"Five people in the snow in the distance were shouting 'Run! Run! Run!' I heard a child crying.
It's as simple as
that, no big John Wayne stuff. I shouted, 'Come back here,
there's people alive...’ ”
So recalls former United goalkeeper Harry Gregg, about the day that claimed the lives of some of the greatest footballers that the sport has ever seen. On this day, 46 years ago, a small, chartered BEA Elizabethan tried to take off in the slush of the runway at Munich airport. After more than one failed take-off attempt, the plane crashed, instantly killing seven footballers, including record-breaking striker Tommy Taylor and captain Roger Byrne, as well as several Manchester United staff, reporters (amongst those the former City and England goalkeeper Frank Swift), members of the crew and a fan. Amongst the survivors were future footballing legend Bobby Charlton, still a teenager then, defender Bill Foulkes, striker Dennis Viollet and goalkeeper Harry Gregg, who stepped back into the wreckage to rescue a mother and her child. Manager Matt Busby was injured but survived.
Left-half Duncan Edwards, a tall and powerful 21 year old who had already gathered 21 England caps, made it through the crash and struggled for two weeks in a Munich hospital. He slipped in and out of consciousness. On the 20th of February he turned to United’s assistant coach Jimmy Murphy who was by his side. “What time's kick-off against Wolves on Saturday?" he asked. "Two thirty as usual," said Murphy. Edwards simply whispered "Get stuck in, lads," then closed his eyes for the final time.
The young man who had been nicknamed ‘Boom-Boom’ and ‘the Tank’ for his strength and who is still regarded by many as the greatest player England has ever produced, a man who, had he survived, would have been good enough to keep Bobby Moore out of the England side, had been lost, along with half of a legendary football side, that had already reached the European Cup semi-finals for the second time in a row a day before the crash.
Sir Bobby Charlton once said: 'If I had to play for my life, and could take one man with me, it would be Duncan Edwards. He was the only player that made me feel inferior’. Tommy Docherty said of him 'You can keep all your Bests, Peles and Maradonas, Duncan Edwards was the greatest of them all”, and Matt Busby once said that he believed Edwards was "the best player in the world", but he would never tell the level-headed and shy young man in case it unsettled him.
Matt Busby, survived, building another great attacking side, around Bobby Charlton, record- breaking Scottish striker Denis Law, and a young Irishman called George Best, winning the Cup in 1963 and then going on to win the league and the European Cup in 1967 and 1968 respectively. He was later knighted, and also lived long enough to see a fellow Scot manage his beloved United to their first Championship since 1967 thanks mostly to a brilliant but an eccentric Frenchman. But perhaps one of his greatest regrets, and ours, is that the world never did find out just how good the Busby Babes of ’58, and Duncan Edwards in particular, could have become. They remain heroes, footballing gods, wiped out too young- the flowers of Manchester.
Left to Right Standing: Duncan Edwards (killed); Bill Foulkes; Mark Jones (killed); Ray Wood; Eddie Colman (killed); David Pegg (killed)
Seated: Johnny Berry; Liam (Billy) Whelan (killed); Roger Byrne (killed); Tommy Taylor (killed); Dennis Viollet
Not shown: Geoff Bent (killed)
Also killed: Walter Crickmer, Bert Whalley, Tom Curry, Alf Clarke, Don Davies, George Follows, Tom Jackson,
Archie Ledbrooke, Henry Rose, Eric Thompson, Frank Swift, Kenneth Rayment, Bela Miklos, Willie Satinoff, Tom Cable