It was on February 6, 1958 — 59 years ago to the day — that 23 people were killed during an aborted takeoff at Munich-Riem Airport. Aboard the aircraft were Sir Matt Busby and his eponymous Babes, flying home after a European Cup quarterfinal against Red Star Belgrade.
Busby was lucky enough to survive life-threatening injuries and lead United’s remarkable recovery; tragically, eight of his players were not so fortunate. Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Billy Whelan, as well as club secretary Walter Crickmer, trainer Tom Curry, and coach Bert Whalley, were killed in the accident.
Little more can be said about the monumental impact the crash had on United. In short, it is the defining moment, the singular point around which the club’s history is imagined.
By its very definition, the psychological legacy of the disaster is a nebulous thing. The temptation to lionise today’s Manchester United in light of such misfortune should be tempered by the knowledge that such a vicious twist of fate could’ve struck anywhere, and at any time. This year more than most, so soon after Brazilian side Chapecoense lost almost all of their first team players and staff in similar circumstances, it’s a fact that should be at the forefront of our minds. Both, long before they were sporting disasters, were human ones.
But if we see the defiance of the Busby Babes and their successors in every small United success — every trophy, every victory, every swashbuckling goal, perhaps most importantly, every academy graduate — then that can be no bad thing. There can, after all, be little more human than redeeming through remembrance the spirit of those not fortunate enough to make it.