Home » ARTICLES » The Flowers of Manchester: Gone But Never Forgotten

The Flowers of Manchester: Gone But Never Forgotten

published :

Yesterday, 55 years ago one of English football’s greatest tragedies sadly occurred.

On the 6th February 1958, a plane containing 44 people, 38 passengers and six crew; crashed as it tried to depart from Munich airport.

Of the 44 people on-board, 23 suffered fatal injuries that ultimately cost them their lives in what is no doubt the darkest day in, English giants, Manchester United’s history.

The British European Airways (BEA) chartered aircraft caught fire at 15:03 as it tried to depart from the Munich Riem Airport at the third attempt.

The plane was heading back to Manchester, after the Red Devils had faced Red Star Belgrade in a European Cup tie, but had to stop in Munich to refuel.

The first two attempts to take off from the Munich airport were aborted; and it was at the following third effort that disaster struck.

It had been snowing heavily in Germany, and when the pilot attempted to take off the plane over-shot the runway, hit a house with its port wing, veered to the right, hit another building and burst into flames.

Twenty-one of the people on board died instantly – a third of them playing staff.

The fuselage did not catch fire and several crew and passengers went back into the wreckage to rescue the injured.

Of those that were rescued, aeroplane captain Kenneth Rayment died a few weeks later from the injuries he sustained while Duncan Edwards, one of the eight victims from the team and described by former United assistant manager/temporary manager Jimmy Murphy as the “greatest of them all”, passed away 15 days after the crash.

Then team manager Sir Matt Busby was described as ‘being the most seriously hurt’ and was being given blood transfusions in hospital, while Old Traford icon, Sir Bobby Charlton was been treated for slight head injuries. Thankfully both survived this tragedy.

At the time, Manchester United were attempting to become only the third club to win three successive English league titles.

Mass messages of sympathy poured from around the world, including the ‘deeply shocked’ Queen Elizabeth II and Red Star Belgrade who suggested that the ‘Busby Babes’ should be made honorary champions in the 1958 European Cup.

Just 13 days after the horrific accident, Manchester United played Sheffield Wednesday in the fifth round of the FA Cup at Old Trafford.

The only crash survivors to play were goalkeeper Harry Gregg and defender Bill Foulkes alongside a mix of reserves and youth players.

In a stadium filled with raw emotion, the Red Devils went on to win 3-0. That year they reached the FA Cup final – where they lost to Bolton Wanderers.

The club were given special dispensation to play Stan Crowther, a new signing from Aston Villa; despite the fact he had previously played in that season’s competition.

In Europe the club continued to compete, where they faced Italian side AC Milan in the semi-finals. United won 2-1 at Old Trafford before a 4-0 defeat in the San Siro.

Ten years later though, Sir Matt Busby’s side won the European Cup for the first time in their history. For the likes of Busby and Charlton that win was particularly poignant – as it was won in memory for their friends that they had lost a decade prior.

Current Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson, paid tribute to Sir Matt Busby and his staff in rebuilding the club. In an interview with BBC’s Football Focus he said:

“How we rose to get over that is remarkable in terms of [manager] Sir Matt [Busby] and Jimmy Murphy and all the staff at the time.

“It was a fantastic group of young men who were destined to be great and that was the tragedy of it in how it was taken away from them.”

Of those linked to the club Roger Byrne (28), Eddie Colman (21), Mark Jones (24), David Pegg (22), Tommy Taylor (26), Geoff Bent (25), Liam Whelan (22) and Duncan Edwards (21) all died, along with club secretary Walter Crickmer, trainer Tom Curry and coach Bert Whalley.

In addition eight journalists died – Alf Clarke, Tom Jackson, Don Davies, George Fellows, Archie Ledbrook, Eric Thompson, Henry Rose, and Frank Swift who was a former Manchester City player. Plane captain Ken Rayment perished, as did Sir Matt’s friend Willie Satinoff. Travel agent Bela Miklos and crew member Tom Cable also died.

Ferguson also stated, quite rightly, that this tragedy should never be forgotten. He added:

“When you were caught up in the aftermath of it and the publicity, and when the papers detailed what had happened, you couldn’t help but feel that enormous loss for anyone football-minded.

“That has carried on for a long, long time and every year you have to remember that.”

United legend Ryan Giggs has echoed his boss’ sentiments in the past. In 2008 he told Manchester United’s official club website:

“We all watched a DVD about Munich recently. It was really important for the squad to watch that and learn about what happened.

“Not only about the crash itself but also the success they had before it and how the team moved forward in the aftermath, from winning the next game to winning the European Cup 10 years later. Everyone was moved.

“I think it’s very important, to know how the Busby Babes played and how successful they were before the air disaster and to know how Sir Matt built another great team.

“There are so many things that are relevant to us today and we need to carry on their legacy.”

This weekend Manchester United are at home to Everton in the Barclays Premier League.

Expect another respectful service before the game commences, inside an emotionally charged Old Trafford, as those inside the ground pay their respects.

23 lives gone but never forgotten. Rest in peace.

By Luke Augustus @Luke_Augustus29

To Read More Pieces By Luke Pleae Go To TIBS News.