The Flowers of Manchester

the last line up

“One cold and bitter Thursday,
In Munich, Germany.
Eight great football stalwarts,
Conceded victory.
Eight men will never play again,
Who met destruction there.
The flowers of English football,
The flowers of Manchester.”

I often find that when it comes to history, tragedy is always what makes the greatest impact. Whether it be the consequences of war, the picture of a naked child whose life has crumbled due to an atom bomb, a freedom fighter falling after someone to whom equality and human rights mean little have pulled the trigger of a rifle, or Mother Nature showing what she is capable leading to hundreds, even thousands of people desperately searching for their loved ones after an earthquake, or a tsunami. Those are the pictures that become part of your permanent memory, those are the picture you’ll remember from the history books you read, or the news reports you watch. History is little without tragedy, because more than times of joy, tragedy is what shapes us, and the world in which we live.

There is a certain amount of awe to be felt when in the company of those who have defied tragedy, and have risen to become stronger as a result, and however trivial one person’s woes may seem to the next man, how we react to tragedy, how we move on from it, tells a lot about a person, a people, or even a football team. In 1958 Manchester United, and English football, experienced pain like it never had before. On that day in Munich, the history of the club I love so dearly was shaped anew.

We’ll always remember the Babes that perished; Bent, Byrne, Colman, Big Dunc, Jones, Pegg, Taylor and Whelan.

And with them the world suffered loss of United staff members; Crickmer, Curry and Whalley, two of the plane’s crew; Rayment and Cable, eight journalists; Clarke, Davies, Follows, Jackson, Ledbrooke, Rose, Thompson and Frank Swift, one of the greatest goalkeepers England and Manchester ever saw. A travel agent; Bela Miklos also lost his life, as did Sir Matt Busby’s friend Willie Satinoff.

23 lives were lost that day, and so many hearts were broken, and are breaking still. Sons, brothers, husbands, fathers so needlessly and tragically torn away. They shaped us, and at a time when some seem to find it impossible to see the light at the end of the tunnel from our bad form, they would do well to remember that this club has been through so much worse than finishing outside the top four in the league.

 United rose again, after the Munich Air Disaster, not beautifully and romanticized as the Phoenix from the flame, a term that has been used so many times about what came to pass in the decade after that horrible day. United rose again through hard work and determination. Through the bravery of those who were left behind, and through those who came to our aid. Through the leadership of Sir Matt and the hard work of Jimmy Murphy. United rose again, through blood, sweat and with the taste of bitter tears that still lingers with some now. There is nothing romantic about what happened in Munich, there is nothing that happens later that made that day worth it. But it did happen, and it did shape us, and for what we became, and for what we still are we owe the men who survived, and the memory of those who did not, our eternal gratitude.

“Oh, England’s finest football team its record truly great,

Its proud successes mocked by a cruel turn of fate.

Eight men will never play again, who met destruction there,

The flowers of English football,

The flowers of Manchester.”

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