In Memoriam: Manchester United’s unsung hero Tony Dunne

1st July 1968: Jimmy Nicholson (left) and Tony Dunne of Manchester United. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
1st July 1968: Jimmy Nicholson (left) and Tony Dunne of Manchester United. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images) /

Former Manchester United left-back Tony Dunne died aged 78.

Last night, I was sitting on my couch with my laptop on my lap, watching a movie called “Johnny English”. My phone was right in front of my sight, with its black screen staring at me. Suddenly, a notification turned its display on and forced me to see what was going on.

It was a Twitter notification, suggesting that Manchester United had released an official statement. The statement read,

"“One of our greatest-ever full-backs. An integral part of the 1968 European Cup-winning side.“A player who made 535 appearances in the red shirt of Manchester United.“Our heartfelt condolences go to the loved ones of Tony Dunne. May he rest in peace.”"

‘One of our greatest-ever full-backs’ is not with us any more. The news was shocking, but what truly surpassed that shock was the fact that despite making 535 appearances for the red side of Manchester, his name has not had that glamour it should have. He was a true unsung hero of Manchester United.

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Born in Dublin on July 24, 1941, Tony Dunne was a football fanboy since his childhood days. With a budding dream to represent his country, the Republic of Ireland, one day, Dunne joined  Stella Maris FC, where he learned the ABC of football. His progress as a youth footballer caught the eyes of several clubs.

In 1958, when Dunne was 17 years old, a Dublin-based club named Shelbourne came to secure his services. During his two years stay at the club, Dunne managed to win the FAI Youth Cup and the FAI Cup, making a vast impression across Europe with his dazzling performances.

At that time, there was no Twitter or Facebook or Reddit. Otherwise, he would already become a social media star before joining United, and Shelbourne might have trousered more than what they eventually got for the prodigy.

Sir Matt Busby was at the helm of Manchester United, and two years had passed since the Munich air disaster, a  tragic plane crash at Munich that saw United lose eight of their valuable first-team players in 1958.

Sir Busby was rebuilding his future team following the crisis. And as a part of that rebuild, Tony Dunne joined United for an amount of £5,000. He was brought at the club to play as the cover for Noel Cantwell and Shay Brennan.

A left-back by trade, Dunne made his debut for the Red Devils on15 October 1960 against Burnley, playing more as a back-up option in that left-back position for Sir Busby’s men.

While playing as a starter, Dunne helped United secure the FA Cup in 1963. Furthermore, he was an integral part of United’s English Football League’s First Division championship-winning sides in 1965 and 1967 respectively.

According to Dunne’s former teammate Brian Kidd, the 5ft 11in tall individual was ‘ the best left-back in Europe at that time. Kidd said:

"“His ability goes without saying. We didn’t know much about world football in those days but anyone in that era would say he was the best left back in Europe, without doubt.”“He was so modest and had a lot of empathy and he epitomised everything that Sir Matt wanted in a player – humility and modesty. He just got on with it.”“For me, as a young boy I hit it off with him straight away. These days players have all the education and opportunity to be better but in those days it was down to you.”“Many a time Tony would say to me after training ‘let’s go out and do some more’. I was left-footed like he was and he’d get me to take him on one v one.“I ended up rooming with him on a United trip to America, New Zealand and Australia . He took me under his wing and the advice and guidance he gave me was just invaluable for me as a young player.”"

I assume many of you did not see him playing, and neither did I. But it is obvious to say that he was a jewel in that Manchester United roster. Dunne’s career saw the pinnacle of its success when they went on to beat  Benfica 4–1 in the 1968 European Cup final.

As mentioned earlier, Dunne played a total of 535 games for Manchester United, scoring only two goals in his entire career. However, a conflict with United’s then-manager Tommy Docherty saw Dunne join Bolton on a free transfer in 1973.

A solid relationship that lasted for 13 long-lasing years ended in a somehow disturbing manner. During 1962–1975, Dunne represented his national team’s colours 33 times, winning the Irish Footballer of the Year in 1969. Besides Manchester United, he was a matter of pride for the Republic of Ireland.

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There have had been some like Dunne and some more talented than Dunne, but what United would never get is a second Tony Dunne. May he rest in peace.