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The day the Babes died

The Busby Babes were the finest team to emerge in England in the period after the Second World War.

The term was coined by a journalist to describe a Manchester United team whose average age was between 21 and 22, and the majority of whom were home-grown under their charismatic Scottish manager Matt Busby,

They won the league championship in 1955 – 56 and again the following season , and were tipped to go on to achieve even bigger things, both at home and in Europe,  before the lives of many of them were cut short before they had even reached their prime.

Eight of them were killed in an air crash in Munich and others were so severely injured they never played football again.

Yet from the flames emerged a phoenix – a few survivors like Bobby Charlton formed the nucleus of the team that became the first English side to lift the European Cup a decade later.

Although the European Cup began in 1955 – 56, no English team took part in the first season because a Xenophobic Football league persuaded the previous season’s Champions Chelsea not to take part.

Manchester United had no such reservations the following season and reached the semi-finals only to lose to the eventual champions Real Madrid.

The following year they entered the competition again and reached the quarter-final stage, where they were drawn against Red Star Belgrade, with the first leg away.

To avoid a tiring land journey, United chartered a plane for the trip to Yugoslavia which set off carrying the players, coaching staff, and accompanying journalists.

After drawing the first leg 3 – 3 in Belgrade, they began the return journey on 6th February 1958 in the plane which stopped at a snow-bound Munich airport to refuel.

When it attempted to take off, the first attempt had to be aborted after an engine failure. A second attempt was made, but that too had to be abandoned for the same reason.

On the third attempt the plane failed to take off because of ice on the wings, skidded off the end of the runway and eventually crashed into a house, bursting into flames.

21 of the 4 people died instantly, including seven players – Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Liam Whelan, Tommy Taylor, Mark Jones, David Pegg, and Geoff Strong. The team captain, Duncan Edwards, regarded as one of the finest players of his era, survived the initial crash, but subsequently died in hospital of his injuries.

Several other players were never able to play football again, whilst Matt Busby was so gravely injured that he was give the Last Rites twice.

He eventually recovered to lead a team that included Bobby Charlton – who was able to unbuckle his seatbelt and climb out of the wreckage unscathed – to that European success ten years later.

However, Busby always remembered that first team he built to his dying day, and the names of the players that were never able to realise their potential through a terrible twist of fate.

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