February the 6th Manchester will mark the 58th Anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster that took away what could have been the greatest Manchester United team ever. The Munich Air Disaster occurred when British European Airways flight 609 crashed on its third take off attempt from a slush covered runway at Munich-Reim Airport. On the flight were Manchester United players and staff, supporters and journalists who would have been covering Manchester United’s game in Belgrade, Yugoslavia against Red Star Belgrade. The flight had stopped in Munich to refuel. The flight had stopped in Munich to refuel because a direct flight from Belgrade to Manchester was out of the Airspeed AS-57 Ambassador’s flight range. After refuelling pilots James Thain and Kenneth Rayment had twice abandoned take off attempts because of boost surging in the aircrafts left engine.
Fearing they would get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejected an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take off attempt. By which time snow was falling, causing a layer of slush at the end of the runway. The aircraft hit the slush and ploughed through a fence beyond the end of the runway and the aircrafts left wing was torn off after hitting a house. Fearing that the aircraft would explode, Captain Thain began evacuating passengers from the wreckage with help from Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg. Captain Thain was originally blamed by West German airport authorities, saying he did not de-ice the aircrafts wings, despite eyewitness accounts to the contrary. It was later established the crash was caused by slush on the runway which had slowed the plane too much to take off. Thain wasn’t cleared until 1968, ten years on from the crash.
The crash occurred in the 1957/58 season and Manchester United were trying to become the third club to win three successive English League titles, they were six points behind leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go, they were the Charity Shield holders and had just reached their second successive European Cup semi-final, they had not been beaten for 11 games. This really was a team on the verge of greatness. We can only speculate whether or not they would have won the European Cup in 1958 but you have to feel that they would have won two or three European Cups before they eventually did in 1968. Manchester United would probably be on 5 or 6 European Cups nowadays but then again would Manchester United be the club they are today if it wasn’t for the Munich Air Disaster.
The Men We Lost
Of the crew members that didn’t survive the crash, there was Captain Kenneth Rayment, his was the co-pilot and initially survived the crash but suffered multiple injuries and died in hospital three weeks later as a result of brain damage. Also we lost A member of the cabin crew Tom Cable as a result of the crash.
Manchester United Players
Geoff Bent joined Manchester United as an apprentice on leaving school in 1948, after several seasons spent in the youth and reserve sides he became a professional in 1951. He made 12 appearances for Manchester United over the next decade as full-back cover for Roger Byrne on the left and Bill Foulkes on the right. He hadn’t played any games in the 1957/58 season as he had been sidelined for several months with a broken foot, he had travelled with the team as cover for Byrne who wasn’t expected to play because of injury but Byrne played after all.
Roger Byrne was the captain of Manchester United from the 1955/56 season, he captained the side through the Busby Babes era, he was a left sided full-back, he was a versatile player having previously been played at wing half and outside left. Byrne was never considered the most gifted footballers but his incredible work ethic and footballing intelligence allowed him to position himself and react to danger quickly. He was also adept at making forwards runs at joining attacks in a time when full-backs were just expected to stay back and just concentrate on defending. He was seen as charismatic leader who was able to inspire his team-mates and even today is seen as one of Manchester United’s greatest captains. He won three league championship winners medals in 1952, 1956 and 1957.
Eddie Colman was the youngest person to die in the Munich Air Disaster, he was aged 21 years and 3 months when he died in the crash. Colman joined Manchester United’s youth team on leaving school in the summer of 1952, he became a first team member in the 1955/56 season and over the next two and a half years Colman made 108 appearances for United and score 2 goals, the second of which came in the first leg of the tie against Red Star Belgrade. During his time at United, Colman was nicknamed snakehips for his trademark body swerve. An accommodation building at the University of Salford is named after Colman, the Eddie Colman Court is a block of flats located near the main campus.
Duncan Edwards signed for Manchester United as a teenager and went on to become the youngest player to play in the Football League First Division and the youngest player to represent England since the Second World War. In a professional career that only lasted five years Duncan Edwards helped United to win two Football League championships and reach the semi-finals of the European Cup. Edwards initially survived the crash and was taken to the hospital with multiple leg fractures, fractured ribs and damaged kidneys. Edwards died on 21st February 1958, 15 days after the crash. A statue of Edwards is erected in the his hometown of Dudley, this was unveiled by his mother and Sir Bobby Charlton in 1999.
Mark Jones signed for Manchester United as an apprentice on leaving school in 1948 and he made his first two appearances in 1950/51 season when he was aged 17. By the time of United’s title glory in the 1955/56 season, Jones was a first team regular, although he often found himself out of the team in favour of Jackie Blanchflower. Jones made a total of 120 games for Manchester United, he was selected once in a England senior squad but never made it onto the pitch. Many observers believe he would have been capped by England had he not perished in the Munich Air Disaster.
David Pegg signed for Manchester United on leaving school in 1950 and made his first team debut in the Football League First Division against Middlesbrough on 6th December 1952 at the age of 17. Pegg was the club’s first choice outside left until the final few months before the disaster and Pegg had collected two League Championship winners medals in the two seasons leading up to the disaster. He was capped by England once and had been tipped by many to succeed the ageing Tom Finney and still only 22 years old at the time of the crash, he was one of the youngest fatalities in the disaster.
Tommy Taylor was transferred to Manchester United in March 1953 for a price of £29,999, at the time he was one of the most expensive players in British Football. He scored two goals on his debut for United and by the end of the 1952/53 season Taylor had scored 7 goals in 11 games for United. Taylor helped United to successive league championships in 1956 and 1957. He made 191 appearances for United and scored 131 goals. he also played 19 games for the England national side and scored 16 goals. His goal ration for United was two goals every three games and he scored 34 goals in the 1956/57 league championship winning season.
Liam Whelan played for Manchester United from 1953 having previously played for Irish club Home Farm. Whelan made his first team debut for United on 26th March 1955 against Preston North End. He had an impressive strike rate of one goal every two games as he helped United to successive league championships in 1956 and 1957 as he scored 52 goals in 95 games for United before he sadly lost his life in the Munich Air Disaster. He also made 4 appearances for the Republic Of Ireland national team.
Manchester United Staff
Walter Crickmer was the Manchester United club secretary at the time of the Munich Air Disaster, Crickmer became club secretary in 1926 and had twice taken on the role of Manager at the club, the first time between 1st April 1931 to 1st June 1932 and then from 1st August 1937 till 1st February 1945. Together with club owner James W Gibson, he was responsible for instituting the youth development system at Manchester United.
Tom Curry was a trainer at Manchester United from 1934 until the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. Curry had played for Newcastle United and Stockport in the 1920’s, 1930 he retired to concentrate on coaching and was soon appointed trainer at Carlisle, where he spent four years before being appointed to the same role at Manchester United under then manager Scott Duncan and kept the role when football resumed after the second world war and under the new manager Matt Busby.
Bert Whalley was part of the Manchester United coaching staff and at the time of the Munich Air Disaster he held the position of Chief Coach. Whalley played for Stalybridge Celtic before transferring to Manchester United on 7th May 1934 but ultimately only made 35 appearances for United due to the second world war. Upon on Matt Busby’s appointment in 1945 Whalley was made first team coach and was promoted to chief coach when Jimmy Murphy was officially named assistant manager in 1955.
There seven journalists who also lost they lives as a result of the Munich Air Disaster after they had travelled with the team to cover the match, they were:
- Alf Clarke – Manchester Evening Chronicle
- Donny Davies – Manchester Guardian
- George Follows – Daily Herald
- Tom Jackson – Manchester Evening News
- Archie Ledbrooke – Daily Mirror
- Henry Rose – Daily Express
- Frank Swift – News Of The World
- Eric Thompson – Daily Mail
On February the 6th every year Manchester United fans around the world remember this great team that was taken away from on that airfield in Munich. We also remember the plane crew, journalists and Manchester United staff that lost their lives as a result of this crash.
The Flowers Of Manchester
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