A Broken Plane. A Broken Dream. A Broken Heart. A Broken Team. No Word Said. A Silent Vow. We Loved You Then. We Love You Now. The Red Flag will always fly. Manchester United will never die. Never to be forgotten- 6th February 1958! RIP to all those beautiful souls!
February 6, 1958, 3:04 p.m. a day and time no Manchester United supporter or any football lover will forget. This was the day when Manchester United stopped being just another football club. A plane carrying them home from Belgrade after their Champions League clash against Red Star Belgrade crashed after a refuelling stop at Munich.
Sir Matt Busby’s young team, champions of England in 1956 and 1957, met with a fatal accident in Munich after their aeroplane crashed on the third take-off attempt. 23 out of the 44 people on the flight died, which included eight players and three members from Man United staff. Eight journalists including former Manchester City goalkeeper Frank Swift, flight crew members and a couple of other passengers could never meet their family again.
The young players who died were England international and club captain Roger Byrne, 28, England’s centre-forward Tommy Taylor, 25, Eddie Colman, 21, David Pegg, 22, Mark Jones, 24, Geoff Bent, 25, Irish international Billy Whelan, 22, and Duncan Edwards. Edwards was then aged just 18 and had become the youngest player to appear for England in the 20th century.
The player who survived the crash, Sir Bobby Charlton, who went on to become Manchester United legend and is the second highest goal scorer for the 20-time English Champions. Wayne Rooney broke his record couple of years back. Other who survived the tragic crash were Kenny Morgans, Albert Scanlon, Bill Foulkes, Dennis Viollet, Ray Wood and Harry Gregg along with Jackie Blanchflower and Johnny Berry, both of whom never played again.
Manchester United of late have struggled on the pitch after the retirement of legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. But during his 26 years in charge under the management of Sir Alex Ferguson, Red Devils went on to win trophies after trophies and surpassed what Busby’s Babes achieved. But the question that never goes away, and can never be answered is… would that team have done the same? Or even more?
The year 1958 was when Busby Babes were coming to the notice in the footballing circuit. European glory was the dream for Matt Busby and the team that had the likes of Charlton, Dennis Viollet and Duncan Edwards. European domination was just a matter of time but destiny had something else in the store.
Charlton, who survived the crash later in an interview said, “I do believe we would have won the European Cup in 1958. We had learnt so much from our previous European experience. I think we would have become the best team in Europe for years, and certainly the best in England. And who knows what England could have done in the Sweden World Cup? Could we have won it? Very possibly.”
At the time of the crash, United were trying to become only the third club to win three successive English league titles; they were six points behind League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go. They were also holders of the Charity Shield and had just advanced into their second successive European Cup semi-final. The team were also on an 11-match unbeaten run and had booked their place in the fifth round of the FA Cup two weeks previously.
On January 14 they beat Red Star Belgrade 2-1 at home and drew 3-3 in the second leg on February 5. It was the last match the Busby Babes played. And then came the dreadful day. February 6, 1958. The British European Airways, Flight 609 halted at Munich for re-fuelling. But the third attempt to take off from a snow-covered runway proved too costly and the plane crashed.
Sir Matt Busby survived the crash but remained in Munich to recover from severe injuries. United’s fan favourites, the one and only Duncan Edwards, fought for his life for 15 days in hospital but eventually succumbed to death. The whole of Manchester was in gloom. But Red Devils came back stronger and are one of the best teams in the world at the moment.