Sir Alex Ferguson is happy to admit that the European Cup is his driving ambition, feeling just the one he has won doesn’t reflect fairly the quality of the teams he has created over the years with United. United won the Champions League in 1999 with two goals in injury time, on what would have been Sir Matt Busby’s 90th birthday. The great manager was a pioneer for English football in Europe, his thinking way ahead of the FA and other managers in England at the time. He could see what potential the European Cup had and wanted his young, talented side to be tested against the best teams on the continent.
Busby brought the first European Cup to England in 1968, United winning 4-1 against Benfica in the final. It was a long, hard road getting there though, which almost cost Busby his life. He was read his last rights twice following the air disaster in Munich back in 1958, as United returned from their European Cup quarter final. They were through to the semis for the second year running and were in a rush to return to England, in order to fulfil the FA’s ruling which would have prevented them from playing in their next league game if they weren’t back in the country that evening. United were in the running for the treble and there was no way Sir Matt was going to allow the FA stand in his way of achieving that.
For Busby to create another team capable of winning the competition just ten years after the disaster is a remarkable achievement, and the magic of the man was again realised on that incredible night at the Nou Camp, Sir Alex Ferguson following in Sir Matt Busby’s footsteps.
Sir Bobby Charlton address Fergie’s team last week, letting the players know the significance of Munich has for the club. Ahead of the anniversary, Charlton has spoken publicly about the tragedy.
“It was a tragedy,” Charlton said. “When I heard who had been killed, it was like someone reading out the names of pals you go to the dance hall with, lads who would have you round for dinner at Christmas. It’s really upsetting, even today. But it’s better for me to tell people how good they were. That’s the most important thing. People don’t believe me sometimes when I tell them how good Duncan Edwards was, Tommy Taylor, David Pegg, Eddie Colman, Billy Whelan. They all had unbelievable talent.
“The anniversary is an opportunity to let people know how good that team was and why it’s such a big event. We were almost certainly going to be the first team to win the European Cup. And they had players who were playing for England — Duncan Edwards, for example — who might well have been playing in 1966. Duncan was young enough. What a fantastic player he was.
“It’s an unbelievable tragedy. For the people who survived, all we can say is that we were lucky and try to let people know just what a loss those lads were to Manchester United and to English football as a whole.”
Nobody will be able to understand Munich like the players of the team and those who worked with United at the time, and to a lesser extent, fans in Manchester at the time will have a more raw sense of the tragedy. However, with the media frenzy which has taken place in the run up to the anniversary, it is hard for any United player or fan to miss out on the significance of Munich and the Busby Babes. For fans like myself, who weren’t born at the time of the disaster, the whole situation seems unimaginable. How did they go on? After winning the league the two preceding seasons to the disaster and a Treble in their site, the only real comparison we can make is with Fergie’s team of kids, including Beckham, the Nevilles, Scholes, Butt etc., and to imagine them losing their lives before 1999 feels unbelievable. The strength of Manchester and United is incredible, as the reaction to the tragedy is reflected upon all these years later.
Can United use the tragedy and history of the club as inspiration to claim the European Cup this season?