55 years ago today. Gone but never forgotten.
Manchester’s Finest, an excellent book on the Munich Air Disaster from the perspective of fans, reflects on what life was like for Mancunians on the day they learnt about the crash:
At school that afternoon it was going to be football as usual for the Upper Thirds. Out of respect for the dead we decided we shouldn’t play so soon after the crash, but the school authorities insisted that life and the timetable had to go on. We spent all of our lunch break searching around for something we could wear as black armbands. We felt we had to do something. It was the sort of scene that was being repeated in schools and workplaces throughout the city. Everybody felt they should be making some sort of gesture, but nobody really knew what to do.
The game had to go on, just as life had to go on for Manchester that grey day. However deeply they had been affected by the dreadful events of the previous day, United fans had to go to their offices and factories as usual. Berly and Olga Townsend both went to work that day.
“Yeh I had to,” Beryl said. “But I said to my boss as soon as I went in ‘I’m not going to be able to do anything today.’ You couldn’t believe it that day: it still hadn’t sunk in properly. It was like being in a fog. I just couldn’t believe that a few days before I’d been talking to Tommy Taylor at Highbury, after the Arsenal game. He was sitting in front of the United coach eating and apple and he smiled and said hello. We said to him, ‘Tommy, you put us through it today,’ and he laughed and said ‘We put ourselves through it!’ And that was the last any of us ever saw of him. We were never going to see him or any of them again. That was what made it so strange. We just didn’t now what to do with ourselves at all.”
The news seemed to get worse during the course of that Friday. The city was flooded with rumours that Matt Busby was dead. Small crowds began to gather around the offices of the two Manchester evening papers, the News and the Chronicle, waiting for any details as they came through.
The city was in a state of shock – even the newspaper sellers were silent; they sombrely sold copies with their poignant pictures and dreadful stories on the front page. The whole of the city was in mourning. Everybody, Red, Blue and uncommitted.
After Jimmy Murphy had been to see Matt and the boys in their Munich hospital beds he said: “I have see the boys. Limbs and hearts may be broken, but the spirit remains. Their message is that the club is not dead – Manchester United lives on. My boss and my greatest friend, Matt Busby, would want me to tell you that the Red Devils will survive this. We have a motto at Old Trafford which meas ‘Work and Wisdom’. The work of the country’s finest players and the wisdom of the country’s finest manager have made us what we are. It is going to be a long, long struggle, but together, we hope to be back there again.”
We’ll never die.