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Rising from the Wreckage

Around midnight, a knock came to the door of No.9 Archie Street a nondescript house like many others on the Ordsall Estate, a short walk from Old Trafford. There were similar unwanted knocks at other doors in the Manchester, Yorkshire and Ireland.

Answering the door, Dick Colman came face to face with an airline official, who told him that his son had died instantly in the crash and that a plane would convey next-of-kin to Germany in the morning. It was an offer that Mr Colman declined. When asked why by a priest, who said he was flying out to give Matt Busby the last rites, he replied: “My son is dead. Nothing can be done.”

Sadly, in latter years, Dick Colman suffered again, when vandals broke off the hands on the marble statue of the diminutive half back, which stood beside his grave. Concrete was also poured over the grave. Later, on another anniversary of the Munich crash, they sawed through the neck and kicked the head around outside the cemetery gates. The statue was then removed and kept in Dick Colman’s home in a high-rise flat.

Whilst the condition of the injured and the memories of those who had died were obviously the main talking points in the immediate aftermath of the crash, thoughts began to drift as to what the future would hold for the club.

On the afternoon of Thursday February 6th, Manchester United were in the semi-finals of the European Cup for the second consecutive season and challenging for a third consecutive First Division championship, with some of the players also looking forward to the World Cup tournament in Sweden at the end of the season. Now, seven of the team had perished, the long term extent of the injuries to a number of others was unknown. Could the club go on?

Sadness, shock, bewilderment and profound sorrow swept, not only across Britain, but the whole world in the wake of the disaster, but nowhere was it felt more than in Manchester itself and perhaps the mood around the city is best captured in ‘Tanfield’s Diary’ in the ‘Daily Mail’ the morning after the devastating news shattered the lives of so many.

“I have never known a city so stunned as Manchester was last night” penned the correspondent. “In every home, in trains and buses, in café’s and public houses, the talk was about ‘our wonderful football team’….. the team that won glory against all-comers…..the team that will never be the same again.

He continued: “In the pubs it was rather like those days in 1940 when a hush came over the whole place as soon as the BBC news bulletins came on the air. Glasses stopped clinking. Everybody stopped ordering drinks as the latest casualty lists came over.

Saddest of all were the fervent cloth cap and raincoat supporters who paid their two shillings to watch their Old Trafford idols, through sunshine and rain, hail and thunder, week-in week-out, throughout the season.

Crowds stood outside Manchester United’s ground in tears as they waited for news of the players they had known so well. Several times, anxious supporters – teenage girls among them – hammered on the main door for the latest news.

At eight o’clock, chief scout Joe Armstrong opened the door, held up his hand and said: ‘Please go away. We can’t tell you any more than what’s on the news on the wireless.’ Joe’s face was grey, his voice was tired.

As he closed the door he told me: ‘I have just come back from seeing the relatives of the players and officials. They were all very brave. It was the worst job I have ever had to do, and I never want to do anything like it again. It was a nightmare’.

Still the crowd waited. Girls stood sobbing under the shadow of the giant stand.”

Sandy Busby, Matt’s son, was a twenty-two year old professional with Blackburn Rovers and was leaving Victoria Station around 4 0’clock with a friend who suddenly asked him if he had seen the news vendors placard that they had just walked past. Sandy hadn’t and even when his friend mentioned that it said that United had been involved in a plane crash, he simply kept walking. Suddenly, the words sunk in and he dashed to a telephone booth, where he ‘phoned home.

“My aunt, who was down from Scotland staying with my mother answered and frantically shouted ‘Get home son, get home’.

That’s when I realised things were a bit serious. I got a taxi and rushed home.”

On Friday February 7th, Jimmy Murphy, Matt Busby’s wife, son, daughters and son-in-law, along with Mrs Frank Taylor, wife of the only surviving journalist, Molly Leach, the fiancé of Duncan Edwards and Jimmy Payne, a friend of the United left half boarded a BEA flight at Manchester’s Ringway airport, heading for Paris, while an Aer Lingus Viscount made its way to Amsterdam, with the wives of Ray Wood, Johnny Berry, Dennis Viollet, Jackie Blanchflower and Albert Scanlon on board. Both flights were due to meet a connecting flight bound for Munich, but runway conditions at the German airport worsened and their flights had to be diverted to Frankfurt, where they were then faced with a seven hour train journey before reaching their loved ones.

Eventually, the families arrived in Munich, heading straight for the Rechts der Isar hospital and Jimmy Murphy, upon whose shoulders the responsibility of Manchester United now fell, spoke of his sad, uncomfortable meeting with his friend and manager Matt Busby.

“Matt told me that he was feeling a little better, but I had to put my head under the oxygen tent to speak to him. He smiled slightly, his voice was faint, but clear and he said ‘Take care of the things for me Jimmy’.

———-
Taken from the excellent book Manchester United: Rising from the Wreckage 1958-68 available on Kindle and as a hard back. Follow Iain McCartney on Twitter.




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16 Comments

  1. Whiteside says:

    What a history we have. Tragic, emotional, but rich.

    How many European Cups would we have won if that hadn’t happened? But then, we would be a totally different club, without this heritage and legend.

  2. tanmay gupta says:

    Glory glory forever.. Glory has been ours long before we came and it shall stay long after we go

  3. drv3011 says:

    No matter how many articles related to the munich disaster you read,you always feel a tinge of sadness at how United players with so much potential lost their lives so abruptly.Their deaths are a huge blot on our otherwise colourful history with success written all over it.

  4. rijahs says:

    GGMU… A great club with a rich history, rather which wrote history… Hop we continue to do the same for many years…

  5. Evra#3 says:

    U know the meaning of united and this clubs love when u read about munich tragedy
    we are strangers to the people who lost their lives yet we feel pain when we mention them.
    United is not just a football club it is a way of life

  6. MombasaRed says:

    So sad. We are still rising. Respect to the fallen.

  7. lordrt says:

    #MUFCMyReligion

  8. Markowire says:

    The Busby Babes will live on in all us fans old and new. Always remembered never forgotten. They made the club what it is today.

  9. mjcRED says:

    Utterly heartbreaking yet uplifting to realise how we rebuilt our club so spectacularly.
    Reading this really does put all the silly season nonsense in perspective.

    Respect to our former legends and all those involved in the tragedy.

  10. jmy91 says:

    where’s valencia had gone?
    i cant see him in tour list..

  11. smashley-LFC fan in peace says:

    Respects to the Busby Babes RIP

  12. waqar says:

    what are some of the best books on the munich air crash?

    any recommendations please

  13. Scoreboard paddock says:

    The babes were instilled in me from a very young age by my dear old Dad who had went to OldTrafford every home game during the 50s, he absolutely loved every single one of them and actually met many of them.
    He told me many stories of those magic football days of glory how they played football of the future and how the English game as a whole was effected and suffered for losing so many players mature beyond their years and would have influenced so many others following them, all of the European teams admired them and followed Busbys methods.
    For this it makes you more than just a fan it is actually, as the banner in the Stretford End states,
    a religion passed on from generation to generation and im so proud my Dad followed the red side of Manchester.

  14. IAIN says:

    In my book ‘Rising From the Wreckage’ I have tried to tell the story of Manchester United from that afternoon in Munich to the European Cup success at Wembley ten years later in as much detail as possible. Bringing to life, the players, the games and the supporters of what is arguably the most memorable decade in the club’s history.
    It pays tribute to the man, without whom, United would not be the club they are today – Jimmy Murphy.
    It is a story, never before told in such detail, it is the story of how Manchester United did indeed, rise from the wreckage.

  15. King Eric says:

    drv. Good post pal but I wouldn’t class the Munich tragedy a blot on our history. I agree in one way it is but as someone mentioned it made the club what it is today. A religion as scoreboardpaddock says. The terrace songs, the banners, the never say die attitude of the club, the absolute legends we’ve privileged to watch, the brand of football over the decades make Manchester United Football Club the best in the World.

    RIP Busby Babes.

  16. Sandeep says:

    Always a Mancunian.. We will or can never forget that Fateful night..

    We will always Fight together as a club.. Its in our Build…

    Thanks for the post, Wonder where I can buy this book..

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