Today marks the darkest day in the history of Manchester United. It is 61 years since our beloved Busby Babes sadly lost their lives in the tragic Munich Air Disaster.
United played Red Star Belgrade in the quarter finals of the European Cup that year. After United beat Belgrade 2-1 at Old Trafford in the first leg, it was United’s turn to travel to Belgrade for the second leg. The game which took place on the 5th February 1958 ended 3-3 but that was enough to take the Busby Babes through to the next round.
Then the day after, tragedy struck. The British Airways chartered flight that United were travelling aboard had to stop for refuelling in Munich, Germany. And after the third take-off attempt after refuelling, the plane skidded off the runway where it crashed into a fence at the end of the runway and then across the road where it’s port wing was ripped off after hitting a house.
The disaster sadly ended the lives of 21 people that day, including seven of United’s Busby Babes. Sadly that death toll would rise to 23 as United starlet Duncan Edwards and Co-Pilot Kenneth Rayment sadly died from their injuries just a few weeks later.
The team was in ruins, and there were doubts over whether the club would survive after the tragic disaster, whether they would be able to rebuild the team. Despite this United managed to field a makeshift 11 against Sheffield Wednesday less than two weeks later, lead by then assistant manager Jimmy Murphy, who luckily to did not fly to Belgrade due to him managing the Welsh National side instead.
Jimmy would continue to manage the team until Matt Busby was fit and able to return following his injuries. His injuries were that grave, he was actually read his last rites twice before stabilising and pulling through.
Sixty one years on, we will never forget them. Manchester will never forget those we lost that day. England will never forget those we lost that day. The world will never forget those we lost that day.
- Geoff Bent
- Roger Byrne
- Eddie Colman
- Duncan Edwards
- Mark Jones
- David Pegg
- Tommy Taylor
- Liam (Billy) Whelan
- Walter Crickmer, club secretary
- Tom Curry, trainer
- Bert Whalley, chief coach
- Captain Kenneth Rayment, Co-Pilot
- Tom Cable, cabin steward
- Alf Clarke, Manchester Evening Chronicle
- Donny Davies, Manchester Guardian
- George Follows, Daily Herald
- Tom Jackson, Manchester Evening News
- Archie Ledbrooke, Daily Mirror
- Henry Rose, Daily Express
- Frank Swift, News of the World (also former England and Manchester City goalkeeper)
- Eric Thompson, Daily Mail
- Bela Miklos, travel agent
- Willie Satinoff, supporter, racecourse owner and close friend of Matt Busby
To this day, he is still regarded by many who saw him play, as the greatest of all time. He came onto the scene at the age of 16 and by the time he was 21, he had already been capped 18 times for England. He was described as the complete player. If something could be done on the pitch, Duncan could do it better than anyone else. He was as dedicated as they come, he would train until the ball had to be dragged away from him. He was born with talent like no other, but he didn’t just sit around and let it be. His hard work and determination ensure he made the most of his talent. Sir Bobby Charlton once said about his teammate, if he had to play for his life, and could take one man with him, it would be Duncan.
Liam (Billy) Whelan
Forward Liam Whelan, originally from Dublin, had a deadly scoring record whilst at Manchester United, scoring 52 goals in 96 games. That’s a record that every striker would have been proud of and still would be. He had the ability to ghost past defenders with the simplest of movements, and then as his goal record shows, once he was in front of goal, he scored more often than not. Not only was he a huge loss for Manchester United, but he was also a huge loss for Ireland. He had already won several caps and would have no doubt went on to win many, many more.
He is still to this day, regarded as one of our club’s greatest captains. He captained our side throughout the legendary era of the Busby Babes. He captained us to three league titles. Whilst he was never regarded as an outstandingly talented player, his professionalism, leadership, work ethic and knowledge of the game allowed him to be one of our greatest assets. He was also versatile, he previously played as wing-half and as an outside left before becoming our left-sided full-back. Again, he was also a huge loss for England, he had been capped 33 times for the national side.
One of the more under celebrated babes. He was a commanding centre half, who was strong in the tackle, but also strong in the air. He deserves to be talked about as one United’s greatest ever defenders. When the Busby Babes were being described as the best in the world, he was playing his best football. Had it not been for the disaster, he’d have been one of the first names to come up in a conversation on our greatest defenders.
Eddie was the smallest lad in the side, but that was his strength. He was agile and he had the skills. This earned him the nickname “Snakehips”. He could control the ball with both feet. He was never really among the goals, but him and Duncan complimented each other extremely well. He was the foil for Duncan. Those who watched him play, will never forget his way of the playing the game, which back in his era, was quite indifferent. he was idolised by the young kids, he wasn’t flashy, he didn’t show off, he was just a lad from Salford, playing for the club he loved.
Doncaster lad David Pegg was our first choice outside-left, who had won 2 league titles until a couple of months before the disaster when Albert Scanlon took his place in the starting 11. He had only been capped once for England, with that one cap coming in 1957, but at only 22, he was tipped to succeed the ageing Tom Finney. He was that much of a threat up front, that in 1957 after playing against Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu in the semi-final first leg of the European Cup, that Madrid signed the best right full-back in Spain for 14 days just to deal with him.
Geoff was on the fringes of the team, he was the backup full-back for Roger Byrne and Bill Foulkes. He had only made 12 senior appearances for the club before his life and career was sadly cut short. He was only called up to the squad for the match in Belgrade as Roger Byrne had picked up a knock against Arsenal the game before and his fitness was in doubt. He passed a fitness test and Bent played no part in the game. Although we didn’t get to see much of him, he was a world-class left-back and would have been in the starting 11 of any other team at that point.
Big Yorkshire lad Tommy Taylor, is arguably the greatest forward that United and England have ever had and ever will have. He goalscoring record was astonishing. For United he netted two goals for every three games he played. That’s staggering in any era. And for England he notched up 16 goals in 19 caps. And at just 26, he was arguably not even at his peak yet. Busby signed Tommy from Barnsley for £29,999, a then-record fee back in March 1953. Famously, he didn’t want to burden Tommy with £30,000 price tag so he gave £1 to a tea-lady who had been serving during the negotiations instead. He turned out to be an absolute bargain.
That day, we lost 8 greats, it is the darkest day in the history of our football club, but it is also a dark day for the whole of English football, that team along with the other talents we had for England, this was a world cup winning side. We’d have at least 2 by now, maybe be more had they got the chance to represent us together.
Not only did United lose those who sadly passed away, they also lost Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry, who were never able to play again following the injuries they sustained.
So, today, 61 years on, we will never forget them. As we do every year, there will be a ceremony at Old Trafford to remember those we lost. The ceremony will start at 2:40PM today, with a minutes silence, some poems, and a rendition of The Flowers of Manchester.
A similar ceremony was also held on 29th January, at our closest home game to the disaster. Bother ceremonies are organised by those behind the munich58.co.uk website. More information about the ceremonies being held this year can be found here.
As well as this a few hundred United fans will take the annual pilgrimage to Munich to pay their respects, where a service will be held at the memorial site in Manchesterplatz.
We’ll never die, we’ll never die. We’ll never die, we’ll never die. We’ll keep the Red flag flying high. Cos Man United will never die.