To any United fan over a certain age, the names of the Busby Babes who perished in that ungodly tragedy 53 years ago to this very day, are as recognisable as any current player.
Geoff Bent, Mark Jones, Eddie Coleman, “Billy” Whelan, David Pegg, Duncan Edwards,
Tommy Taylor and Roger Byrne will forever be not just remembered and revered but also immortalised as men who did what many of us have claimed we would do- but thankfully have never had to prove it- died in the name of Manchester United.
The memorial plaque at Old Trafford is a reminder to any young fan not well versed in the history of our great club as to why for millions of people around the world Manchester United is more than just a team of men, more than just a football club. It is a legend, a way of life, an example to anyone that triumph can conquer adversity, that out of the darkest ashes, the brightest phoenix can rise, not better by any means, but stronger, more resolute and prepared for anything that fortune may throw its way.
Looking at the plaque which also features the names of the club officials who lost, some may say ‘gave’ their lives at Munich, there is no mention of the survivors, many of whom we all know well.
Bobby Charlton, England’s greatest ever goalscorer and a man so synonymous with Manchester United, the club without him is almost unthinkable- like the team without Ryan Giggs to anyone under 30.
Others such as Harry Gregg- the hero of Munich, who saved many lives including that of an unborn baby, a goalkeeper of immense talent who was robbed of his chance of a glut of winners medals by that cruel night.
Albert Scanlon, born in Hulme, whose death just over a year ago, made headlines around the world and whose funeral brought Salford to a standstill.
Bill Foulkes, a man who I was fortunate enough to meet only a few weeks ago as he visited a Powerleague I was at, just to “have a look round”- football never seems to leave these men.
Ray Wood, whod lost his place to Gregg but would go on to have a distinguished career with Huddersfield Town and Dennis Viollet -a goalscorer who’d probably be worth £60 million now, 32 goals in 36 games only two years after Munich tells you I’m arguably being conservative in my estimate.
Yet there were three men who may have survived that cold, fateful night but lost the ability to do what they’d done all their lives.
Jackie Blanchflower, Kenny Morgans and Johnny Berry may not have any statues or plaques with their names on them at Old Trafford but they are as much a part of United’s history as anyone who died at Munich or has worn the Red shirt since.
All three men would never play the game at the same level again- Blanchflower and Berry never actually played again. Morgans the youngest player in the crash-at only 18 and seemingly destined for a great future, would never be able to acheive the same level he had. He left for the lower leagues in 1961 and although we will never know how good he could have been, the effects of the crash both phyiscal and mentally obviously took their toll.
Blanchflower was a player so versatile he was just as at home as a striker as he was a centre half, typical of Busby to be able to notice and utilise such gifts.
Berry was the sort of winger United fans love, quick and skilful, the tragic irony is that he’d recently lost his place to the youngster Morgans. altough neither would be capable of such heights again.
Morgans was another winger in the United mould who’s career should have been a long one, especially after breaking into such a great side at such a tender age. He may have been 13 years Berry’s junior but he was every bit a impressive if even half the reports I’ve read are to be believed.
I’m not for one second about to compare never playing football, or not playing it at the same level, to losing your life, that would be both stupid and pointless.
What I will say is this, on a day when we all remember the lives lost that tragic night in Munich that despite it’s horror, helped make this club we all love what it is today. Let us also spare a thought for the trio of gifted greats who lost not only their teammates but also the ability to play at a level many men can only dream of.
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