Football World Pays Respects On 61st Anniversary Of Manchester Utd Munich Air Disaster

At 3.04pm, 61 years ago to this day, one of the greatest tragedies in the history of sport claimed the lives of 23 people - and left a lasting imprint on the history of Manchester United Football Club.


A resurgent Manchester United had just beaten Red Star Belgrade, progressing to their second successive European Cup semi-final.

Mid-flight back to Manchester, the plane stopped to refuel in Munich, but encountered difficulty attempting to take off from the snowy runway.

On the third attempt, the plane crashed, ultimately claiming the lives of eight players, three club staff members, eight journalists, two crew members and two passengers.

The city of Manchester - and the world of football as a whole - was left in a state of mourning.


The team were at the peak of their powers prior to the crash. Under the leadership of Sir Matt Busby, the club won the First Division in 1952 - its first league title in 41 years.

It wasn't long before the team became known as 'The Busby Babes', as the club won the top tier title back-to-back in 1956 and 1957, with a team of an average age of only 22. Indeed, this belief in youth talent went on to form an essential element of the club's identity.

The next decade was derailed by the crash and the club was forced to rebuild amid unimaginable tragedy. Goalkeeper Harry Gregg was on board the fatal flight and is credited with helping save survivors from the wreckage. Reflecting on the disaster, he highlighted the enormity of the loss to sport as a whole.

He said: "I was part of a great squad, a great squad of players, a great group of people. That will always be part of my life and I want that to be part of my life, because I had joined a wonderful group of players and was part of a wonderful time.

"Not only for Manchester United and not only for the Busby Babes, but for Joe Public and the sport in general."

The wreckage of the British European Airways plane which crashed in Munich on February 6, 1958. Credit: PA
The wreckage of the British European Airways plane which crashed in Munich on February 6, 1958. Credit: PA

Assistant manager Jimmy Murphy took charge while Busby recovered from his injuries, cobbling together a makeshift side that ultimately slid to ninth in the league table.

But the football had long since stopped mattering.

Over the course of the 1960s, Busby worked tirelessly to rebuild the club, with the likes of Denis Law, George Best and Pat Crerand joining the fold. They would go on to write their own chapters in the club's history.

By 1965, Manchester United were First Division champions once again. The resurrection was complete, 10 years on from the crash, as the Red Devils became the first English club to win the European Cup - with a side captained by Munich survivor and club legend, Sir Bobby Charlton.

Manchester United captain Bobby Charlton and manager Matt Busby hug each other after United's 4-1 victory over Benfica in the European Cup Final at Wembley. Credit: PA
Manchester United captain Bobby Charlton and manager Matt Busby hug each other after United's 4-1 victory over Benfica in the European Cup Final at Wembley. Credit: PA

Fast forward to 2019, and while football has changed immeasurably, the crash will never be forgotten and the team's legacy endures.

The club's current caretaker manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, highlighted the importance of remembering the disaster, 61 years on.

He said: "I think it's so important because it's such a big part of our history. That day will be in our memories and our history forever.

"It's quite a few years ago now and the new supporters coming through must learn about it and the history of it.

"It's a sad day in our history, but it's a day that we'll always remember."

Players past and present have paid their respects on social media, while tributes from rival clubs are a testament to the supportive nature of the football family - which we sometimes lose sight of amid the excitement of match-day.


While the disaster is one of the most tragic passages in the history of football, the way it is remembered and respected to this day serves as an inspiring reminder of all that is good about the beautiful game.

In loving memory of Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan, Walter Crickmer, Tom Curry, Bert Whalley, Alf Clarke, Donny Davies, George Follows, Tom Jackson, Archie Ledbrooke, Henry Rose, Frank Swift, Eric Thompson, Bela Miklos, Willie Satinoff.

Featured Image Credit: PA

Jake Massey

Jake Massey is a journalist at LADbible. He graduated from Newcastle University before going to live in Australia and New Zealand for a few years, where he wrote a travel blog. He has previously written for the Eastern Daily Press, Giggle Beats, CALM and Front Magazine. Jake enjoys playing football, listening to music and writing about himself in the third person.

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