The following article is reproduced with the kind permission of John White, Branch Secretary of the Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club. You can visit his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100075968106370
The term, “Busby Babes,” has so much meaning to every Manchester United fan, regardless of their race or religion. It transcends Manchester United fans across the globe. It is a unifying, unbreakable and forever undying bond which is shared by all Reds.
The world of football mourned the loss of eight young Manchester United players following a fateful air crash on a snow covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport, Munich, West Germany on Thursday 6 February 1958. But, only you and I, the true fans of the Club, can celebrate their lives.
Those 8 Red Roses will forever have a very special place in our heart.
Only the young die good and some souls are just simply too good for this world that they have to leave it.
But, what is the origin of the term, “Busby Babes?”
On 28 October 1953, three days before Manchester United were due to play Huddersfield Town away in the First Division, Matt Busby and his stalwart right-hand man, Jimmy Murphy, arranged a friendly match with Kilmarnock from the Scottish Football League Division B to celebrate the official switching on of the Scottish club’s new floodlights at their Rugby Park home.
Jimmy Murphy, was the man who Matt Busby placed his utmost trust in to recruit the best young footballers up and down the breadth of England and look after them. Jimmy was more like a Father Figure to these boys, mainly aged 15 years old, than a Coach. Jimmy was in charge of the best, most talented and most revered group of young players in the world of football, Manchester United Junior Athletic Club, also known as the Manchester United Youth Team. They truly were a group of bouncing, bubbly young Reds and every teenager in England wanted to be signed by Manchester United as an apprentice.
At the start of the 1938-39 season, Manchester United’s Saviour when the club faced financial difficulties in 1931, and visionary Chairman, James W. Gibson, formed Manchester United Junior Athletic Club (MUJAC). MUJAC served as a nursery club to the Manchester United first team and is considered to be the first club of its kind in England. MUJAC played in the Chorlton Amateur League in Manchester and in their first season won the Championship scoring an incredible 223 goals along the way.
So, Busby wanted to see just how good his young players were, Jimmy had been singing their praises for a long time, and how they performed against more experienced players. A few of the youth team players were selected to play against Kilmarnock; Eddie Colman (aged 16), Duncan Edwards (17), Wilf McGuinness (he turned 16 three days before the game) and David Pegg (18). Jackie Blanchflower (20) and Jeff Whitefoot (19) also played in the game against Kilmarnock although they had already made the step up into the first team. A very youthful Manchester United team beat Kilmarnock 3-0 in front of 12,639 fans.
It was the birth of the Busby Babes.
On Monday 18 February 1957, Busby fielded a team which contained 8 players who had progressed to the Manchester United first team having played for MUJAC or Reserve Team. Busby sent out his young team to play Charlton Athletic away, at The Valley, in the English First Division. The term “Fergie’s Fledglings” was superseded by the world famous title of “The Busby Babes,” a quarter of a century earlier.
The Manchester United team that played Charlton Athletic was:
Ray Wood, Roger Byrne (Capt), Geoff Bent, Wilf McGuinness, Mark Jones,
Eddie Colman, Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor,
Duncan Edwards was injured meaning the versatile Bent took his place in the team.
Ray Wood was transferred to United from Darlington in November 1949 in a £5000 deal. Johnny Berry cost £15,000 when he joined from Birmingham City in August 1951. Tommy Taylor was a £29,999 acquisition from Barnsley on 5 March 1951. Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent, Wilf McGuinness, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, Liam Whelan, David Pegg and Bobby Charlton were all MUJAC graduates. Geoff Bent replaced an injured Duncan Edwards in the side, another graduate from MUJAC. It was the most number of young players any English top flight club had ever played in their senior side for a competitive match.
Manchester United’s young side were scintillating and swept the home side away with an emphatic 5-1 win. Charlton bagged a hat-trick, his seventh for the club, against his namesake and Taylor scored twice.
Less than a year later six of the MUJAC players who played in the game tragically lost their young lives in the Munich Air Disaster. Byrne, Bent, Jones, Colman, Whelan and Pegg all died instantly as did Tommy Taylor. Duncan Edwards who played in the 3-3 draw away to Red Star Belgrade the night before died 15 days later in his hospital bed in Munich, West Germany. Berry and Charlton survived the air crash although Berry’s injuries were so severe he never played again, whilst McGuinness was not on the flight home from Munich to Manchester as he was out injured at the time. Harry Gregg had replaced Wood in the Manchester United goal after he joined from Doncaster Rovers in December 1957.
Did You Know That?
The 5-1 victory over Charlton Athletic was only the third, and last, game in which 7 of the 8 Busby Babes who lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster played in the same Manchester United side. The first occasion was an away First Division game versus Aston Villa on 8 December 1956, a match United won 3-1 with two goals from Taylor and one from Dennis Viollet. In the match, Bent replaced an injured Byrne at left-back. A week later, 15 December 1956, Bent kept his place in the team, Byrne was out injured, when United lost 3-1 away to Birmingham City in the First Division (scorer: Whelan).