FootballManchester United

Remembering the Munich air crash

A look at the disaster that forever changed the “Busby Babes”

63 years later

Today will be a very sombre occasion for all those associated with Manchester United.

It was 63 years ago when the club suffered one of its greatest tragedies when a British European Airways flight crashed.

On the anniversary of this dark day here’s a look back at everything that transpired.

We’ll take a closer look at the players and staff members who died on that fateful day.

European Cup return

On February 6, 1958, the “Busby Babes” were on their way home from Belgrade having advanced to the European Cup semi-finals.

The team was riding high after a 3-3 draw with Red Star the day before as they sought their first-ever triumph on the European stage.

The team’s flight from Belgrade stopped in Munich for fuel before setting course back to Manchester.

Sadly, for many members of the Man United club that’s as close as they would come to European glory.

What happened?

After refuelling the plane, the first sign of trouble came when Captain James Thain twice abandoned takeoff because of boost surging in the left engine.

It was expected the team would have to stay in West Germany for the night but Thain a former Royal Air Force (RAF) sergeant wanted to get back on schedule and tried another takeoff.

This would be a poor decision.

On the third attempt, snow was starting to fall causing a layer of slush to form at the end of the runway.

This caused the plane to lose some of its accelerated speed.

It’d gone too far to stop and abandon course but didn’t have the power to take off either.

The plane skidded off the runway and crashed into a fence surrounding the airport.

A wing of the plane struck a nearby home and caught fire.

The disaster killed 23 people including eight United players and three staff members.

An investigation into the crash initially blamed it on pilot error for not de-icing the wings.

However, some more digging by investigators changed their original conclusion instead saying the slush at the end of the runway slowed down the aircraft preventing a safe flying speed.

Those who perished

The Players

Geoff Bent

Full-back Geoff Bent is one of the eight United players who lost their lives in Munich on February 6 1958.

The man from Salford played his entire career with the Reds coming up through the academy ranks and making 12 appearances for the senior side between 1951-1958.

Roger Byrne

Roger Byrne was the oldest player to lose his life in the disaster at 28.

The full-back captained the “Busby Babes” from 1955 until his death.

Sadly, he never knew he would’ve soon been a father as his wife Joy was going to tell him when he returned home.

Byrne made 245 appearances for Man United, scoring 17 times and also earned 33 caps for England.

Eddie Coleman

Winger Eddie Coleman was just 21 when he died in that plane crash.

He’s the youngest player to die in the tragedy making 85 appearances and scoring once.

An accommodation building is named for him at the University of Salford- The Eddie Coleman Court.

Duncan Edwards

Left-half Duncan Edwards was also 21 when the crash happened.

In his short life, he managed 151 appearances for the Red Devils along with 18 caps for England’s senior squad.

Known for physical strength and toughness he’d succumb to his injuries 15 days after the accident.

Mark Jones

Centre-half Mark Jones became a mainstay in Sir Matt Busby’s side making 103 appearances between 1950 and 1958.

He won two league championships with the side and was just 24 when he lost his life.

David Pegg

First-choice outside left David Pegg had 24 goals in 127 league appearances for the Reds at the time of his death.

Many pundits had tipped him to succeed England’s Tom Finney in the national side before Pegg’s untimely death at 22.

Tommy Taylor

Centre-forward Tommy Taylor was a crucial figure in the “Busby Babes” setup with an impressive goalscoring resume.

In less than five seasons with the Reds from 1954-55 to 1957-58, Taylor made 166 top-flight appearances scoring 112 times.

Taylor helped United win two league titles and two Charity Shield’s with the team while also netting 16 goals in just 19 appearances for England.

In 1998 he was named one of the Football League’s 100 legends.

Billy Whelan

One of Taylor’s partners upfront Billy Whelan also perished in the crash at the age of 22.

United’s top goalscorer in the 1956-57 season netted 43 times in 79 league appearances from 1953-58.

The Staff

Three staff members also died in the tragedy.

Walter Crickmer

Club secretary Walter Crickmer was between 57 and 58 when he died in the plane crash.

The man from Wigan twice served as manager for the club from 1931-32 and then again from 1937-45.

He managed 119 league games winning 47.

Tom Curry

Club trainer Tom Curry was a long-time member of the Man United club at the time of his death.

The former Newcastle and Stockport County Half-Back played in 241 league games as a player between 1919 and 1930.

From 1934 until his death at 63 he served as Man United trainer.

Bert Whalley

Chief coach Bert Whalley had a long and distinguished career with the Red Devils.

From 1934 to 1946 he made 32 appearances for United as a player.

Following Sir Matt Busby’s appointment as manager in 1945, Whalley became the first-team coach.

10 years later Whalley got promoted to chief coach.

He would serve in the role until his death.

Journalists and crew members

Eight journalists died in the tragedy.

They include Alf Clarke, Tom Jackson, Don Davies, George Fellows, Archie Ledbrook, Eric Thompson, Henry Rose, and former  Manchester City player Frank Swift.

Plane captain Ken Rayment perished, as did Busby’s friend Willie Satinoff. Travel agent Bela Miklos and crew member Tom Cable also died.

Commemoration

23 people died from the crash but they are definitely not forgotten.

The Munich Tunnel was set up in 1960 at Old Trafford with a commemorative plaque in memory of those who lost their lives.

In Germany, there are two memorials remembering the tragedy.

The first sits in the Munich suburb of Trudering while another one is now in the vicinity of the old Munich airport.

There’s a small display of artefacts at the Majestic Hotel in Belgrade.

Numerous musicians wrote songs about the tragedy from groups like the Spinners to Manchester singer Morrisey.

Several movies and tv specials have aired regarding the disaster including the made for tv movie “United”.

Aftermath 

Nine players survived the crash along with manager Sir Matt Busby.

Bravely the club soldiered on amid the circumstances and incredibly overcame enormous odds to beat Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup less than two weeks after the crash.

They’d go on to lose the final to Bolton but that story of perseverance laid the foundation to what was to come for the club.

Ten years later a new generation of “Busby Babes” would win the team’s first European Cup.

Today Bobby Charlton is the only surviving member still alive at 83 years old.

Following the crash, Charlton went on to become perhaps the face of the club and English football winning three league titles, the European Cup and the World Cup in 1966.

From the time of the tragedy until today the Reds have won 18 more league championships, 10 FA Cups, five Carabao Cups, three Champions League trophies, a Europa League title and a Cup Winners’ Cup.

They’re the most successful club in the Premier League and perhaps one of the most recognizable the world over.

63 years later they’re living proof of how adversity creates stronger people. (JSL).

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