Munich Air Disaster: 54 Years Later, Pause and Remember
6 February 2012
Today is one of those days when football fans should put aside their differences, rise above their hatred for other clubs and take time from their day to remember the 1958 Munich Air Disaster that claimed the lives of 23 people, including nine Manchester United players and three Manchester United staff members.
Sir Matt Busby had assembled a team of young players who had taken the English league by storm and won league titles in 1956 and 1957 with an average age of 21 and 22, respectively. They were nicknamed "The Busby Babes" and looked set to dominate English, and possibly European, football for many years to come. Until that fateful night.
United had been in Belgrade to play a European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade, the champions of the country then known as Yugoslavia. Following a 3-3 draw, a result which sent United through to the semifinals of the competition on an aggregate score of 5-4, the team were to return to England to continue their fight for a third successive First Division crown, a feat only two teams had managed previously.
Due to the small size of their aircraft, it was not possible for the team to fly directly from Belgrade to the UK, so a refuelling stopover in Munich was part of the itinerary. That first leg of the trip was carried out free of incident, save for a one-hour delay in take-off due to United's Johnny Berry losing his passport, which was then located.
After refuelling, the plane prepared for take-off, but due to issues with one of the engines, the crew were forced to abandon their first two attempts to get airborne. As the crew prepared for a third attempt, heavy snow began to fall on the runway, and with the addition of rain and strong winds, things became precarious.
The third take-off attempt would prove to be disastrous. A build-up of slush at the end of the runway that prevented the plane from reaching the required speed for take-off, combined with a lack of room to abort the attempt led to one of the heart-wrenching occurrences in the history of English football.
Twenty-three people lost their lives in the crash that occurred when that third take-off attempt failed and ended in disaster. All told, eight players, three members of staff, two crew members, eight members of the press and two others who were along for the trip died.
The players whose lives were lost were Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Coleman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan. The eighth player lost as a result of the accident was Duncan Edwards, who survived the accident but died 15 days later from his injuries.
The staff members who passed away were Walter Crickmer, who served as a the club secretary, and two members of Sir Matt Busby's coaching staff, Tom Curry and Bert Whalley.
The crew members lost in the accident were Tom Cable, a cabin steward, and the co-pilot Kenneth Rayment. Rayment was the last person to die. He survived for three weeks but died in the hospital as a result of brain damage stemming from the accident.
The media corps were also strongly affected with the deaths of Alf Clarke of the Manchester Evening Chronicle, Donny Davies of the Manchester Guardian, George Follows of the Daily Herald, Tom Jackson of the Manchester Evening News, Archie Ledbrooke of the Daily Mirror, Henry Rose of the Daily Express, Eric Thompson of the Daily Mail and former England goalkeeper Frank Swift, who was working for the News of The World. Swift died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.
The accident also claimed the lives of Bela Miklos, who was the travel agent who had made the arrangements for the trip, and Willie Satinoff, who was a close personal friend of Sir Matt Busby's and was along for the trip on the invitation of Sir Matt.
These 23 people lost their lives as a result of that accident, while 21 others managed to survive. Of those 21, only eight survive to this day.
While we should obviously remember the 23 first and foremost, it is also important to spare a thought for the 21 survivors and especially for the eight who remain with us today.
This must surely be the hardest day of the year for them as they remember their friends. Spare a thought also for the families and friends of all 44 people on board who suffered the agony of waiting to hear news of their loved ones, and for those left to grieve and mourn in the aftermath of this horrific accident.
As I said at the beginning, today is a day to put aside your differences with regards to football and unite as football fans to remember those who died. Regardless of your affiliation with a club, regardless of what religion you practice or what God you pray to, today is a day to take a moment and pay tribute to those who died.