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BBC News 1958 Munich air disaster

BBC News report on the evening of the Munich air crash

220px-Munich air disaster.jpg

The Munich air disaster occurred on 6 February 1958, when British European Airways Flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport in Munich, West Germany. On board the plane was the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the "Busby Babes", along with a number of supporters and journalists.[1] Twenty of the 44 people on board the aircraft died in the crash. The injured, some of whom were knocked unconscious, were taken to the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich where three more died, resulting in a total of 23 fatalities with 21 survivors.

The team was returning from a European Cup match in BelgradeYugoslavia (now Serbia), against Red Star Belgrade, and stopped in Munich for refuelling, as a non-stop trip from Belgrade to Manchester was out of the "Elizabethan" class Airspeed Ambassadoraircraft's range. After refuelling, the pilots, Captains James Thain and Kenneth Rayment, attempted to take off twice; they abandoned both attempts due to boost surging in the port engine. Fearing that they would get too far behind schedule, Captain Thain rejected an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt. By the time of the third attempt, snow was falling, causing a layer of slush to build up at the far end of the runway. When the aircraft hit the slush, it lost velocity, making take-off impossible. It ploughed through a fence past the end of the runway, before the port wing hit a nearby house and was torn off. Fearing that the aircraft might explode, Captain Thain set about getting the surviving passengers as far away as possible. Despite the threat of fire, Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg remained behind to pull survivors from the wreckage.

An investigation by the West German airport authorities originally blamed Captain Thain for the crash, claiming that he failed to de-ice the wings of the aircraft, despite statements to the contrary from eyewitnesses. It was later established that the crash was caused by the build-up of slush on the runway, which resulted in the aircraft being unable to achieve take-off velocity; Thain's name was eventually cleared in 1968, ten years after the incident.

At the time of the disaster, Manchester United were trying to become only the third club to win three successive English league titles; they were six points behind League leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers with 14 games to go. They were also holders of the Charity Shield and had just advanced into their second successive European Cup semi-final. The team were also on an 11-match unbeaten run, and had booked their place in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup two weeks previously. At the time of the crash, it was speculated that United could win the Treble; 41 years later United became the first English club to achieve that honour.


  [hide*1 Background


[1][2]The Airspeed Ambassador G-ALZU atRiem airport before take-off

In April 1955, UEFA established the European Cup, a football competition for the champion clubs of UEFA-affiliated nations, to begin in the 1955–56 season.[2] However, the English league winners, Chelsea, were denied entry by the Football League's secretary Alan Hardaker, who believed it was in the best interests of English football and football in general for them not to enter.[3] The following season, the English league was won by Manchester United, managed by Matt Busby. Originally, the Football League again denied entry to the European Cup, but Busby and his chairman, Harold Hardman, with the help of the Football Association's chairman Stanley Rous, defied the league and United became the first English team to venture into Europe.[4]

The Manchester United management had taken a chance, and it had paid off, with the team – known as the "Busby Babes" for their youth – proving the Football League wrong by reaching the semi-finals of the 1956–57 competition, being knocked out by eventual winners Real Madrid. Winning the First Division title again that season meant that they secured qualification for the 1957–58 tournament, and their successful cup run in 1956–57 meant that they were one of the favourites to win it. Domestic league matches were played on Saturdays and European matches were played midweek, so, although air travel was risky at the time, it was the only practical choice if United were to fulfil their league fixtures,[5] which they would have to do if they were to avoid proving Alan Hardaker right.[4]

After overcoming Shamrock Rovers and Dukla Prague in the preliminary round and the first round respectively, Manchester United were drawn with Red Star Belgrade ofYugoslavia for the quarter-finals. After beating the Yugoslavians 2–1 at Old Trafford on 21 January 1958, the club was scheduled to travel to Yugoslavia for the return leg on 5 February. On the way back from Prague in the previous round, fog over England prevented the team from flying back to Manchester, so they hastily made arrangements to fly toAmsterdam before taking the ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich and then the train up to Manchester. The trip took its toll on the players and they were only able to scrape a 3–3 draw with Birmingham City at St Andrew's three days later.[6]

Eager not to miss any of their Football League fixtures in the future, and also not to have to go through such a difficult trip again, the club chartered a plane through British European Airways from Manchester to Belgrade for the away leg against Red Star.[7] The match itself was drawn 3–3, but it was enough to send United to the semi-finals.[8] Thetakeoff from Belgrade was delayed for an hour as United outside right Johnny Berry had lost his passport,[9] then the plane made a planned stop in Munich to refuel,[10] landing at 13:15 GMT.[11]

[edit]Aircraft and crew[]

The aircraft was a six-year-old Airspeed Ambassador 2, built in 1952 and delivered to BEA the same year.[citation needed]

The co-pilot, Captain Kenneth Rayment, DFC, was a former RAF flight lieutenant and Second World War flying ace. After joining the RAF in 1940, he received a promotion tosergeant in September 1941[12] He was commissioned as a war substantive pilot officer a year later,[13] and promoted to war substantive flying officer in May 1943.[14] During his career, he shot down five German fighters and one Italian, while flying a Bristol Beaufighter,[15] subsequently shooting down a V-1 flying bomb while flying a Mosquito. He was awarded the DFC in July 1943[16] and promoted to flight lieutenant in September 1943.[17] After leaving the RAF in 1945, he joined BOAC, flying for the company in Cairo before joining BEA in 1947. He had had experience with VikingsDakotas and the Ambassador Elizabethan class.[15]

The pilot, Captain James Thain, was also a former RAF flight lieutenant and veteran of the Second World War. Also originally a sergeant (later a warrant officer), he was given an emergency commission in the RAF as an acting pilot officer on probation in April 1944,[18] and promoted to pilot officer on probation in September.[19] Promoted to war substantive flying officer in March 1945,[20] he remained in the RAF after the war on extended service as a flying officer.[21] In May 1947, he was granted a short service commission in the RAF, with the substantive rank of flying officer (seniority from 25 May 1946;[22] later adjusted to 22 March 1946[23]). He was promoted to flight lieutenant in May 1948,[24] and received a permanent commission in the same rank in 1952.[25] He subsequently retired from the RAF to join BEA.


[3][4]The Airspeed Ambassador G-ALZUburning at Munich

Captain James Thain, the pilot, had flown the "Elizabethan" class Airspeed Ambassador (registration G-ALZU) out to Belgrade, but handed the controls to his co-pilot, Captain Kenneth Rayment, for the return journey.[26] At 14:19 GMT, the control tower at Munich airport was told that the plane was ready to take off, and they were given clearance to attempt take-off due to expire at 14:31.[27] Captain Rayment abandoned the take off after Captain Thain had noticed the port boost pressure gauge fluctuating as the plane reached full power and the engine sounded odd while accelerating.[28] A second attempt was made three minutes later, but, 40 seconds into the procedure, this too was called off before the plane got off the ground.[29] The reason given for the failed attempts was that the engines had been running on an over-rich mixture, causing the engines to over-accelerate, a common problem for the Elizabethan-class plane.[28]After the second failure, all the passengers were told to disembark from the plane and they retreated to the airport lounge.[30] By then, it had started to snow heavily, and it looked unlikely that the plane would be making the return journey that day. Manchester United'sDuncan Edwards took the opportunity to send a telegram ahead to his landlady in Manchester. It read: "All flights cancelled, flying tomorrow. Duncan."[31]

[5][6]The Airspeed Ambassador wreckage

Captain Thain informed the station engineer, Bill Black, about the problem with the boost surging in the port engine, and Black suggested that since the immediate solution of opening the engine throttle more slowly had not worked, the only remaining option would be to hold the plane in Munich overnight for engine retuning. Thain was anxious to stay on schedule and suggested that opening the throttle even more slowly would suffice. This would mean that the plane would not achieve take-off velocity until further down the runway, but with the runway being almost 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) long, Thain believed that this should not pose a problem. Therefore, despite the snow, the passengers were called back out to the plane just 15 minutes after leaving it.[32]

A few of the players were not confident fliers, particularly Liam Whelan, who was heard to say "This may be death, but I'm ready" shortly before take off. Others, including Duncan Edwards, Tommy TaylorMark JonesEddie Colman and Frank Swift moved to the back of the plane, believing it to be safer.[10] Once everyone was back on board, Captains Thain and Rayment got the plane moving again for a third take off attempt at 14:56.[33] At 14:59, they reached the runway holding point, where they received clearance to line up ready for take-off.[34] On the runway, the final cockpit checks were carried out and at 15:02, they were contacted to tell them that their take-off clearance would expire at 15:04.[35] After discussion, the pilots agreed that they would attempt take-off, but they would keep a close watch on the instruments in case of any more surging in the engines. At 15:03, they contacted the control tower to inform them of their decision.[35]

 [7]American newsreel footage reporting the crash

Captain Rayment slowly moved the throttle forward, as agreed, and released the brakes; the plane began to accelerate, and radio officer Bill Rodgers radioed the control tower with the message "Zulu Uniform rolling".[36] As the plane gathered speed, throwing up slush as it went, Captain Thain called out the velocities in ten-knot increments.[36] At 85 knots, the port engine began to surge again, and he pulled back marginally on the port throttle before gingerly pushing it forward again.[36] Once the plane reached 117 knots (217 km/h), he announced "V1", indicating that they had reached the velocity at which it was no longer safe to abort the take off, and Captain Rayment listened out for the call of "V2" (119 knots (220 km/h)), the minimum speed required to get the plane off the ground.[37] When Thain glanced back down to the airspeed indicator, expecting the needle to continue to rise, it fluctuated at around 117 knots before suddenly dropping back down to 112 knots (207 km/h), and then 105 knots (194 km/h).[38] Rayment shouted "Christ, we won't make it!",[38] as Thain looked up to see what lay ahead of them.[39]

The plane skidded off the end of the runway and, out of control, crashed into the fence surrounding the airport and then across a road before its port wing was torn off as it caught a house, home to a family of six.[40] The father and eldest daughter were away at the time, and the mother and the other three children narrowly escaped with their lives as the house caught fire.[41] Part of the plane's tail was torn off too, before the left side of the cockpit hit a tree.[41] The right side of the fuselage hit a wooden hut, inside which was a truck filled with tyres and fuel, which exploded.[42]Twenty passengers died on board, and there were three subsequent deaths.

Upon seeing the flames licking up around the cockpit, Captain Thain feared that the burning fuel might make the aircraft explode and instructed his crew to evacuate the area. Thestewardesses, Rosemary Cheverton and Margaret Bellis, were the first to leave through a blown-out emergency window in the galley, and they were followed by radio officer Bill Rodgers.[43] Thain shouted to Rayment to get out of his seat, but Rayment was trapped in his seat by the crumpled fuselage. Rayment told Thain to go on without him. Thain clambered out of the galley window.[43] Upon reaching the ground, he saw that flames were growing under the starboard wing, which still had an intact fuel tank containing 500 imperial gallons (2,300 L) of fuel. He shouted to his crew to get as far away as possible and climbed back into the aircraft to retrieve two handheld fire extinguishers, stopping momentarily to tell Rayment that he would be back for him when the fires had been dealt with.[43]

Meanwhile, inside the passenger cabin, Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg was regaining consciousness, thinking that he was dead.[44] He felt blood running down his face and he "didn't dare put [his] hand up. [He] thought the top of [his] head had been taken off, like a hard boiled egg."[45] Just above him, a shaft of light was shining into the cabin, so Gregg made his way towards it and kicked the hole wide enough for him to escape through.


[edit]Crew members[]

  • Captain Kenneth "Ken" Rayment, DFC. Co-pilot. Survived the crash, but suffered multiple injuries and died in hospital on 15th March, almost six weeks later, as a result of brain damage.
  • Tom Cable, cabin steward


[8][9]A plaque at Old Trafford in memory of the Munich air disaster[10][11]The Munich Clock, on the South-East corner of Old Trafford;Manchester United players

Manchester United staff
Other passengers



  • Margaret Bellis, stewardess (died 1998)[46]
  • Rosemary Cheverton, stewardess
  • George William "Bill" Rodgers, radio officer (died 1997)[47]
  • Captain James Thain, pilot (died 1975)[48]


Manchester United players
Manchester United staff
Journalists and photographers
Other passengers
  • Vera Lukić and baby daughter Vesna, passengers saved by Manchester United player Harry Gregg. At the time of the accident, she was pregnant with her son Zoran, who also survived.[57]
  • Mrs Eleanor Miklos, wife of Bela Miklos
  • Nebojša Bato Tomašević, Yugoslavian diplomat


Although the crash was originally blamed on pilot error, it was subsequently found to have been caused by the build-up of slush towards the end of the runway, causing deceleration of the aircraft and preventing safe flying speed from being attained.[58] During the take off, the aircraft had attained a speed of 117 knots (217 km/h), but, on entering the slush, speed dropped to 105 knots (194 km/h), too slow for the plane to leave the ground, with not enough runway remaining to abort the take off. Aircraft with tail-wheelundercarriages had not been greatly affected by slush, due to the geometry of these undercarriages in relation to the aircraft's centre of gravity,[notes 1] but newer types, such as the Ambassador, with nose wheel landing-gear and the main wheels behind the centre of gravity, were found to be vulnerable. The accident resulted in the imposition of operating limits for the amount of slush build-up permitted on runways.[citation needed]

Despite this conclusion, the German airport authorities (who were legally responsible for the state of the airport's runways, but generally unaware of the danger of slush on runways for aircraft like the Ambassador) took legal action against Captain Thain, as the one pilot who had survived the crash. They claimed that he had taken off without deicing the wings and that responsibility for the accident was his alone, despite several witnesses stating that this was not so.[59]

The basis of the German authorities' case relied on the icy condition of the wings hours after the crash and a photograph of the aircraft (published in several newspapers) taken shortly before take off, that appeared to show snow on the upper wing surfaces. When the original negative was examined, however, no snow or ice could be seen, the "snow" in the original having been due to the sun reflecting off the wings, which was clarified when examining the negative rather than the published pictures which had been produced from a copy negative.[59] The witnesses were not called to the German inquiry and proceedings against Thain dragged on until 1968, when he was finally cleared of any responsibility for the crash. As the official cause, British authorities recorded a build-up of melting snow on the runway which prevented the Elizabethan from reaching the required take-off speed. Thain, having been dismissed by BEA shortly after the accident and never re-engaged, retired and returned to run his poultry farm in Berkshire. He died of a heart attack at the age of 54, in August 1975.[59]


Seven of Manchester United's players died immediately, and Duncan Edwards died from his injuries on 21 February at the Rechts der Isar Hospital in Munich.[31] Johnny Berry andJackie Blanchflower were both injured so severely that they never played again.[60] Matt Busby was seriously injured and had to stay in hospital for more than two months after the crash, and was read his Last Rites twice.[61] After being discharged from hospital, he went to Switzerland to recuperate in Interlaken. At times, he felt like giving up on football entirely, until he was told by his wife, Jean, "You know Matt, the lads would have wanted you to carry on."[62] That statement lifted Busby from his depression, and he returned by land to Manchester, before watching his team play in the 1958 FA Cup Final.[62]

Meanwhile, there was speculation that the club would fold, but a threadbare United team completed the 1957–58 season, with Busby's assistant Jimmy Murphy standing in as manager; he had not travelled to Belgrade as he was in Cardiff managing the Welsh national team at the time. A team largely made up of reserve and youth team players beatSheffield Wednesday 3–0 in the first match after the disaster. The programme for that match showed simply a blank space where each United player's name should have been. Following the loss of so many players in the crash, United were desperate to find replacements with experience, so Murphy turned to players like Ernie Taylor (signed for £8,000 from Blackpool)[63] and Stan Crowther, the Aston Villa wing half who had played against United in the 1957 FA Cup Final.[64] Three players, Derek LewinBob Hardisty and Warren Bradley, were loaned to United by non-League club Bishop Auckland.[65]

There were changes in the backroom staff at the club too, following the deaths of secretary Walter Crickmer and coaches Tom Curry and Bert Whalley.[66] United goalkeeper Les Olive, still registered as a player at the time of the disaster, retired from playing and took over from Crickmer as club secretary,[66] while another former United goalkeeper, Jack Crompton, took over coaching duties after United chairman Harold Hardman had negotiated with Crompton's then-employers Luton Town for his release.[66]

United only won one league game after the crash, causing their title challenge to collapse and they fell to ninth place in the league.[67] They did manage to reach the final of the FA Cup, however, losing 2–0 to Bolton Wanderers,[67] and even managed to beat Milan at Old Trafford in the semi-finals of the European Cup, only to lose 4–0 at the San Siro.[67] Real Madrid, who went on to win the trophy for the third year running, suggested that Manchester United be awarded the trophy for that year – a suggestion supported by Red Star Belgrade – but this failed to materialise.[68]

Busby resumed managerial duties the next season (1958–59), and eventually built a second generation of Busby Babes, including George Best and Denis Law, that ten years later won the European Cup, beating BenficaBobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes were the only two crash survivors who lined up in that team.[69]


[edit]Old Trafford[]

[12][13]Commemorative plaque in the Munich Tunnel at Old Trafford

The first memorials at Old Trafford to the lost players and staff were unveiled on 25 February 1960. The first, a plaque in the shape of the stadium with the image of a green pitch, inscribed with the names of the victims in black and gold glass, was placed above the entrance to the directors' box. Above the plaque was a teak carving of a player and a supporter, heads bowed either side of a wreath and a football inscribed with the date "1958". The plaque was designed by Manchester architect J. Vipond and constructed by Messrs Jaconello (Manchester) Ltd. at a cost of £2,100,[70] and unveiled by Matt Busby.[71]

Also unveiled that day was a memorial to the members of the press who died at Munich, which consisted of a bronze plaque that named the eight lost journalists. The unveiling was performed by Munich survivor Frank Taylor on behalf of the Football Writers' Association. The original plaque was stolen in the 1980s and replaced by a replica now located behind the counter in the press entrance.[70] The final memorial was the Munich clock, a simple two-faced clock paid for by the Ground Committee and attached to the south-east corner of the stadium, with the date "6 Feb 1958" at the top of both faces and "Munich" at the bottom. The clock has remained in the same position since it was first installed.[70] The clock was unveiled on 25 February 1960 by Dan Marsden, the chairman of the Ground Committee.[71]

When the stadium underwent renovations in the mid 1970s, it became necessary to move the plaque from the directors' entrance to allow the necessary changes. However, it was not possible to remove the plaque without damaging it, so the decision was taken to simply wall up the old memorial within the Main Stand and commission a new one. The replacement plaque was simpler than the original, now consisting simply of a slate pitch with the names inscribed upon it, and was installed in 1976.[70]

A third version of the memorial, more like the original than the second in that it included the stands around the slate pitch and the figures above it, was installed in 1996, coinciding with the erection of the statue of Matt Busby, who had unveiled the original memorial.[70] This third version was constructed by stonemasons Mather and Ellis from Trafford Park, and the second was put into storage. It is currently awaiting new display panels before being placed into the club museum's Munich display.[70]The third plaque and the statue of Busby were originally located on the north side of the East Stand, but the statue was moved to the front of the East Stand and the plaque to the south side of the stand after the stand's expansion in 2000.[70]


[14][15]Wooden memorial

There are also two memorials in Germany. First, in the Munich suburb of Trudering, on the corner of Karotschstraße and Emplstraße, there is a small wooden memorial depicting Jesus on the Cross, decorated by a stone trough filled with flowers. The trough bears a plaque with the inscription: "Im Gedenken an die Opfer der Flugzeugkatastrophe am 6.2.1958 unter denen sich auch ein Teil der Fußballmannschaft von Manchester United befand, sowie allen Verkehrstoten der Gemeinde Trudering" (English: In memory of the victims of the air disaster of 6.2.1958 including members of the football team of Manchester United as well as all the traffic victims from the municipality of Trudering).[72]

[16][17]Memorial stone

On 22 September 2004, a dark blue granite plaque set in a sandstone border was unveiled in the vicinity of the old Munich Airport on the corner of Rappenweg and Emplstraße, just metres from the wooden memorial.[73] With a design in the shape of a football pitch, it reads, in both English and German, "In memory of all those who lost their lives here in the Munich air disaster on 6 February 1958".[74] Underneath is a plaque expressing United's gratitude to the municipality of Munich and its people. The new memorial was funded by Manchester United themselves and the unveiling was attended by club officials, including chief executive David Gill, manager Alex Ferguson and director Bobby Charlton, a survivor of the disaster himself.[73]

On 24 April 2008, the town council of Munich decided to name the site where the memorial stone is placed "Manchesterplatz" (English: Manchester Square).[75]

[edit]40th anniversary[]

In late 1997, John Doherty (a former United player who had left the club shortly before the disaster)[76] approached club chairman Martin Edwardson behalf of the Manchester United Former Players' Association to request a testimonial for those victims of the Munich disaster – both the survivors and the dependants of the ones who were lost.[77] Edwards was hesitant, but a benefit match was eventually sanctioned for a date as close to the 40th anniversary of the disaster as possible. Red Star Belgrade and Bayern Munich were touted as possible opponents for the match, and fans purchased tickets without the opponents even having been decided.[78]

However, in the midst of the preparations, former United player Eric Cantona, who had retired from football to pursue a career in film in the summer of 1997, expressed an interest in returning to Manchester United for a farewell match. Edwards took the opportunity to combine the two events into one.[79] Due to Cantona's acting career, his schedule meant that he would not be available in February and the match was moved to 18 August, with the opposition to be a European XI chosen by Cantona himself. Martin Edwards was criticised for turning the match into a publicity stunt, while Elizabeth Wood, the divorced wife of Munich survivor Ray Wood, compared the treatment of the Munich victims to that of "dancing bears at the circus". Nevertheless, the match earned £47,000 for each of the victims' families, while Eric Cantona recouped over £90,000 in expenses directly from the testimonial fund, rather than from the club.[80] The club has also received criticism from some quarters for its poor treatment of the survivors: Johnny Berry was forced to leave the flat he rented from the club to make way for a new player.[81]

On 7 February 1998, United played Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford in the Premier League a day after the 40th anniversary of the disaster. The match kicked off at 3:15 pm to allow a minute's silence to be observed at 3:06 pm Representatives from both teams laid floral tributes to those who lost their lives, with crash survivor and United director Bobby Charlton being joined by Bolton president Nat Lofthouse in leading out the two teams.[citation needed]

[edit]50th anniversary[]

[18][19]Old Trafford's Munich Tunnel, unveiled in 2008 on the 50th anniversary of the disaster.

A memorial service was held at Old Trafford on 6 February 2008. At the conclusion of the service, the surviving members of the 1958 team were the guests of honour at a ceremony to rename the tunnel under the stadium's South Stand as the "Munich Tunnel", which features an exhibition about the Busby Babes.[82]

On 6 February 2008, the England national football team took on Switzerland at Wembley Stadium. Before the game, pictures of the players who lost their lives at Munich were displayed on big screens, and England players wore black armbands. There was also a tribute to the Busby Babes in the match programme.[83] Originally, a minute's silence was not to have been observed on the day, due to the Football Association's fears that the silence would not be respected by fans of Manchester United's rivals.[84] However, they then agreed that a minute's silence should be held. In the event, it was generally well-observed, but a small number of supporters made whistles and cat-calls and the referee cut the silence short after less than 30 seconds.[85] Minute silences were also observed at the Northern IrelandWales and the Republic of Ireland games.[82][86]

[20][21]Commemorative scarves laid out on the back of every seat prior to the game

On 10 February 2008, at the derby match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford, both teams were led onto the pitch by a lone piper playing "The Red Flag", and the managers – Alex Ferguson and Sven-Göran Eriksson – each laid a wreath in the centre circle. This was followed by a minute silence, which, despite previous concerns, was respected by all the fans.[87] Kevin Parker, secretary of Manchester City's supporters club, had originally suggested a minute's applause instead of a minute's silence, so as to drown out anyone who would disrupt the silence,[88] but this was rejected by the Manchester United management as inappropriate.[89] United played in strips reminiscent of those worn by the 1958 team, numbered 1–11 with no advertising on the front or players' names on the back, while City removed sponsors' logos from their kit and the image of a small black ribbon was embroidered to the right shoulder;[90] both teams wore black armbands in tribute to the victims of the Munich disaster. Manchester City won 2–1 thanks to first half goals from Darius Vassell and debutant Benjani.[91] Fans in attendance were given commemorative scarves – in red and white for the United fans, and blue and white for the City fans – which were held up during the silence.[92]



Several musical tributes to the Munich air disaster have been recorded, the earliest being the song "The Flowers of Manchester". Written by an anonymous author, later revealed to be Eric Winter, the editor of the magazine Sing,[93] the song was recorded and released by Liverpool folk band The Spinners on their 1962 debut album "Quayside Songs Old and New".[94] Manchester-born singer Morrissey also released a song called "Munich Air Disaster, 1958" as a B-side to "Irish Blood, English Heart" in 2004.[95] It later appeared on his live album, Live at Earls Court, in 2005[96] and his 2009 B-sides compilation, Swords.

Most recently, the English band The Futureheads named their album News and Tributes in honour of the disaster. The title track pays tribute to those who lost their lives,[97] and includes the verse:

Cut down in their prime,
In silence, on that day,
February 58, they got what they need,
From Belgrade and back home to sleep


Barry Navidi, producer of the 2004 film The Merchant of Venice, was reported to be working on a script for a Hollywood film about the Munich air crash. The Manchester Evening News reported on 22 April 2005 that the survivors had not been consulted and were concerned about how accurate the film would be.[98]

Bill Foulkes said that, if done right, the film could become a "tribute to the Busby Babes which could be seen for generations to come." However, he expressed concerns about the accuracy of the film, given the filmmakers' lack of first-hand sources about what actually happened in Munich.[98] Fellow survivor Harry Gregg was more concerned about the portrayal of the players, particularly those who died, and whether their families' feelings would be respected.[98]

John Doherty, a player who had left United only a few months earlier, was less restrained, saying that "[t]he only reason anyone would want to make a film like this is to make money" and that "while there may be a slight hint of truth in the film, it will be mainly untruths... Unless you were there, how could you know what conversations took place?".[98]


On 10 January 2006, the BBC showed a drama/documentary retelling the story in the series Surviving Disaster. However, the programme was met with criticism from former United winger Albert Scanlon, who claimed that it was full of inaccuracies despite the production having consulted him about the content of the documentary. Errors in the programme included the depiction of Jimmy Murphy giving a pre-match team talk in Belgrade, despite him being in Cardiff at the time, and the plane being shown as only half full when nearly every seat was occupied.[99]

On 6 February 2008, the 50th anniversary of the crash, several television channels showed programmes about it:

  • UKTV History aired the BBC co-produced drama documentary Surviving Disaster to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.[100]
  • MUTV aired a segmented documentary called Munich Remembered, aired throughout the day with memories of players, staff and supporters.[101]
  • The BBC showed as part of its One Life series a documentary following United goalkeeper Harry Gregg retracing his route from England to Belgrade to Munich. He met and talked with some of the first rescuers who had arrived on the scene. He also met Vera Lukić, the pregnant mother whom he had rescued and Zoran, the son she bore two months later.[57]

Since the anniversary, two television programmes have been made about the disaster:

  • A 2011 made-for-television film United, written by Chris Chibnall and directed by James Strong for the BBC, tells the story of the crash and the subsequent rebuilding of Manchester United as a footballing force. The story was seen largely through the eyes of coach Jimmy Murphy, who became de facto manager of the team while Busby recovered from the crash. The role of Murphy was played by David Tennant. The film gained generally good reviews, especially for its evocation of the period and for Tennant's acting,[102][103] and was nominated at the Prix Europa 2011 Awards as "Best European TV Production".[104] It was, however, criticised by Sandy Busby, the son of Matt Busby, who said he thought the film was "very poorly done", and was very critical of the film's portrayal of his father.[105]
  • Canadian TV series Mayday covered the crash in one of its episodes, which was first broadcast in December 2011.[59]


The University of Salford honoured Munich victim Eddie Colman by naming one of its halls of residence for him.[106] Colman was born in Salford in 1936. There is also a network of small roads in Newton Heath named after the players who lost their lives in Munich, including Roger Byrne Close, David Pegg Walk, Geoff Bent Walk, Eddie Colman Close, Billy Whelan Walk, Tommy Taylor Close and Mark Jones Walk. Among those roads is an old people's home named after Duncan Edwards.[107] Edwards was also honoured with street names in his home town of Dudley; there is a small close off Stourbridge Road named Duncan Edwards Close,.[108] and in 2008, the Dudley Southern Bypass was renamed Duncan Edwards Way.[109][110]

[edit]See also[]

[22] Aviation portal
[23] Disasters portal


  1. ^ Aircraft with tailwheel undercarriages have the main undercarriage – about which the aeroplane rotates on take-off – positioned ahead of the aircraft's centre of gravity, allowing the aircraft to be flown off by application of up-elevator should deceleration be applied to the mainwheels on take-off when close to flying speed. On aircraft with a nosewheel, however, the main wheels are positioned behind the centre of gravity, causing a nose-down moment (force) should undue drag occur at the mainwheels, even if the nosewheel is already off the ground. This nose-down force reduces the elevator authority and makes it more difficult to keep the nosewheel off the ground, whereas the tailwheel undercarriage aeroplane already has its tailwheel off the ground at this point, and applying up-elevator will usually lower the tail sufficiently for the aircraft to lift-off. On the nosewheel-equipped aircraft, the additional drag of the nosewheel in the slush then reduces speed even more, as once the mainwheels have entered slush and initiated a downward force on the nose, the aeroplane then has three wheels in contact with the slush, rather than just two. The tailwheel-equipped aeroplane upon entering slush may be 'hauled off' at close to safe flying speed, whereas the nosewheel one may be prevented from reaching it, or have its speed reduced by the additional drag of the nosewheel. As the slush drag further slows the aeroplane, this can then make it impossible to raise the nosewheel off the runway, so the aircraft is unable to rotate. On a tailwheeled aircraft, the slush drag force is usually insufficient to prevent rotation, providing sufficient airspeed is reached, whereas on a nosewheeled aeroplane, it may force the nosewheel back onto the runway, or, depending on the airspeed achieved, even prevent it from being raised at all. In the Munich case, the drag of the slush slowed the Ambassador – which had twin-wheeled nose and mainwheel undercarriage units – sufficiently to make take-off impossible, while insufficient runway remained for the aircraft to be stopped safely.[citation needed]