Today, the 6th of February, marks the end of a crazy footballing week. We’ve seen players exchanged for staggering transfer fees, and yesterday watched a record number of goals scored in the Premiership.
There are some who would argue it was a great week for English football. But today also marks the anniversary of a week when football, seemed a much more trivial subject. I’m talking, of course, about the 1958 Munich Air Disaster which claimed the lives of 22 people, including 8 players for Manchester United. Their average age was 22, earning them the nickname, ‘The Babes.’
The manager of the team was one Matt Busby, who had taken over the club after returning home from war in 1945. He found United in £15,000 worth of debt (a vast sum back then) and without a home ground to play at. (Old Trafford had been bombed in one of the nightly air raids. United had been sharing Maine Road with their Mancunian rivals, City.) Straight away, Busby set about rebuilding the club.
Busby believed that if he could build a team of talented youngsters, he could create a dynasty at United which would last long after he left the club. To this end, he set about scouting for youngsters with which to build his team. Naturally, the names he uncovered have become legends of the game. Players like Bobby Charlton, Billy Whelan, Dennis Viollet, Eddie Colman all got their start in Busby’s Manchester United team. Undoubtedly, the star of this team was the young Duncan Edwards, who made his debut in 1953 against Cardiff aged just 15.
Busby’s recipe for success paid dividends, with United winning the League title in the 1956-7 season. They won in fine style, scoring 103 goals along the way. European glory was bound to follow. The club’s first foray into the continent was not a success however, as they came up against the mighty Real Madrid who at that time were captained by the great Di Stefano. It’s fair to say, the Red Devils were taught a lesson or two in the Bernebau upon their fist meeting with the Spanish giants.
United retuned to Europe the next season, following their successful retention of the League title. They reached the quarter finals against the Yugoslavian champions, Red Star Belgrade. Beating them 2-1 at home, United travelled to the away leg in good spirits. Although they allowed a 3-0 lead to slip to a 3-3 draw, it was enough to send the club through to the Semis against AC Milan. The plane taking them back to Manchester, never made it off the ground.
7 players died that night; Geoff Bent, David Pegg, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, Tommy Taylor, Billy Whelan and Roger Byrne. All in all 22 people died in the crash, including a number of respected sports journalists some of whom had simply been covering the match for their local papers. The young star of the team, Duncan Edwards, was just 21 when he succumbed to his injuries in hospital 2 weeks later. Those that had the honour of watching him play, said he was probably the greatest player England has ever produced.
Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower, both members of the side, never played football again. Albert Scanlon, Dennis Viollet, Ken Morgans, Bobby Charlton and Ray Wood all recovered, and went on to help make Manchester United one of the giants of world football. As for Matt Busby, he too would survive the disaster, and led his team to a Champions League title, beating Benfica 4-1 at Wembley in 1968. The match marked the arrival of another young star, George Best , onto the world stage. Busby could only reflect on what might have been, had so many of his ‘Babes’ not lost their lives on that cold February night.
This article is not meant to be a cliche, or a schmaltzy obituary. We’ve read them all before. And I apologise for bringing the mood down, at the end of what for many has been a terrific week for English football. But I feel that English football fans in general, not just Manchester United fans, should take a moment and reflect on the events of that afternoon 53 years ago. It’s easy to use Munich as a descipable and disgusting basis for chants and website titles, but the people who use it in such a way are not really fans of ‘The Beautiful Game’. They’re lowlife morons.
Transfers and player profiles should never be taken so seriously, that a tragedy like the Munich Air Disaster goes forgotten. Just take a moment, that’s all I ask.
Follow Peter Turner at Twitter firstname.lastname@example.org
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