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Udit Misra
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Sir Bobby's Memories

Wed Feb 06, 2008 10:13 am

Munich Tragedy: Charlton relives memories
The 50th anniversary of the Munich air crash understandably will trigger a whirl of emotions in the mind of Sir Bobby Charlton.

There will be sadness that close pals such as Duncan Edwards were robbed of the fulfilment and brilliant career which Charlton, as the most famous survivor of the crash in which eight "Busby Babes" died, has enjoyed.

But amid the solemnity a fierce pride will also burn deep inside Charlton's heart.

Pride for a bunch of bright, exciting young players who injected a stream of optimism into austere post-war England.

Men such as Eddie Colman, Dennis Viollet, Tommy Taylor, Bill Foulkes and Jackie Blanchflower, who blended fire and flair to win two league titles in 1956 and 1957.

But pride most of all for the way manager Matt Busby and his brilliant Babes defied Football League opposition to spread the European message to English football.

United were visionaries. The first English club to compete in Europe. The first to embrace the modern adventure which has helped make football the most popular game on Earth and United arguably the most famous club.

It is a huge source of comfort and pride to Charlton, despite being scarred by the memories of Munich.

Charlton said: "Obviously I understand why people want to talk to me about it (the crash), being that I survived it."

"I have no problems with that or talking about the team or talking about the players that were killed because they were so good."

"I was so proud to be playing with them. You've got to remember that at the time the football world was on an outward journey to find fantastic places to play football."

"It was unheard of that we were going to go to play in places like Germany, Italy and Spain, etc ... Yugoslavia, Hungary. Places like that seemed miles and miles away and in those days took a long time to get to."

"It wasn't like we would jump on our own aeroplane and shoot off like we do now, arrive at a place, play the game, jump back on the plane and we're back again."

"In those days it was an adventure. It would take ages to get there."

It was not just the travel which was an obstacle. The pampered £100,000-a-week ($221,000) stars of today might care to dwell for a moment on how their predecessors were willing to overcome all manner of hardships for the love of the game on a maximum wage of £20 per week.

Charlton said: "Everything in the game now is better. The balls were harder than they are now, the pitches are better, the facilities are better, the medical side of it too."

"Everything is scientifically approached today and in those days it was hard work. It was work and I have the greatest respect for them. It wasn't easy to play. It was tough. If you twisted your knee or whatever and it happened to be a cartilage, it was 50-50 whether you played again."

"Now you have a cartilage and you are out of hospital the following day. So everything today is better, which makes me feel quite proud of the players and I was proud of myself."

Care and conditions might be better today but it is doubtful whether today's footballers could recreate the huge excitement of United's pioneers.

However, there were doubts and uncertainty also as United wondered whether they would be good enough to compete with the big clubs in Italy and Spain.

They need not have worried. In their first match they beat Anderlecht of Belgium 10-0, although Charlton and Duncan Edwards missed out as they were in the middle of their two years' National Service in an Army camp in Shrewsbury.

Charlton recalls: "I remember thinking 'whoa, I wish I was playing, I wish I was playing in the first match in Europe'."

"Initially we thought 'would we be good enough for this sort of thing? Will they be streets ahead of us?' Streets ahead of us? It was the opposite."

That first taste only gave Busby and United confidence, stripping away their initial fears.

Charlton said: "Apart from Real Madrid at that particular time, we could play against anyone. The reason I mention Real Madrid is not because they were so good, but also they had foreign players. There were no foreign players here."

"They had foreign players from Argentina or Brazil, or Colombia or wherever. We learned a lot playing against them."

"We lost to them in the semi-final, 3-1 in Madrid and drew 2-2 here and we thought if we could have had another 15 minutes we could have caught them up. We really did fancy our chances."

That was in 1957 when Madrid won the European Cup for the second time, beating Fiorentina 2-0 in front of a home crowd of 124,000. They had beaten Reims 4-3 in the final in the competition's inaugural year in 1956.

Having sampled the pinnacle of European action the "Busby Babes" were convinced 1958 was their time.

Charlton said: "There was such excitement. We had had a taste of it, we had got to the semi-final and played against the best."

"Nobody wanted to come to Old Trafford to play us here. Nobody. The fans made it electric. And of course, we were so excited playing against Red Star Belgrade and on the way back the accident happened."

"It gives you a picture of what it was like and the tragedy of the thing. You had all these young players, some of them playing for England and what an adventure. And suddenly it was taken away from them like that."

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