I was absolutely, totally floored to hear the news about my good friend Brian Greenhoff passing away yesterday. Brian was one of the first people to welcome me when I arrived in Manchester – well, he and Jim Holton were the first two players to welcome me. And both have been taken away too soon. I can’t even put into words how devastated I am about the news, but I wanted to write something in recognition.
I have nothing but kind words to say about my old friend – he was such a generous, kind person who always had time for you. I was honoured to be approached to write an acknowledgement for his autobiography last year, but that was Brian – there were people queuing up to say nice words for him, in a game where you will have hundreds of team-mates in your career, he was one who “crossed a line” and became a friend.
We mustn’t dwell but we must pay due respect and celebrate his achievements. One of the most notable things about the Manchester United team was how every player played his part, but with Brian, he left a legacy that stands today. He was one of the first “attacking defenders” if that’s the right term for it, one of my best memories in fact was of the 1976 FA Cup semi final. We were winning 2-0 and right in the last minute he went bombing on a run up the entire pitch to try and score. He must have been running on pure adrenaline, and as he narrowly missed, I can remember him saying to me with his hands on his hand in his broad Yorkshire accent, “I’m fucking knackered! It’s a long way, that!”. Brian had already played his part, starting the move with a typically brilliant forward pass for the first goal. And, of course, he went on to be man of the match for Manchester United in the FA Cup Final in 77. How many people can say that?
He was one of those players who were loved by all of his team-mates. “Greeno”, the others would call him, though I’d always call him by his first name. If anyone needed an example of what Manchester United meant to him you only have to look at the images of after the 1976 FA Cup Final, where he was pictured in tears at the final whistle. He’d never have left – nor would I for that matter – but that was decided for him by another man. He played for England 18 times and this was in a time when every single cap had to be earned.
We lost touch over a few years but managed to reconnect recently and I’ll always be thankful for that. For reasons best left for another day, I don’t have my FA Cup winners medal anymore. I don’t think I’ve seen it since the day we won the trophy. A few weeks ago, Brian took the time to get some pictures of his sent over to me and I was so thankful and grateful – we were looking forward to meeting up in the summer, and I told him as I always did that if he ever wanted an holiday in the States he always had a place to stay.
Some careers are long and fulfilled, others remain like an open book, with stories of what might have been. Manchester United’s history is full of both, and Brian’s career could fit into both. His career at the club ended too soon, so you can wonder how good he could have been, or what he could have achieved, but for what he did accomplish, he and his family were rightly very proud. I know he was so proud of his sons and grandsons and he had a very strong marriage with his wife Maureen, which tells you everything you need to know about the kind of character Brian was. Loyal, dependable, honest and as good a friend as you could hope for.
Goodbye, my friend, I will miss you.