Manchester United Football Book number 3 (1968)
"Munich and 10 Years"
written by Bill Foulkes right after "REDS" won the European Cup.
Few football clubs could survive the catastrophe of Munich and survive as a major force in football. Yet Manchester United not only recovered but exist today as one of the most consistently successful teams in not only England but Europe.
The air disaster is now 10 years distant, which may be a large slice of any one person's life but is nothing in terms of a tragedy that destroyed a team hardly in its prime.
United recovered I think because the club was organised by Mr. Matt Busby in such a way that the foundations were solid, a system had been established to ensure long-term success rather than producing a team of the moment, and of course the Boss himself returned to the helm.
Thinking of Manchester United as a club, we faltered but we came back now, 10 years hence, there is a team on the field just as capable of winning honours as the one destroyed.
But though one may think of a club as an impersonal unit, it is of course made up of people and as long as I live Manchester United can never be the same. Players grow old or move to fresh pastures and this is accepted as part of the professional player's life, but to see one's team-mates taken in a disaster is an experience which to me will always be Manchester United.
Although I think I have adjusted myself to life and football in a perfectly normal way, I often think of the players who were killed, and usually at a certain time.
Always before a home match at Old Trafford all the players go to Davyhulme Golf Club for an early lunch and while away the time until we leave for the ground. Perhaps because this is the period when we get a little keyed up and when there is not much to do other than cards or snooker or some putting on the practice green, my mind starts to wander.
I remember the Saturdays when the old team used to do exactly the same thing. I think of the captain Roger Byrne. We were not particularly close because I had only just finished my National Service in the Army and before that I was only a part-time player, away during the week working as a miner.
But I respected him a lot. He was intelligent, forthright and polite and of course as a player he was top-class.
I have often thought I would like to see his son, born after the crash. He will be growing up now of course, just a little older than my boy Stephen who arrived within a year of the accident. People often ask if the disaster changed me and I suppose it did change my outlook on life a great deal.
For instance Teresa and I had been married four years and had no family. My escape without a scratch when so many others were killed made me much more aware of children and that kind of thing. Stephen came along pretty quickly after that.
I heard that David Pegg's mother and father were at one of our matches last season but I did not see them. Perhaps a lot of relatives of our old team-mates wonder sometimes why they have not perhaps heard from many of us. It is not for a lack of thinking of them, but an uncertainty that our presence might bring back grief which would of course be the last thing we would want.
David was always a player with a delicate touch. To me he almost seemed to tip-toe down the wing. He was not a big scorer himself but he could see the openings. I remember beating Anderlecht, the Belgian team 10-0 in the European Cup and all the lads trying to give David a goal - but without success. He was a nice lad.
Tommy Taylor as a player was quite different, big and strong. I rate him as one of the all-time best centre-forwards in the game and he had yet to realise all his potential. He was a typically bluff Yorkshireman in many ways, often acting the clown and a great team man.
One of the most cultured players was Eddie Colman and for all his rather chubby appearance, one of the fastest. He was another comedian and always in a most pleasant way. He was a great Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan fan and before the crash he lent me some of his LP's featuring those singers.
Whenever I hear their records I think of Eddie, even today.
If you were ever tackled by Mark Jones, you knew you were tackled, and he was one of the best centre-halves in the air I have known. Yet for all his strengths, he was one of those pleasant, easy-going fellows off the field. He had just started to smoke a pipe and somehow it was just right for his character.
Geoff Bent was unfortunate in his football career in that Roger Byrne and I had become a settled full-back pair. With another club he would have been a regular first-team player; as it is, he was probably the player least known by the public to lose his life.
Away from football he was quiet, more studious type than some of the more colourful characters we had in the team.
I remember Billy Whelan for the last words he spoke before the crash. For as we came down the runway for the third fatal time, Roger was cracking a joke while Bill said: "Well, if anything happens I'm ready."
Any if anyone was ready, it was Billy. If he hadn't been such a brilliant footballer he would have made a good priest and I am sure his faith helped him face that last attempted take-off with fewer qualms than any of us. As a player he could beat an opponent with the flair of George Best.
He was outstanding in his position in the same way that Duncan Edwards would surely have become one of the most complete players at world class in the profession. Already he had achieved success and acclaim, yet he died so young. Success would not have spoiled him either because he was a sensible lad who knew where he was going.
For all my memories of his swashbuckling play, his effortless 40-yard passes with either foot, they dim beside my last sight of him, lying in a hospital bed fighting for his biggest battle and sadly losing.
Then of course there were the club officials who also died. Walter Crickmer the secretary always reminded me of a little dynamo, nothing was too much trouble, while Tom Curry the trainer remains for me the father figure he was to all the lads.
He treated us all like boys, and such was his character with a comic sense of humour, that we all looked up to him like a father.
Bert Whalley was the club coach and a very good one. He seemed to spend his whole life with the young players and he was certainly a tremendous help to me when I was a part-timer, just training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Bert used to write to me every week and the letter would arrive like clockwork on a Friday.
In it would be a detailed report on how he thought I had played the week before and then a description of the team we would be playing the following day with details about the man I would be marking.
I was almost an outsider at the club in those days but Bert bridged the gap and kept me in touch so that I felt a part of the club.
Eight journalists, equally well known in their sphere, also died, with perhaps Henry Rose somehow unique in the way he captured the sporting public's imagination with his outspoken comments. He and his colleagues were older that the football writers who followed.
Perhaps it was this that commanded respect from the players, because although they were all very approachable, they were seasoned campaigners and you rarely attempted to tell 'em they were wrong because they rarely were and you could be on a good hiding to nothing!
Of the players who survived only Bobby Charlton and I are still at Old Trafford. I cannot think the crash affected our playing careers. I have played for 17 seasons in the First Division which is not a record I am ashamed of, while it does not need me to point out Bobby's brilliant soccer life.
All I would add is that I think he has played better this season than ever before, a great performer.
Harry Gregg became assistant coach at Stoke after continuing his football at Old Trafford and he looks set for a future in the game on the management side. His rival goalkeeper at one time, Ray Wood, is at Barnsley after playing for Huddersfield. He is also a qualified coach with good prospects of staying in football.
Dennis Violett went from Stoke City to try his hand as a player-coach in America and from all accounts is doing well.
I feel that Albert Scanlon and Ken Morgans, although playing again for United and also other clubs, had a certain edge taken out of them by the crash. they were never as good after as before. Johnny Berry and Jack Blanchflower never did play again of course because of their injuries. In their circumstances I don't know whether you can call them the unlucky ones compared with those of us able to continue our careers, or lucky to survive compared with our eight team-mates who lost their lives.
What I do know is that this tenth year afterwards, I still think about those who went, I wonder why I escaped unhurt and the whole experience is something I have never once discussed with Matt Busby.
It is something to keep within oneself, words could not possibly do justice to what we really feel. I have only written these few memories of my old team-mates as a mark of respect and a tribute to show they are far from forgotten, a decade later.
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