Munich air crash ‘ingrained’ in Manchester United story

A fan reads the matchday programme featuring the anniversary of the Munich air disaster memorial before the match between Manchester United and Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford February 4, 2018. — Reuters pic
A fan reads the matchday programme featuring the anniversary of the Munich air disaster memorial before the match between Manchester United and Huddersfield Town at Old Trafford February 4, 2018. — Reuters pic

MANCHESTER, Feb 6 — The Munich air crash that cruelly cut down Manchester United’s “Busby Babes” in their prime has enormous significance for the club’s players and fans even 60 years on from that fateful day.

United are holding a commemorative service at Old Trafford today, which will include readings and poems ahead of a minute’s silence at 1504 GMT, marking the time of the plane crash six decades ago. 

The ill-fated aircraft was bringing Matt Busby’s youthful team back via Munich from Belgrade on February 6, 1958 after they had reached the European Cup semi-finals.

The plane crashed on its third take-off attempt in icy weather, costing the lives of eight players and three members of the club’s staff. Twenty-three people died in total.

Bobby Charlton and Harry Gregg are the only survivors out of the group of players who lived through the crash.

“The day that is absolutely shown in red on this week’s calendar is on Tuesday, a day that marks the 60th anniversary of the air disaster,” Spanish forward Juan Mata wrote in his blog on United’s website.

“The victims will never be forgotten, they will always be remembered and will be a part of United’s history forever. The passion, determination and courage shown by the club to carry on in those horrible moments have left an indelible mark forever.”

Marcus Rashford, who follows in United’s proud tradition of blooding young, homegrown players, said he learned about the disaster as a young child.

“It was when I was about seven or eight,” the 20-year-old striker told United Review.

“There were already little things about it around (the club) at that age, but then you start to learn more about it, and when you got to 15 or 16, that was when (former academy coach) Paul McGuinness really started to bring it to our attention. 

“We used to watch a lot of the videos of games, especially from their FA Youth Cup runs, so we could see footage of what these players were like when they were young. It’s so close to home, it touches your heart and helps you understand it, even though you weren’t there.”

Fans remember

John Valentine, who sells scarves outside Old Trafford, said the Munich crash is “ingrained in the history of this club”.

“If I come back in another 500 years it will still be being talked about,” said Valentine, born in the year of the disaster. “You can’t forget something like that — a team nearly wiped out in a plane crash.” 

Among the eight who died, the player most revered is half-back Duncan Edwards, who survived the crash but succumbed to his injuries two weeks later.

“I missed out on those players but I have spoken to people who did and they talk about Duncan Edwards,” said Valentine, who sells a scarf with the words ‘They shall never die’ with the images of the eight who perished.

Valentine says the fact around 2,000 United fans are due to go to Munich for the anniversary shows how important the events of February 1958 still are, even to the young.   

Kion Brown, who was at Old Trafford with his father and fellow diehard United fan Everton on the day of his ninth birthday last week, reflected how it resonates even with youngsters, even though little footage remains of the “Babes”.

“I keep him (Kion) up to date and brought him to see the (memorial) clock and see all the players who died. It (the anniversary) is a big day for us,” 35-year-old Everton told AFP.

Busby, who was twice given the last rites by a priest, remarkably survived the crash and guided United to an emotional win in the European Cup 10 years later with Charlton captaining the side and scoring twice.

“That was like the Holy Grail for the club,” said Valentine. “Because of the crash in 1958 Busby wanted the cup for those boys who perished and the club.

“And we got it as well!” — AFP

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