Over the years there have been many players who have given their all for Manchester United Football Club, and here I salute a player who was involved in the biggest tragedy in the history of the club, yet returned and played through great personal grief, enabling United to live on.
The man around whom the team was re-built following the Munich air disaster. A true legend of the game: Sir Bobby Charlton.
Bobby Charlton joined Manchester United in the early 1950s as a raw, but supremely talented individual. He trained hard, and was eventually given his chance in the first team. He was part of the fantastic group of youngsters known as the “Busby Babes” after their fatherly manager, Matt Busby. They looked destined to conquer the world. An Anderlecht defender, part of the team battered 10-0 by Busby’s Babes, commented on young forward Tommy Taylor: “He seemed to celebrate before he’d even kicked the ball”. They seemed destined to conquer the world. Then tragedy struck.
As Bobby Charlton staggered away from the wreckage of the airliner and into a hospital bed, he thought he would be overwhelmed by grief. He thought he couldn’t possibly go on. How could he watch another man wearing Big Dunc’s number 6 shirt? How could he return to Old Trafford when his memories of Munich haunted his every step? In the end, with the help of Jimmy Murphy, Busby’s assistant, Charlton decided to return, to play on in the memory of the friends he had lost.
First Murphy, then Busby began to rebuild the side around the young Englishman from Newcastle. He was the heartbeat, the fulcrum, the best central midfielder in the world. Busby brought in an able supporting cast in Paddy Crerand, George Best, Denis Law. This team won the European Cup at Wembley, ten years on from Munich. This team was built around Charlton, who would, after retirement and an unsuccessful spell as manager of Preston North End, return to Old Trafford as an ambassador and, later, a director. Bobby Charlton, a legend of Manchester United.