‘If Pat Crerand plays well, then Manchester United play well’ were the words used to describe what a superb player Paddy Crerand was for The Red Devils. Compliments do not come much better than this, but having said that, footballers do not come much better than Patrick Timothy Crerand who was one of the greatest players to grace the Old Trafford pitch with his all-round magnificent midfield play.
It is just over 60 years since Paddy Crerand’s football career began, signing his first contract with Duntocher Hibs. Born in the Gorbals in Glasgow in 1939, Crerand was heading a ball from the age of three. Coming from a poor background with little in the way of toys or entertainment, a young Paddy took to football as a way of occupying himself. The first football team he played for was his school side at St Luke’s primary.
Following in his mum’s footsteps, who was a fanatical Celtic fan, Paddy supported the Hoops as a child. Parkhead was only twenty minutes from where Crerand lived, he would make his way to the ground on a match day, then wait to be lifted over the turnstile which was a common occurrence in the 1940’s and ‘50’s – enter the stadium with an adult, and the child got in for free, it was the perfect way for a young Paddy to watch the team he would later go onto play for. His love for Celtic was evident, but he had developed a soft spot for Manchester United after listening to the 1948 FA Cup final on the radio. He was amazed how Matt Busby’s team turned a 2-1 deficit around against Blackpool to win the game, however, having former Celtic player Jimmy Delaney in the red of United was the main reason behind Crerand’s support for The Red Devils.
Paddy’s love for the game grew throughout his childhood as did his ability with the ball at his feet. Although he would go on to be one of the best midfielders to play for United and Celtic, Crerand started off as a striker, strong and full of goals, he was more than productive in the position. However, Hugh Wiseman, who ran a football club called RanCel that Paddy played for during his teens, suggested he switch to midfield due to his pinpoint passing, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Paddy signed a professional contract with Celtic in 1958, he was to be paid £9 a week. If he and the team beat Rangers in the Old Firm match-ups, each player would receive a bonus of £25, quite an incentive to triple your weekly wage by winning one match, albeit one of the most difficult and passionate in the history of the game. Making his debut against Queen of the South on 4th October 1958 in a 3-1 win, it would take Crerand only four years to become Celtic’s highest paid player earning £22 per week.
After five years at Celtic, 91 appearances and 5 goals, his time in Scotland had come to an end. After the Munich air disaster, Matt Busby had plans to build a side to conquer Europe and he wanted Paddy Crerand to play in the engine room of that team. So, five years after the darkest day in United’s history, Busby got his man. Paddy Crerand signed for Manchester United on 6th February 1963 earning £45 a week, over double his wage at Celtic.
Three months after joining United, Crerand and the team won the FA Cup beating Leicester City in the final 3-1, Paddy setting up Denis Law for one of the goals. That win earnt him a bonus of £25 from the Football Association and during the summer a wage increase to £65 a week.
After finishing the 1963/64 season without a trophy, Crerand and Manchester United made amends the following year with the club’s first league title since the Munich disaster. It was Paddy’s first experience of finishing top of the table, and now he and the team were ready to take on Europe’s best having qualified for The European Cup competition as First Division winners.
Unfortunately, the 1965/66 season ended in disappointment for Paddy and United. Despite a great effort from the defending champions, United finished fourth in the league, and a fantastic run in Europe was thwarted at the semi-final stage as the team went out to Partizan Belgrade.
Going into his fifth year at the club, ‘Paddy, Paddy Crerand, Paddy Crerand in midfield’ was regularly sung from the Stretford end of Old Trafford, the fans had taken the Scotsman to their hearts and in return he and the team brought the 1966/67 league title back to the red side of Manchester and the adoring fans.
This title win gave Paddy and United another opportunity to take on Europe, although a disagreement with his wife that involved a plate and a cut above his eye (thankfully the club doctor who stitched his wound saw the funny side as did Paddy in the end!) almost put paid to him playing in the quarter-final stage of the competition. Thankfully he made the trip to play Gornik Zabrze, a win against the Polish side and a semi-final aggregate 4-3 win over Real Madrid saw the midfield maestro and The Red Devils through to the final to play Benfica.
Having left Celtic three years prior to the club lifting the European Cup, Paddy was determined to make Manchester United the first English club to become Champions of Europe. Having beaten Benfica in a pre-season friendly already, Paddy was confident United could beat the Portuguese side again and they did in a 4-1 extra time win.
Paddy embraced an emotional Matt Busby telling him ‘I told you we’d do it, I told you,’ before getting his hands on the trophy he’d always dreamed of winning and parading it in front of the United fans.
Crerand’s last match for United was in the Manchester derby which The Red Devils won 4-3. In 1971 Paddy ended his Manchester United playing career with 392 appearances and 15 goals. Paddy stayed at the club after retiring from the game, he managed United for a few days between the sacking of Frank O’Farrell and the appointment of Tommy Docherty before becoming ‘The Doc’s’ assistant manager in 1972.
Unfortunately, his time as assistant manager came to an end in 1976 and Paddy left the club for good in August of that year. After leaving Old Trafford Paddy managed Northampton Town before going onto own a pub, The Park in Altrincham, as well as earning a living undertaking media work. He now commentates and has his own show on Manchester United’s in house channel MUTV.
Paddy Crerand; former player turned United supporter, this man is a true red devil who took United to his heart. He loves the club as much as Manchester United and their fans adore him, this iconic former player has played a major part in Old Trafford history and will always be thought of as a special midfield talent and a Manchester United legend.