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Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Boss: My respect for Sir Matt

Sir Alex Ferguson admires the qualities which enabled Sir Matt Busby to rebuild United after the Munich air crash decimated his talented young team...

Obviously the crash had a huge impact on everyone - and Scottish people particularly, with Matt Busby being such a respected figure. Matt had gathered a great affection for the way his United side were playing, but the esteem in which he was held up there wasn’t just down to that alone - it was also because of how he’d built his teams. I’d gone to see them as a teenager in 1953 play in the Coronation Cup against Rangers and Celtic - but United were the main attraction.

What we see at United today has its foundations back in that era - in particular, the way it was done with young players. And that’s really the saddest part of all; that these young men lost their lives almost before they’d started to really enjoy their football: Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, just young lads at the start of their careers; such a terrible tragedy. I was lucky enough to see Duncan play for England U23s against Scotland - he scored a hat-trick. I trust Bobby Charlton’s opinion without question, and when he says Duncan, at just 21, was the best he ever played with, that tells you everything.

I recall reading that it took Matt a long time to deal with how he would face the players again, of how he’d lain there in hospital knowing he’d lost all these young lads, but had to go back to those that had survived. He felt commitment to do something about it, which gave him the drive and purpose to rebuild. But it takes special people to do what he did, to come through that and carry on. I think if he’d retired there and then, people would have understood.

It tells you something about the man’s character and the steel he had. It’s about having a foundation you can rely on - and I think Matt had that: the concept of loyalty, a work ethic and the trust of and in those around him. I think you bring these things to your job; be it sport, business, or whatever - and I think it’s an asset, because you’ve got something to fall back on during trying times. And that’s what ultimately saw him through. If I’d have been there that day, I’d have had a bet on him doing it, because he had the will.

Of course, Matt lovingly rebuilt his team to win the European Cup in 1968 - again in all the right ways - with all but a handful of that side homegrown. It was a staggering achievement: one that, in part, has helped to create the romance associated with United today; an affection across the world engendered by playing the game in the right way, with entertaining and attacking footballers.

Manchester United was the perfect club for me (to join in 1986), particularly as Bobby Charlton was desperately keen to have a rebirth in developing the young players. He, along with (former chairman) Martin Edwards, saw the right way in terms of rebuilding, and I needed that support because, like them, I felt this wasn’t so much a football team as a football club. Read more...

Learning About the Past

Ryan Giggs tells how the current United players learned about the Munich air disaster and discusses the impact it had on them...

Can you recall when you first learned about Munich?
As a fan growing up, you’re aware of Munich but as a kid you don’t really know too much about it. I gradually learned more as I joined the club full-time and began to see Sir Matt Busby around Old Trafford. I used to see him regularly because the room where we used to pick up our wages as apprentices was near to his office. Then we had Sir Bobby Charlton coming down to watch the youth team, which he still does today. We had never seen Sir Matt manage or Sir Bobby play so we used to ask what they were like. Inevitably, Munich began to come up around those questions and I began to learn more about it.

Patrice Evra has talked about United's "strong identity" and his urge to learn about the club. Do you agree current players need to understand the history?
Yes, I do. New players, especially the foreign players, are joining a club which they think is great and offers them everything that comes from United being successful over the last 10 to 15 years. But also when you actually come to the club, you learn more about the support that we’ve got worldwide and you gather more information about the history. We all watched a DVD about Munich recently. It was really important for the squad to watch that and learn about what happened. Not only about the crash itself but also the success they had before it and how the team moved forward in the aftermath, from winning the next game to winning the European Cup 10 years later.

Did anything surprise you when you watched the DVD?
Yes, there were things I didn’t know about the crash. I didn’t know how soon United played again afterwards, just 13 days later, and that players like Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg who survived the crash were in the team. I thought that was unbelievable. But it wasn’t just the DVD that surprised me. Sir Bobby also spoke that day as someone who witnessed every thing first hand. It was great to hear him speaking about his experiences of playing in Europe at the time and how different it was then. He gave us a picture of how the players prepared for games, for example. Now if we’re playing in a big game like a Champions League semi-final, we’ll watch videos and know everything about the opposition. Everything. Then I think Sir Matt would go on one scouting mission and that would be it. The Babes couldn’t see videos of the players they were up against and the system they used. Once Sir Matt went to watch Real Madrid and when he came back, his players asked him what they were like. He didn’t want to tell them because Real Madrid were that good! It was great to hear stories like that from Sir Bobby. His talk was a real insight into how football has changed and how good that team was.

It must be difficult to appreciate how good the Babes were, when you can only watch a few minutes of footage from the era…
It is difficult. The first thing that struck me was how big Duncan Edwards was, he was massive! Sir Bobby played with Denis Law and George Best but he still regards Duncan as the greatest he played with. He must have been some player, equally at home playing centre-half or centre-forward.

What was the general response from the squad after your meeting on Munich?
It was quiet. At the end, Sir Bobby asked if there were any questions but nobody spoke up. I think the players were still in awe of Sir Bobby talking and still affected by the DVD. I’m sure everyone had a question though and if one person had asked theirs, then everyone else would have done the same. A lot of the players didn’t know beforehand what they were coming in for, they didn’t know a lot about it. After all, some of the players who’ve joined us are from different countries and are still young at 19 or 20. It was interesting to see the effect it had on them. Everyone was moved.

How important is it for everyone - players and supporters - to know what happened at Munich and the story of how the club recovered?
I think it’s very important, to know how the Busby Babes played and how successful they were before the air disaster and to know how Sir Matt built another great team. There are so many things that are relevant to us today and we need to carry on their legacy. For example, fans want to see young players coming through and doing well which they do on a regular basis at this club. And both as individuals and as a team, we have to play in the right manner, to excite supporters and get people off their seats. That has got to go on because it’s one of the things that sets this club apart. It’s also a club that never stands still, it always goes forward. Sir Alex keeps producing great teams, just like Sir Matt did, and that will go on throughout the future of this club. Read more...

Sir Bobby: A survivor's story

Sir Bobby Charlton survived the Munich air disaster to become one of the most renowned players in world football, an ambassador for his club and country. His personal recollection of the crash, as told in an exclusive interview with MUTV, begins with the fateful European Cup fixture away in Yugoslavia...

The battle of Belgrade

The two games against Red Star Belgrade were tight. We were only a goal ahead after the home game, which was strange because we normally took control at home. Confidence was high that we could beat them, but they had good players like Ĺ ekularac and Kostic, who scored from a free kick, bending it over the wall. We were ready for the tie because we’d had tough games already. But when we were drawn against Red Star it was a new challenge for us because we’d never played anyone from that part of the world before. They were very efficient and had a volatile crowd. But we were well prepared and within the first half hour were 3-0 up against one of the best teams in Europe, and this was to get into the quarter-finals!

The pitch was bad. It was muddy, it had been drained and had thawed, but there was a crust of snow and ice on the top - making the ball ping about. It was great for shooting, though. And then we started cruising, taking things easy and got ourselves into all sorts of trouble. I think it was inexperience, playing in Europe was new to us. Back at home, we’d never lose a three-goal lead. Then, with five minutes to go they equalised and it was very tense, thankfully the referee blew his whistle and we were through - it was fantastic.

The crash at Munich

The weather was bad. There was snow on the runway and the facilities airports have these days were not available. The pilot had three attempts at taking off. After two we came back and stayed in the airport. Eventually the officials said it was okay to go. The slush on the runway was the problem. The plane, the Elizabethan, took a long time to take off as it needed a long runway but it didn’t make it. Even now it’s hard to take in.

We went through the outer fence and everyone knew then something wasn’t right. It was a dreadful thing, the worst thing to happen in a sporting context - young players at their peak taken away. People were so excited about what United were doing in Europe - we were representing our country.

I didn’t know where I was. I was still sitting in my seat - which had somehow been ripped from underneath the plane. I thought I’d just closed my eyes. Afterwards, Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes said I’d been unconscious for quarter of an hour. In that time they’d been going in and out trying to help people out. It was a very brave thing to do - the plane was on fire and broken in half. Those two ought to be thanked for what they did.

The first two times we failed to take off I had taken my coat off leaving the plane. For the third time I didn’t, because I thought if I have to get off the plane again I wanted to have it with me because of the cold. After the crash, when I saw Matt Busby near me in a pool of water, I put my coat underneath him. It was clear he was seriously injured.

The news sinks in

We reached the hospital and tried to see the rest of the players. I remember it very clearly, sitting in that waiting room. I had concussion and cuts on my head, but I started ranting and raving at this poor lad. A medic put an injection in my neck – and I don’t remember anything else until the next morning.

There was a young lad in the same room as me the following day and he had a newspaper – he told me all about the accident. His English wasn’t great, but he was gesturing. Then I went through the list of players in my mind – and he told me if they were alive or dead.

There were a lot of men on the flight who were just guests. There were people on the plane such as journalists, representatives from the embassies and their staff from Belgrade coming to England for a stay. They were all killed, too. Frank Swift – a great goalkeeper who played for England and Manchester City, a great name in the football world, then a journalist, also died. I’m just so fortunate that I was able to walk away from it. Duncan [Edwards] was seriously ill – but he didn’t pass away immediately. People tell me that perhaps with today’s medical advances he could have been saved.

He was in the Army with me and it was a huge shock for him to die. We lost staff members, too. Bert Whalley, Jimmy Murphy’s assistant, Tom Curry, the old trainer who organised the boots, equipment and training and, of course, the club secretary Walter Crickmer – we lost them as well.

The recovery

Once the accident happened we suddenly thought about how it would never be the same again. By that we meant would we repeat performances that resulted in us beating Arsenal twice that season by playing excellent football with confidence? We were so good as a team that when Munich happened it was so bad. It was demoralising for everyone; the families, the players, the fans. It was unbelievable. You hear about these things and think it’ll never happen to you.

Looking on the brighter side - Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes came back to play, I followed after that and we had to pick ourselves up. It was our quest that Manchester United win the European Cup because if it hadn’t been for that accident we would have done it that year - of that I’m certain. We feared no-one, no challenge was too big.

The comeback: 1968

We knew it would take a long time to rebuild. Matt Busby said it would be five years before we would win a major trophy. Almost five years to the day we lifted the FA Cup. And 10 years later we were champions of Europe. Winning the European Cup was a debt of gratitude to those that died - they had started the cause that we were fighting.

That night in 1968 was something special. Everyone in the world wanted us to win at Wembley and doing so was part of the history - it was important we managed it.

Sir Bobby Charlton was talking to MUTV.

From sorrow to success

As Matt Busby lay immobile in Munich, his trusty assistant Jimmy Murphy - who missed the trip to Belgrade because of his duties as Wales manager - had to pick up the pieces. Busby had told him, "Keep the flag flying, Jimmy."

As goalkeeper Harry Gregg recalled in his autobiography, the players who were left and able needed to play again. He wrote: “It (playing football) saved my sanity. I couldn’t get to the ground quick enough for training. Those brief moments spent running, diving, kicking, arguing and fighting were my escape valve.”

United’s chairman Harold Hardman was in full agreement. Just 13 days after the crash, the rescheduled fifth-round FA Cup tie with Sheffield Wednesday went ahead in front of a highly charged Old Trafford crowd of 59,848, with thousands more fans locked outside. Beneath the headline ‘United will go on’, Hardman’s message on the front of United Review (the club's match programme) was simple, yet effective.

“Although we mourn our dead and grieve for our wounded, we believe that great days are not done for us… Manchester United will rise again.”

The teamsheet in the United Review was poignantly blank. But Jimmy Murphy had followed his boss’s instructions and somehow put together a side to face Sheffield Wednesday. Crash survivors Gregg and Bill Foulkes were in the line-up, alongside new signings Ernie Taylor from Blackpool and Stan Crowther from Aston Villa, the team that had beaten United in the 1957 FA Cup final. Crowther signed just over an hour before kick-off and was given special dispensation to play having already appeared in the Cup that season for Villa.

The remainder of the team was a mixture of juniors and reserves: Ian Greaves, Freddie Goodwin, Ronnie Cope, Colin Webster, Alex Dawson, Stan Pearson and Shay Brennan, who scored twice on his debut as United won 3-0. Brennan would go on to play in the 1968 European Cup final ten years later.

For central defender Ronnie Cope, the game was a defiant stand, the chance to show all was not lost. “We’d lost some of the best players and the greatest players, but we hadn’t lost the spirit - that was what carried us through, the spirit.”

Riding the tide of goodwill, United made it through to Wembley where they met Bolton Wanderers in the final. The frail Busby sat on the bench and watched his team finally run out of steam, losing 2-0.

Murphy and his charges had pulled off a minor miracle to get that far. In the weeks and months following the crash, they had proved beyond any doubt that United would indeed go on. In the European Cup semi-final they beat Milan 2-1 at Old Trafford, before a valiant, yet comprehensive 4-0 defeat in the San Siro.

Though Busby had considered quitting, wrongly blaming his own sense of ambition for the chain of events that had ended in tragedy, his wife Jean and son Sandy convinced him to continue. Having overseen the building of greatness from an uncertain future, they believed he could - and should - aim for the sky again.

Success in '68

On 29 May 1968, ten years after Busby’s brave boys were lost in the snow, a tense night in north London climaxed with the knowledge that Matt had paid a debt to their memory.

Fittingly, the exuberance of local youth - the driving force behind Busby’s dream - played a full part in United winning the European Cup final at Wembley. Brian Kidd, a young striker from Collyhurst, Manchester - deputising for the injured Denis Law - celebrated his 19th birthday with United’s third goal in the 4-1 win over Benfica.

Another Collyhurst boy, Nobby Stiles, became one of only two Englishmen to win both the European Cup and the World Cup - the other was Bobby Charlton. As a kid, Stiles had idolised Eddie Colman; on this night, he tackled and ran for all the Babes. Another young man from Manchester, John Aston Jr, whose father had played in Busby’s FA Cup-winning side of 1948, was man of the match.

As they continue to do today, United had taken the crowd at Wembley from ecstasy to despair - and ultimately back again. And as Busby collapsed into the exhausted embraces of Charlton, Foulkes and Brennan, he felt a weight had been lifted.

“When Bobby (Charlton) took the cup, it cleansed me,” he said. “It eased the guilt of going into Europe. It was my justification.” Read more...

How we heard the news

Seven men connected with the crash or the club recall how they learned of the tragedy...

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.” Read more...

Birth and Rise of the Babes

As challenges go, the manager's job at Manchester United in 1945 seemed to be the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest in bare feet.

During the 1930s, the club was twice relegated from the top division and was close to bankruptcy. Then in 1941, during the Second World War, the Luftwaffe (Nazi Germany’s air force) bombed Old Trafford, leaving United to play their home games at Maine Road - the ground of local rivals Manchester City.

Such matters were, however, incidental to Matt Busby when he agreed to take charge at United on 19 February 1945. For Busby had a glittering vision: he saw beauty in that bombed-out stadium, and the chance to create a phoenix from those flames.

A native of Bellshill, a coal-mining community in Lanarkshire, Scotland, Busby knew the value of hard work, and recognised what honest endeavour could achieve. Crucially, too, he knew both Manchester and its people, having played for Manchester City in their 1934 FA Cup success. His partnership with United would change the face of English football.

Liverpool wanted Busby back after the war as player-coach. But Busby wanted to shape the future - he dreamed of younger, fresher legs, players to mould in his image. He knew youth held the key, not only to United’s success, but the future of the game. He found a kindred spirit in his predecessor Walter Crickmer, who remained club secretary. Crickmer helped to establish the Manchester United Junior Athletic Club (MUJACs) in 1938 and from those seeds Busby’s empire was born.

Busby set up an office two bus rides from Old Trafford. “In that small office there was not much room for dreaming, or much time but dream I did,” Busby reflected. He quickly appointed an assistant, his old army mate Jimmy Murphy, who took charge of the reserves, paying special attention to the youth team.

Within two years, Busby’s pioneering, hands-on management delivered United’s first trophy for almost 40 years. The FA Cup was won in 1948 with attacking football against a Blackpool side featuring the legendary English player Stanley Matthews.

After a couple of near misses, United won the league title in 1952. But the team was ageing - the time was coming for Busby to bring young, homegrown players into his senior squad.

Roger Byrne - who had excelled in the latter stages of 1951/52 on the wing - soon became a regular at full-back. Jackie Blanchflower, who alongside Byrne had been the first players to be called “Babes”, was joined more regularly by centre-half Mark Jones, who’d also made a few appearances for 1952’s title winners. Next came Eddie Colman and a boy in a man’s body - Duncan Edwards, who made his first team debut at the age of just 17.

Rise of the Babes

Not all of Busby's players were homegrown "Babes". In March 1953, he signed centre-forward Tommy Taylor from Barnsley for £29,999. He was to form a formidable partnership with Dennis Viollet, especially in 1955/56, when at least one of them scored in 21 of the 27 games they played together.

United ran away with the title, clinching it on Saturday 7 April 1956 against Blackpool, the club they’d beaten to win Busby’s first trophy (the 1948 FA Cup). The average age of the team was just 22. “The marks of the nursery cradle were on them, but they did not show,” said Busby, glowing with pride.

The challenge was to prove that the title success in 1955/56 was no flash in the pan. But Busby wasn’t satisfied with domestic domination alone: he sought a new test in the shape of the European Cup. United entered it for the first time in the 1956/57 season, initially without the blessing of the Football Association. In the preliminary round, they demolished Belgian club Anderlecht 10-0 under Maine Road’s floodlights after a 2-0 away success. The result remains United’s biggest win in a competitive match. Having also beaten Borussia Dortmund and Athletic Bilbao, United exited in the semi-final, that great Madrid side proving too wily in a 5-3 aggregate win.

At home, the Red army marched on. A fresh young hopeful, Bobby Charlton, scored twice on his debut, appropriately enough against Charlton Athletic – and was promptly dropped, such was the quality at Busby’s disposal. A fifth consecutive FA Youth Cup trophy was secured as the conveyor belt of talent continued to move.

The league title was retained as Taylor and Viollet once again teamed up admirably, but the top scorer was Ireland’s Liam Whelan who hit 26 goals. United had became an irresistible force – almost. Aston Villa prevented them winning the first league and FA Cup double of the modern age with a controversial 2-1 win at Wembley. The scorer of Villa’s goals Peter McParland was the villain, his shoulder barge on Ray Wood resulting in the United goalkeeper fracturing a cheekbone.

Despite that disappointment, time was on United’s side. Thoughts soon turned to capturing a third title in a row and another assault on Europe. Busby bolstered his Babes with another big signing, paying a world record fee for a goalkeeper to bring in Harry Gregg.

The season unfolded much like the previous two with smooth progress both domestically and in Europe. February opened with a thrilling encounter against Arsenal at Highbury. In an absorbing match, United edged out the Gunners 5-4; ideal preparation for the daunting European Cup quarter-final second-leg trip to meet Red Star Belgrade... Read more...

The Men We Lost at Munich

The Munich air disaster on 6 February 1958 claimed the lives of 23 passengers and crew. Here, remembers the eight United players and three officials who died, through the words of those who knew them best.

Roger Byrne - aged 28, full-back. 277 appearances, 19 goals, 33 England caps.

"An aristocratic footballer, majestic in his movement. Roger was so fast but at the same time he controlled his movement beautifully, like Nureyev." - Sir Matt Busby

Geoff Bent - aged 25, full-back. 12 appearances.

"When Geoff matured and reached his twenties there were many clubs after him but he stayed loyal. He could look after himself and was a great tackler. Roger Byrne was a consistent player and very brave, that was the reason Geoff got so few games, but he was good enough to hold a regular place in any team." - Jimmy Murphy

Eddie Colman - aged 21, half-back. 107 appearances, 2 goals.

"Eddie was a chirpy lad and a terrific player. He pushed the ball - never kicked it - and he jinked past players. He was known for his swivel hips." - Wilf McGuinness

David Pegg - aged 22, forward, 148 appearances, 28 goals, 1 England cap.

"David would have been a great asset to any team because he was a natural, left-flank player. David was very, very clever. Our best left-winger by a mile." - Sir Matt Busby

Mark Jones - aged 24, half-back, 120 appearances, 1 goal.

"Yorkshireman Mark was a really lovely fellow, but my word he was a tough

nut, and nobody took any liberties with him on or off the field." - Bill Foulkes

Duncan Edwards - aged 21, half-back, 175 apps., 21 goals, 18 England caps, 5 goals.

"When I used to hear Muhammad Ali proclaim to the world he was the greatest, I used to smile. The greatest of them all was a footballer named Duncan Edwards." - Jimmy Murphy

"The only player who ever made me feel inferior." - Sir Bobby Charlton

Tommy Taylor - aged 26, forward, 189 apps., 128 goals, 19 England caps, 16 goals

"I rate him as one of the all-time, best centre-forwards in the game, and he had yet to realise all his potential. He was a typically bluff Yorkshireman in many ways, often acting the clown, and a great team man." - Bill Foulkes

Liam 'Billy' Whelan - aged 22, forward, 96 apps., 52 goals, 4 Republic of Ireland caps

"Billy was a magician with a ball at his feet. I really don't think he knew how good he was and how much better he could have become. A world-class forward. There is no doubt about that. His vision and passing was sheer class." - Albert Scanlon

Walter Crickmer, club secretary / Tom Curry, trainer / Bert Whalley, coach

"Walter Crickmer always reminded me of a little dynamo, nothing was too much trouble. Tom Curry, the trainer, was someone we looked up to like a father. And Bert Whalley was certainly a tremendous help to me when I was a part-timer." - Bill Foulkes Read more...

The darkest day: 6 Feb 1958

February 6 will forever be circled on the calendars of everyone connected with Manchester United.

On that day in 1958, the darkest day in United's history, 23 people - including eight players and three members of the club's staff - suffered fatal injuries in the Munich air crash.

Flying back from a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade, the team plane stopped in Germany to refuel. The first two attempts to take off from Munich airport were aborted; following a third attempt, the plane crashed.

Twenty-two of the people on board died instantly, while Duncan Edwards - one of the eight victims from the team - died 15 days later as a result of the injuries he sustained.

The tragedy is an indelible part of United's history, as is Sir Matt Busby overcoming his injuries to build another great team which won the European Cup 10 years later.

Roger Byrne (28), Eddie Colman (21), Mark Jones (24), David Pegg (22), Tommy Taylor (26), Geoff Bent (25), Liam Whelan (22) and Duncan Edwards (21) all died, along with club secretary Walter Crickmer, trainer Tom Curry and coach Bert Whalley.

Eight journalists died - Alf Clarke, Tom Jackson, Don Davies, George Fellows, Archie Ledbrook, Eric Thompson, Henry Rose, and Frank Swift who was a former Manchester City player. Plane captain Ken Rayment perished, as did Sir Matt's friend Willie Sanitof. Travel agent Bela Miklos and passenger Tom Cable also died.

We will never forget.

Manchester United's Magical Number 7 Video Clip 2


Manchester United's Magical Number 7 Video Clip


Rio goes back to school

United defender Rio Ferdinand admits he is 'intrigued and excited' as he and his England colleagues begin life under new international manager Fabio Capello.

The Italian replaced Steve McClaren late last year and, ahead of his first game in charge against Switzerland, Rio concedes that a new experience beckons under Capello.

"I think it’s inevitable that’s it’s going to be different," he told a press conference. "They're different personalities, different people, different cultures.

"The new manager was very successful with his club teams, hopefully he can bring that success and experience to the England squad and we can become a successful team.

"The only way I can explain it is that it’s like going to a new school. Or going to a secondary school from a primary school. You’re intrigued and excited. We’re just like schoolkids waiting to suck up all the information he’s got, in the hope that it makes us a better team."

The appointment of a new manager has opened the door for a new captain to be named - and Ferdinand admits he would be honoured to take the armband.

“Obviously I’d be delighted, it’s a fantastic achievement for anybody," he said. "Right now John Terry’s the captain and he’s been a fantastic captain for club and country. But if you asked anyone sat here and they said they didn’t want to be England captain, I think they’d be lying.”


Manucho magic not enough

New United signing Manucho scored another superb goal for Angola on Monday evening, but it wasn't enough to prevent his side from exiting the African Cup of Nations.

Reigning champions Egypt saw off the challenge of the 'Black Antelopes' at the quarter-final stage, edging a keenly-contested match 2-1.

Abd Rabou opened the scoring for Egypt, but Manucho - already with three goals in the tournament - levelled with a surging run and scorching 25-yard drive just before the half-hour mark.

Although Angola began to dominate the match, the favourites regained the lead through Amir Zaki before half-time.

Manucho twice came close to levelling the match again, but in the end Egypt held on to book a semi-final clash with Ivory Coast.

Now that Angola are out of the tournament, Manucho will join up with Greek side Panathinaikos, where he will spend the rest of the season on loan.


Reds Fined For Booking Spree

Manchester United have incurred an automatic £25,000 fine from the Football Association after seven of their players were booked during the 1-1 draw at Tottenham. The fine is imposed any time a team picks up six or more yellow cards in a match, but United will not face any disciplinary action after a number of players remonstrated with the assistant referee after Tottenham's goal. Should six or more of their players be booked again in a single match this season then United would face a £50,000 fine.
Staff writer, Daily Mail

Squad stunned into silence

Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed that his players were struck dumb during a recent squad meeting to educate them on the events of the Munich air disaster.

With this week's 50 year anniversary looming, the Reds' playing staff were assembled for the meeting at Carrington - and Sir Alex was delighted with their reaction.

"We recently showed the players a film concerning events of 6 February, and you couldn’t hear a pin drop," said the United manager.

"I know what players are usually like when they’re called into the classroom, it’s a bit of a giggle, a laugh, the usual carry on. But it was an absolutely fantastic atmosphere, so silent."

With a squad brought together from such diverse backgrounds and cultures, Sir Alex and his staff were keen to ensure that all the players were schooled on a massively important chapter in United's opulent history.

"Bobby Charlton did a piece on the club and what it was like for him and the players and friends he lost," revealed Sir Alex.

"Foreign lads like Anderson, Nani and Carlos Tevez may not know about Manchester United in the same way Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville do, but I think it was terrific to get that response: it was quite a solemn moment.

"And there is no need for us to continually repeat it to them; they will gradually learn about it, because it is indelibly printed in our history." Read more...