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’.
Made in Manchester is available for just £3. Some of the best football writers take a player each, from Sir Bobby Charlton to Ryan Giggs, George Best to David Beckham, Duncan Edwards to Paul Scholes, and many more, with 30 articles in total. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.