Manchester United was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mark Pearson, a formidable attacker who rose through the club’s youth ranks to become an important part of our rebuild in the wake of the Munich Air Disaster.

The original ‘Pancho’ of Old Trafford, so dubbed because of his long sideburns, Mark was a versatile, full-blooded player whose commitment to the cause was invaluable in the Reds’ time of need. Renowned for his sharp, well-timed tackling, Mark’s aggression was his headline act, but he was also – as with all of Matt Busby’s young charges – fluent in football played the right way.

Born in Derbyshire, spotted by United’s youth scouting network and recruited as a trainee, Pearson’s journey to senior football was – like many of his team-mates’ – hastened by the horrors of Munich, and thus he lined up for the senior team for the first time on probably the most surreal, emotional occasion in the club’s history: Sheffield Wednesday’s FA Cup visit to Old Trafford on 19 February, 1958. Mark Pearson was nicknamed 'Pancho'.As one of four debutants, the 18-year-old turned in a staggering display which prompted The Times’ match report to heap praise on the teenager: “It was the performance of two young men, Cope at centre-half and Pearson at inside-left, that left us rubbing our eyes in astonishment. Their maturity, polish, and skill left one wondering what other magic is hidden away in Old Trafford.”

On an unforgettable evening in M16, Mark had a hand in two of United’s three goals in a 3-0 win, watching on as his shot was parried out for Shay Brennan to tap in the second before slaloming forward and squaring for Alex Dawson to ram in the Reds’ third.

Though he didn’t find the net in what remained of the 1957/58 campaign, Pearson was a regular in Jimmy Murphy’s patched-up side as they upset the odds to reach the FA Cup final and established a first-leg lead in the European Cup semi-final against AC Milan before succumbing to the Italian side in the second leg. He broke his scoring duck in December 1958, netting in a 2-0 win at Aston Villa, and enjoyed his best season in front of goal in 1960/61, bagging nine times in 33 outings as Busby’s rebuild continued. The subsequent arrival over the post-Munich years of Albert Quixall, David Herd and Denis Law stiffened competition for places in attack, and Mark had amassed a total of 14 goals in 80 appearances before departing to join Sheffield Wednesday in October 1963.

Pearson went on to enjoy subsequent stints with Fulham – where he starred in the Cottagers’ unlikely but successful escape from relegation in 1965/66 – and Bacup Borough, before retiring at 29 in 1969.

Mark passed away on Saturday, 2 September aged 83 and leaves behind his widow, Susan, and two daughters, Jackie and Sarah. His part in a unique chapter in Manchester United’s history is indelible, and everyone at the club would like to pass on sincere condolences to Mark’s family at this sad time.