The Flowers of Manchester

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.

Matt Busby’s boys were flying, returning from Belgrade,
This great United family, all masters of their trade,
The pilot of the aircraft, the skipper Captain Thain,
Three times they tried to take off and twice turned back again.

The third time down the runaway disaster followed close,
There was slush upon that runaway and the aircraft never rose,
It ploughed into the marshy ground, it broke, it overturned.
And eight of the team were killed as the blazing wreckage burned.

Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor who were capped for England’s side.
And Ireland’s Billy Whelan and England’s Geoff Bent died,
Mark Jones and Eddie Colman, and David Pegg also,
They all lost their lives as it ploughed on through the snow.

Big Duncan he went too, with an injury to his brain,
And Ireland’s brave Jack Blanchflower will never play again,
The great Matt Busby lay there, the father of his team,
Three long months passed by before he saw his team again.

The trainer, coach and secretary, and a member of the crew,
Also eight sporting journalists who with United flew,
and one of them Big Swifty, who we will ne’er forget,
the finest English ‘keeper that ever graced the net.

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.

Written anonymously by the editor of SING magazine Eric Winter in October 1958 but never took the credit. Captain of the unfortunate plane James Thain was cleared of any wrongdoing after a decade and multiple inquiries whereby his name was included later in the song. It missed mentioning Johnny Berry who never played again after the crash. 07-April 1950 Johnny Berry scored one of the best goals at Old Trafford while with Birmingham City to beat Manchester United. This precedent of MUFC going after players who have risen to the occasion to become their best in games played against United or their rivals has continued ever since. He scored the winning goal against Bilbao to take United into the semi-finals of the European Cup exactly a year before Munich on 06-Feb, 1957. Johnny Berry played in 273 games scoring 44 goals, won the league thrice in '52, '56 and '57 and earned 4 caps for England. His omission must be rectified to acknowledge his crucial contribution towards the success of Manchester United and being the 2nd senior most player behind captain Roger Byrne to have his career terminated by the crash at Munich.

In December, 1957 United beat Dukla Prague 3-1 on aggregate and while returning from Prague the scheduled flight with an airline was diverted via Amsterdam due to bad weather due to which United reached Birmingham eventually through sea and land journey to play City just hours before the kick-off; no wonder a tired team drew the match 0-0. Belgrade was even further away so the club decided to hire a private plane to avoid such a predicament as they had to play league leaders Wolves whose captain Billy Wright was born on 06-February, 1924. Frank Taylor one of the scribes who survived was seated at the front row asked some of his colleagues to move where many seats were vacant but all passengers had already settled. United having entered the European competition against the wishes of the Football League were set a condition that their entry is subject to them never failing to honour their obligation to play their matches in the league as per schedule following the mid-week European ties.

That United team had won two league championships in 1955-56, 1956-57 with an average age of just 22 and were aiming for a hat-trick in 1957-58. Had lost in the final of 1957 FA Cup which if they had won would have made them the first team to win the coveted double of league and cup in the same season, which Tottenham did later in 1961. Had lost to Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1957 and were regarded as the next favourites to win. The depleted squad after the crash still made it to the finals of the FA Cup and semi-finals of the European Cup.

Arthur Hopcraft summed it up beautifully: "It was not simply that very popular athletes had been killed and a brilliantly promising team destroyed. There was a general youthfulness about this particular Manchester United team which was new to the game. Manchester relished this fact. The old, often gloomy city had a shining exuberance to acclaim. These young players were going to take the country, and probably Europe too, by storm. To identify with this precociousness, to watch people in other towns marvelling and conceding defeat, gave a surge to the spirit. Suddenly most of the team was dead."

The program notes of United's next match on 19th February the FA Cup 5th round tie against Sheffield Wednesday concludes: "Although we mourn our dead and grieve for our wounded we believe that great days are not done for us. The sympathy and encouragement of the football world and particularly of our supporters will justify and inspire us. The road back may be long and hard but with the memory of those who died at Munich, of their stirring achievements and wonderful sportsmanship ever with us, Manchester United will rise again."

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