Manchester United: Half the team died in a plane crash on February 6, 1958

Tragedy in Munich
The “Busby Babes” were the team of the hour – 65 years ago a plane accident tore the ManUnited team apart

Manager Matt Busby leads his Manchester United players onto the pitch ahead of the 1957 FA Cup Final

© Colorsport / Imago Images

Manchester United’s footballers were called “Busby Babes”: young, talented, successful. On February 6, 1958, half of the England team died in a plane crash.

The future belonged to the Manchester United team, experts and fans alike agreed. The players were dubbed the “Busby Babes” after their coach, Matt Busby, who had formed a close-knit team of many young, talented footballers. In the last two years they had won the championship in England, success on the international stage seemed only a matter of time.

Coach Matt Busby’s team had just taken another step in this direction when they were returning home from Belgrade on February 6, 1958. United had reached the semi-finals of the European Cup with a 3-3 win at Red Star, with Manchester considered favorites for the cup. But this 3: 3 should have been the last game of this team, after February 6, 1958 Manchester United was nothing like before.

“Busby Babes”: Eight footballers die in plane crash

British European Airways Flight 609 had to make a stopover, and the twin-engine machine was to be refueled at Munich-Riem Airport. A fatal stopover, even a deadly one, as it turned out. In heavy snowfall, the first two take-off attempts failed, and on the third attempt – around 3 p.m. – the plane did not take off, but could not be stopped either. “We crashed into a house and I think a few other obstacles,” recalled Sir Bobby Charlton, who was on board, 60 years later.

The wing with the tail was torn off the plane, the plane with a total of 44 people on board went up in flames. In addition to the players and their coach, the passengers included club employees and sports journalists. The record of the accident is terrible: seven footballers died at the scene of the accident, 15 other people lost their lives. Player Duncan Edwards, one of England’s most promising talents at 21, was treated in a Munich hospital for 15 days before succumbing to his injuries.

Manchester United plane wreck

The plane wreck in the snow flurry in Munich

© Imago Images

The total number of victims of the plane crash was 23. The other 21 occupants were injured, some seriously. The then 20-year-old Bobby Charlton, who was to win the first and only World Cup title with England in 1966, barely survived. Goalkeeper Harry Gregg had pulled him and other passengers out of the wreck. “I was just lucky that I was in the right seat,” says Charlton. Coach Matt Busby also survived the accident with serious injuries. He was in the hospital for months, and twice the doctors had almost given up on him.

Manchester United is fighting its way out of the valley of tears

February 6, 1958 is a black day in history for Manchester United and English football in general. The abrupt, tragic end of the “Busby Babes” plunged the club into a sporting and emotional crisis. In the meantime there was even speculation that the club should dissolve completely. But fans, players and officials fought their way out of the valley of tears.

The recovered Matt Busby took over the squad again and built a new team around the surviving players. Ten years after the Munich tragedy, Manchester United actually lifted the European Cup. Bobby Charlton scored a goal in the final, with another survivor in Bill Foulkes.

Today, Manchester United is one of the most important clubs in the world – but the memory of February 6, 1958 is omnipresent. A clock at Old Trafford stadium has been showing since 3:04 p.m., the time of the accident. Many in England are still convinced that the history of football would have been different if the “Busby Babes” hadn’t boarded that plane that day.

Sources: table football / BBC

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