A FORMER Manchester United player delivered an inspirational speech at his old university in Crewe.

Tony Whelan, who studied sociology at Manchester Metropolitan’s Cheshire campus, appeared before a packed lecture theatre to talk about becoming an apprentice with the Red Devils, and playing alongside the ‘holy trinity’ of Charlton, Best and Law.

Tony recalled the racial divides he encountered in America, as well the days when hopefuls including David Beckham washed senior United staff’s cars as part of their training regime.

“The world is a much smaller place now than when I was a kid,” said Tony.

“When we went to Switzerland, America, Canada, I was the only kid in my block who had flown. It was a special time for me.”

A professional footballer for 16 years, Whelan’s career took in stints at Manchester City and Rochdale, before relocating to America where he played in Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Tony said: “In Fort Lauderdale I had my first experience of coaching and first learned about sport science.

“Nobody had heard of it in England but the Americans were streets ahead.

“In Atlanta it was very different. It’s in the deep south, and I have a mixed marriage. I had never experienced racial tensions like that before.”

A broken leg at Witton Albion put an end to Tony’s bright career.

While recuperating, he decided to catch up on the education he missed as a teenager, studying for a BA in Humanities.

The following year he completed his MA in Sociology at MMU Cheshire, the research for which would become his book: The Birth of the Babes: Manchester United Youth Policy 1950-1957.

Of his return to Crewe, Tony said: “It’s always good to come back to the old stomping ground, although this is the first time it has been a formal occasion.

“I very much enjoyed my time here. It made a huge difference to me.”

Tony advised the students to set themselves high standards, deal with setbacks positively and celebrate their achievements, as well telling them to have confidence in their ability and seek advice from people they trust.

Senior Lecturer in physical education, Brendon McGuire, who organised the visit, said: “As a former postgraduate student of MMU, it was delightful to have Tony Whelan back in Crewe to deliver a motivational speech to our exercise and sport science students.

“Tony’s talk about his life and career provided hugely significant messages to our students, advising how to maximise their own talents and potential.”