I feel like there should be a separate thread for the Munich air disaster, like we used to have at the old place. Obviously we all know the story, but I'll put this one here anyway.
The Flowers of Munich Munich Air Disaster 6th Feb 1958 as told by Harry Gregg
The captain told everyone to run for it, because the stricken aircraft was likely to explode, but Harry Gregg heard the cry of a child. The Manchester United goalkeeper crawled back in among the wreckage to rescue the baby and then returned for the mother. He stayed to help the others and this is his story of the fateful day on that terrible winter's afternoon of February the 6th, 1958.
We landed at Munich for a refuelling stop. It was snowing slightly and there were footprints in the snow as we made our way into the terminal. We got back on and there was nothing untoward as we set off down the runway.
I watched the telescopic leg of the wheel on my side extend as we went towards lift-off. I watched the wheel lock and unlock with the plane swerving about a little bit.
Then the aircraft stopped and someone came on to say we would be going back to make another attempt. I just supposed it was a technical hitch.
We set off again, going a little bit further this time. It was like a speedboat at sea with a bow wave as the snow got deeper. We pulled up again and it was quite unnerving. This time they said we would be going back into the terminal and the party would disembark.
In less than five minutes we were called back on and we boarded again. I watched the steward belting himself in and I thought it was perhaps more serious than I had realised. So I made a point of getting well down in my seat, undid my collar and tie, and put my feet on the chair in front.
I was reading a book which wasn't too kind to the way I had been brought up so I put it down. I thought if I get killed reading a book like that I'Il go to hell which was the way of life in those days.
I kept watching the wheels and I thought we were away this time because we were going past places I had not seen before. I couldn't see the fence because you can't see ahead from inside a plane. I thought we had lifted until all of a sudden there was this horrendous noise. It felt as if everything was upside down, one minute daylight the next darkness, with an awful sound of tearing, ripping, smoke and flames.
The first thump I got was on the back of the head, then on the front of my head. I felt something going up my nose and I just didn't know what was going on. I had not long joined Manchester United, I was married and had one child, and in my simple mind I thought I had done well for the first time in my life and that I wouldn't see my wife, little girl and parents again. I also worried that I couldn't speak German, why I thought that I have no idea. Everything seemed to be in slow motion.
All of a sudden it all stopped. There was nothing but darkness and I thought it must be hell because of the blackness. I just lay there for a while and felt the blood running down my face. I was afraid to reach up for fear of what I would find.
Then I realised I couldn't be dead. There was some burning and sparks from wires. Above me to the right was a hole and daylight. I started to crawl towards it and in the darkness went over one or two people. I looked out of the hole and directly below me was lying Bert Whalley, the team coach wearing an air force blue suit. His eyes were wide open and he hadn't a mark on him.
I made the hole bigger and dropped down beside Bert. In the distance I could see five people running through the snow and shouting run, run, it's going to explode. I just stood there. I think the fear factor had gone, I really don't know, but from around what was left of the cockpit came the pilot, Captain Thain, and he also shouted run, you stupid fool, it's going to explode, and ran back the way he had come.
Just then I heard a child crying and I shouted there are people still alive in here. I crawled back in terrified of what I was going to find. I found the child under a pile of rubbish and crawled out. The Radio Operator came back and I gave him the child. I went back in and found the mother. She was in a shocking state and I had to literally kick her through the hole to send her on her way. I found Ray Wood and was sure he was dead, I couldn't get him out. I saw Albert Scanlon and he looked even worse. I tried to drag him out but he was trapped by the feet and I had to put him down.
I got out and went round the back of the aircraft where I found Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet hanging half in and half out of the stump of the plane. I dragged them clear by the waistbands of their trousers and left them about 15 yards away.
I got round the other side and at that point realised how bad it was with the rest of the plane sticking out of what I later learned was a fuel store and it was on fire. Between that and the part of the plane I had come out of was the Boss. He was sitting up on his elbows with his hands across his chest and moaning a terrible "Aargh." He had a bad cut behind his ear and one of his feet was bent back the wrong way but he didn't look too bad compared with what I had seen. I thought I could leave him. I put something behind him to support his back and said "You're OK Boss."
I went another 20 yards and found Jackie Blanchflower. The snow was melting around him because of the heat and the burning part of the aircraft. He was crying out that he had broken his back and was paralysed. I looked and saw Roger Byrne lying across him and I don't think Jackie had realised that it was Roger's body which was holding him down.
Roger didn't have a mark on him. He was a handsome fellow, handsome in life and handsome in death. I kept talking to "Blanchy." His right arm was almost severed and I took my tie off to tie round his arm. I pulled so hard I broke it. I looked up and one of the stewardesses was standing there. I asked her to get something to tie his arm with but the poor girl was in shock, so just used what was left of my tie.
People came from across the fields, ordinary people, not rescue people. I didn't see any of those at all. Eventually a Volkswagen arrived which was a coal van. Jackie was put into it, also Johnny Berry who I didn't even recognise as a player until I saw the badge on his blazer. Myself Billy Foulkes and Dennis Viollet were also put in and we were driven to the hospital.
I remember breaking down and crying when we got there and I saw Bobby Charlton, Peter Howard,Ted Ellyard and a big Yugoslav. I was just relieved that there were more of us alive. Some of us were asked to identify people they were working on. Ray Wood was lying on the floor as they attended to his eye.
They gave us a bowl of soup and the Yugoslav collapsed. He just slid down the wall. He had been walking around with a broken leg which suddenly gave way. They started to give us injections. Bobby fainted and so he was kept in hospital.
Billy Foulkes, Ted, Peter and I were taken to a hotel where the people looked after us wonderfully.
Jimmy Murphy turned up the following day with Jean Busby, Sandy Busby, Duncan's father, Gladstone, Jimmy Payne, Duncan's best friend, Jackie's dad and the wives like Jean Blanchflower.
Jean Busby at that time was remarkable. She took care of everyone and encouraged the other wives while all the time her own husband was upstairs fighting for his life. She was strong, very, very strong.
I had to go back to the hospital the next day. I could hardly get out of bed because of my back. They gave me injections to the point where I said that's enough because the injections were worse than the bad back. Jimmy Murphy asked Bill and I to stay for a few days so that those lying in hospital wouldn't realise the Full extent of the accident.
Eventually professor Maurer took Jimmy, Bill and myself round the theatres and would stop at the foot of each bed to tell us their chances of survival. The Boss: Fifty-fifty because he was a strong man, Jackie Blanchflower OK, Duncan fifty-fifty but when he got to little Johnny Berry he whispered, no, no, I am not God. Johnny survived of course but unhappily died a year or two ago.
Duncan Edwards woke up when we went into his room and he asked us: "What time is kick-off?" Quick as a flash Jimmy Murphy told him three o'clock, son. Duncan responded:"Get stuck in."
Bill and I came home and I remember about 10 days afterwards all the newspapers in my house kept disappearing. I couldn't figure what was going on until realised they were being hidden from me. Big Duncan had died. I found that hard. It hit me terribly. Yes, that was Munich.
A lot of people wondered where Matt Busby got the strength from to return to football and start all over again. I went to see him shortly after he got back to England. He had aged terribly and he told me that the hardest part for him after the march was the way Johnny Berry kept coming to his room to say: "Tommy Taylor's some friend of mine, he hasn't even been to see me." Johnny didn't know the full extent of the crash and Matt said he just didn't know what to say to him.
He told me: "Son, they couldn't give me an anaesthetic to set my broken foot because of my chest injuries, so they set it a bone at a time, one every day It was cruel, but it didn't hurt me like Johnny Berry coming into my room every day to say Tommy Taylor was a poor friend."
It was awful for Jimmy after the crash, too. He had so much to do. I remember in Munich walking up the stairs to my room and I was one flight from the top when I heard this terrible crying. At first I couldn't figure it out but as I got nearer I could just make out Jimmy sitting in the dark on the empty staircase crying his eyes out. I just quietly walked away.
Scandal blemished the Busby Babes only once. Duncan Edwards was hauled before the beaks and fined a quid for pedalling his bike on a pavement.
No BMW's then. Or Spice Girls, either. Still less any equivalent of today's millionaire toadies to fawn on footballers earning only the League maximum of £120 a week when crashing on their third take-off at Munich in February 1958.
Such a different world and, as the 40th anniversary of the disaster is remembered, so little surviving evidence for the screen. Granada director Alan Brown, cutting and shaping his hour-long documentary on the Babes, says:
"TV coverage was almost non-existent." Action film of left-half Edwards, an England regular at 18, is sparse. Of right-half Eddie Colman even rarer. Cameras of the era were glued on the goalmouths, keeping only keepers and strikers in constant shot.
So Brown and producer Ricky Kelehar found another way' of answering their central questions: "Who were the Babes! What were they like! If Edwards was a Colossus, what made him one!"
Sir Bobby Charlton provided an unexpected answer: "We didn't think of ourselves as Busby's Babes, but as young people growing up together. A team of lads, a team of pals."
Modesty was their pride. David Pegg did the washing-up in his digs.
Colman never mentioned the club in outside company. He said only that he worked at Trafford Park, hinting vaguely at painting and decorating or plate-laying with his dad on the Ship Canal.
When he offered a match-ticket to a favourite girl, she accepted with surprise for he had never talked football. Her bewilderment was all the greater when, as she gazed round to see where the devil he might be, Eddie ran out of the tunnel behind skipper Roger Byrne.
Tommy Taylor, a hang-in-the-air header of goals, along with Big Dunc from Dudley with the handy-round-the-house Pegg, are three of the film's four main Babes.
The fourth is Colman, Old Trafford's Own through being born at 9 Archie Street in the terraced, outside-lav row that inspired Coronation Street.
Charlton calls him:"The trendy one. The first I'd seen in drainpipe trousers and winkle-picker shoes. He also had sideburns and was never without a comb to tidy his hair." Taylor came from Barnsley for £29,999 and a back-hander of two Cup Final tickets. He kept close links with his hometown friends like Harry England, agreeing to be his best man in April, 1958. Harry's on camera saying that, disaster or not, he still wanted Taylor at the church in spirit. So he walked down the aisle in Tommy's shoes.
Mrs Sarah Edwards, Duncan's 88-year-old widowed mother, tells of ticking off her prodigious son for practising football in the street. Not with a ball, but a brick! She talks of her enormous joy at sitting behind the Queen at Wembley and seeing Duncan, on his England debut, wave from the pitch.
A phrase used by Mrs Edwards in this rare interview was a hot contender for the film's title "The Busby Babes: End of a Dream." Yet it could have been "All our Sons" from her comment about the eight dead players: "They were all our sons...and they will always be young"
But the fatalities were not only footballers. Three United officials perished, along with eight journalists, plus a British European Airways pilot and a steward, a travel agent and a United fan. In all, 23.
Also, for it was a sort of death, central defender Jackie Blanchflower and winger Johnny Berry, neither of whom could play again.
Goalkeeper Harry Gregg, a heroic, untiring rescuer on the snowy runways, pulled out Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet and a baby girl from the carnage. Granada traced her in Yugoslavia.
Her mother, too, was found and spoke of regaining consciousness in hospital with a- fractured skull..."Unable to remember who I was. I had forgotten Vesna, my baby. Forgotten that I was pregnant again. "Then, when I saw nuns hovering round me, speaking German, I thought the war had re-started."
Karl-Heinz Seffer, an airline mechanic, was found with proof that demolished "frozen wings" as a cause of the crash. He showed photographs of himself walking on the silver wings of the Elizabethan... "Impossible if there had been ice."
So many deaths caught the airport firemen on the hop without blankets for the bodies. A manager told them to strip the covers off all the VIP cars as makeshift shrouds.
"It was dreadful' says one of the brigade. "Especially when we returned from the mortuary and the same man ordered us to go back for the car covers.
Home in Manchester, a policeman from Stretford spent a night guarding the dead and imprinting on his memory an unusual smell of tragedy.."Fresh varnish on the coffins. I can't forget it."
Gareth Williams, an archive researcher for Granada, showed me a European Cup photograph meant to be cheerful but, in retrospect, the grimmest of warnings.
David Pegg, shouldering a broom like a rifle and accompanied by Viollet and Mark Jones, grins on the runway at Bilbao where the whole squad had just swept their plane's homeward path clear of snow.
The order was given by Busby, worried about being delayed for Saturday's League match.
It was January 17, 1957.Just over a year away from another quarter-final - and the snow turning crimson.
T’was the night before Christmas, Old Trafford was bare. The staff all gone home, there was nobody there.. The lights cast a shadow, a soft glimmer which lit up the soft green grass on the pitch.
Just as the clock gave out its twelfth chime An old man appeared, as if frozen in time. He gazed at the tunnel, then broke out in voice “ITS TIME TO BEGIN.. LETS HAVE YOU MY BOYS”
Out from the tunnel appeared a lone figure Same as in life, only infinitely bigger The old man called out as he slowly drew near “good evening Duncan, are the rest of you here”
The figure broke out in wide open smile “Good Evening Sir Matt, it has been a long while The rest are all coming, they’ll be here soon,” As seven more shadows were cast by the moon.
Whelan and Bent, Pegg, Taylor and Byrne, Jones , and Colman, they came out in turn. He greeted each one, just by calling their name then proudly announced “do you fancy a game”
They took to the pitch, and the still night was broken By leather on leather, not one word was spoken They played once again, like they did long before And imagined the sound of the Old Trafford roar
Edwards called out “come on lads lets pretend That we’ve just scored a goal at the old Stretford End” As they ran to the edge of the pitch by the goal There in the stands sat a solitary soul.
His eyes were all puffy, his cheeks wet with tears As his mind wandered back to those wonderful years “come down and join us” they cried all as one “yes come down and join them” said Matt “go on son”
The lonely man stood and with much pain he said “I’m afraid I can’t play with you, you are all dead. You are all ghosts, and I am alive That was the price that I paid to survive”
My role was to go on, inspire the team And finally realise Matt Busby’s dream To tell of your greatness, and as I get older To burden the weight of your life on my shoulders.”
The ghost of Sir Matt then raised up his head Giving out a loud groan, he finally said “Bobby, You survived, that much is true But we wouldn’t be here if it were not for you
For you are the one who has kept us alive That was the reason you had to survive If you were with us, all we have would be gone And the game that we play could no longer go on
If you can’t understand why it happened this way Then come here and watch when United play They sing about us, they remember us all We live and we breathe with each kick of the ball
The legends that live here, Robson and Best, Cantona, Law, Giggs, Scholes and the rest They are us, we are them, we are all here as one And that is the reason United goes on
So come down and join us, we’re begging you do You are still one of us, and we’re still one of you” And then Bobby’s face rose and he gave them a smile And he said “I would love to come play for a while”
They played and they played, as they did in the past Only not quite as skilful, and not quite as fast And when it was over, and when it was done They’d defeated Benfica by four goals to one.
Then Sir Matt said “lads, its been fun you know But It’s now Christmas day, and we really must go” They walked to the front of the stadium and turned And Sir Bobby said “there is something I’ve learned”
“You did not die, on that February night You’re still here with us, as you’re with me tonight And you’ll live on forever as long as we play” As the ghosts disappeared down Sir Matt Busby Way.
You can lead a man to reason, but you cannot make him think.
My Grandad was originally from Irlams o' th' Height, he wasn't a big football fan but took an interest because football clubs back then were massive focal points of the community, he took my father to Old Trafford not long after it was reopened after the Manchester blitz. My dad got the bug from there and got swept up in the events that unfolded in the following years.
Both him and my Grandad lived through the seismic impact the tragedy had locally, then nationally, and then internationally. Utterly stunned communities recovering post World War II, people took it really hard. Grim times indeed. Put a dent in the whole country for a while ...and so it was born.
Rebirth, regeneration, life goes on but a tragedy always brings things home and puts things into perspective whether it's Hillsborough, Bradford or Munich, or whatever. It's good to be humbled and to remember sometimes.