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/
On 19 February 1958, Manchester United played Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup Fifth Round at Trafford. It was the club’s first game since the Munich Air Disaster which claimed the lives of eight Busby Babes.
In Round 3 of the competition, Matt Busby’s exciting young side, the reigning English First Division Championship holders, beat Workington Reds 3-1 at Borough Park, Workington on 4 January 1958, with Dennis Viollet scoring a hat-trick. The draw for the Fourth Round saw Ipswich Town visit Old Trafford with United winning the tie 2-0, Bobby Charlton scoring both goals. The previous season United missed out on becoming the first English club to win the coveted Double of League and FA Cup in the 20th century when Aston Villa defeated them 2-1 at Wembley Stadium, London in the 1957 FA Cup final. Tommy Taylor scored in the final for Manchester United. In season 1957-58, Busby, and his trusted right-hand man, assistant manager Jimmy Murphy, were hopeful that the players could not only achieve the Double (including their third successive League title) but win a remarkable Treble by also lifting the European Cup. Busby chose the same eleven for both FA Cup ties:
Harry Gregg, Roger Byrne (captain), Bill Foulkes, Eddie Colman, Duncan Èdwards, Mark Jones, Kenny Morgans, Bobby Charlton, Albert Scanlon, Tommy Taylor, Dennis Viollet
Manchester United were set to field an unchanged side for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday on 15 February 1958, until the club endured the darkest day in its 80-year history when the plane carrying the Manchester United party home from their European Cup away trip to Red Star Belgrade crashed. On 5 February 1958, United drew 3-3 with the reigning Yugoslavian Champions in the second leg of their quarter-final tie, to progress to the last four of the tournament with a 5-4 aggregate victory. On their return journey home to Manchester from Belgrade, the chartered flight had a scheduled stop-off in Munich, West Germany to refuel. It was a bitter cold day in the Munich with the ground crew at Munich-Riem Airport working hard to clear the snow off the runway as it fell incessantly and de-icing the wings of the aircraft. Twice the plane tried to take off and twice the passengers onboard were asked to return to the Terminal, both attempts aborted by Captain James Thain.
On the third attempt, the plane skidded off the end of the slush covered runway, crashed into the fence surrounding the airport and slid across a road before its port wing was ripped off as it caught a house before the left hand side of the cockpit struck a tree. The right hand side of the fuselage crashed into a wooden hut which housed a truck which was packed full of drums of aircraft fuel and tyres, resulting in an instant explosion and huge ball of fire and thick black choking smoke. The house was owned by a family of six and caught fire but mercifully the father and oldest daughter were not at home at the time whilst the mother and the other three children walked away unhurt. Twenty passengers died onboard, and three others died later in hospital.
Manchester United’s home League game versus Wolverhampton Wanderers on 8 February was postponed as a mark of respect to those who perished in the crash and the Football Association also agreed to postpone the FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday. With Matt Busby lying in his hospital bed at the Rechts der Isar Hospital, Munich in a coma, the unenviable task of trying to fulfil Manchester United’s League, FA Cup and European Cup games, fell upon Jimmy Murphy who was not on the trip to Belgrade.
When Sheffield Wednesday arrived at Old Trafford on 19 February 1958, Murphy was still trying to assemble a team together. Meanwhile, when the fans who bought a copy of the match programme turned to the centre pages to see what players would be playing for United, there was just blank spaces numbered 1-11 for fans to complete themselves once the team was eventually announced prior to kick-off.
Four of the players who played in Rounds 3 & 4, Roger Byrne (captain), Eddie Colman, Mark Jones and Tommy Taylor had lost their lives whilst a fifth, Duncan Èdwards, lost his brave battle for life two days after United met Sheffield Wednesday.
The match programme contained many tributes to the players, staff and others who were involved in the crash. On Pages 4 & 5 the Manchester United players who were confirmed dead were remembered in lines of very moving and poignant verse. Under the heading “They shall grow not old …………….,” the photographs of Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan appeared.
“They shall grow not old,
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn,
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning,
We will remember them.”
The words were taken from Robert Laurence Binyon’s famous poem “For The Fallen” which he wrote in 1914, the year World War One began, with the lines frequently quoted at Remembrance Day ceremonies.
A page in the programme was also dedicated to Tom Curry, Trainer and Bert Whalley, Chief Coach whilst Walter Crickmer, the club’s long serving Secretary who helped establish the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club, was also remembered on a page.
Another page sent heartfelt thoughts to Matt Busby, Duncan Èdwards and the others who were still patients in the Rechts der Isar Hospital beneath the headline: “A MESSAGE TO MUNICH from OLD TRAFFORD.” It read:
“Our thoughts are constantly with those who still lie in the Rechts der Isar Hospital, Munich. All of them have been through a terrible ordeal and now face a long period of convalescence during which they will need the prayers of everyone.
Amongst them is our dear manager Matt Busby, and we know that his first concern is always for his players. Even in the first moment after regaining consciousness we recall his words to Jimmy Murphy: “Glad to see you Jimmy. How are the lads? Look after them for me.”
We will certainly do that for you Matt and await eagerly for the day when we can welcome you back at Old Trafford.
To the lads still with you – Ray Wood, Albert Scanlon, Ken Morgans, Dennis Viollet, Johnny Berry, Jackie Blanchflower and Duncan Edwards we say: “Get well soon United needs you.”
Mercifully a few of our players escaped serious injury. These were Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes who have since arrived safely home. We hope to welcome Bobby Charlton within in the next few days and look forward to the time when they will be able to take their place in the team once more.”
Quite amazingly, given what they had recently just gone through, Gregg and Foulkes pleaded with Murphy to play them in the Sheffield Wednesday game and United’s caretaker manager, a job he never wanted, acceded to his players’ wishes with Foulkes captaining the side. On what was a very emotional evening the FA Cup tie was played under the Old Trafford floodlights. Murphy’s mix-match of a team, which saw Shay Brennan, Stan Crowther and Ernie Taylor all make their debuts, were cheered on by 59,848 highly charged fans and somehow defeated Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 (scorers: Shay Brennan 2 & Alex Dawson). Foulkes and Gregg sat in the United dressing room after the game, their minds and hearts still very much thinking of their lost teammates and their man an comrades who were lying in a hospital bed 930 miles away, not knowing if they would ever be re-united.
Did You Know That?
Manchester United’s patchwork side, captained by Bill Foulkes, reached the 1958 FA Cup final and were led out of the Wembley tunnel by Jimmy Murphy as Matt Busby took a seat on the bench. Charlton, Gregg and Viollet were in the team. However, there was no fairytale ending which would in some small way pay tribute to the eight fallen Busby Babes, or to the two members of staff and thirteen other passengers whose lives had been so cruelly snatched away from them on a foreign field, as Bolton Wanderers beat United 2-0.