The following article is reproduced with the kind permission of John White, Branch Secretary of the Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club. You can visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/carryduffmusc. John also has a new Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Personal-Blog/Manchester-United-Did-You-Know-That-102552402038239/
The Munich Air Disaster on 6 February 1958, ripped the life and soul out of Manchester United Football Club and broke the hearts of all United fans. The plane crash which occurred on an icy runway at, Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany claimed the lives of 23 passengers, 8 of whom were part of Matt Busby’s first team squad, a collection of players who had been affectionately dubbed “The Busby Babes,” and three members of staff at the club.
In 1902, the club almost folded but were saved at the last minute when Newton Heath Football Club were reborn as Manchester United thanks to the club captain, Harry Stafford and four local businessmen. Fifty-six years later, the club faced a different fight for survival but this time no generous benefactors stepped forward to help rescue Manchester United.
This time the club would have to rise from the ashes on its own and rebuild a team of new players. Matt Busby was so badly injured in the crash he was given the Last Rites twice and would need six months rest to make a full recovery back to normal health. Busby passed the reins of the club on to his most trusted right-hand man, Jimmy Murphy, who was in charge of the Manchester United Youth Team and the development and recruitment of aspiring young talented players.
When Murphy went to visit Busby in his hospital bed at the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich the Manchester United manager was only able to whisper a few words to his trusted number two: “Keep the flag flying Jimmy.” Murphy almost broke down in tears as he was still grieving the loss of the players who lost their lives in the plane crash whom he lovingly called “His Boys.”
And, when he went to see how Duncan Edwards was doing he could not hold back the tears. Duncan was seriously injured but he was a fighter and was never going to give up his battle for life despite his horrific injuries. When Duncan saw Jimmy approach his hospital bed he was upbeat and asked Murphy what time the game was at on Saturday. In his autobiography entitled “Matt …. United and me,” Murphy wrote: “As my mind dwelt on the full appalling horror of it all I thought I would go mad, although I was doing my best to think about the future.”
Murphy reluctantly accepted the baton from Busby but when Manchester United played their first game after the Munich Air Disaster, an FA Cup Round 5 tie versus Sheffield Wednesday at Old Trafford on 19 February 1958, the United Review (the matchday programme) for the game, always listed the names of the starting XI for both clubs in the two page middle spread.
On this occasion, the left hand side of the middle pages where the Manchester United team should have appeared, was left blank. Going into the game Murphy had absolutely no idea of the team he would select. On the day of the game Murphy chose an inexperienced side calling upon the club’s youngsters and reserve team players including Ian Greaves, Freddie Goodwin, Ronnie Cope, Colin Webster, Shay Brennan, Mark “Pancho” Pearson and Ernie Taylor. Brennan and Taylor were handed their first team debuts whilst Stan Crowther also made his Manchester United debut having just signed from the club from Aston Villa a few hours prior to kick-off. Alex Dawson was making his fifth appearance in a United shirt having impressed Busby & Murphy by scoring three times in his first four matches. Harry Gregg was in goal and Bill Foulkes captained the team, both of whom had survived the crash and were adamant with their caretaker boss that they wanted to play in memory of their fallen teammates. Duncan Edwards was still lying in a hospital bed fighting for his very life such was the severity of the injuries he received.
Another survivor, Bobby Charlton, was still too injured to play whilst Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry never played again as a result of the injuries they sustained. Gregg, Foulkes and Charlton all played in Manchester United’s 3-3 draw with Red Star Belgrade in Belgrade, Yugoslavia on 5 February 1958 in their European Cup, quarter-final, second leg tie. The United players and staff were in buoyant mood on the flight home the next day as they had reached the semi-finals of the competition for the second successive season (a 5-4 aggregate victory over two legs).
Amazingly, Murphy’s cobbled together side defeated Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 on the most sombre night in the history of the club. Brennan scored twice on his debut and Dawson also made it a dream start to his Old Trafford career also scoring.
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