Every so often in sport there arrives on the scene a team of such prodigious talent that future glory is all but assured. The Manchester United team of the late 1950s was just such a side. Dubbed ‘the Busby Babes’, they were both talented and cocksure. At last England had found a team to challenge the dominance of Real Madrid, who had won the first two European Cups with some ease. The Football Association had a stuffy attitude to European competition, but allowed English champions Man U to take part in the 1956-1957 tournament. They acquitted themselves well, but lost to Madrid in the semi-finals.
By 1958 The Babes’ were older and stronger and hopes of success were high.
Having secured their place in the semi-finals with a 3-3 draw against Red Star in Belgrade, the team boarded a plane to take them first to Munich and then back home for a fixture with Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend. Europe was in the grip of winter and, by the time they reached Germany, conditions were dreadful. After two aborted take-offs in near blizzard conditions, their plane finally took to the air… only to crash soon afterwards. Of the 44 passengers, 23 lost their lives, including eight players.
A singular act of heroism stands out: Harry Gregg, the United goalkeeper, scooped up both Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet (coincidentally the two goal scorers in Belgrade) and carried them to safety. Others were not so lucky and one name among the roll call of the dead stood out – that of Duncan Edwards, arguably the greatest footballer England has ever produced. He survived the crash but died two weeks later. Manager Matt Busby was so badly injured that the last rites were read for him – he eventually recovered after two months in hospital.
When was the Manchester United and the Munich Air Tragedy: February 6 1958
Where was the Manchester United and the Munich Air Tragedy: Munich, Germany
What was the Manchester United and the Munich Air Tragedy death toll: 23
You should know: Of the survivors, Bobby Charlton was to go on to the greatest success, winning medals at domestic, european and world levels. His survival of the crash gave him a steely determination to achieve success – as though to honor the memories of those who died, in his own words ‘What happened still reaches down and touches me every day. It engulfs me with terrible sadness’.