United Front - Manchester United and the Busby Babes prior to the 1958 Munich Air Disaster Matt Busby Bobby Charlton Duncan Edwards Tommy Taylor

 

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This site last updated 6th February 1958

Author's Notes

I was born 5 years after the Munich Disaster, and it was to be a further two decades before I saw Manchester United play 'live' for the first time (Spartak Varna in the 1983/84 Cup Winners Cup, since you asked). Because those terrible events took place a quarter of a decade before I passed through the Old Trafford turnstiles for the first time, the crash always seemed to me to belong to a previous generation; this despite my passing the Munich Clock every time I went to watch United, and despite the club's continuing obsession with European glory, no doubt fired at least in part by the ultimate price paid by many of its finest players in pursuit of the European Cup.

Thus, this web site. The site is my attempt, as the 40th anniversary of the Munich disaster nears, to revisit the team of 1958, to put the tragedy into some sort of context without the benefit (or hindrance) of hindsight.

The obvious drawback to this approach is that the main site contains no information about the crash itself, such as those who died or survived, or the causes of the accident. Therefore, the facts of the matter are laid out briefly below.

 

The Background

 

United, then English champions for two years running and aiming for a third, had just won a place in the European Cup semi-finals, courtesy of a 3-3 draw away to Red Star Belgrade. On the journey back to Manchester, on Thursday February 6th 1958, their plane, a twin-engined BEA Elizabethan airliner, Lord Burghley, touched down at Munich Riem airport to refuel. Then the weather began to deteriorate.

The pilot made two abortive attempts to take-off in the snow; the third attempt was disastrous. As the pilot tried to get the plane airborne, it overshot the end of the runway, clipped a house and crashed.

United players Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan all died in the wreckage. Duncan Edwards fought for his life, but in vain; he died two weeks later.

The other victims were: United's trainer Tom Curry, team coach Bert Whalley and secretary Walter Crickmer; supporter Willie Satinoff; travel agent Mr. B.P. Miklos; journalists Alf Clarke, Don Davies, George Follows, Tom Jackson, Archie Ledbrooke, Henry Rose, Frank Swift, Eric Thompson; and BEA crew Captain K.G. Rayment (copilot) and Mr. W.T. Cable (steward).

Matt Busby, manager and architect of United's success, was given the last rites, but eventually pulled through. United players Jackie Blanchflower and John Berry, though they too survived, never played again thanks to their injuries.

The German Court of Inquiry, reporting eleven years after the event, concluded that snow on the runway was the most probable cause of the crash, and that though the pilot, Captain James Thain, had deviated from normal procedure, those deviations had not actually caused the accident. Suggestions that ice on the plane's wings had contributed were discounted.

Frank Swift

Amongst the journalists who lost their lives at Munich was Frank Swift, the former Manchester City and England goalkeeper. He watched City lose the 1933 F.A. Cup final from the Wembley terraces, but returned the following season to play for them as they lifted the Cup, beating Portsmouth 2-1. At the final whistle, the then-teenage keeper fainted on his goal-line, and had to be revived before he could collect his medal.

The John Lukic Question

There is a football trivia question that asks: "Which Premiership player survived the Munich disaster?" The answer given is John Lukic, the former Arsenal and Leeds goalkeeper, the reasoning supposedly being that his mother, pregnant with him at the time, was a survivor of the crash.

This is simply an urban myth. Apart from anything else, Lukic wasn't born until 11th December 1960, which would make his mother's pregancy one of the longest on record. There was a Mrs. Lukic on board the Lord Burghley, together with her baby daughter - both of them survived the crash. But this Mrs. Lukic, who was the wife of the Yugoslav ambassador to London, was not the mother of John.

The Aftermath

 

The nation mourned (no, really), but United carried on as best they could. Two matches were postponed; the crucial league game with leaders Wolves on the following Saturday, and the 5th round FA Cup tie with Sheffield Wednesday the Saturday after that. With Matt Busby still in hospital in Germany, assistant manager Jimmy Murphy took over, and cobbled together a team of Munich survivors, youth team players and emergency transfers for the next game, the rearranged Sheffield Wednesday tie, which took place on Wednesday, 19th February, less than a fortnight after the crash. United ran riot, beating Wednesday (albeit a team propping up the league) 3-0. Two days later, Duncan Edwards died.

United managed to keep a run going in the Cup, getting all the way to Wembley, where Nat Lofthouse and Bolton Wanderers beat them 2-0. In the other competitions, it was a different story, as the team were knocked out of the European Cup by AC Milan in the semi-finals. (Red Star Belgrade, incidentally, had made representation to UEFA that United be declared honorary European champions of 1958. UEFA, perhaps understandably, declined the suggestion, but offered United automatic entry into the following year's competition. The English FA, however, refused to allow United to accept the offer.)

In the league United faded badly, winning only one of their fourteen post-Munich fixtures. Eventually they finished 9th, twenty-one points behind the champions, Wolves. It was 1963 before United won another trophy, with an FA Cup win over Leicester; they had to wait until 1965 for their next championship.

Other Tragedies

United are by no means the only team to have suffered this kind of loss. In fact, they are by no means the team that has suffered the most.

In 1949, the Torino team that was dominating Italian football and providing much of the Italian national side was decimated when the plane carrying them back to Turin from a match in Portugal crashed. 31 died, including 18 Torino players.

In 1961, 24 players died when the plane carrying the Green Cross team of Santiago, Chile, crashed in the Las Lastimas mountains.

In 1969, 19 players and officials of Bolivian side The Strongest died as their plane came down in the Andes.

In 1979, 17 members of the Soviet side Pakhtakor Tashkent were killed in a plane crash whilst en route to a league match.

In 1987, 43 players, officials' wives and supporters of Alianza Lima lost their lives when their plane crashed into the sea whilst bringing the team home to the Peruvian capital.

In 1993, 18 members of the highly rated Zambia international side were killed when their plane crashed into the sea off Gabon as it took the squad to play a World Cup qualifier against Senegal.

Sources

 

I've garnered the information in this site from various sources - nothing has been made up. All the statistics on the player pages are correct as at 6th February 1958, as far as I can make out. The league table is as it was on the morning of the crash, and the news stories, results and match reports were put together from newspaper accounts of the time. In particular I used pieces by Archie Ledbrooke in the Daily Mirror and Don Davies in the Manchester Guardian, and uncredited reports in the Daily Telegraph And Morning Post. Ledbrooke and Davies were amongst those who died at Munich.

The appearance and goalscoring statistics were calculated from "The Manchester United Factfile", an MS Access application available from Electronic Sports Data. This database contains an enormous amount of data about United matches from the very first Newton Heath match onwards. For more information, use the links in the section below.

Much of the other information comes from a number of books, all of which are recommended.

The following are available from Amazon.co.uk. Click on the links for more information.

Back Page United by Stephen F. Kelly;

The Sunday Times Illustrated History Of Football by Chris Nawrat and Steve Hutchings;

The Manchester United Family Tree by Pete Frame;

There's Only One United by Geoffrey Green;

Manchester United Player By Player by Ivan Pontin;

Manchester United: The Betrayal Of A Legend by Michael Crick and David Smith.

 

Links

 

For an alternative website dedicated to the Busby Babes, visit thebusbybabes.com. This site replicates much of the content of Red Cafe's Munich Memorial, which includes a picture of the memorial stained-glass window to Duncan Edwards in St. Francis' church, Dudley, and the lyrics to The Flowers Of Manchester.

You can find Mike Thomas' Munich site at www.munich58.co.uk. This site has downloads, and an interesting collection of features. Mike has also built a Duncan Edwards tribute site.

Dave Menashe's site has a chapter about Edwards' death from Arthur Hopcraft's The Football Man.

The Theatre Of Dreams contains another Duncan Edwards piece, including an evaluation by Terry Venables that is well worth reading.

Toro On The Net is a site dedicated to Torino FC, who suffered a very similar tragedy in 1949. The site includes an account of that tragedy, and profiles of the Torino squad of the era.

For more information on the Manchester United Factfile, visit The Theatre Of Dreams.

An alternative debunking of the John Lukic myth can be found on ArseWeb.



This web site was originally
designed and written by
Steve Mainprize
in November 1997, and was
redesigned and re-edited
in August 2004.
Links were updated in
December 2006.

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