Forever a Babe: Growing Up with Manchester United, by Tom Clare

Forever a Babe, a book about Growing Up with Manchester United, by Tom Clare

Michael Crick – BBC

It's a great read.  Very atmospheric in its portrayal not just of the Busby Babes, but of his childhood and life in working class Manchester in the immediate post-war period.

Bob Harris – Red News

I have got to say that it is the best book about United's history and the rise of the Busby Babes I have ever read. Tom obviously loves the team and his recollections about the Babes and how they interacted with the fans and his tales of getting tickets for the early European games are absolutely brilliant. His match descriptions are better than any I have read.

Andy Smith – Alberta, Canada

I thought the narrative and the description of life through the move from Ireland into the heat of the Industrial revolution was page turning stuff. A real empathy/connection was built for the characters. I connected with Tom and his family on an intimate level. The match narratives were descriptive to the point of smelling the turf. If you just want a good read, the book will give you that. If you are interested in football, it will be a fantastic read. If you are a Manchester Utd fan, it's a must read.

John White – Macclesfield

Terrific read for anyone who always has and still does love the game of football and their own team - whichever team that may be. This is no mindless rant about "United, United"! They'll recognise a very generous afficionado of this great game on every page of this wonderful read. Loved it Tom, just loved it.

Please don't miss it - stories of ordinary lads and hard-working people growing up through the tragedy that destroyed our boyhood heroes seldom make the bookshelves.

Robert Lisiew – New York

I would recommend this to any football fan so they too can get a glimpse of football from a half century ago. In this book one can find some history of the club, great stories from a match going fan, and an intimate look at one of the most exciting teams that played the game of football. Finally there is a whole chapter on the author's favourite player from that team, Duncan Edwards. In it we find why the 21 year old was so special and why he is still considered by many as the most complete player ever.

Ian Spencer – Northampton

I found it a compelling, entertaining, informative, interesting and emotional read. I'm sure that football bias won't allow some folks to appreciate this work - but more fool them. Manchester Utd fans ought to lap it up.

Kerry Simpson – Hull

I found it to be a riveting read which often moved me to tears or caused me to laugh out loud. His memories are so clear that it is easy to picture the scenes he describes and he gives a real insight in to how football was during a much more innocent age.

Nick Midgely – Lancaster

This is as compelling and comprehensive an account of 1950s era Manchester United as you're likely to read. What makes it particularly effective is the way Tom Clare weaves autobiography and local social history in with first-hand recollections of United and his heroes by a genuine, passionate fan.

The autobiographical stuff is interesting and deftly avoids over-indulgence. The social history is genuinely fascinating, and the footballing side of the story is practically compulsory reading for true fans.

It may be stretching things a little too far to say that you don't need to be a United fan, or even a football fan in general, to enjoy this, but the warmth, affection and storytelling prowess Tom displays throughout the book makes it VERY readable.

Neil Nelson – Manchester

There have been libraries of books written about Manchester United and the tragedy of Munich, most notably Bobby Charlton's engaging autobiography, My Manchester United Years.

But have you ever wondered what life in Manchester was like in the 1940's and 50's for a typical United supporter, and how the Munich disaster impacted on a young Mancunian boy of the time, whose footballing idols were cruelly, terribly snatched away? If so, this is the book for you.

Tom Clare doesn't simply paint a picture of life in central Manchester in that era - he draws you in, immerses you in the environment and the family and social relationships that were at the heart of Mancunian life in the mid-20th century. You begin to understand the grinding poverty that was prevalent in the city, and how it chiselled the tough but generous and compassionate core of so many Manchester people of Tom's age.

And of course, Tom's great gift to the reader is his eloquent, passionate, eye-opening history of Manchester United from their inception at Newton Heath, through to Munich - as seen through the eyes of the Clare family from his beloved Grandpa and down the generations. This family can truly say, "we were there", and many of the urban myths that sprung up around the club are put straight, courtesy of Tom's clear and succinct recollections.

Tom's deeply personal and emotional account of the months leading up to Munich in 1957/58, and its heart-wrenching aftermath, compels you to grieve anew for the lost Babes. Tom has created a lens back in time for you to see them for who they truly were - joyous, innocent, humble young men, who loved life, their trade, their club, and the Manchester community who embraced and adored them. Above all, you share the aching sense of loss for Tom's great hero, arguably the finest footballer who has ever graced the game - Duncan Edwards.

Thank you Tom, for giving us a unique perspective on Manchester life and one of the most deeply-felt events in the city's history - your work deserves a place amongst Manchester's finest.

Nicolas Romano – Ottawa, Canada

This is the story of boy growing up in a working class family in post war Manchester surrounded by poverty, hardship and a football club being rebuilt almost from scratch.

From his first days as a pupil at St. Augustine's right up to the horror of the Munich Air Disaster, Tom Clare chronicles the highs and lows of his family life together with Manchester United Football Club as they embarked on a new strategy of playing the game to and taking that Gospel to other borders.

Notwithstanding the Munich tragedy, Tom describes the hardship suffered by his father upon losing his sight, the love of the game of football encouraged and engendered by his grandfather and the difficult relationship between the former and latter which typified proud working class men of the period. Tom also reflects on the disturbing effects caused by the Manchester Education Committee's insistence that he leave home for 6 weeks due for a period of convalescence at the tender age of 9.

But this is not Angela's Ashes. This is a story with as much humour here as tales of escapades with fellow urchin Brian Walsh are related to the reader. The discovery to Tom at such a young age that football was not only escape from the drudgery of the day, but the gateway to another life is vividly told, and in doing so the landscape and imagery of the period is uniquely captured in the narrative. From how families living on top of each other survived in the harshest of conditions by being streetwise, to the messianic pull of a football team on the rise.
And it's a commitment to detail which truly makes this a remarkable book. From anecdotes about goalkeeper Jack Kelsey to describing Jack Irons, the United mascot walking around Maine Road on those famous pioneering European nights, it these things that put the reader at the centre of the action.

But the centrepiece of this book is Tom's match going experience and his almost Pepys' like recounts of individual games from the emergence of the Busby Babes to their final destination. The chapter on the game against Bilbao at Maine Road in 1957 raises hairs on the back of your neck.

Other highlights are the anecdotes about the players and the human face that this book gives them, players that were accessible, unassuming and naturally gregarious, particularly among fans that idolised them. And too, the lengths that Tom and Brian would go to procure tickets for Catholic priests raised smiles. It is said that pictures tell stories. On the rear cover, there is a picture of the author as a goalkeeper for St. Gregory's Under 13 team. It was suggested that David Pegg was a young Victor Mature. The urchin looking goalkeeper could have been an extra alongside Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces.

The book concludes with a personal homage to a team decimated by tragedy and it starts with the rebuilding process by Jimmy Murphy, his creation of The Fourth (and forgotten) Great Team, a personal tribute to Duncan Edwards and a final tribute to those heroes. As much as Manchester United fans will learn more about those times by reading this book, I found myself wanting to know more about the Author and his journey beyond his own heartbreak at the sudden loss of his heroes.

Manchester United fans with a real desire to gorge in the history of the club will want this book, but more than that, this is a man's love of the game as it was and a period document of the city formerly known as Cottonopolis.

It's an extraordinary read, and I look forward to the next chapter.

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