February 6th 1958: Munich air disaster, the darkest day in Manchester United’s history

February 6th will forever be remembered by everyone who is connected with Manchester United. On that day in 1958, 23 people – including eight players and three members of the club’s staff – suffered fatal injuries in the Munich air crash. The footballing world is still reeling from the loss of some of its most talented young players – known as the Busby Babes.

After the European Cup Quarter Final 2nd leg tie against Serbian football club (then Yugoslavia) Red Star Belgrade which United drew 3-3 to reach the semi-final 5-4 on aggregate, Man Utd were in a jubilant mood. The whole side left to catch their flight home, thinking of an important League game against Wolves at the weekend.

The chartered plane which was scheduled to take the Manchester United players and staff home from Zemun Airport needed to stop in Munich to refuel. This was carried out in terrible weather conditions and by the time the refueling was complete and the call was made for the passengers to re-board the aircraft, snow had settled heavily on the runway and around the airport.

Before taking off for home there were two aborted take-offs which led to concern on board, and the passengers were advised by a stewardess to disembark again while a minor technical error was fixed. On its third attempt, the plane crashed after the hitting the slush which caused it to plow through a fence beyond the end of the runway.

Fearing the aircraft might explode, the pilot began evacuating passengers while Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg who somehow was left unscathed began a one-man rescue mission and helped pull survivors from the wreckage. Harry Gregg is sometimes called ‘The Hero of Munich’ because he pulled some of his team mates from the burning plane – including Bobby Charlton, Jackie Blanchflower and Dennis Viollet.

Bobby Charlton survived with minor injuries, but 23 people (eight of them Manchester United players) died as a result of their injuries in the crash. Of the eight other players who survived, two of them were injured and could never play again. The airplane captain succumbed to the injuries he sustained and died a few weeks later.

The crash claimed the lives of Manchester United captain – Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Geoff Bent and Liam Whelan. Duncan Edwards passed away 2 weeks after the crash succumbing to his injuries in the hospital. The average age of the team was just 24.

Duncan Edwards who was 21 at the time was described as the most ‘complete footballer in Britain’ by manager Matt Busby. The greatest tragedy is that his death aged just 21 meant his full potential was never realized.

Messages of sympathy poured in from around the world and clubs across the UK and Europe held two minutes silence at the games on the Saturday following the accident.

But the tragedy never stopped Manchester United from marching on. Jimmy Murphy who was known to be a dedicated and passionate coach temporarily took over from Matt Busby who was recovering from his injuries from the crash. Murphy managed the club till the end of the 1957–58 season, steering the club through it’s time of need. Murphy had not been on the plane, as he had missed the trip due to managing Wales against Israel in Cardiff on the same night.

The tragedy is an indelible part of United’s history. Sir Matt Busby who had sometimes considered quitting as the manager of the club overcame his injuries and built another great team to win the European Cup 10 years later.  Manchester United became the first English club to win the European Cup.

Bobby Charlton is currently the director of Manchester United and has been since 1984. The Manchester United legend is currently the last person left from the survivor’s list after defender Bill Foulkes passed away in November 2013.

We will never forget.

  • lokendra

    rip…