Albert Quixall, footballer who helped Manchester United to recover from the Munich disaster – obituary

Quick and smart, he became a supplier of pinpoint passes for Bobby Charlton and won the FA Cup with the Red Devils

Albert Quixall
Albert Quixall Credit: PA

Albert Quixall, who has died aged 87, was a pacy and clever footballer who broke the British transfer record when he joined Manchester United in the aftermath of the Munich air disaster in 1958; he went on to help the club in its long haul back to pre-eminence.

Dubbed “the Golden Boy” for his blond hair and his film-star aura, the inside-forward stood just under 5ft 8in, but with superb two-footed control he was a master of the through-ball, and had a keen eye for goal. He was also an expert penalty-taker, always putting the ball in the bottom right-hand corner.

He loved to display his repertoire of tricks in the warm-up: “This helps me get my eye in and establish my touch with the ball,” he told Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly. “Mastery of the ball is the answer to playing football well. They call me ‘bighead’. Well, if having confidence in myself is big-headedness, I plead guilty to the charge.”

The England team to play Rest of Europe in 1953: Back row, l-r, Jimmy Mullen, Alf Ramsey, Derek Ufton, Gil Merrick, Jimmy Dickinson, Bill Eckersley; front row, l-r, Stanley Matthews, Stan Mortensen, Billy Wright, Nat Lofthouse, Albert Quixall. The match ended in a 4-4 draw Credit: PA

He was born in Sheffield  on August 9 1933, and with his potential evident early on, he turned out twice for England schoolboys. He joined the ground staff at Sheffield Wednesday aged 14 and became an apprentice joiner for a building firm.

Turning professional, he made his first-team debut in January 1951 against Chelsea, scoring in a 2-2 draw at Hillsborough. But despite his quality, over the next few years Sheffield Wednesday were a classic “yo-yo” team, not quite good enough for the First Division but too good for the Second.

National Service in the Army interrupted his career, although he earned his first of his five England caps in October 1953 in a World Cup qualifier against Wales. But there would be only four more appearances, strangely – one as substitute – and his final cap came in a friendly against Portugal in 1955.

Quixall, the Sheffield Wednesday captain, shakes hands with his Manchester United counterpart Bill Foulkes in the Red Devils' first game following the Munich disaster Credit: PA

He lost several of his England team-mates when eight Busby Babes were killed after Manchester United’s aeroplane crashed at Munich airport in February 1958. As Matt Busby lay in his hospital bed, Quixall played for Wednesday in United’s first post-Munich game, which the Red Devils won 3-0.

“There was no way Sheffield Wednesday could have won,” he recalled. “The whole country was behind United, and I suspect so were the rest of my own side.” At the start of the following season United broke the British transfer when they paid £45,000 to take him to Old Trafford.

Quixall at Old Trafford in 1962: 'Mastery of the ball is the answer to playing football well,' he said Credit: PA

Quixall would, Busby believed, speed up United’s movement through midfield, and indeed, Bobby Charlton later wrote: “Albert played a significant role in my rush of goals – when I broke through an offside trap often it was to get on the end of one of his perfectly placed passes.”

There were ups and downs as United sought to re-establish themselves, and in the run-up to the 1963 FA Cup final Quixall’s penalty against Manchester City kept them in the First Division. But, in truth, he never really settled at Old Trafford. As Charlton wrote: “Albert, behind the image of a new blond star of English football, had his own difficulties in settling down in a club which expected so much from everyone, and not least from a record signing.”

Quixall, trophy on head, celebrates United's victory in the 1963 FA Cup final with, l-r, Bobby Charlton, Noel Cantwell, Pat Crerand, David Herd, Johnny Giles and Maurice Setters Credit: Larry Ellis/Express/Getty Images

While United’s League form was up and down, Quixall scored against Huddersfield, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Coventry on the way to the 1963 FA Cup final. He put in a fine performance at Wembley, combining well with new boys Denis Law and Pat Crerand as Leicester City were beaten 3-1. But at the start of the following season, he was dropped after a 4-0 defeat to Everton in the Charity Shield, and played his last game for the club on Boxing Day.

At the end of the season he moved to Oldham Athletic for £7,000, spending two years there, ending his League career at Stockport County in 1967; there were subsequent brief spells at Altrincham and Radcliffe Borough.

In retirement he remained in Manchester and built up a scrap metal business. Sheffield Wednesday named a hospitality suite at Hillsborough in his honour.

Quixall, who suffered from dementia in later years, married a dance teacher, Jeannette Dunstan, who had given him ballet lessons to improve his balance. She survives him along with their daughter and two sons.

Albert Quixall, born August 9 1933, died November 12 2020