It is, however, important to understand the background to the event, as only then is it possible to understand the magnitude of the Munich disaster. Ernest Mangnall’s pre-war reign, involving winning United’s first Championship in the 1907/8 season, was the first successes in Manchester United’s history. It involved such sagas as signing Billy Meredith from Manchester City in 1906 after he was banned from playing for Manchester City to the 1922 horror of relegation.
These pages of Manchester United’s history have long been swept away by the success seen in our generation created and masterminded by Sir Alex Ferguson. They do, however, play an important role in contextualising the events of the Munich disaster. They highlight how incredible the Busby Babes were to the contemporaries of today and allow one to understand just how they revolutionised British football and the culture of being a fan.
Interestingly, the Munich Air Disaster was not the only aviation disaster to affect a leading European football side at this time. In 1949 the Turin football team, who was one of Italy’s most coveted squads, plane crashed and killed all 31 passengers, including 18 players (10 of whom played for the Italian national team) instantly. Travelling back from a game in Portugal against Benfica, the plane flew into a thunderstorm and was forced to fly low to gain visibility and in a freak accident, flew too low and into the Basilica complex at the top of Superga hill.
Parallels were uncanny between Turin and Manchester; both had had their stadiums bombed during the war, the Italian players were all household names, bonded by an unrelenting team-wide friendship and Jeff Connor pointed out how Sandro, Torino captain Valentino Mazzola’s son, provided a ‘timeless link between the club’s past and present much in the same way that Bobby Charlton did’.Prior to the crash, Torino had won 4 consecutive Serie A titles from 1946-1949. Following the incident, they would not win the Scudetto again until 1976. Much like Manchester, the town was grief-stricken and former national coach Vittorio Pozzo, who was a sports journalist for La Stampa at the time wrote poignantly, expressing a great sense of personal loss that was widespread across Turin;
“There were kilometres and kilometres of women and babies crying. There was all Turin: I thought there was half Italy. It was my Torino, the team I gave so much help to build…The silence was enough. On the house door he [an Alpine Captain] embraced me. I threw myself on the bed and wept.”
The Manchester Evening News ran an article on the Turin incident on February 13 1958, just 1 week after the Munich crash. It is a valuable comparison as it provided perspective for those in Manchester; written by Danilo Colombo, who was a well known Italian journalist at the time, it highlighted that as an essential difference Torino lost not just all its first team in the crash but also all the reserves. In the case of Manchester United, however, through Jimmy Murphy and the reserves, United were able to rebuild a team of sorts, fulfilling their remaining fixtures and even went on a thrilling cup run to the FA Cup final in 1958 against Bolton, losing the final 2-0 (which was quite irrelevant in the circumstances).
Even 9 years after the Turin incident, Italian observers said that ‘Turin had not fully recovered’. United on the other hand would become European Champions in 1968 under Sir Matt Busby’s revival. Perspective was something hard to provide to a grieving town as undoubtedly, the immediate impact of the Munich Air Disaster was felt most in Manchester and as to be expected, within the team itself.