It was an emotional moment on Saturday May 17th 1969 when the referee blew the whistle to end Manchester United’s final match of the season.
Not because of the score – United had seen off Leicester City 3-2 with goals from George Best, Denis Law and Willie Morgan.
And not because United had won the league – or even come close. They finished 11th.
The Old Trafford faithful had invaded the pitch in their thousands for another reason.
They wanted to say farewell to a football icon – United manager Sir Matt Busby.
The man who’d rebuilt his team after the Munich air crash and brought the European Cup to Manchester was stepping down after 24 years at the helm.
Cheers thundered round the stadium as Busby walked through the players’ tunnel back on to the pitch after the game. They were witnessing, or so they thought, the end of an era.
Busby’s legacy was immense. Five First Division titles, two FA Cups, five Charity Shields and the European Cup were won on his watch.
He’d also reached the semi-finals of the 1969 European Cup, going out 1-2 to AC Milan after a Denis Law goal had been disallowed.
Amid all of this, he’d battled back from despair after the Munich air disaster had decimated his beloved team of ‘Busby Babes’ on February 6th 1958.
It was little short of a miracle that he survived that ghastly night. He was read the last rites twice as he lay helpless in a Munich hospital bed.
Doctors kept the news from him that 23 had perished in the crash, including players, officials, press and supporters.
He learned the truth from a Franciscan friar three weeks later while he was still recovering in hospital.
Busby was so affected by the Munich tragedy that he nearly gave up football altogether. It was his wife Jean who persuaded him to persevere – in honour of the players who died.
He would have felt the memory of those players all the more keenly as the crowd sang his name at Old Trafford on the final day of the season.
Preparations to find his successor had started soon after United beat Benfica 4-1 at Wembley in May 1968 to become the first English team to win the European Cup.
In January, a press conference at Old Trafford revealed that Busby would step down as first team manager at the end of the 1968-9 season.
He would remain as general manager with Wilf McGuinness taking over the first team.
On paper, McGuinness seemed a good choice. Born in Manchester and a former United player, he’d learned the ropes as reserve team manager under Busby since 1964.
At 31, he was young for such a major position – but Busby would be on hand for help and guidance.
Busby began his general duties on a happy note. In July 1969 he was on hand to witness George Best receiving the European Footballer of the Year award at Old Trafford.
In December he was guest of honour when Bobby Charlton was ambushed by TV host Eamonn Andrews to be the subject of the biographical show This Is Your Life.
But while things were going smoothly off the pitch, cracks were starting to show on it.
United lost the opening match of the 1970-71 season to fierce rivals Leeds United at Old Trafford and could then only manage a goalless home draw with Chelsea.
A 4-0 thrashing by Arsenal at Highbury was the precursor to two consecutive home defeats in December. United went down 4-1 to Manchester City and then 3-1 to Arsenal.
The board had seen enough. Busby was called back to run the first team and McGuinness resumed his former role of reserve team manager.
Six months later, Busby retired for the second time when Leicester City’s Frank O’Farrell took over as club manager.
He remained a director for 11 years before being made club president in 1980.