Even after 59 years, the story of the young players who lost their lives, remembered as “Busby babes”, and Manchester United’s return to the top continues to be a story which inspires the entire sporting world. (Source: vetembaste)
When British European Airways Flight 609, on its way to England, crashed at Munich-Riem Airport in West Germany, on 6th February 1958, it was Manchester United’s legendary goalkeeper Harry Gregg who showed his heroics outside the football pitch. The flight Captain James Thain tried to take Gregg outside the plane with him, as he was afraid the plane might blow up. But Gregg, hearing the cry of a baby, refused, and went inside the burning plane to save the child and its mother; he ended up saving Manchester United manager Matt Busby, along with fellow players Sir Bobby Charlton and Denis Violet. But that crash marked the premature end of the famed Busby Babes-era of Manchester United.
In a similar tragedy but nearly six decades later on November 2016, LaMia Flight 2933, carrying Brazilian Chapecoense football squad, crashed in Colombia, killing 71 of total 77 people on board. Only four crew members and three players from the club survived. Gregg now 84-years-old, told The Guardian that he did not know how to react. “I wanted to watch it but with no family in the same room with me, because I didn’t know what way to react. It’s very, very difficult to describe, I cannot describe the sensation of watching it.”
Gregg, in an advice to Chapecoense survivors, said that to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy, he decided to be get on the field as soon as possible. “If I had to sit in my home I would have gone mad. Sitting there with the thoughts of all that had happened, all those terrible things I had seen…” Gregg said.
It was the Manchester United philosophy – a mentality which saw them becoming the Champions of Europe – just 10 years after that saddening day. Sir Matt Busby, who almost lost his life in the crash, returned to Old Trafford after 71 days.
His assistant manager Jimmy Murphy took the reigns of the club in Busby’s absence. Murphy is often regarded as the real reason behind the club surviving the disaster. He ensured that in spite of the emotional turmoil and lack of experienced players, the spirit of the club does not go down. United lost out on the League Cup and the European cup in 1958, but managed to reach the FA Cup final, only to lose 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers
Busby took back the managerial role in 1959 and got back immediately to work. The survivors of the crash, Bobby Charlton, Harry Greg, Dennis Viollet and Bill Foulkes, all came back to the training ground. To avoid the media limelight, the team chose to practice in at White City Stadium, where no was allowed to enter.
Busby started rebuilding a team, with the Munich survivors and brought Albert Quixall from Sheffield Wednesday. After three unsuccessful seasons, Busby made the big money moves for Pat Crerand and Denis Law. Soon, the 17-year old George Best broke through United’s youth programs, and the trio of Best, Law and Charlton took United back to the top.
In 1963, United defeated Leicester City by 3-1 in the FA Cup final to lift their first trophy since the crash. They went on to win the league titles in 1965 and 1967. In 1967/1968 season, United had yet another shot at European Championship. In an emotional final, the Red Devils defeated Portuguese club Benfica 4-1 at Wembley to win the Trophy. For a young United side, it was a tribute to those who were “gone but never forgotten”.
“Winning the European Cup was a debt of gratitude to those that died – they had started the cause that we were fighting,” Sir Bobby Charlton, who had scored twice that night at Wembley, said in an interview to MUTV in 2014.
59 years later, a struggling Manchester United side, which is still in the transition phase after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, can recall the past and take inspiration from the “Busby Babes”. Maybe Jose Mourinho’s side can find the will to move up from the 6th position.
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