‘From playing at Old Trafford to fighting for my life in 24 hours’ – the Manchester United youngster who fought back from a car crash

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Phil Marsh was on top of the world on the morning of January 14, 2004. The 17-year-old had played at Old Trafford for the first time the night before, in Manchester United’s FA Youth Cup win against Manchester City. “I was flying,” says Marsh, who had gone up an age group already, had captained the Under-18s and had made his debut for the reserves. Within hours his world would come crashing down.

The teenager had been with United for six years and since going full-time when he turned 16 his progress had been “amazing”, culminating in that Manchester derby in front of a crowd that included Sir Alex Ferguson and Roy Keane. Twenty-four hours later Marsh was fighting for his life, never mind his career.

“For any young player, especially being a United supporter myself, playing at Old Trafford was the pinnacle before playing in the first team. That night was amazing, to come on and have a hand in one of the goals and win that game, it was an amazing experience,” Marsh told the Manchester Evening News.

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“I went from that high to 24 hours later being cut out of a car and airlifted to Wythenshawe Hospital fighting for my life.”

Marsh was at Carrington the morning after the game for a cool-down session and would normally have returned to his digs with his teammates in the minibus.

But on this particular day, a few of them had to remain at the club to catch up on schoolwork. Marsh, who was up to date with his studies, asked if he could get a lift back with Callum Flanagan instead, who was a year older but stayed in the same accommodation.

As they left the training ground and drove along Carrington Lane, reserve team player Mads Timm pulled up alongside them.

“As young lads do when you’re a bit naïve and you’ve got a nice flash car, they started racing a little bit up the street,” remembers Marsh.

“When it got to where City’s old training ground is the roads go a bit snaky, I think as he’s gone round the corner the back of the car has gone out, I remember seeing another car coming towards us. The next thing I remember is waking up and I was being cut out of the car by a fireman.”

Timm and Flanagan received custodial sentences of 12 months and eight months respectively for their part in the incident, but in the short term, it was Marsh who faced the biggest battle.

“It was life-threatening, when you see pictures of the car and the damage to myself and the other woman whose car we hit, it was frightening. I was just really lucky to even come away from that alive,” he said.

“It was a big setback for me, I was flying at the time, you feel like you’ve been robbed of your opportunity really and your time to shine. I’d only been in the full-time programme for about 10 months and then that’s put on hold and other lads get ahead of you while you’re on hold. It’s difficult to accept and it was a hard time for me.”

While at Wythenshawe Hospital Marsh had visits from a few United first-teamers, including club captain Keane, who gave him a copy of his book.

When he returned home to St Helens after being discharged, Ferguson paid him a visit.

“I went home after about five or six days and Sir Alex came to my house in St Helens, he spoke to my mum and dad and reassured them that I’d get the best treatment and that they would give me another year on my contract. I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” he said.

“Then with the treatment they gave me everything I needed, if it wasn’t for the club I’d have probably been out a lot longer.”

Marsh was sidelined for a year with the injuries he sustained in the crash, including a broken left leg, a cracked shoulder blade and a head injury. It took him another six months to get back to anything approaching his best form on the pitch.

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