Posted by: twobigyellowcranes | 5 February 08

Munich

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster. As a Manchester United and Norn Iron fan, I remember the people (not just players) who died in that disaster, even though I never saw them play. Like so many others who died long before they came close to fulfilling their potential, the premature deaths of some of these Busby Babes has ensured that their fame has lived on far longer than I’m sure it otherwise would have.

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Years ago, I was at a game at Old Trafford which coincided with the anniversary of the disaster. I went early to attend a minute’s silence outside the Munich clock at the stadium (which is stuck at the time of the disaster) which also had some singing of songs (one is below). Whilst it is important not to forget disasters like this, I am not a fan of big displays of public grief and/or mourning. It is very Norn Iron Protestant of me, but I’d rather do these things behind closed doors. I talked about Hilary Clinton’s tears below and the cynic in me finds all of these things too focused on outward expression rather than inner healing. That said, this is the 50th anniversary and the last one of this importance that I am sure that a lot of survivors like Harry Gregg and family members of those who died will be at so it is appropriate it is well-commemorated.

Harry Gregg is a legend, and not just for playing for Norn Iron at a World Cup. Three times he risked his life after escaping from the wreckage of the plan to go in and get others out (including a pregnant German mother and her daughter). A programme about him going to meet them (including the man that was the unborn baby whose life he saved) was on last night and it was inspirational. Other than this (and much less well known) is the work that he has done for bringing the club’s disgraceful treatment of the dead payers’ families to light and challenging it. The richest club in the world remember.

The disaster will be marked by a minute’s silence at the Manchester derby on Saturday. I hope that it is well observed by the City fans, who had a former goalkeeper (Frank Swift) die in the tragedy too. One of the reasons I far prefer football to rugby is that the atmosphere at games can be laden with edges, but when it is outright hatred, it is too much (even for Liverp**l). It is only a game and things liked Munich help us all remember that.

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‘The Flowers of Munich’

One cold and bitter Thursday in Munich, Germany,
Eight great football stalwarts conceded victory,
Eight men will never play again who met destruction there,
The flowers of English football, the flowers of Manchester

Matt Busby’s boys were flying, returning from Belgrade,
This great United family, all masters of their trade,
The pilot of the aircraft, the skipper Captain Thain,
Three times they tried to take off and twice turned back again.

The third time down the runaway disaster followed close,
There was slush upon that runaway and the aircraft never rose,
It ploughed into the marshy ground, it broke, it overturned.
And eight of the team were killed as the blazing wreckage burned.

Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor who were capped for England’s side.
And Ireland’s Billy Whelan and England’s Geoff Bent died,
Mark Jones and Eddie Colman, and David Pegg also,
They all lost their lives as it ploughed on through the snow.

Big Duncan he went too, with an injury to his brain,
And Ireland’s brave Jack Blanchflower will never play again,
The great Matt Busby lay there, the father of his team
Three long months passed by before he saw his team again.

The trainer, coach and secretary, and a member of the crew,
Also eight sporting journalists who with United flew,
and one of them Big Swifty, who we will ne’er forget,
the finest English ‘keeper that ever graced the net.

Oh, England’s finest football team, its record truly great,
its proud successes mocked by a cruel turn of fate.
Eight men will never play again, who met destruction there,
the flowers of English football, the flowers of Manchester

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