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
On 1 February 1958, Manchester United travelled to London for a First Division game against Arsenal at Arsenal Stadium.
Not a single fan who turned up at Arsenal Stadium for the game would have ever believed that they would pay witness to the last ever game played in England by the all- conquering Busby Babes. United were at the home of the last team to have won England’s elite League three times in succession (1932-33, 1933-34 & 1934-35) and came out of it at the other end 5-4 winners in one of the most exhilarating games British football can lay claim to. Tommy Taylor (2), Bobby Charlton, Duncan Edwards and Dennis Viollet all found the net (future United forward David Herd scored for The Gunners) in a win that kept United’s dreams of a third consecutive First Division title alive. But when the team left Manchester for Belgrade on Tuesday 5 February 1958, they still trailed First Division leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers by eight points in their quest to become only the third team to win three First Division Championships three years in a row (Huddersfield Town 1923-24, 1924-25 & 1925-26).
The side that beat Arsenal in the capital that day in front of 63,578 fans was: Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, Duncan Edwards, Kenny Morgans, Bobby Charlton, Tommy Taylor, Dennis Viollet and Albert Scanlon.
Five days later Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones and Tommy Taylor lost their young lives in the Munich Air Disaster whilst Duncan Edwards lost his brave battle for life on 21 February 1958, when he succumbed to the fatal injuries he received when the plane crashed on 6 February 1958, the day after United drew 3-3 away to Red Star Belgrade to book their place in the semi-finals of the European Cup (scorers: Charlton 2 & Viollet).
Although I was born a few years after the Munich Air Disaster, the Busby Babes has always fascinated and intrigued me. Indeed, I am sure all United fans, regardless of their age, feel the same way about this iconic team.
When I was writing my book – Irish Devils: The Official Story of Manchester United and the Irish – I asked one of the oldest members of The Carryduff Manchester United Supporters’ Club, William John Pollock Angus, what he remembered about the Munich Air Disaster. “I was born in 1938 and attended Groomsport Primary School in County Down before going to Central Secondary School in Bangor, County Down. The majority of people worked in the gas works in Bangor or at the Harland & Wolff Shipyard in Belfast. I was interested in football from an early age and kicked a ball about with my mates on the streets near our homes during the Second World War. When I got older, around my teens, I started to take an active interest in my local football team, Bangor Football Club. According to local folklore Bangor FC was founded in 1914 just after the outbreak of the First World War. When war was declared most of the young men from the Bangor area enlisted in the British Army which resulted in the two leading junior football teams in the town, Bangor Rangers and Clifton Amateurs, folding. However, two local men, Bob Lindsay and Jimmy Savage, were anxious to see football played in the town and it is said that they came up with the idea to form Bangor Football Club whilst out for a row one day in the bay. I can remember an outstanding player called Albert Corry who was what I would call ‘an old school outstanding centre-half.’ In my opinion Albert could have made it across the water. I can still recall to this very day where I was when the news of the Munich Air Disaster reached my young ears. I was in the store room of the gas works when the news of the air disaster came in. I could not believe what I was hearing at first but then the news on the radio and in the newspapers the following day told us all what we did not want to hear; a number of the famous Busby Babes had lost their lives in a plane crash at Munich Airport on their way home from playing Red Star Belgrade the previous evening. I was absolutely devastated and in many ways I was in total disbelief. I still regard Duncan Edwards as one of the greatest players I have ever seen. Duncan was so powerful and he played the game as if he was having a kick-about with his mates in someone’s back garden. Although I have always supported Bangor FC, I was also a very keen follower of Manchester United from an early age. I still remember reading in the local newspaper about Harry Gregg, that famous Northern Ireland international goalkeeper, joining Manchester United from Doncaster Rovers in December 1957. He was a great goalkeeper. And I will never forget the first time I saw Manchester United play. It was 28th October 1972, versus Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford in what used to be the old First Division. United were a struggling team at the time and had only won two of their opening fourteen League games under their Irish manager, Frank O’Farrell. However, we still had ‘The Trinity’ of Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and Geordie Best. I could not believe my luck when the team news was read out across the tannoy system and the stadium announcer called out the names of Charlton, Law and Best. My first game and three of the greatest footballers ever to grace the game of football were playing for United in it. We couldn’t lose I thought; today would be the start of us regaining our form and moving up the table away from the relegation zone. Wrong! Spurs thumped us 4-1 with Bobby scoring our only goal. I have been back to Old Trafford, or should I say ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ many times since and seen many wonderfully gifted players wear the famous red shirt of Manchester United but for me, we will never have another trio like Charlton, Law and Bestie.”
Thank you Billy once again for your wonderful story.