Dunne refuses memory lane trip

 

Tony Dunne will not be accepting Manchester United's invitation to join their guest list for next Wednesday's European Cup final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona's Nou Camp Stadium.

Like other members of the team which beat Benfica 4-1 after extra time to win the European Cup in 1968, he has been asked along to watch United's biggest game in 31 years.

Dunne says that as the proprietor of a flourishing golf driving range at Altringham, he simply cannot afford the time to journey back into history.

The more likely reason is the bitter estrangement which has blighted one of the great club-player relationships in the 1960s, an era when loyalty was everything and money hadn't yet induced warped values in the beautiful game.

In 25 years, the Dubliner has been back to Old Trafford only once - to do a spot of radio work - since walking out through the gates of the famous stadium as a disillusioned player on his way to join Bolton in 1973.

It's a sad sequel to a marvellous career which took in 534 first team appearances, more than any of the 50 Irishmen that played for United, and an imposing array of trophies, including European Cup, FA Cup and two league championship successes.

Unfortunately, some of his medals, including the European one, valued at £20,000 in the hard currency of modern football mania, are now missing. This gives added piquancy to his decision to watch next Wednesday's game in front of a television set.

"My house was burgled six or seven years ago and in addition to the European Cup medal, I lost my FA Cup medal and the FAI Cup trophy I won with Shelbourne when we beat Cork Hibernians in 1960. Fortunately the two championship medals and a second division one I got with Bolton, were in a different room.

"The FA have replaced their one and I'm hopeful the FAI will do the same when I get round to asking them. But all attempts to persuade UEFA to do the same have fallen on deaf ears.

"People who never kicked a ball in their lives have no idea what these medals mean to a player and when I try to put my case to UEFA they're just not interested. And, of course, the present regime at Manchester United are no help. But I'll go on trying until it's replaced."

It took Matt Busby's team nine games to win the trophy in 1968 and Dunne played in every one of them, including the return leg of their quarter-final tie against Gornik on a snow-covered pitch in Poland.

The left back ruptured his heel in the first half, but at Busby's insistence he soldiered on to the finish. "He kept telling me at half-time: `They don't know you're injured and in these conditions they're never going to find out'. And I believed him.

"Matt was a great manager who could get players to walk through fire for him. I would have entrusted my life to him, but in the end he let me down.

"Although he had stepped down as manager when I eventually got my testimonial, he was still a very important man at the club. But like the others he never lifted a finger to help when I eventually got permission to stage it. The honourable exception was Jimmy Murphy, a great club man."

Because of Busby's insistence that he finish out the Gornik game, Dunne didn't play again for six weeks. And he believes that suggested an interesting contrast between the man still revered at the club and the most successful of those who followed him in the job, Alex Ferguson.

"As he's shown this season, Fergie wants to win everything. But Matt didn't bother too much about the FA Cup, the only competitions that mattered to him were the championship and the European Cup. And when push came to shove, Europe meant everything.

"He threw away the championship in 1968 by gambling on injuries in the European games. The trophy was there to be won in the last few months of the season, but Matt chose to use league games as part of his build-up to the ones which really mattered to him."

At the time, Dunne was earning just £30 a week on a contract which had to be renewed every season. There were no bonuses, as such, for European wins, only an incentive scheme based on appearances.

"I played in every game and qualified for the maximum £3,000 hand-out," he recalls. "And when we reported back for pre-season training, Matt surprised me by offering me a two-year contract - and upping my wages by £40 a week.

"The catch was that I was getting only £1,000 of the appearance money in my hand. The rest would be paid as part of my wages over the next two years. So much for United's generosity."

For all the hurt of his botched testimonial and Tommy Docherty's decision to release him in the middle of his contract, Dunne still retains a pool of goodwill for his old club, if only from afar. And he is not ungenerous in his evaluation of the modern breed of Old Trafford superstars.

"Although I only see them on television, I think this United squad is a super one, good athletes, who work for each other and who play exciting football. That's the only thing they have in common with our team for in spite of the changed priorities, Ferguson, like Busby, still insists on entertaining through attack.

"I admire Ryan Giggs, a superb runner with the ball, David Beckham for his crosses, and of course Roy Keane for the way he puts it all together for them. We didn't have a Keane in our days, perhaps the nearest player to him in that period was Colin Bell of Manchester City.

"But for all the money now being spent at the club, they don't have an out and out match-winner like George Best . . . or Bobby Charlton . . . or Denis Law. And that's not just me talking over a generation gap."

Like the current United team, there were two Republic of Ireland players in the 1968 side. Shay Brennan was the other full back, a superb positional player who made a huge contribution. "It's hard to exaggerate Tony Dunne's role in the team," says Brennan. "There were, of course, other flashier players, but when it came to consistency nobody touched Tony. And isn't it a coincidence that they are now saying the same thing about the player who fills his old position, Denis Irwin."

Dunne, on Irwin, is revealing: "I think he's brilliant, solid as a rock and never caught out of position. And when it comes to striking the ball, there's no better player in the modern game.

"But, to be honest, I'd worry about playing in front of Peter Schmeichel in this match. Sure, he's a great goalkeeper who has had a huge input into United's record since joining the club," he says, "but you wonder about the attitude of a man playing his last big game. Of course, he wants to win. But if things go wrong, he won't have to come back to the club next season, thinking about what might have been. For him, it's more than just a big game - it's an occasion. And there's a difference between the two."

Like those of his old team-mates who will stay at home to watch the game on television - and just now, they look to be in the majority - Tony Dunne will have his memories and his gratitude as he watches the teams emerge from the tunnel next Wednesday. Only this time, he'll feel a lot more comfortable.

"I worried so much about not letting people down, that I never took in the big picture at Wembley until the last two or three minutes of extra time. We were 4-1 up at that point and I remember saying to myself `I think I'm going to enjoy this now'. I don't imagine things will be a lot different in Barcelona."