60th Anniversary of Munich Air Disaster: Remembering ‘Busby Babes’
A month had passed since the incident. Manchester United was playing Sheffield at home in an FA Cup game. The cover of the match day programme read ‘United will go on’ and they did continue from where they had left. Not only did they win the match 3-0 on that day, the players overcame a far greater battle off the field.
It has been 60 years since that fateful day in Munich but Manchester United supporters still religiously gather at Old Trafford on the sixth day of February every year at 1.04 pm to remember the ‘Busby Babes’, eight of them who lost their lives in one of the most tragic events in the history of football at the Munich Airport.
The air tragedy continues to be a grim chapter in the otherwise illustrated history of the Red Devils. Fans still haven’t come to terms with the fact how eight footballers, in their prime, had their life cut short due to an accident.
After drawing 3-3 against Red Star Belgrade in the away encounter, Matt Busby and his boys had booked a place in the semi-final of the European Cup and were on their way back to England when tragedy struck.
The flight carrying the English team made a stop at the Munich-Riem airport since a direct route was out of range.
Just over an hour after their arrival in Munich, the plan was cleared to take-off.
However, the take-off was aborted after Captain James Thain and his co-pilot Captain Kenneth Rayment noticed unusual fluctuation on the pressure guage, as well as odd sounds from the engine while accelerating.
A second take-off was attempted but aborted for the same reasons and the passengers were advised to disembark and return to the terminal while the plane underwent an engine check.
But, shortly after disembarking, the travelling party were called back to the plane for a third take-off attempt. At 15:04, the plan attempted to take off once more but failed to reach sufficient speed or height and skidded off the runway before crashing into a perimeter fence, then into a nearby house.
A total of 23 lives were lost in the accident, with 21 people surviving the disaster.
Of the 23 people who died, eight of them were Manchester United players. Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan all died at the scene. Three officials also lot their life in the accident.
Duncan Edwards was retrieved from the wreckage alive but later died in hospital.
There were worries regarding manager Matt Busby and United legend Bobby Charlton, who had scored a brace in match against Redstar, would also not survive.
Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower were lucky enough to survive but never played again due to the injuries they sustained.
Among the survivors was ‘The Hero of Munich’, goalkeeper Harry Gregg whose heroics during evacuation was the primary reason for the survival of 21 people.
The former goalkeeper was 25 at the time of the crash. He returned to the burning plane to save many of his team-mates, including Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet and Jackie Blanchflower, along with Matt Busby.
Despite suffering a fractured skull in the crash, Gregg returned to action in less than two weeks. Playing football again, he has said, kept him sane.
Gregg, who played for Northern Ireland, went onto to win the best goalkeeper award later that year in the World Cup.
Not only the Manchester neighbourhood but the entire football fraternity was yet to recover from the shock as thousands attended the funerals of the deceased.
At football games all around world, two minutes of silence were observed as a mark of respect.
This year too Manchester United will commemorate the Munich Air Disaster 60th anniversary with a special service including a rendition of The Flowers of Manchester.
The Flowers of Manchester was the earliest tribute recorded and the eight stars who passed away from the ‘Busby Babes’ remain affectionately known as The Flowers of English football, The Flowers of Manchester.
A minute's silence will be held at 3.04pm, marking the time of the crash in 1958.
The ceremony will also include readings from club directors Sir Alex Ferguson, Michael Edelson and Ed Woodward while Jose Mourinho and club captain Michael Carrick will lay wreaths.