Most of us can remember the feeling of hearing a shocking piece of news, one which would stay in your memory for the rest of your life. You can remember where you were, who told you, what your reaction was like, and how you felt. Often, these moments are of a matter that you are relatively unconnected with. A president being shot, a war being started, a famous person passing away, and the like, can all be shocking, but they are rarely going to effect you on a personal level.
The Munich Air Disaster took place before I was even a twinkle in my daddy’s eye, but the story and tradition of Munich is one I have grown up with. The only way I can come close to relating it to myself is if I imagine David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Phil and Gary Neville etc. losing their lives after winning the Double in 1996. We saw what great things they went on to achieve, we’ve never had to feel the longing or pain of what might have been. My great uncle was a regular at Old Trafford in those days, but turned his attention to the cricket ground after the disaster, unable to watch the new team Sir Matt Busby formed. He, like many others in Manchester at the time, had to come to terms with losing his team, the men who played out his dreams. It truly is unimaginable for anyone who wasn’t following United to comprehend what that must have been like.
Seven men connected with the club or the crash have recalled their memories of hearing about the Munich Air Disaster, which occurred 50 years ago today, bringing an insight to emotion that came with the tragedy. Courtesy of MUTV.
Ronnie Cope, former player – left United in 1961, three years after the crash
“It had been my wife’s idea to go shopping in Manchester, to take my mind off the disappointment of not going with the team to Belgrade. We were in the city centre when I heard this man shouting, ‘Plane crash! Plane crash!’ I didn’t take any notice at first. We walked halfway down the street and then… I couldn’t believe what happened next… an old lady walked in front of a bus and was killed. I was mesmerised, but I had to take my two children away from the scene and as I was doing so, I saw the placard – ‘Manchester United plane crash.’ When I got home, my next door neighbour told me what had happened. It took me a long time to get over it. Geoff Bent lived up the road from me. We used to go out together with our wives and kids. I just couldn’t bear to meet Geoff’s wife after the crash because he’d taken my place in the team and he’d been killed as a result.”
Noel McFarlane, former player – left United in 1956, two years before the crash
“I was at home when my wife came in and said, ‘Have you heard the news?’ I said, ‘What news?’ My wife replied, ‘A plane’s crashed, United were on it.’ It’s difficult to say how I felt. Obviously I was sad because the players who died were my friends and some of them were very good friends. But in a way I suppose I felt lucky, not to have been there with them. I can’t really say any more about it.”
Pat Crerand, former player – joined United on the 5th anniversary of the crash
“I remember I was going to Celtic Park (Glasgow Celtic’s ground) to train. I was travelling on what we called a trolley bus when it went past a newspaper stand and the placards read ‘Manchester United in plane crash’. Even in those days, you just thought, ‘Oh, they’re just trying to sell papers with that headline.’ When I got to Celtic Park, it was about quarter to six. The conversation then was about who had been killed and we knew that Duncan Edwards, the big hero of young kids like us in Glasgow, was seriously ill.”
Sir Alex Ferguson, United manager – aged 16 at the time of the tragedy
“I’d been studying in the library that afternoon, so my first awareness of the crash came at about half past six when I arrived for training at my local football club. I remember seeing grown men in a terrible state. Training, of course, was cancelled.”
David Meek – became the Evening News’ United reporter after the crash
“I was working at the Manchester Evening News, then reporting on politics, not sport, when suddenly word went round about the United plane being in a crash. The atmosphere in the office was suddenly highly charged. The editor Tom Henry knew it was a major story. He cleared the office except for a few senior people who would bring out a special edition of the newspaper. They kept updating it as more news came in from Munich.”
Mike Jackson, son of victim Tom Jackson, Evening News journalist
“I was walking home from the school bus stop when I heard some lads shouting amongst themselves, ‘The United plane’s crashed.’ It was Thursday and I knew my father was expected home that night. I thought, ‘That can’t be right, they’ve got that wrong.’ So I quickened my step, got home and found the house full of neighbours and relatives and my mother looking extremely distraught. My mother and I eventually settled down to watch the television and see what news was coming through. I remember saying, ‘No news is good news’, thinking there was still a possibility he’d survived because his name hadn’t yet come up. But clearly the authorities were still sifting through the remains, trying to name people.”
Bryan Hughes, lifelong United supporter
“I was standing at a bus stop and this lady said to me, ‘Isn’t it terrible about that crash?’ I couldn’t believe it. When I got home, I asked people who lived nearby, was she right? We didn’t have a television then, we couldn’t afford one. We couldn’t even afford what we called a wireless (a radio) so we had to rely on other people telling us the news or wait for the evening newspaper to be delivered. When the headlines appeared on placards outside the newspaper shop, I knew it was true. It was one of the worst moments of my life. I felt the same kind of sadness as when my dear old mother died. It took me ages to get over it.”