Farewell to the modest man who ‘made Beckham’

David Beckham at the funeral of Eric Harrison, at Halifax Minster.  Picture by Simon Hulme
David Beckham at the funeral of Eric Harrison, at Halifax Minster. Picture by Simon Hulme
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Nestling beneath the stone viaducts and the few remaining mills, the little Minster in Halifax is an unglamorous counterpoint to football’s usual cathedrals at Old Trafford and Wembley.

The few hundred fans who had lined Church Street to catch a glimpse of their heroes, David Beckham and Sir Alex Ferguson, maintained a respectful distance. They knew that the game’s royalty had come to honour a hero of their own.

Eric Harrison

Eric Harrison

Eric Harrison may not have been immediately known to them but he was, unlike those with higher profiles who were there to mourn him, a local lad.

Considered the architect of Manchester United’s treble-winning “class of ’92”, he had been the coach who helped forge Beckham’s fledgling career, as well as those of Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and Gary and Phil Neville.

He died earlier this month at 91, having been diagnosed with dementia four years ago.

“For the family, he was a quiet, private man who went out every day to work and then came home again,” Canon Hilary Barber, observed before the service.

“We have a very quiet family funeral here and yet the whole world wants to come because he left a legacy as a footballer, a coach and a scout.”

Mr Harrison had been first a player, turning out 199 times for Halifax Town. His debut was at The Shay, a few minutes’ walk from the Minster.

“He was a fantastic coach,” said Sir Alex, delivering his eulogy.

“There are so many things I could say about him, but the most important thing is he was tough. It was that toughness that allowed his players to play for Manchester United. When they got to me, I had no fear about their character, because he had formed it.”

The former manager – “the boss” to his players – added: “Of course, he improved all his footballers. But that wasn’t his best job. The best job (is) he made them good human beings. “That is what they all should be very grateful for.”

Beckham concurred. “As I look back on what and who made me as a person and as a player – my dad, the boss and Eric,” he wrote on Instagram. “Ultimately it was the boss that had that faith in us and took us to the next level but the person that prepared us – and we wouldn’t have been the players and men we turned out to be – was Eric.”

Giggs, Scholes, Gary Neville and Butt were among the 700 at the Minster yesterday afternoon. They were, said Mr Harrison’s grandson, Joe, in his eulogy, “the sons he never had”.

But it was not only the famous players who benefited from his wisdom, Butt said.

“Everyone knows about the ones who made it. The rest had the right work ethic to go on and do well in other walks of life.”

Ron Atkinson, Sir Alex’s predecessor, who had known Mr Harrison since their National Service days together in the RAF, said: “Apart from Bryan Robson, he might be the best signing I ever made at Manchester United.”