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The Flowers of English Football, the Flowers of Manchester

The 6th of a sad day for United fans. Thousands of words have been written and spoken, therefore to avoid the risk of becoming tedious, we have decided to re-publish an article that appeared on Red Rants 12 months ago. If you didn’t read then, we hope it’ll be a fitting tribute to the Babes, if you had already read it hopefully you’ll still find it poignant.

For the vast majority of people, the first days in February don’t mean anything else apart from bitterly cold weather – or scorching hot, depending on which side of the Equator you wake up – and a disheartening feeling deriving from the realisation that summer holidays are still very far away.

For people that were born with Manchester United in their veins though, the 6th of February carries a special meaning.

This year marks the 54th anniversary of the tragedy that saw one of the greatest teams of all times almost completely wiped out by an air crash in Munich.

Since everything has been written and said about the event – more often than not by people much better suited to the job than I am – I decided to tackle it from a different angle. I was toying with different ideas when I recalled a conversation I had had with my girlfriend’s brother – an avid follower of English football who, despite being only 14 and despite having set foot in England only once, is on his way to become a football expert – which made me realise why Manchester United Football Club are so special.

Last year in February I visited my girlfriend in Europe, and I watched the Wolves-United game on TV with her brother. The game, I’m sure you’ll remember, brought United’s unbeaten record to an end.

Sam, however, focused more on the United players wearing black armbands.

“Has something happened? Why are they wearing them for?” he asked.

“It’s for the Busby Babes,” I replied, while pictures of fans in the United end holding a flag reading “MUFC – We’ll never die” appeared on the screen.

The look on his face told me that he wasn’t too sure of what I was talking about. “The Busby Babes?”

“They were called Busby Babes because the manager at the time was Matt Busby,” I explained, “he decided to field a team with very young players, hence the nickname.”

“Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Jackie Blanchflower, Dennis Viollet, Mark Jones, Billy Whelan, Tommy Taylor, David Pegg, Geoff Bent and Bobby Charlton,” I continued, the names rolling off my tongue like a well-memorized mantra.

“They were a superb team. They won the league in 1955-56 and in 1956-57, when they just missed out on the Double, by losing to Aston Villa in the final.”

“They were so good that Busby, against the FA’s opinion, decided they would take part in the European Cup, when no other English team had done so,” I carried on explaining how, after swiping everybody aside in England, they seemed poised to repeat the feat in Europe.

Sir Matt’s philosophy had struck me when, as a kid, I had first heard of him: “Busby believed young players to be the future of Manchester United, and was ready to give young players a chance. He and Jimmy Murphy, his assistant manager, had set up a scouting system that was years ahead of other teams’ networks,” I explained.

Sam, a puzzled look on his face, asked the question I had been waiting for: “Surely though, they were too young to be that good?”

My reply, you have probably guessed it, was: “If they’re good enough, they’re old enough.”

“And, trust me, they were good enough. 50-60 thousands people would fill Old Trafford to see them playing, the whole country was in awe of their breathtaking football, based on wave after wave of attack.”

The words ‘If ever they’re playing in your town, you must get yourself to that football ground; take a lesson come and see, football taught by Matt Busby’ would have described the concept beautifully. If the Busby Babes were around today, every man and his dog would be be heading to their local casumo casino or betting shop to back them for the title.

By then I wanted to tell him everything I knew about Sir Matt’s wonderful boys but, aware of the difficulty of keeping a teenager engaged into a conversation for longer than ten minutes, I backed off. He would have to make his choice.

“Charlton, did you say?” Sam asked, looking as if he was pondering whether the Charlton he knew of was, in fact, the same I had previously mentioned, “but I thought he became a legend for winning the European Cup in 1968,” he argued.

That was the chance I had been waiting for, as I jumped into the story.

“You’re right, Sir Bobby won the European Cup in 1968 against Benfica, but he had joined United in 1956 and was one of the youngsters in the team,” I said.

“That team had superb players, such as Dennis Viollet and Tommy Taylor – a pair of centre-forwards that would make today’s strikers look paltry in comparison – and Billy Whelan, a flash-footed winger who could have become a star decades before Giggs or like Bill Foulkes who would go on and captain United to their first European Cup.”

“So, who was the captain then?” he enquired, with more than mere curiosity.

“The captain,” I explained, “was Roger Byrne. He wasn’t what you would call the most gifted of footballers but he was able to read the game brilliantly and had an immense work ethic.”

“Ah,” he declared convinced, “like Gary Neville.”

I had never thought of such a comparison myself, but after Sam had pointed it out, I realized that Red Nev and Byrne had many things in common.

At this point I felt totally immersed in the story, just as I had done when I had first heard it. The look on Sam’s face told me that I had grabbed his attention completely too. Not even the temptation of free spins by would have torn him away from my story.

“But the greatest of them all, was Duncan Edwards: a colossus of a footballer, so young but with the body of a man. He had made his debut aged only 16, making him the youngest ever player to play in the first division at the time. He won two consecutive FA Youth Cups, before winning two consecutive league titles.”

“Did you know,” I went on, “that until Michael Owen made his debut for England, Big Dunc was the youngest ever player to play for the national team? And that, according to Bobby Charlton, he could have become the greatest player ever?”

Sam had gone silent by then, his eyes quickly looking at one of the videos of the Busby Babes I had shown him earlier.

“Ok, but I still don’t get why the players wore armbands today.”

In telling him about the players I had, unconsciously, failed to answer the original question, which required an explanation.

“In February 1958, United played Red Star Belgrade in the second leg of the quarter finals of the European Cup, drawing 3-3,” I began.

“To avoid the FA’s wrath, United had to fly back the following day but, since a non-stop trip from Belgrade to Manchester was out of the aircraft’s range, they had to stop over in Munich for refueling,” I continued.

“Because of the atrocious weather conditions, the runaway had been covered in snow and slush, making it almost impossible for the plane to take off. After two aborted attempts, the passengers returned to the terminal waiting for the weather conditions to improve.”

“Some of the players were so sure they would spend the night in Munich that they even sent cables to their wives and girlfriends in Manchester, explaining the situation. The captain though, was worried that an overnight stay would see them fall too far behind schedule and attempted a third take off.”

“The plane crashed at the end of the runaway, the impact killing 20 passengers among whom Tommy Taylor, Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent, Billy Whelan and Mark Jones. Three club’s officials were also killed as well as eight journalists, a fan, and two members of the crew.”

Sam couldn’t have been more focused if he had been watching a movie, so I moved on: “Harry Gregg, United’s keeper, had been thrown out the cabin after the impact along with Bobby Charlton.”

“He had thought Charlton was dead, and went back to the wreckage to rescue survivors to safety, despite the danger of an explosion.”

Sam stared at me, disbelief apparent on his face: “Are you telling me that he went into a burning airplane to carry out the survivors?”

He had been struck by the legend of the “Hero of Munich”.

My narrative in full flow, I decided to mention every detail I could think of, including that Duncan Edwards was carried to the hospital, were he fought for a fortnight against death, before succumbing.

“At one stage he had asked Jimmy Murphy at what time the game against Wolves was supposed to kick off. The lad was made of steel,” I recalled, much to Sam’s disbelief.

“Busby himself was fighting for life and, when Jimmy Murphy got to the hospital, Sir Matt told him to ‘keep the flag flying’ and to take care of the rest of the team.”

I could see that Sam had been shocked by the story, and by the fact that United had to borrow players from other teams to field 11 players against Sheffield Wednesday in the 5th round of the FA Cup, in what was surely the most emotional match Old Trafford has ever witnessed.

“I guess they won the game.” It was a statement more than a question.

And he was, obviously, correct, as United won 3-0, going all the way to the final, which they lost to Bolton. Probably the first – and only time – that the whole country wanted Manchester United to win a final.

Sam looked like he had just discovered something that had been in front of his eyes for years, yet he had ignored. “That’s why, when I went to Manchester – to see Ronaldo and Rooney destroy Portsmouth in 2008 – I saw a clock outside the ground reading Munich 6th February 1958.”

“Exactly, the clock is long-lasting tribute to the victims, at the entrance of what is now called ‘Munich tunnel’,” I explained.

His attention switched back to the crash: “Busby and Charlton obviously survived the crash.”

“Yes, they did,” I replied, “Charlton considered the idea of quitting football altogether and Busby felt responsible for the death of his boys, as it had been his idea to take part in the European Cup. Only 10 years later, when Benfica were thumped 4-1 at Wembley, he allowed himself to put those demons to rest.”

I could see that he was lost for words, so I reminded him of how, on the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, United played with old-fashioned shirts, the number going from 1 to 11, to commemorate the Busby Babes.

“2008 was a great year, you won the European Cup,” he said with a grin, before adding “I bet United fans and players knew they had to mark the 50th anniversary properly.”

I barely heard those words, as I was watching a video I had seen time and again, entitled “The Flowers of Manchester” and I could feel my eyes were filled with tears.

Noticing that, Sam looked at me for a while, then he said: “You can be so proud of your club.”

I am lad, we all are.

To Eddie, Roger, Duncan, Billy, Mark, Geoff, David and Tommy: the flowers of English football, the flowers of Manchester.

In Munich you died, in our hearts you’ll live forever.

Rest in peace lads, the flag is still flying. MUFC



Dan (@MUFC_dan87)



  1. RedDevilEddy

    3 February 2012 at 17:20

    I loved this Daniele, amazing piece. A joy to read, and when I came to the part about Harry Gregg I felt shivers going down my spine. 🙂 Beautiful!

    I remember when I was a wee little lad myself, growing up I didn’t know about the Busby Babes or Munich. As most kids you watch football for entertainment, because you enjoy it, and that’s why I loved Manchester United from the start. But as soon as I found out about 1958 and got into the history of the club, there really was nowhere else to go. You may enjoy watching the team, but true love and commitement to the club doesn’t really come until you understand what it’s gone through, its achievements. The legends of our past, the present, and of course the future as well. This club is huge, and no matter what people may say, or what may happen in the future, I will always pride myself of being a United fan. As much as this incident was a tragedy, we must never look past at how this shaped Manchester United. Not because people died, but because of people like Harry Gregg who went into to rescue his mates, because of people like Big Duncan who didn’t even consider death as an option but rather asked for when the next game was, because of people like Matt Busby who came back and managed to win the European Cup despite having to fight for his life and experiencing the horror of watching his team, his lads, die in an aircrash.

    Rest in Peace Busby Babes, gone but never forgotten.

    • mic

      7 February 2014 at 22:37

      great reply. ive never been anything else but proud of my football club and i am privelaged to be a manc and be around so many fans that feel true passion for football and what it means G.G.M.U. R.I.P THE BABES we will always remeber

  2. JonyB

    3 February 2012 at 20:18

    This is such a well written, poignant and touching article. Really well written and it’s a very great shame about the Babes that we’re taken from us before their time……
    thankyou for sharing this with us all…..

  3. Jay wire

    3 February 2012 at 21:22

    Magnificent. Pure. This is one of the most gripping articles I’ve read in a long while. Heart wrenching and inspiring at the same time. This is Manchester United FC. Believe

  4. Opti

    3 February 2012 at 21:41

    This is your best work by miles and THE best article on Munich I have ever read. Outstanding job tying in the young fan with your more knowledgable self and explain the tragedy in such a moving, respectful, and inspiring fashion. This article should be one of “Best of…”. Simply glorious!!!

    I gave you crap in the beginning when you took the reigns of the site and while I still miss the lengthy discussion, I would have to lie to state that the site hasn’t improved dramatically — this article, for example, is one of shining lights on here. If only you could somehow bring people to comment more on a regular fashion (especially during game times), this site would be unstoppable (watch out StR!).

    Great job guys!

    • Ian

      3 February 2012 at 22:20

      Thank you, and I totally agree about the article, I know it’s a cliche but it really did make the hairs stand up. The fact you’ve suggested a best of page has given me an idea though, maybe a Munich tribute page or a best of perhaps, but something for the future and I’ll get an overall opinion. Thanks again mate.

      Thanks has to go to Daniele, when he sent it me I intended to scan over it but I got more and more immersed in it as I read on, it’s isn’t often a Man Utd historian calls it ‘Excellent’ on Twitter.

      • Opti

        4 February 2012 at 00:23

        @Ian: How hard is it to rely on “votes” for an article and then set up links to Top 10 voted-on articles on RedRants?

        The Munich Tribute page is an honorable idea; however, I think it is far more difficult to maintain a high-quality discourse over such an emotional topic with a multitude of papers. I mean, if one paper is below average, it drags down the whole Tribute page….

        • Ian

          4 February 2012 at 16:00

          @Opti: Not sure but it’s a great idea, I’ll look into it.

    • RedDevilEddy

      3 February 2012 at 22:21

      @Opti: Here Here!

  5. Sean McGuire

    3 February 2012 at 22:00

    Class article mate. This exemplifies how we will keep the memories of the Busby Babes alive by passing on the story to the younger fans, in the hope that they will pass it on themselves one day. Very well written, it relays all the facts of the crash whilst portraying the emotion involved at the same time. This is a great angle on the story too, because it adds that folklore magic to it with the scene of storyteller passing down heroic tales to younger listeners. You have a similar writing style to mine where you want the reader to ‘feel’ the event rather than ‘know’ about it. Hope to read a lot more in the future!

    • Opti

      4 February 2012 at 00:25

      @Sean McGuire: Not to mention that the pictures are well-thought out and really add emotional content to the article.

  6. Muadh

    3 February 2012 at 22:41

    This was very enlightening and amazing to read. Thank you for this.

  7. Daniele

    3 February 2012 at 23:35

    Thanks very much guys. I’m glad you liked the article, I hoped it would be well received but such a good response has left me lost for words.


    We’ll never die. MUFC

    • RedDevilEddy

      4 February 2012 at 01:12

      @Daniele: MUFC – For the love, not the money 😀

      • Stephen

        4 February 2012 at 17:02

        @RedDevilEddy: Great point Eddy, United is all about trophies not money.

  8. colver

    4 February 2012 at 01:08

    Yeah very touching. I have always been sad we never produced a side that dominated Europe the way that the Busby babes surely would have in a way that would have made Liverpool’s glory years in the 80s look pedestrian. Not to mention the glory they would have brought the English national team. They really were a unique generation of players.

    But they left an incredible legacy that has made our club almost supernatural in a way that no other club was, is or will ever be.

  9. Grognard

    4 February 2012 at 08:50

    The term ‘legend’ is used far too liberally these days and all it takes is to remember back to February 6th, 1959 to help us really define the term ‘LEGENHD(S)’ properly. They will always live in the hearts of all United supporter and all true lovers of the game of football who see the sport as a global game of art, culture and brotherhood.

    • Onkar

      4 February 2012 at 10:08

      @Grognard: Absolutely bro.. This is precisely what I said. Sometimes I wonder why every other player who is just above average is defined as LEGEND. LEGEND in my books ins the one who defines the GAME, CULTURE of the CLUB/COUNTRY, or whoi changes things for GOOD with his stamp on it.. And for me Busby Babes did all that..
      Btw bro… didnt get time to Wel Come you back.. Great to see you back bro.

  10. Onkar

    4 February 2012 at 10:01

    Hey Daniele, even I am lost for words. I mean, awesome stuff bro.. My eyes were filled with tears by the time I was reaching the end of the story… They were the tears of Sorrow, Tears of Pride, the pride of being teh Man UTD Fan.

    Then I just realised sometimes we use the LEGEND word so much out of habbit. Actually, very few players that we follow nowdays can be called LEGEND. Those wre the LEGENDS who defined the Language of FOOTBALL. They defined the GAME OF FOOTBALL. They were the LEGENDS in a TRUE SENSE.
    Anyway, once again great read bro… I felt that I am living the STORY and the CONVERSATION rather than writing it…. Great Efforts and THanks for everything.

  11. Stephen

    4 February 2012 at 11:40

    Fantastic read, this is basis of what makes Manchester United.
    Alright Grog?

  12. RedDevilEddy

    4 February 2012 at 17:29

    I know Twitter is spamming all of you with it, but it’s fucking cold these days! -22 degrees here in Norways, my face hurts when I go outside! Good to have some class Premier League games on the Telly then 😀

    • Opti

      4 February 2012 at 18:14

      @RedDevilEddy: Sounds awful! The coldest I have ever experienced was -14C and that was a beard-freezer!!!

      -22C sounds awful!! Stay warm!!

      • RedDevilEddy

        4 February 2012 at 18:27

        @Opti: Really considering growing a beard again, having a clean shaven chin is a nightmare these days! Thankfully it’s christmassy-comfy at home, chillin with a blanket, some chocolatemilk, and some salmon! To be fair, worst thing about the cold is not being able to play football. Seriously missing it! 🙁 Only get to train with weights these days, I get more bulked up but it’s just not the same. Difficult to figure out when the strength gets too great for technique, fucking winter is a nightmare…

        • Daniele

          4 February 2012 at 19:36

          @RedDevilEddy: just started to snow here in London. If they decide to postpone the Chelsea game I’ll be fucking mental. I had ticket for the december game last year that got postponed, and i can’t even think about the chances of it being postponed again. I’m looking forward to a trip to the Bridge Why is it that these southern twats can’t walk/drive as soon as they see a bit of snow on the ground? ffs!

        • Opti

          4 February 2012 at 20:10

          @Daniele: Honestly, if it gets postponed, we get our players back (but Chelsea are weak right now) and without Ashley Cole 😀

        • RedDevilEddy

          4 February 2012 at 21:55

          @Daniele: Fucks sake, is postponing the match even being considered? They’ve got heated cables under the pitch right, shouldn’t be a problem! I know Stamford Bridge isn’t the best of grounds, but give me a break! 🙄 Pitch should definately handle the snow at this level, and if the issue is about people being cold then fucking give away free blankets.

        • Stephen

          5 February 2012 at 09:39

          @RedDevilEddy: The issue would be not with pitch,but the surrounding streets.

        • Opti

          4 February 2012 at 19:43

          @RedDevilEddy: Do you have indoor places to play? In the US there are a billion places that have indoor soccer leagues (at pretty high level).

        • RedDevilEddy

          4 February 2012 at 21:52

          @Opti: We’ve not got indoor pitches, closest I get to play football inside is when we have Futsal games. Which I’m kinda shite at! 😆 I’m not like the guys you see on FIFA Street, and coming from a rough neighbourhood most fellas out here really know their skills. Not too fun to play then…

          There’s a footy pitch just 200 yards away from my home so I don’t have any issues training. I mean, if it’s -10 I’ve got no problem running about and hitting a few free-kicks, but it’s so fucking cold my face hurts only by walking! Doesn’t even snow either, some ice on the pitch but definately playable

  13. RedDevilEddy

    4 February 2012 at 22:44

    Just got a Stand Up/Speak Up anti-racism wristband in the mail, ordered it on Ebay for a nice price 🙂 You guys remember it, it was supposed to be a movement which started back in 2005 when United beat Arsenal 4-2 in the epic Highbury encounter when Keano went on a rampage against Vieira in the tunnel. Stand Up, Speak Up. Well done Patrice.

    Fuck of Suarez.
    Fuck of Terry.

    Kick Racism Out Of Football.

  14. Spangle

    5 February 2012 at 00:08

    If you read Bobby’s book he carries the guilt of surviving Munich with him to this day, and daily asked himself the question “Why not me”, it must have been an awful thing to go through.

    The memory of the Babes must live on, and at last the club are doing something about it, there are at last plans to give Harry Gregg a testimonial, and talks are being held to get a United 11 to play, it’s what the club should be doing without question.

    Your article is brilliant, and I would like with your permission to post it on my blog @ http://www.manutdreds/wordpress

    • Spangle

      5 February 2012 at 00:09

      sorry missed out the .net in the link, it should read

      • Ian

        5 February 2012 at 15:25

        Thanks Spangle. I’ll pass this on to the writer, I’m sure he’ll be happy to share it, will let you know asap.

      • Daniele

        5 February 2012 at 21:32

        @Spangle: If Ian doesn’t have any problems with it, I don’t either. Glad you appreciated the article.

  15. Stephen

    5 February 2012 at 09:42

    Amos or De Gea is the big decison on the day, this could define the season. Personally I have lost faith in the Spaniard, I am not writing him off, be for me he should go out on loan in the Premiership. We cannot loose many more points this season,he has made too many errors and we are at the business end of the season when every point and goal is important.

  16. Stephen

    5 February 2012 at 12:51

    John Terry is injured today, er what a suprise……

  17. Keith

    5 February 2012 at 15:18

    As a long time reader of this site, but not willing to join in the infighting which goes on, I felt I had to comment on how excellent this article is – this is what it means to support a team which has a history and provides us all with a sense of belonging to strong, solid community.

    • Ian

      5 February 2012 at 15:22

      Thanks Keith, understand your sentiments too, nut in general the atmosphere has improved and the infighting is far less (I’d like to say non-existent but I’d be lying) than it used to be.

      Thanks for the comments though, agreed.

  18. tonymontanna4united

    6 February 2012 at 14:00

    A truely beautiful piece, i doff my hat to you sir. Lovely tribute to the babes. May they forever rest in peace. Never forgotten.

  19. pjch

    6 February 2013 at 09:58

    Fantastic article but have to point out that this happened in 1958 and not 1959
    A fabulous team cut short before they had the chance to conquer all

  20. The_Philosopher

    6 February 2013 at 13:18

    Very well written

  21. RMJ

    8 February 2013 at 13:43


  22. RMJ

    8 February 2013 at 13:43

    RIP you will never be forgotten

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