‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ are synonymous with success, Beckham, Scholes, Butt, the Nevilles and co were integral to United’s dominance during the 90s and 00s. Even when after they left the club they were many who were part of this youth wave carved successful careers for themselves in football.
Yet these were not the first youngsters to be dubbed the ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’. Prior to the emergence of Scholes and co. a band of youngsters broke through into United’s first team in the late 80s and such was their impact that the media not only were they dubbed the same but also ‘The New Babes’ a reference to the wonderful team that Sir Matt Busby built in the 50s.
Lee Sharpe, Lee Martin, Mark Robins, Tony Gill, Giuliano Maiorana, Deinol Graham, David Wilson and Derek Brazil came into United’s team during the 88-89 season and immediately captured the imagination but it’s fair to say that Russell Beardsmore was the player that really shone in that period.
Just 20 years old (which may seem old by today’s standards) when making his first senior appearance, Beardsmore would inject vigour into United’s team from the wing. Despite being waif like in his stature it did not stop him from inspiring United to a 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day 1988. The victory would be United’s 2nd in 13 league games and if this brought joy, then Beardsmore would inspire delirium days later as United took on Liverpool on New Year’s Day at Old Trafford.
As the North West rivals faced off Liverpool, the team of the 80s, boasted a front line of Barnes, Beardsley and Aldridge yet despite this menacing front line it took 70 minutes for the Mersey side tide to breach United but when they did they stirred the team into life.
In a frantic 10 minutes United struck 3 times to defeat Liverpool and at the heart of this again was Beardsmore who assisted for the first and second goals then put the game out of reach for Liverpool with the 3rd.
The fairytale slowly came to an end as the youngsters were marginalised by senior players returning from injury and at the end of the season United finished a disappointing 11th. It prompted Fergie to bring in 5 players for the new season thus making chances for this group of young players even harder to come by but following the sale of Gordon Strachan to Leeds Beardsmore was able to hold down a regular place in the first team.
Injury and loss of form saw him lose his place the following season but the signings of Neill Webb and Paul Ince as well as the emergence of Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs did his prospects of a return to the first team no good either.
He would not feature as United won the FA Cup or Cup Winners’ Cup in 1991 and after not playing in a single competitive game in United’s Premier League winning 92/93 season he moved on to AFC Bournemouth in a free transfer.
When asked why Beardsmore who had looked so promising in the 88/89 season had failed to shine for United, Fergie replied that the 5ft 6’ midfielder was “tremendously talented little player but lacked the strength to play at our level every week”
Beardsmore would remain at Bournemouth for 5 more years before retiring with a serious back injury. The injury which affected the way he walked would require a successful surgery that now allows Beardsmore to coach at Bournemouth something he is clearly happy about,
‘‘Thankfully it worked. Now I can coach the kids and join in to demonstrate things which could have been impossible. I’m very grateful for what the surgeon has done for me.’’
That brief spell during the 88/89 season would prove to be the highlight of his career but not many people can claim at the age of just 20 in their 3rd league start to have destroyed a Liverpool side of the 80s.
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