The Munich Air Disaster: Part V – Reaction outside of Manchester

by Sam Peoples

However, this collection of young players did not represent the long term solution that was necessary at Manchester United. Many of those who played integral roles in keeping United afloat following Munich moved on to other clubs – Greaves, Pearson, Dawson, Webster and Cope, for example. Ironically, they seemingly gave up their own careers in order to save the club. Despite this, during the rest of the 1957/8 season United only won one game against Sunderland 2-1 on April 7. Manchester United endured the rest of the season and ended the 1957/8 league in 9th position and would not regain the title until the 1964/5 season.

The immediate aftermath of Munich was treated respectfully elsewhere in the football league. The F.A. Secretary, Sir Stanley Rous, released a statement in the Manchester Evening News on 7 February 1958 asking that all clubs, both professional and amateur, ‘observe a short silence before tomorrow’s games, fly flags at half mast and players are asked to wear black armbands’. In contrast to this respectful public statement, some people linked with football were immediately tired at the attention on United following the crash.

Eamon Dunphy highlights how he felt the United side drew strength from society as they symbolised wider social developments in the way they approached and played their football, they were the glamorous youth. One month after the crash Mark Pearson was sent off for United against Burnley which sparked their chairman, Bob Lord, to class Murphy’s team as a bunch of ‘Teddy Boys’, referring to the rebellious youth that emerged during the Sixties in Britain:

“There is too much sentiment about Manchester United…All the talk about Munich seems to have gone to heads of the young players.”

After Bob Lord distastefully classed United as a bunch of ‘Teddy Boys’ following their game in March 1958, the press was not afraid to be openly critical of United. Mark Pearson’s second red card in October 1958 was met by a Football Monthly headline of ‘Living down the Teddy Boy Bogey’. The pressure became too much for Mark and he was sold to Sheffield Wednesday in 1963. Evidently, some people were not as sympathetic to grievances as others following Munich.

Following the 1949 Torino disaster, teams who played Torino in the subsequent four remaining games of the Italian season fielded their youth team despite having their first team available in a sign of respect which allowed Torino to win the title, which was to be their last until 1976. The fact that United were not given the same treatment may logically have been because the football season still had 3 months until completion and because Manchester United had not been as badly affected as Torino, having a reserve team that they could and did call upon. As such, the rest of the season was a very difficult period for United and its new-look team.

Even the game itself was changing. When United went against the wishes of the Football Association (F.A.) and entered into Europe in the 1956/7 season, they embodied this changing face of football. James Walvin elaborated on this when he noted that European football rapidly became the prime ambition of England’s leading clubs. It was this adventure that drew the fans to the Busby Babes and on their first season in Europe they did not disappoint. The second game of the campaign at Maine Road on 26 September 1956 saw Manchester United tally a record breaking score, which still stands today of 10-0 against Belgian champions RSC Anderlecht, with Denis Viollet netting 4. United were a rampant force in Europe and they had already created an aura around themselves by reaching two successful semi-finals in consecutive years 1957/8. They were putting the glamour into football. Bobby Charlton strongly felt that if the Munich Air disaster had never happened, then the Busby Babes would have won the European Cup of 1958, an opinion many had.

Part 6 follows the story of Sir Bobby Charlton and how the Munich Air Disaster changed him.

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