christmas you could buy a Utd rosette for 15p! Enjoy that and of course your return to the Abbey.
Finally, on this day in 1988 “Naked Gun”, based on TV’s Police Squad series, premiered in the US. Always worth a laugh.
Bye for now,
Five games it seems since 1970 including a cup tie v Farnborough in 1987 (scraped home 2-1), a 2-1 reversal v Barnsley in our second and final season in D2, that thrilling win against the Cobblers on a Friday night under the lights in our first season back in the League in 2014. And we also played Kettering in 2009 but that’s enough of that.
The focus for today and programme feature is the Newport fixture back in 1970, just three months in to our inaugural campaign. Our ninth home game of the season saw us turn the Ironsides over 3-2 (read the Light Blue from 1970 below) with a brace for George Harris and one for Ivan Hollett, (photo below) his first of the season, who ended up our top scorer that season with eleven. The crowd was 3,608 which was 600 down on the previous home game five days earlier although we did lose to Workington.
Those were the days! Good to see that fickleness isn’t a modern day phenomenon. Enjoy the programme and see what one shilling bought you in the day.
Bye for now,
Happy Harry's blog
I'm the living embodiment of the spirit of the U's, and I'll be blogging whenever I've got news for you, as long as I don't miss my tea.