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Abhishek Nandwani
Wednesday, February 06, 2013 at 11 : 40

Manchester United's Busby Babes - Never forgotten


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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. 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 the ill-fate in Munich after their aircraft crashed on a third take-off attempt. 23 out of the 44 people on the flight passed away, including eight players and three staff members from Man United and eight journalists including former England and Manchester City goalkeeper Frank Swift in addition to the flight crew members and couple of other passengers.

The young players who died were England international and club captain Roger Byrne, 28, Eddie Colman, 21, England's centre-forward Tommy Taylor, 25, Mark Jones, 24, David Pegg, 22, Irish international Billy Whelan, 22, Geoff Bent, 25, and Duncan Edwards, who in 1955 aged just 18 had become the youngest player to appear for England in the 20th century.

The player who survived the crash, Bobby Charlton went on to become Manchester United legend and is still the highest goal scorer for the 19-time English Champions. Other who survived the tragic crash were Bill Foulkes, Kenny Morgans, Albert Scanlon, Dennis Viollet, Ray Wood and Harry Gregg along with Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower, both of whom never played again.

In the last 25 years under manager Sir Alex Ferguson, the modern United have gone on to win trophies after trophies and have 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 of 1958 was when Busby Babes were beginning to blossom and were coming to the notice of whole world. European glory was the dream for Matt Busby and the team that had the likes of Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet and the highly rated Duncan Edwards. European domination was just a matter of time, if only it all went according to the script.

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 Manchester 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 halts 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 death took him away. Whole of Manchester was in a gloom. But Man United with a never to say die attitude rebuilt from the tragedy and came out stronger than ever before.


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More about Abhishek Nandwani

Not a sports enthusiast by choice, Abhishek has been brought up with the passion as playing turned into scribbling.
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