On the 6th February 1958 the plane carrying players and backroom staff of Manchester United, plus a number of journalists and supporters, crashed on its third attempt to take off from Munich airport. United were returning from Belgrade where they had just beaten Red Star Belgrade in the European Cup and had stopped off at Munich for re-fuelling. There were forty four passengers and twenty three of them lost their lives.
The eight Manchester United players who lost their lives; Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Billy Whelan. Duncan Edwards had survived the crash but he died 15 days later in hospital.
The eight journalists who lost their lives; Alf Clarke, Don Davies, George Follows, Tom Jackson, Archie Ledbrooke, Henry Rose, Eric Thompson and Frank Swift (former Manchester City goalkeeper).
The others who lost their lives;
Walter Crickmer – Club Secretary
Bert Whalley – Chief Coach
Tom Curry – Trainer
Capt Kenneth Rayment – Co-Pilot
Bela Miklos – Travel Agent
Willie Satinoff – Supporter and close friend of Matt Busby
Tommy Cable – Steward
Of the survivors Matt Busby was in hospital for two months after the crash and after he was discharged he felt like giving up on football entirely but he didn’t. Manchester United was re-built and ten years later they would win the European Cup and Munich survivors Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes lined up in that team.
At the time of the 50th anniversary of Munich I was just by chance reading Bobby Charlton’s autobiography and I’d just got to the part about Munich. It felt even more poignant to read it at this time. I of course found it an emotional read and did find Charlton’s words “why me, why did I survive?” particularly heart wrenching.
Last year I had the chance to spend a few days in Germany and one of the places I went to was the Munich plaque memorial site. I knew that it would be an emotional trip for me, I’d packed plenty of tissues and made sure I had waterproof mascara on. I was not the only United fan at the site as we were going to be playing Bayern Munich in the next few days in the Champions League. It suddenly didn’t seem possible to hold back the tears as other fans re-told their stories of how they had first heard the news. Some like me, were born after the crash and could only re-tell what we had read. One man told the story of how he had been 8 when the crash happened. He’d heard the news from a friend he played football with in the street. His family could not afford a television or a wireless (radio) so he relied on his friend for news and of course the newspapers. He said his neighbourhood went into mourning for months.
This year sees the airing of a BBC film about The Busby Babes, starring David Tennant. There has been much talk of whether they will do the story justice. I remember the 2006 series Surviving Disasters, the first part was the “The Munich Air Crash”, I was not sure at the time if I would be able to watch it. I did though and through plenty of tears I watched it all.
Just this week a friend’s 10 year old son asked why the team had worn black armbands in our recent game against Aston Villa, and I asked him “Have you ever heard about what happened to The Busby Babes?” and he shook his head, and there began my re-telling of that day as I had learnt many years before.
Those that died that are forever in our thoughts. Younger fans, like we all did will learn about the Munich crash and that Manchester United’s history is not about just winning trophies. It’s about a whole lot more.
The Flowers of Manchester
“One cold and bitter Thursday in Munich, Germany,
Eight great football stalwarts conceded victory,
Eight men will never play again who met destruction there,
The flowers of English football, the flowers of Manchester
Matt Busby’s boys were flying, returning from Belgrade,
This great United family, all masters of their trade,
The pilot of the aircraft, the skipper Captain Thain,
Three times they tried to take off and twice turned back again.
The third time down the runaway disaster followed close,
There was slush upon that runaway and the aircraft never rose,
It ploughed into the marshy ground, it broke, it overturned.
And eight of the team were killed as the blazing wreckage burned.
Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor who were capped for England’s side.
And Ireland’s Billy Whelan and England’s Geoff Bent died,
Mark Jones and Eddie Colman, and David Pegg also,
They all lost their lives as it ploughed on through the snow.
Big Duncan he went too, with an injury to his brain,
And Ireland’s brave Jack Blanchflower will never play again,
The great Matt Busby lay there, the father of his team
Three long months passed by before he saw his team again.
The trainer, coach and secretary, and a member of the crew,
Also eight sporting journalists who with United flew,
and one of them Big Swifty, who we will ne’er forget,
the finest English ‘keeper that ever graced the net.
Oh, England’s finest football team its record truly great,
its proud successes mocked by a cruel turn of fate.
Eight men will never play again, who met destruction there,
the flowers of English football, the flowers of Manchester”
The lyrics above are the ones from Mick Groves 50th anniversary tribute. There are, however, several variations on the lyrics.