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I am the resurrection: Ten years on from Munich

In 2018, those with any connection to Manchester United football club have remembered significant anniversaries of two important landmarks in the club’s history. On the 6th February 2018, the 60th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster took place. Thousands of reds made the pilgrimage to Manchesterplatz to pay their respects to the victims of the greatest tragedy to hit their club. Contrastingly, on the 29th May 2018, United fans celebrated the 50th anniversary of being the first English club to win a European Cup. Ten years after the darkest hour in Manchester United’s history, given the circumstances, came arguably the club’s greatest ever triumph.

Tragedy

The Busby Babes were returning to Manchester from a European clash with Red Star Belgrade after just advancing to the semi-finals of the European Cup. The plane stopped to refuel in Munich, where the flying team abandoned take off twice due to technical difficulties with the plane. During this time, heavy snow was falling and slush and ice began to appear on the runway. James Thain was the plane’s captain, he rejected an overnight stay in Munich due to being behind schedule as it was.

On the third attempt, the aircraft hit the slush leaving the plane crashing through a fence and the left-wing falling off due to a collision with a house. Fearing an explosion, Captain Thain began evacuating passengers. At this moment, United goalkeeper Harry Gregg’s brave characteristics went beyond football. The Northern Irish man was influential in pulling survivors out of the crashed plane.

Manchester United, at the time, were in the best position the club had ever been in. They were six points behind leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers. If they had overcome this they would have won three division one titles in a row. They had also just qualified for the European Cup semi-final.

Unfortunately, eight members of this brilliant squad had died due to the disaster. Manchester looked like a club that had nowhere to turn. If the club did not overcome the disaster, English football would be much different today.

Rebuilding

Jimmy Murphy is essential to rebuilding the biggest club in the world. He was Sir Matt Busby’s assistant manager. However, he did not travel with the team to Belgrade as he was managing the Welsh national team in Cardiff. Whilst Busby was in hospital Murphy took control of the first team. Consequentially, the brilliant squad United once had was no more. A United team built up of reserves and youth team players accompanied a few new signings and loan players to finish the 1957/58 season. Amazingly, Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes who were in the crash, continued playing with United that season.

Furthermore, in the remaining league games, United only won once and dropped to ninth in the table. However, the reds ended up beating Milan in the first leg of the European Cup semi-finals before losing 4-0 in the return leg at the San Siro. United also ended up reaching the FA Cup final that season losing to Bolton Wanderers. Although not winning anything, a large credit is due to Jimmy Murphy for keeping a club who was suspected to close its doors, running. Without Murphy, Manchester United may not exist today.

Moreover, the following season, Matt Busby took charge of United once more. Over the next few years, Busby built another squad that had pedigree, which included the likes of George Best, Denis Law and Munich Air Crash survivor Sir Bobby Charlton. It was this team that would go on to write one of the greatest stories in sport.

Over the next few years, the new generation of Busby Babes would go on to win two Division one titles, an FA Cup and a Charity Shield. However, it was ten years after the club stood on the brink of extinction, Busby experienced his finest hour.

Triumph

Having defeated Real Madrid 4-3 on aggregate in the semi-finals, Manchester United were through to the final of the European Cup on the tenth anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster. The final was set to take place at Wembley and their opponents were Portuguese champions Benfica.

Bobby Charlton, a man whose career is reminiscent of a Hollywood movie, opened the score in the 53rd minute of the game. However, Jaime Graca pulled one back for Benfica. The game was a tie and the winner would be crowned after extra time or penalties.

Consequentially, Manchester United were destined for greatness. They ran riot on Benfica at Wembley in extra time. The game finished 4-1 with goals coming from George Best, local lad Brian Kidd and once again Bobby Charlton.

After ten years of grieving, the 1967/1968 squad paid homage to the players that wore the shirt before them by winning the tournament the Busby Babes died whilst trying to win. The first English club to win the European were managed by a man who was close to death after the disaster. Both Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were still playing with the club ten years after the disaster. It is a night and story that will forever be talked about by Manchester United fans.

Legacy

These two contrasting events has shaped the club we as fans know today. The great Manchester United never say die attitude has resulted from these events. Overcoming such tragedy and the greatest opponent of all, death. Manchester United fought back and would not fold in and eventually won the competition that would cement their place in history. Over the years we have seen some great comebacks, particularly the 1999 Champions League final. Two late goals to win the European Cup once more.

Manchester United is a club that was built on overcoming the odds. It will also continue to overcome the odds in the future. The memory of the Busby Babes and the 1968 European Cup winners will forever be thought of around all four corners of Old Trafford. The never say die attitude will forever be taught in the Cliff and Carrington. Manchester United will keep the red flag flying high no matter what adversary it faces.

Written by Shane Purcell

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