Preface by Romulus: Hi all. Mr. Tom Clare has written a series of articles on the Babes. As you will be able to see he has been a loyal United supporter for a long time, long enough to have seen the Babes play. He is a highly respected author who has graced our board with his writings. We wish to thank him for helping us to remember the Busby Babes and teaching us.
These are my recollections of the blackest day in the Club's history.
Munich – The Aftermath
Although I was just 13 when the tragedy happened, my memories of that time have never dimmed. Britain had recently emerged from the post-war period, rationing had not long ceased, most people were employed in some capacity or another. Food tasted just as it was meant to (not like the crap we eat today), t.v. was still in its formative years, and for the majority of males, and a small percentage of females as well, weekend meant going to the match - be it cricket or football. Sundays were Sundays - a day of rest, whether you liked it or not!
The tragedy happened on a Thursday afternoon, and I can remember that day vividly. It was cold, and bleak, and some areas of the city experienced snow that afternoon. It was dark before 4p.m. After school, I had trudged down Ardwick Green, schoolbag on shoulder, and crossed Downing Street, into Rusholme Road. On the corner of that junction was a pet shop named Wyman's, and I was fortunate to have a job there, which was delivering pet food to various outlets in the area. I delivered what was really nothing more than horsemeat which was minced and used as dog food. I delivered it mostly to business outlets in the Fairfield, City Centre, and local areas. Jean Wyman, and her husband David, who owned the business, always had a flask of Oxo prepared for me in those winter months, and I would take this with me, and devour it as I walked the beat in the winter cold, delivering the dog food to their customers. My spirit that day was so good - the reason- Well, the previous day, United had put on a marvelous performance in Belgrade to draw 3-3 with Red Star, the Yugoslavian Army team. They were into the semi-finals of the European Cup again, and the large majority of United supporters, wanted them to draw Real Madrid so that they could gain revenge for the narrow defeat in the competition the previous season.
As I walked my delivery round, I can remember that the banter between the customers, and myself, was terrific. They all knew that I was United daft, and they were all pulling my leg as they paid their debts to me - we used to have threepenny bets on United's results! The first time that I had any foreboding, and sensed that something was wrong, was when I walked down Store Street, under the long railway arch, above which was London Road LMR Station (now Piccadilly) and out onto London Road. I used to deliver to a Wilson's pub across the road on the corner of Whitworth Street, facing the Fire Station, named The White Hart. There was a newspaper man there every night, selling the Evening News, and the Evening Chronicle. As I crossed over to his side of the road, he had just finished putting up a poster with the headline " Stop Press -United Plane Crashes at Munich." The "Stop Press" was a column on the right hand side of the newspaper, which contained a late headline for any breaking news that had not been in the wires before publication time. It looked as though the newspapers had been run through a Gestetner machine in order to include these headlines, after the newspaper had actually been printed. I hurriedly paid my tuppence for the Chron, but all it said was "Manchester United's Plane has crashed at Munich Airport - more to follow in later edition." At first, we all thought that it was just something minor, and nothing to worry about. I delivered to various people in the old Fires Station, but as I got further down London Road, and into Downing Street, the news had started to filter through about the crash on the wireless. The publican at the old Gog and Magog was the first to tell me that there had been fatalities, although he couldn't say who they were. It was almost 6p.m. by the time that I got back to Wyman's, but Jean and David knew nothing of the unfolding tragedy. I ran all the way up Rusholme Road, until I reached Royle Street, where I lived, and I ran into the house, to find my father, sitting besides the fireplace, with tears streaming down his face. He'd come home from Henshaw's Blind School which used to be situated close to Old Trafford, where he was training to be a joiner after losing his sight, and he had heard the news on the wireless.
By this time, more and more news was filtering through, and we sat there together, for the next few hours as the names of those lost became confirmed; Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Geoff Bent, Billy Whelan, Tommy Taylor, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Walter Crickmer, Tom Curry, Bert Whalley, Alf Clarke, Tom Jackson, Henry Rose, Archie Ledbrooke, Don Davies, and then finally, Frank Swift.
The hours passed, and it was as if we were all in a trance, as though time had stood still. Mum was at home, my sister was at home, but there was little or no conversation - we just sat there in the dim firelight, listening, waiting, praying, a heavy sadness enveloping the whole house. For me, a 13 years old boy, it was unthinkable that I would not be seeing my heroes play Wolves at Old Trafford in a vital league game on the following Saturday afternoon. I cried so much that evening, and went to bed hoping that it was all a horrible dream, and that I would awake the following morning to find that all was well. Unfortunately, when I did awake, I was to find out about the harshness and reality of life. Dad didn't go to work that morning, as did hardly anybody else in the City. The reality was all there before us in the morning editions of the newspapers and on the durther news bulletins given out on the wireless . Pictures, stories, tales of heroism, but starkly, the the story of the decimation of a team of wonderful young boys, backroom staff, and the cream of the British Sporting Press.
The atmosphere in the City during the days that followed was surreal - a great pall of mourning was constantly there. Adults openly shed tears. I can remember that each day I cried so much, could not eat, and had no interest in playing out, or doing anything much at all that young boys of that age do. So much so, that Mum had to keep me off school for some time. In hindsight, and something my parents agreed with me about years later, was the fact that I was in shock. I'd known a number of those boys, played with them during the summer months at the Galleon Open Air Swimming Pool in Didsbury. They were my idols, my heroes. During the previous three and a half years, I'd hardly missed a match at Old Trafford - in effect, I'd been growing up with them. It was beyond my comprehension that I wouldn't be seeing Tommy Taylor, David Pegg or Billy Whelan again - players I had got to know. If there was a light, it was that Duncan was surviving, and things looked optimistic for his recovery.
A few days after the tragedy, the coffins bearing the bodies of those that perished, returned home, and on a cold, wet, dark evening, a long convoy of black hearses, brought them from Ringway Airport, back to Old Trafford, where they were placed in the gymnasium to remain overnight, before being released to their respective families. Huge crowds lined the routes and I stood in Warwick Road, with my Mum, as those vehicles passed by - not a sound could be heard , except the rumble of the tyres on the cobbled road, and the quiet sniffles and sobs, as people's emotions got the better of them.
Funerals were held in the week that followed, and still, the mourning was so prevalent throughout the City. Attention became more focused on those that had survived, and the daily bulletin's concerning Duncan's recovery. Jimmy Murphy had traveled out to Munich and had returned back to Manchester with Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes. Matt Busby had told him to keep the flag flying at Old Trafford, and he now had to go about the business of putting a team together to play Sheffield Wednesday in an F.A. Cup 5th Round tie on the evening of February 19th. The FA had allowed the club to postpone the game the previous Saturday, due to the closeness of the funerals that had taken place earlier that week. To get the patched up young team out of the way of the all the media interest, he took them away to the Norbreck Hydro in Blackpool. People back in Manchester were trying to get some normality back into their lives as they came to terms with the shocking event that had happened. That second week after the tragedy, Duncan's condition began to yo-yo. Professor Georg Maurer, who had worked so hard at the Rechts der Isar Hospital, in Munich, had said, that any lesser mortal than Duncan, would never have survived, given the injuries that he had suffered. Oh! how I wanted him to live!
On February 19th, together with Mum, and her friend from Ardwick, Mary Donohue, we attended the first game after the tragedy. I can remember that although it was a 7:30p.m. kick off, we got to the ground at 4p.m as we wanted to be sure of getting in. It was no surprise then, that at that time, there was already long lines outside each turnstile. It was a bitterly cold, afternoon/ evening, with a very clear sky. The turnstiles opened early, and people flooded into the ground. We stood on the "popular side" on the half way line, underneath the old shed, with the Glover's Cables factory immediately to the rear of the stand. There was a muted murmuring sound as the ground began to fill – it was eerie – not like a normal match day at all. People spoke quietly to each other, and there were still tears of sorrow being shed as people spoke to each other about the loss of so many young boys.
As the old steam trains drew into the station on the opposite side of the ground, the clouds of smoke came over the top of the main stand, opposite, making it look as though a fog had descended inside the ground. The programme was unique, and has since become a collector's item - United's teamsheet bore no names at all - just eleven empty blank spaces. At 6:45p.m. it was announced that they were having to close the gates - Old Trafford was jammed packed full - a far cry from my previous visit on January 25th, when I had watched my beloved "Babes" beat Ipswich Town 2-0, in the 4th round of the FA Cup. At 7p.m. came the announcement we had been waiting for - the team - I can hear that announcer even today as he at last announced United’s line-up; "In goal, Harry Gregg, Number two and Captain, Bill Foulkes; Number three Ian Greaves; Number four Freddie Goodwin; Number five Ronnie Cope; Number Six, and please welcome our new signing from Aston Villa, Stan Crowther - there was gasps when this was announced; Number seven Colin Webster; Number eight, another new signing, Ernie Taylor; Number nine Alex Dawson, Number ten, Mark Pearson; Number eleven Seamus Brennan.
Ernie Taylor had been signed from Blackpool the previous week. It was a great signing because little Ernie was so gifted and experienced having played a full career with Newcastle and Blackpool, winning Cup Winner's medals with both of them. Stan Crowther's signing was the surprise, as it had taken place just an hour before the kick off, and had been specially sanctioned by the FA. Stan, had in fact played in a previous round of the FA Cup that season for Villa, and is still the only man to play for two different teams in the same season in the FA Cup competition.
I can remember the roars of the crowd suddenly erupting like a giant geyser does as Bill Foulkes led United out from the player’s tunnel. Wednesday's skipper that night was Albert Quixall, who was later to join United the following year. Albert recalls the moment that he emerged from that tunnel, at the head of the Wednesday team. He said the wall of noise that met them, was like nothing he had heard before. In effect, poor Wednesday were on a loser whichever way that the game went - public opinion was dead against them, and God knows what would have happened that night had they won the game. They would have taken a slating publicly. As it happened, roared on by the crowd, United won 3-0. Towards the end of the first half, United got a corner on the left hand side at the Scoreboard end, and Seamus Brennan whipped in an in-swinger, which Jim Ryalls, the Wednesday keeper, could only help into the net. Shay scored again in the second half, and then big Alex Dawson, scored near to the end. The atmosphere was electric throughout the game and roars could be heard all over the city. Even the people who were locked out of the ground earlier that evening, did not go home - they stayed outside of the ground!
To win that match 3-0 was beyond people's wildest dreams, and as the crowds filtered out, and the ground emptied, there was a kind of eerie silence again on the way home. People had expended so much nervous energy in the preceding five or six hours, they were absolutely drained.
Sadly, the elation, and jubilation, of the Wednesday evening, was to turn to tears once again, on the following Friday morning. I can recall my Mum coming upstairs to my bedroom, waking me with gentle shakes, and telling me quietly that Duncan Edwards had died in the early hours of that morning. Once more, my world was shattered. The one player that I idolised more than anybody else, was now gone. No more would I witness the boyish exuberance of the man, as he emerged from the tunnel taking those great bounding leaps onto the pitch. No more would any of us hear him shout to his colleagues just before a match started; "Come on lads, we 'aven't come 'ere for nuffink!" The Giant was gone, and the Legend had just begun.
I used to find it difficult to talk about the tragedy - especially as I went from adolescence into manhood. There is no doubt that it left a big scar on me - and to be honest - not only me, but hundreds of kids like me. I was difficult to control for a while, and both Mum and Dad were so worried, that mentally, something had happened to me. As I said iearlier, in hindsight, they both realised that they were having to deal with somebody in deep shock. Even my schoolteachers voiced their concern to my parents, as I became disinterested, difficult, very introverted, and was only happy out on the sportsfield. I would play "wag" (truant) from school, and walk up to Weaste Cemetery just to stand in front of Eddie Colman's grave, as his was the only one that I knew how to get to. I wrote lots of stuff about the team, and the players as individuals - I only wish that I had that stuff today. It was a micabre pattern of behaviour. But I had known a number of those boys, and I was grieving. For a young boy, it was hard to come to terms with, losing heroes that I absolutely adored. At that age, knowing that I would never see them again had a profound effect upon me. I was United "daft" in the truest sense of the word!
I think that the main reason that the tragedy affected so many people in the way that it did, was because those players, staff, reporters, etc, were all part of the local community. In those days there was a very close proximity between players and fans, club and local community. It's hard to relate to today, and some of the younger readers may find this unusual, but all those boys, men, were just ordinary, every day guys. There were no prima donnas, no pretentiousness. They wer "stars" - yes, but in the nicest possible way. They were literally, "the boy next door." Just every day Joe's who happened to have the gift of being able to play football, and played for the club that they really loved - Manchester United. They were so accessible – to everybody! If you waited long enough after a match, you could travel home with one of them on the bus; meet them in the shops, and always at The Locarno in Sale on Saturday evenings after home games. I have a few mates in Sale who are a little older than me, but who have related to me tales of how they used to sit with them in the Locarno, and the United lads would have a lemonade on top of the table, but half of mild underneath it! Some of them would walk from Stretford to the city centre just to go to the cinema. They wouldn’t travel on the bus because in their own words; “to do that was boring!” Many of them could be found in the local parks during afternoons throughout the week watching the school kids playing football, and there would always be banter and laughter with them. They always had time of day for ordinary every day people – the fans! They never lost sight of where they all came from.
It was also a time when they had awakened the imagination of the British sporting public. Up and until around 1955, football teams had an average age of somewhere towards the very late 20's. All of a sudden, here was this team of really youthful young men, winning their first championship with an average age of 22, playing the most outrageous brand of attacking football. Sir Matt's long term vision and plan had been proved right, and the doubters, and there was many of them, were being proved wrong. Sir Matt, Jimmy, Bert Whalley, Tom Curry, had schooled them all in the correct way - the foundations of the Club that we know today, were laid by these great men, in those years immediately after Busby's appointment in 1945. Like the players, the staff were just as accessible - Walter Crikmer would walk around the outside of the ground on a match day, chatting with the fans. For the big matches that had to be "all ticket", the tickets were always sold on a Sunday morning. People would start queueing in the early hours, and by the time that the turnstiles were opened for sales (yes, they were sold at the turnstile!) at 10a.m. the queues used to stretch from the ground, down the bottom end of Warwick Road, then all the way down Trafford Park Road, and into Ashburton Road - some line I can tell you! But invariably, Busby, and Jimmy, would find time to walk down the lines, chatting here, chatting there - Crikmer would stand on the canal bridge on Warwick Road as if he was counting the fans! After ticket purchase, when you were leaving the ground, it wasn't unusual to see players either arriving at the ground, or leaving because they had had to be in for treatment to injuries, or strains, suffered in the matches played the previous day. It's also interesting, that although it was the era when the maximum wage of twenty quid was in force, not many of those players, even Roger Byrne the captain, was on that amount as a flat rate! They used to get two quid for a win, and a quid for a draw! But you never heard the slightest moan, groan, whisper, about money! Those lads just lived to play football, and would have played every day! They were unusual in a lot of ways, because socially, they were also a very close knit set of guys, and were all mates together. Byrne was a great, great, captain and leader, and was Matt's mouthpiece in the dressing room. He was also the route to "the boss" for the players. Roger kept everybody in line. It’s my honest opinion that Roger was being groomed by Sir Matt to eventually take over as the next Manchester United manager after himself.
It's true to say that because they played the game so well, and in the right way, in capturing people's imagination - more people wanted to see them, and this was when attendances started to increase. BBC had limited coverage of games around this time - they used to show clips of several matches on a Sunday afternoon - and those families that had television used to invite the less fortunate kids around to watch the programme. This enabled more exposure for them, and of course, then came Europe, and that really did capture people's imagination - especially after that first game against Anderlecht at Maine Road, on that wet, late summer evening, of September 26th, 1956, when they demolished the Belgians 10-0. There is no doubt, that the whole of England's football fans, (apart from City's!) at that time were really behind United in their push for the European Cup. The two epic games against the mighty Real Madrid in early 1957, also enhanced their reputation, especially after some dubious methods and tactics were used by the Spaniards in both of those games. The "Babes" were considered such great ambassadors for their Club, their city, and their country, and were held in such great esteem everywhere that they traveled.
Yes, even today I can get very emotional when talking about those times. And I'm certain that it's the same for most of the people that were around at that time. But in my opinion, these stories have to be told. The story of the "Babes" is such an important part of United's history - not so much the actual accident - but the story of those tremendous young men who lost their lives pursuing not only Matt's, and their own dream, but the dream of all of the fans as well. Their memory and legend must never be allowed to die. They were a very extraordinary group of young men, blessed with tremendous abilities, who conducted themselves impeccably, and played the game in the right way and in the right spirit - what we know of today as "The Manchester United Way." It's why our traditions are so strong, why mediocrity is not accepted, and why those traditions have to be passed on from generation to generation. It's why a lot of other clubs are jealous of us now, because we have always been there at the forefront, and they cannot compete with our history. It's why Manchester United is the FAMILY that it is, because when you are born into that tradition, it's there for life. When United bleeds, we all bleed. We can disagree with each other, curse each other, fight with each other, but at the end of the day, we all agree on one thing - THERE'S ONLY ONE UNITED
© Reproduced with kind permission of Tom Clare.