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
CHARLTON ATHLETIC 1-5 MANCHESTER UNITED
ENGLISH FIRST DIVISION
THE VALLEY, LONDON
18 FEBRUARY 1957
ATTENDANCE – 16,308
THE YOUNG ONES
“Football has to be fun for kids or it doesn’t make sense.” A quote from Johann Cruyff, the greatest product from Ajax Amsterdam’s hugely successful Youth Team. The youth teams at the Netherlands’ most famous football club are trained in exactly the same way as the first team so as these boys are therefore already accustomed to Ajax’s style of play. Cruyff went on to win the Ballon d’Or, the European Player of the Year award, three times in 1971, 1973, 1974 when he was an Ajax player who led them to three consecutive European Cup wins (1971-73).
Matt Busby, the manager of Manchester United from 1945-69 and 1970-71, would rather have a player who made his way into United’s first team via their youth system than make a record signing. Matt Busby didn’t sign many players when he was the United boss. He didn’t need to such was the talent his right hand man, Jimmy Murphy, had in spotting a Manchester United player. Welshman Murphy was Busby’s Peter Taylor to Brian Clough. The Busby/Murphy partnership preceded the Clough/Taylor dynamism by 20 years.
On Monday 18 February 1957, Matt Busby fielded a team which contained 8 players who had progressed to the Manchester United first team having played for United’s famous Manchester United Junior Athletic Club (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 The term “Fergie’s Fledglings” was superseded by the world famous title of “The Busby Babes,” a quarter of a century earlier.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 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, Bobby Charlton
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.
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 on 6 February 1958. 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 United goal after he joined from Doncaster Rovers in December 1957.
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. Bent took Edwards’ place in the 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).
Geoffrey “Geoff” Bent was born on 27 September 1932 in Irlams o’ th’ Height, in Pendleton, Salford, Manchester, England. Aged 15, he signed as a trainee for United in August 1948 after leaving school and in May 1949 he signed professional terms. He made his debut on 11 February 1954 aged 21 in a 4-2 victory over Burnley at Turf Moor in the English First Division. He only made 12 appearances for United without ever scoring. He played 2 times in season 1954-55, 4 games in 1955-56 when United were crowned Champions and 6 games during season 1956-57 when United retained the English First Division Championship. His low number of games meant he did not qualify for a League Championship winners’ medal. Geoff was a full-back and was used by Matt Busby as cover for Roger Byrne (right-back) and Bill Foulkes (left-back). In season 1957-58 he broke a foot and was only included in the squad to play Red Star Belgrade as emergency cover for Byrne who himself had just recovered from injury but his fitness was a slight doubt. Byrne captained the team on the night in the Yugoslav capital.
Roger William Byrne was born in Gorton, Manchester, England on 8 September 1929. Aged 18, he signed as a trainee for United. He made his debut on 24 November 1951 in a 0-0 draw away to Liverpool in the English First Division. But Byrne almost became a Rugby League player as he was not considered good enough to become a professional footballer. He signed up for two years National Service with the Royal Air Force and played rugby and boxed for his Unit. He was also a very good gymnast but Byrne wanted to be a professional footballer and played for his local side Ryder Brow when he was spotted by the United Scout, Joe Armstrong. He made 280 appearances for the club and scored 20 goals. When Johnny Carey left United at the end of the 1952-53 season, Matt Busby handed the 24-year old Byrne the captain’s armband. Byrne also won 33 consecutive caps for England from his debut on 3 April 1954 and scored one own goal. He also missed two penalties for England versus Brazil and Yugoslavia in 1956. At United, Byrne won 3 First Division Championship winners medals in 1951-52, 1955-56 and 1956-57 and an FA Cup runners-up medal in 1957. In season 1956-57, Byrne was named fourth in the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year Award which went to Tom Finney of Preston North End. It was the second time he received the accolade having first scooped it in season 1953-54. In season 1956-57, Preston North End finished third in the First Division, exited the FA Cup in Round 5 and Peter Thompson was their leading goalscorer with 29 goals. Byrne helped United win the First Division Championship title in 1956-57 and narrowly missed out on becoming a Double winner when United lost the 1957 FA Cup final 2-1 against Aston Villa. There is a Street in Manchester named “Roger Byrne Close” in memory of him and in May 2019 a plaque dedicated to him was unveiled at Abbey Hey Primary School, Gorton which he attended from 1935-41.
Edward “Eddie” Colman was born on 1 November 1936 in Ordsall, Manchester, England. When he left school aged 15, he signed as a trainee for United and on his 17th birthday he signed professional terms. He made his debut on 12 November 1955 aged 19 in a 3-1 loss to Bolton Wanderers at Burnden Park, Bolton in the English First Division. He made 108 appearances for the club and scored 2 goals. Colman never played for England at full international level. During his United career, he won 2 First Division Championship winners medals in 1955-56 and 1956-57 and an FA Cup runners-up medal in 1957. Colman won 3 FA Youth Cup winners’ medals with United in 1953, 1954 and 1955 scoring two goals in the 1955 final. At the University of Salford there is a block of flats on the campus named in his memory, “Eddie Colman Court” and a Street in Manchester is named “Eddie Colman Close.”
Duncan Edwards was born in Dudley, West Midlands, England on 1 October 1936. Aged 15, he signed as a trainee for United and on his 17th birthday he signed professional terms. He made his debut on 4 April 1953 aged just 16 in a 4-1 loss at Old Trafford to Cardiff City in the English First Division. He made 108 appearances for the club and scored 2 goals. Edwards also won 18 caps for England, scoring 8 goals, from his debut on 2 April 1955, a 7-2 win over Scotland at Wembley Stadium. Edwards aged 18 years and 183 days became the youngest England player of the 20th century. Edwards’ captain at United, Roger Byrne, also played in the game. During his United career, Edwards won 2 First Division Championship winners medals in 1955-56 and 1956-57 and an FA Cup runners-up medal in 1957. Edwards won 3 FA Youth Cup winners’ medals with United in 1953, 1954 and 1955 scoring two goals in the 1954 final and one goal in the 1955 final. There is a Street in Manchester named “Duncan Edwards Court” in memory of him. In his hometown of Dudley two stained glass windows in St Francis Church were unveiled by Matt Busby in 1961 in Edwards’ memory, one depicting him in his red Manchester United kit and the other in his white England kit. In October 1999, a statue of Duncan Edwards was unveiled in the Market Place, Dudley by his mother, Sarah, and his former Manchester United teammate, Sir Bobby Charlton. The sculpture shows Edwards in his white England kit.
Mark Jones was born on 15 June 1933 in Wombwell, Barnsley, England. He joined United as a trainee on his 15th birthday when he left school. He made his debut on 7 October 1950 aged 17 in a 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday in the English First Division at Old Trafford. Jones made 121 appearances for the club and scored 1 goal. He never played for England at full international level although he came close when he was on the substitutes’ bench. During his United career, he won 2 First Division Championship winners medals in 1955-56 and 1956-57 but missed the 1957 FA Cup final defeat to Aston Villa with an eye injury. Jones won 2 FA Youth Cup winners’ medals with United in 1956 and 1957. There is a Street in Manchester named “Mark Jones Walk” in his memory.
David Pegg was born on 20 September 1935 in Ardwick-le-Street, Doncaster, England. He joined United as a trainee on his 15th birthday when he left school. Pegg made his debut on 6 December 1952 aged 17 in a 3-2 victory versus Middlesbrough in the English First Division at Old Trafford. He made 150 appearances for the club and scored 21 goals. He was capped once by England at full international level in 1957. During his United career, he won 2 First Division Championship winners medals in 1955-56 and 1956-57 and an FA Cup runners-up medal in 1957. Pegg won 2 FA Youth Cup winners’ medals with United in 1953 and 1954 scoring three goals in the 1954 final. There is a Street in Manchester named “David Pegg Walk” in his memory.
Tommy Taylor was born on 29 January 1932 at 4 Quarry Street, Smithies, Barnsley, England. He signed for Manchester United from his hometown club, Barnsley, on 5 March 1955 for a fee of £29,999.00. He made his debut for Manchester United just two days later on 7 March 1955, in a 5-2 victory over Preston North End at Old Trafford in the English First Division and he scored twice. It only took him 17 minutes to score the first of his 131 goals for United in a career total of 191 games. Any wonder he was nicknamed “The Silent Assassin.” Taylor played 19 times for England, they won 11, drew 6 and lost twice and he scored an incredible 16 goals. With United, Taylor won 2 First Division Championship winners medals in 1955-56 and 1956-57 and an FA Cup runners-up medal in 1957. There is a Street in Manchester named “Tommy Taylor Close” in his memory.
William “Liam” or “Billy” Augustine Whelan was born on 1 April 1935 in Cabra, Dublin, Republic of Ireland. He joined United as a trainee on 1 May 1953 after he was spotted playing for his local club, Home Farm by Billy Behan, United’s Scout in the Republic of Ireland. Whelan made his debut on 26 March 1955 aged 21 in a 2-0 win over Preston North End at Deepdale in the English First Division. He made 98 appearances for the club and scored 52 goals. He was capped four times by his country. During his United career, he won a First Division Championship winners medal in 1956-57 but Busby opted to play Bobby Charlton instead of Whelan in the 1957 FA Cup final. Whelan won an FA Youth Cup winners’ medals with United in 1953 scoring two goals. On 8 December 2006, the railway bridge on Fassaugh Road/Dowth Avenue junction in Cabra, Dublin was named in his honour. On 4 February 2008, the Irish national postal body, An Post, issued a 55c postage stamp to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster showing a head and shoulders photo of Whelan wearing the red Manchester United jersey with the Munich Clock at Old Trafford also featured. There is a Street in Manchester named “Billy Whelan Walk” in his memory.
Another quote from Cruyff was: “Winning is an important thing, but to have your own style, to have people copy you, to admire you, that is the greatest gift.” The Busby Babes dominated English football, they had a swagger, they had style, they were admired by all football fans but whereas other teams attempted to copy them, they just simply failed in doing so. The Busby Babes were a truly unique collection of gifted and talented young footballers.
When the bodies of Byrne, Bent, Jones, Colman, Whelan, Pegg and Taylor were brought home from Munich their coffins were laid out in the gymnasium at Old Trafford, seven teammates side-by-side for one last time.
Eight young men who played football for fun were now gone but will never be forgotten.