- Title: VARIOUS: SOCCER/FOOTBALL - Munich air crash remembered
- Date: 5th February 2008
- Summary: MANCHESTER, UK (1958) (REUTERS LIBRARY) CLOSE UP EDWARDS TRAINING
- Reuters ID: LVA1KKSLJDB30RYGIG0815QZAHLW
- Duration: 00:00:06
- Topics: Disasters / Accidents / Natural catastrophes,Sports
- Story Text: Manchester United stopped being just another football club on the afternoon of February 6 1958 when the plane carrying them home from Belgrade crashed after a refuelling stop at Munich.
Matt Busby's young team, champions of England in 1956 and 1957, died in the slush and snow of Munich after their twin-propped Elizabethan aircraft crashed on a third take-off attempt.
Three United club officials, eight journalists including Frank Swift the former Manchester City and England goalkeeper, the co-pilot, a crew member, the travel agent who arranged the trip and a supporter also died.
A transformation took place in Britain's national consciousness as a stunned public learnt by wireless and news flashes of the tragedy that had wiped out the cream of a generation, the Busby Babes.
Now, on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, their legacy lives on, undiminished by time.
If the immediate loss of seven players killed outright in the crash was extremely hard to take, another devastating blow followed two weeks later when 21-year-old Duncan Edwards, the heart of the team, died in the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich as a result of his injuries.
He was the eighth player to die and the 23rd and last life lost out of the 44 passengers on board.
The young players who died were Mark Jones, 24, England international and club captain Roger Byrne, 28, Geoff Bent, 25, Eddie Colman, 21, David Pegg, 22, England's centre-forward Tommy Taylor, 25, Irish international Billy Whelan, 22, and Edwards, who in 1955 aged just 18 had become the youngest player to appear for England in the 20th century.
Everyone who saw Duncan Edwards play agree he was destined to be one of the greatest of all time.
Bobby Charlton, who survived the crash and has been associated with Manchester United for 55 years, said he was the best player to represent the club and the best he ever played with.
"Duncan Edwards was the greatest player that I've ever seen, the greatest player that I've ever played with. He could do anything. He could manipulate the ball any way that he wanted to and if you wanted him to smash a 70-yard crossfield pass he would pinpoint a 70-yard crossfield pass. He loved scoring goals. He was just the complete player."
Edwards was born in Dudley in the Midlands on October 1, 1936. United signed him as a 15-year-old amateur in May 1952 and 11 months later he made his league debut.
Naturally blessed with size, power, speed, control and courage, Edwards was also powerful in the air and could hit the most accurate long-range, cross-field passes.
His nominal position was as a midfielder, but he could play anywhere and do anything.
There are two stained glass windows dedicated to his memory at St Francis Church in Dudley.
Edwards was one who was blessed with almost everything, apart from the time to show the world how great he could have been.
After the crash, people who had no interest in soccer began following the fortunes of United, neutrals willed them to win. The players who survived the crash, such as Charlton, won a special place in people's hearts and United itself became an icon of hope born of tragedy.
After a period of intense grief when Busby fought for life in hospital and his assistant Jimmy Murphy took over running the club, a very different looking United team met Sheffield Wednesday in an FA Cup fifth round game in front of almost 60,000 fans on February 19.
Munich survivors Bill Foulkes and goalkeeper Harry Gregg were in the side that won 3-0 to begin an improbable journey to the FA Cup final at Wembley in May but there was no fairytale ending as Bolton Wanderers beat them 2-0.
Busby lived to be 84, dying in 1994, but his life was in the balance immediately after the disaster.
The Scot had defied the conservative English FA by taking his side into the European Cup in 1956 and they had done well to reach the semi-finals before losing to Real Madrid.
In 1957-58 they were back in the European Cup, winning through to the quarter-finals. On January 14 they beat Red Star Belgrade 2-1 at home and drew 3-3 in the second leg on February 5. It was the last match the Babes played.
United did rise again and within a decade Busby had built an exciting new team around George Best, Denis Law and Charlton that won the league in 1965 and '67. They became the first English club to win the European Cup when they defeated Benfica 4-1 at Wembley in 1968 with captain Charlton scoring twice.
Busby was not a man known to shed tears but many people saw him cry that day -- May 29, 1968. A dream he thought had died with the Busby Babes in the snow of Munich, had finally come true after all.
Busby's son Sandy fondly remembers how his father built two great teams.
"He started from 1945, this is what he wanted to do, you know, wanted to build a great young family side. And I think he must have said, 'that's for you lads up there, it's what I wanted to achieve'."
Now, on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, Busby's legacy lives on, undiminished by time.
In the last 15 years under manager Alex Ferguson, the modern United have won the European Cup, three League and FA Cup doubles and far surpassed what Busby's ill-fated Babes achieved. But the question that never goes away, and can never be answered is... would the Babes have done the same ? Or even more ? For Charlton, who survived the crash to become England's most famous footballer, not a day goes by without his thoughts drifting back to the Munich air disaster that wiped out so many of the Busby Babes.
"I don't understand you know why I was ok and they were killed. I never came to grips with that. I see quite a few of the relatives from time to time and I do feel a little bit guilty. I can't help that unfortunately. It was an unbelievable tragedy and I hope it never happens again."
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