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Manchester’s Finest

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.

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. red1990 says:

    The flowers of Manchester. We’ll never die

  2. Bobby Charlton's combover says:

    SInce I was a boy I have been incapable of reading or watching anything to do with the Munich disaster without my hair standing up and getting a tingling sensation.

  3. alfREDo says:

    Keep the Red flag flying high!!

  4. markynorbs says:

    R.I.P The Busby Babes.
    Lest we forget.

  5. FletchTHEMAN says:

    Well said from Jimmy Murphy: ” Manchester United lives on. . . The work of the country’s finest players and the wisdom of the country’s finest manager have made us what we are”

    Jimmy Murphy doesn’t get enough credit for helping the club push on.

    Flowers of England. Flowers of Manchester. RIP Busby Babes!

  6. kungfoocantona says:

    always a sad day for a united fan, these people are one of the reasons we got on the map and became a world known football club. they will all be very proud looking down on us and seeing how far we have come as a football club and also how much the supporters still to this day remember them fondly. A big part of uniteds history you all were and because of this you will never be forgotten. you all live on inside the united badge. RIP old men RIP.

  7. ronnie says:

    RIP flowers of manchester the greatest team the world would never see

  8. Redroy says:

    To put this tragedy into perspective, just imagine if Rooney, RvP, Evra, Carrick, DDG, Nani, Raphael, Giggs,Scholes, welbeck, Valencia, smalling et al were all wiped (God forbid) out in some bizzare freak plane crash. Thats how bad it was.

  9. gfunk says:

    RIP the Flowers of Manchester………………… we never saw you flourish, we never saw how great you could have become………you will never be forgotten!!!!!

    Can anyone (for certain) name them as they appear in the picture left – right as me and my dad cant agree!!

  10. FletchTHEMAN says:

    Team v Arsenal winners 5-4 at
    Highbury on Feb 1, 1958

    Harry Gregg*
    Bill Foulkes*
    Roger Byrne
    Eddie Colman
    Mark Jones
    Duncan Edwards
    Kenny Morgans
    Bobby Charlton
    Tommy Taylor
    Dennis Viollet
    Albert Scanlon

    This is EXACTLY the same team sheet as played Red Star Belgrade on Feb 5

    Only 2 players(*) from this team were able to take the field in the FAcup on Feb 16 or the League game on Feb 18

  11. gfunk says:

    thankyou fletch the man but can you name them as they appear in the picture. i know the names but cant put names to faces……… my dad has glaucoma and his eyes are failing! nice one mate!

  12. Chingar says:

    @gfunk: Left to right: Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, Kenny Morgans, Sir Bobby, Dennis Violett, Tommy Taylor, Bill Foulkes, Harry Gregg, Albert Scanlon, Roger Byrne.

    Incredible to think that we won the FA Cup just five years after the Munich air disaster and the European Cup ten years after. A club that had lost eight players! And not to mention that Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower suffered injuries so they could never play again. Add in the mental scares of the extremely talented Albert Scanlon (who didn’t enjoy his football anymore), and you should start to understand the genius of Sir Matt who managed to rebuild the club with his loyal assistant Jimmy Murphy.

  13. Costas says:

    Never to be forgotten.

  14. belfast red. says:

    R.i.p to that great and Talented squad. The people of Ireland were United in grief that fateful day also.

  15. Giles Oakley says:

    Every year on this day I feel very emotional. I can still remember like yesterday when I heard the first reports of what had happened at Munich on the radio. I was aged 11 and my parents were out and the woman ‘babysitting’ me and my brother was in tears over it, something I’d never seen in an adult before. I didn’t support any team before Munich but became swept up by the wave of emotion as United rose from the dead over the next few weeks and I have supported United ever since.

    Now I still feel as moved as ever by what might have been with the Busby Babes, whose lives have somehow become entwined into my own life-history as though they were family. I’ll never forget them, nor how my life has been enriched by following United over the last 55 years, creating a strange awareness that more than half a century of my own joy and pleasure is rooted in the most terrible of tragedies, creating a weird kind of ‘supporter guilt’.

    However, there is something truly uplifting to see some of the things United fans and others say here and elsewhere about the impact of Munich on them, even though it happened in some cases decades before they were born.It’s wonderful to see young people absorbing the deep significance of Munich in the making of the modern Manchester United. I feel sure that the Flowers of Manchester will truly never be forgotten.

    RIP, boys, your tragic legacy is secure, United really will Never Die.

  16. gfunk says:

    Thanks alot Chingar…… i cant wait to show this my dad. Mad how all the names are british sounding compared to todays team sheets…… incomprehendable how we managed to come back from this within 5 years and then win European cup just 10 years later……… as you say, Sir Matt and his team we all thankyou from the bottom of our hearts!!!! one love mufc

  17. Bill Hick's Ghost says:

    The what if, will always haunt United fans….. RIP Babes.

  18. matt4d says:

    just to reiterate, that book is a phenomenal read – hugely recommended.

  19. Manc Harvin says:

    Every football club has a history, but no club can come close to matching United’s history.

    At Munich, we lost virtually a whole team. 8 players died and 2 others were so badly injured that they never played again, and this was in the days when squads were much smaller. Yet incredibly just 10 years later, a new team had been built by Matt Busby, a team which won the European Cup in 1968. And won it in style, not by some fluky penalty shoot-out, but by playing in the same swashbuckling style which the Busby Babes had become famous for.

    United didn’t buy their way to success either. It was fitting that in 1968, 8 of United’s players were home grown from the youth team, with only Stepney, Dunne & Crerand being bought.

    Many words have been written about the Busby Babes, and for many United fans, it’s difficult to read about their heroic exploits without it bringing a tear to your eye. Try reading the following extract from Max Arthur’s book “The Manchester United Aircrash”, describing the moment when local boy Eddie Colman’s coffin was brought home:

    “Eddie’s father spoke of the day his son’s coffin was brought to the house. He knew that there had been some problems with identifying some of the bodies in Munich but he was given a sad reassurance. Eddie’s dog had been waiting every day at the corner of the street for his master to return. As soon as the coffin was brought into the house, the dog ran in and sat underneath it. Eddie had come home”

  20. FletchTHEMAN says:

    Giles Oakley Always love your recollections. I was almost 1. Grandfather was a big fan so heard alot of stories. Always a bit torn up when adults of the time talk about that team. The impact they had on people, the humility of the lads.

  21. FletchTHEMAN says:

    GFunk, Think that chingar has it right.

    Giles Oakley, What is your feeling about the BBC series “United” and how central they put Jimmy Murphy to the “saving” the club from financial shut down? Many of my mates feel it is a bit of revisionist history, but that part of the story seems like it must have had a bit of truth to it.

  22. dannysoya LOVES USAIN BOLT says:

    Rest in Peace to these absolute legends. Condolences to all the families who had their loved ones taken away by this unfortunate disaster. They are in a better place now. Gone but never forgotten.

  23. Red4ever says:

    Can’t forget this day ever ,,im only 21 and that too im from india I’ve supported this club from as long as I remmember but still my eyes fill with tears this day im crying as I write this ,,,, flowers of manchester perished that day but thier pressence is with everyday I can say they must be somewere in the streford end singing thier hearts out glory glory man united and the reds go marching on on on !!!!

    God plzzz fullfil my dream I want to sing at our homes games watching reds play ,,,,

    With them alive we would be 40 something champs ,,,,, gone but never forgoten

  24. Edpayasugo says:


    Very poignant words from Jimmy Murphy.

  25. Passmaster 16 says:

    RIP to our heroes.. We ‘ll never die. ¤oneutd¤

    Fletch theMAN..

    thanx for a follow back on twitter.. my username is linutd on twitter.. Blessed.

  26. DreadedRed says:

    Never forget.

  27. Red or Dead says:

    I was in Moscow for the champions league final in 2008 the year of the 50th anniversary of Munich and I swear it was the spirit of the Babes that ispired our win that night….got tears in my eyes just thinking about it.

  28. Red or Dead says:

    Inspired our win

  29. Zulu-Utd Malta says:

    This is the blackest day of the year for me, more black then when I suffered a heart attack after the Champions Lge final that we lost against Barca 2009.

    The flowers of Manchester shall always be in the heart of every United fan all over the world !
    Every 6th of February I put a scarf around a picture of THE BUSBY BABES at home and light a candle in their memory!


  30. Giles Oakley says:

    Hi Fletch the Man,

    It’s been a while since I viewed the ‘United’ drama but I remember thinking that it was well-intentioned but somewhat wrong-headed in its storytelling. The portrayal of Matt Busby was particularly poor, making him come over like some sort of gangster in his trilby. There were also various factual errors, all easily avoided with the simplest of fact-checking, which irritated. I think sometimes Jimmy Murphy’s achievements after the crash do get underestimated, which may have been a factor in the way they approached this drama, but it somehow got the overall balance wrong. However, on the credit side, it was I believe intended to keep the Babes’ memory alive in a genuinely resp[ectful way. They did convey something of how people felt at the time, and, most importantly, the essential innocence and youthful enthusiasm of the players came through, giving the impact of the crash a real emotional ‘kick’ for viewers who had no prior knowledge. I’d recommend people view it, not boycott it, but be aware there are flaws in it.

    Regarding Paddy Crerand, I have written a tribute to the great man in the latest issue of ‘Inside United’, the official club magazine. Paddy signed for United 50 years ago today, exactly five years to the day after Munich.

  31. TheCANTONA says:

    Great articles & great comments from people here.
    RIP Busby Babes, The Flowers of Manchester, You’ll never be forgotten.

  32. FletchTHEMAN says:

    Giles. Cheers, I agree it was respectful on balance, but they did a terrible job on Sir Matt.

    In case you have missed it, has put up some videos (from 2008 I think), and just posted a page called “The men we lost at Munich”, with short statements on each of the players.

  33. Gee says:

    ‘We’ll Never Die’

  34. Sparkz says:

    R.I.P, never forgotten.

  35. RedHairedDevil says:

    Rest in Peace to these remarkable men. We will never forget you.

  36. Red4ever says:

    I really feel if they were alive they would have been and I mean was miles better than barcalona ,,,,best group of players to ever play for man united ,,,,, we are man united we will never die GGMU !!!!!

  37. Longsight Red says:

    RIP. Gone but never forgotten.

  38. Neil says:

    Giles and Manc Harvin both have said more than I could ever say, and they said it far more eloquently. Such a sad day but they all live on forever in our hearts. I’m too young to have experienced this firsthand but I can’t imagine have awful it must have been with every excruciating news update. We live in a 24 hour news cycle world and back then people must have been starved for information, and I’m sure there were all kinds of false reports. Jimmy Murphy was indeed a hero, btw. He doesn’t get anywhere near the credit that he deserves.

  39. Passmaster 16 says:

    about Duncan Edwards..

    He died only 21.. but Sir Bobby Charlton says it was the only player who made him feel inferior on the pitch..” u can jus imagine how great this guy would have become.. LEGEND.

    Lest we forget.. ¤oneutd¤

  40. DohaRed says:

    Manc Harvin,

    I’ve been a United Supporter for 53 years. I was 5 when the Munich air crash happened. I never heard that story about Eddie Colman’s dog before, brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing it.

  41. Manc Harvin says:

    Doha Red,

    The brilliant book that those words came from was published in 1983, on the 25th anniversary of the disaster. It’s impossible to read it without crying.

    The author Max Arthur’s preface in the book sums up what we all feel about United.

    “On a quiet sunlit mid-November morning I sat up on the terraces of Old Trafford. There were no crowds, no one training and the only sounds came from a motorised mower. It was hard to believe that this ground, which had seen such excellence and absorbed such tragedy could be so still. Yet even in its stillness, it maintained its unique aura, for there is no other ground like it. Old Trafford has seen and survived it all. Its very soul is like United, indestructible.

    Old Trafford pulsates with life and vitality at every home game. The supporters of United are both passionate and committed and have an intense loyalty to a club that they love. For them, there is no other club. There is only United”

  42. Marky the Devil says:

    Just finished reading David Meek’s book about the Busby babes. Now I appreciate these lads even more.


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