The footballer Albert Quixall, who has died aged 87, was one of Matt Busby’s key recruits at Manchester United as the great manager began to rebuild his side at Old Trafford after the death of eight players in the appalling Munich air disaster of 1958. Busby broke the British transfer fee record to pay £45,000 for Quixall just six months after the crash, and his new inside-forward helped United to finish second in his first season there.
An exciting and unusual figure, adroit, quick in mind and movement, Quixall stayed with Manchester United until 1964, winning an FA Cup medal during his stay. But the rebuilding process in the league took longer than hoped, and by the time United had finally managed to win the Division One championship again – in 1965 – he had left the club for pastures new.
Quixall was born in Sheffield, joining Sheffield Wednesday as an amateur at the age of 15 and turning professional at 17 in 1950. His ball-playing skills were evident from the first, and it was not surprising that Busby would eventually see him as a player who could greatly help to revive his club’s post-Munich fortunes. After 241 league appearances for Wednesday, in which he scored 63 goals over eight years, United made a move and secured their man.
He was glad to switch to Old Trafford, for Busby was the manager he most admired, and though he found it hard at first to settle, Quixall eventually combined smoothly and excitingly with his fellow attackers, Scotland’s Denis Law and England’s Bobby Charlton.
He put in an impressive performance in the FA Cup final at Wembley in 1963, when United outplayed a pedestrian Leicester City to win 3-1.
Yet overall his career at United was something of a disappointment. For all his skills, his level of performance often fluctuated, and at times he suffered from a lack of self-confidence. In the end, after playing 165 league games and scoring 50 goals at United, he moved downwards to the comparative obscurity of nearby Oldham Athletic.
Quixall’s international career was also one that felt rather unfulfilled. He won five caps for England, all while he was at Sheffield Wednesday, and his debut came at the age of 20 in Cardiff against Wales in 1953, a 4-1 victory in which he played at inside-right and his partner on the wing was the illustrious Tom Finney. Later that year, in games against Rest of the World and then Ireland, he figured with a still more illustrious winger in Stanley Matthews.
But he lost his place after the match against Ireland to his fellow Wednesday inside-forward, Jackie Sewell, and, having missed out on the 1954 World Cup finals, his last two caps were in 1955, just before he signed for Manchester United.
At the tail end of his career he played 37 games for Oldham. A series of injuries – from which he had previously stayed largely free – depressed him, and he decided to move on again at the end of the season, joining Stockport County for 13 games and then, briefly, Altrincham, before quitting, still in his early 30s.
Quixall made no effort to stay in the game, becoming instead a scrap-metal merchant in Stretford, close to Old Trafford. He preferred playing golf to watching football in later years, and the modern game held little appeal for him. He once remarked that, when he heard Bobby Robson, then England’s manager, talking tactically, “I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about”. Busby, he declared, had simply told his teams: “Go out and enjoy yourselves.”
He is survived by his wife, Jeanette (nee Dunston), whom he married in 1956, and by their three children, Paul, David and Jane.
• Albert Quixall, footballer, born 9 August 1933; died 12 November 2020