3:03pm on the 6th of February 1958, will forever be remembered by Utd fans around the world and is a date that is etched in English Football History. Although felt deepest in Manchester, the tragedy of the Munich Air Disaster and the loss of 23 lives of the 43 passengers among them were 11 members of the team. In which 8 became the Busby Babes: Billy Whelan (23) David Pegg (23) Eddie Colman (22) Geoff Bent (26) Mark Jones (25) Roger Bryne (29) Tommy Taylor (26) and finally Duncan Edwards (22). But also 3 members of the staff lost their lives during this tragedy. They were: the Trainer Tom Curry (64) Chief Coach Bert Whalley (46) and Club Secretary Walter Crickmer.
In 1945, Sir Matt Busby joins the club as manager after being assistant manager to Liverpool in the previous year. At a time of turmoil with the team having to play its matches at their rivals (Manchester City) ground due to the devastation of the war.
Moments after receiving the news he states: “The ground had been blitzed and the they had an overdraft in the bank. What is more I had no experience as manager and I felt they were taking a great risk in appointing me. All I had apart from playing experience were certain ideas as to what a manager should do and faith in those ideas and faith in the future of the club.”
With a vision Busby brought in Jimmy Murphy as his assistant to help him develop the squad and bring in any youngsters who show promising attributes. This was a partnership that suddenly began showing immediate improvements with United having five consecutive victories. Liverpool being the most memorable with a thrashing 5-0 win for United. Ending the Championship race in second position – an incredible achievement for the new United boss.
After WWII and the resumption of the Football League between 1946-47 season and 51-52 season United had finished second in the league 6 out of 7 seasons.
A year later, United were maintaining their level of consistency, once again finishing the season second but fans could sense that great things were emerging. This came after Busby guided Manchester United to a FA cup final victory which was his first trophy since taking over the club. Busby was refusing to reach some of his senior players demand to gain a bonus on their wage. This was because he knew that many members of the squad were reaching the end of their career playing for the big clubs and he already had youngsters coming through.
Busby Babes player profiles.
Arguably, these are just a few of the most notable talent of the Busby Babes and helps to present the picture Busby was trying to show.
Despite Busby and Murphy knowing the skill Edwards had and before awarding him with his debut on Easter Monday 1953 at the age of 15, he performed the usually duties such as cleaning players boots and helping the ground staff. It was match day and United faced Cardiff City. Edwards arrived expecting to carry out his duties but Busby told him to put on his boots and ever since that day a legend was born. During his time at the club he won 2 Championship medals, making 175 appearances in both the cup and league and scored an astonishing 21 goals.
At 17 years of age, Edwards made his England debut. It was beyond belief to think that someone that young could cope with the pressure that came with representing your country but to also be calm and handle the responsibility you were given. He achieved just 18 caps, scoring five goals. Another young superstar taken too early and unable to show the world how great he could have been.
After 15 days in intensive care he unfortunately passed away due to kidney failure and his loss left fans heartbroken to lose a player who earned the respect of many.
When asking Jimmy Murphy about Edwards and the player he way he simply says: “He was a players player, the greatest. There was only one and that was Duncan Edwards.
Taylor joins Matt Busby’s Babes from Barnsley for a fee of £29,999 in March 1953. During his time at Manchester United he made 191 appearances and scoring 131 goals therefore earning himself a score ratio of two goals every three minutes. People began to describe him as the best header of the ball in his era. Not only was he a footballer but at 18 years of age he began two years of military service with the Royal artillery.
Sadly, he also lost his life in the Munich Air crash so the world was not able to see his true potential and just how good he could have been.
United built their reputation on the great talent they produced over the years. But they cannot compare to the likes of Denis Viollet. He joins George Best as the fourth highest goalscorer for the club with 179 goals in 293 appearances.
Turning professional at 17 after joining United in the 1549/50 season and making his debut two years later.
Viollet ended up missing the majority of the 1957/58 season with a minor head injury so managed to escape the upcoming tragedy but then later played in the FA cup final the following year. Sadly, he died in 1999 after struggling with a brain tumour.
Sir Bobby Charlton.
Through the youth of the Manchester United, a famous friendship surfaced between teammates Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton. Its fair to say that Edwards meant the world to Charlton.
“Duncan was incomparable,” said Charlton. “He was such a talent, I always felt inferior to him. I feel terrible trying to explain to people just how good he was, his death was the biggest single tragedy ever to happen to Manchester United and English football. I always felt I could compare well with any player – except Duncan. He didn’t have a fault with his game.”
Despite the trauma of the disaster, Charlton continued to play every game for the club in his 17 years that he was there scoring a significant 249 goals in 758 appearances. Until Rooney broke the record in 2017 with 250 goals and Giggs broke his record on most appearances in 2008.
On the 6th October 1956, he made his debut against Charlton Athletic at Old Trafford. Soon after, the world witnessed what he was capable of with the youngster scoring twice in the 4-2 league victory even though he was carrying an injury showing his dedication and passion.
He states: “Mr Busby asked me if I was okay. I actually had a sprained ankle, but I wasn’t going to admit to it and I crossed my fingers and said ‘yes’.”
10 years after Munich he was captain of the United team and led them to a European Cup victory at Wembley scoring twice in the 4-1 final against Benfica. He was proving to be a crucial player in Busby’s side helping to win the league titles in 1965 and 67. However, he didn’t stop there continuing to excite fans being part of the Holy Trinity alongside Law and Best.
Honours the Babes achieved.
Under the reign of Matt Busby, the Busby Babes won three league titles between 1946 and 57, managing to lift the trophy in 1952, 1956 and 1957. They reached the final of the FA cup in 1957 and on three other occasions reached the semi-finals.
Jimmy Murphy was not just a man behind the scenes he also had experience with being a footballer. Playing for West Bromwich Albion, Swindon Town Football club and represented the Welsh national team. But it was the war that brought Murphy to Matt Busby attention. He was a sergeant positioned in Italy organising sports games and coaching experiences for the troops when Matt Busby offered him the role of Youth Coach at Manchester United.
When telling the story of the Busby Babes, Jimmy Murphy is a person that must not be missed out. Without him the team would not have been able to continue. Whilst Matt Busby was in hospital recovering from his injuries to his chest, Murphy took on the managerial role from the 6th February 1958 until the end of the season. Murphy had not been on the plane to Munich with the rest of the team as he was managing the Welsh national team in Cardiff. The same time that United were due to play Red Star Belgrade.
Without Murphy’s passion, determination and drive there is a possibility that Manchester United could have been lost that night. In his spotlight as manager he reached a FA cup final and the Semi-final of the European cup. Impressive to say he did this with the youth squad he nurtured and developed.
A few days after the tragedy he spoke to the media stating: “The Red Devils will rise again. It took Matt Busby, Bert Whalley and myself 13 years to produce the 1958 Red Devils. It was long, tiring, hard work. But we succeeded. We reached a perfect system. We had the best set-up in football.”
“It will again be a long, tiring job to rebuild the Red Devils. This time, we have to start practically from scratch. But we’ll do it. At the moment, I’m so confused, so tired, so sad, I can’t think clearly. I haven’t slept for three days. Cigarettes have kept me going. But this I do know. United was and will again be a great club. We have the greatest club spirit in the world.”
“The future? It will be a long, hard struggle. But the game must go on in tribute to all members of our staff who have left us and did their job so nobly and so proudly. T
o make the name Manchester United one of the foremost in the soccer world.“
“Matt, I pray, will soon be back. Soon the world-famous partnership of Busby and Murphy will be reunited. Soon we will be working together again for the greatest club in the world. We have done it once. We will do it again in tribute to those wonderful Red Devils who tragically are no longer with us.”
An Impressive Trophy haul:
During his time at United he won: the first division cup 5 times; FA cup twice; FA youth cup 6 times; the Central League 3 times and finally the European cup in 1967-68. Murphy left a legacy that is echoed by groups like the ‘class of 92’ and is relevant in today’s team. As United have maintained an academy graduate in every matchday squad since 1937.
Munich Air Disaster.
The chilling catastrophe of Munich haunts the hearts and minds of those connected with the club even today. Becoming the darkest day in United’s history as the disaster claimed the lives of 23 out of the 43 passengers that boarded the plane. Leaving fans wondering how accomplished the Busby Babes could have been if they returned to Manchester safely.
The model of the Aircraft, an Elizabethan, was known for the power of the engine and had the ability to take-off on a single engine bur after two failed attempts to lift-off the decision to remain in Munich was clear. Despite having their doubts, the passengers boarded the plane for what many had feared would be there last. As the aircraft made its way down the runway, disaster struck as the plane crashed through a fence, darted across a road and smashed into a house. A wing and its tail was teared away. The main body of the plane hitting a hut packed with tyres and fuel. Leaving the aircraft ingulfed in flames.
On the 19th February United were to play Sheffield Wednesday in the FA cup and fans were in suspense on who Jimmy Murphy was to play. Murphy rang around every club in hope that the United spirit was lifted once again. Hours before kick-off he managed to sign Ernie Taylor from Blackpool and Stan Crowther. The rest of the team consisted of youth and survivors Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes. United were victorious over Wednesday finishing the game 3-0. With an FA Cup in their sights United now had something to aim for, they reached the Final against Bolton but were defeated 2-0.
The future of United.
Once Busby returned he set out his goal on leading the club to glory, signing Denis law in 1962 and others. The squad was growing in strength foreshadowing later success after beating Leicester 3-1 claiming the FA cup in May 1963. Their first taste of success since the disaster and this was only the beginning!
Remembering the Busby Babes
Harry Gregg, goalkeeper of the Babes, reflects on his time at United and how the tragedy affected the club.
In an interview to BBC Sport NI’s Stephen Watson he says: “I do not think that what happened in Munich made Manchester United, It is a very large part of Manchester United’s history but it’s not all Manchester United.”
“I remember when we got there, a Volkswagen van ploughing throw the snow to pick up the injured and bodies. Poor Bill Foulkes in the front and me lying in the back with a lot of guys badly injured – some of them who I’d played with and I didn’t know. I remember going to the Hospital.”
The lives of those lost in the crash will always be in the hearts of many United fans, young and old. As no man can begin to imagine the pain this caused on loved ones, friends and family of the club. But as well as remembering those who died it is equally important to acknowledge the trauma felt by staff who survived that day as it wouldn’t have been easy living with images haunting your minds of such a distressing tragedy.