Showing posts with label Busby Babes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Busby Babes. Show all posts

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."

Sir Matt Busby 'Mr Manchester United'

On this day: 20th January 1994 Sir Matt Busby passed away as MUFC under Sir Alex Ferguson successfully went on to win the first League and Cup double which had eluded Busby. Earlier in May, 1993 MUFC had ended their 26 year wait to become English League Champions once again. Few poignant quotes from Sir Matt Busby...

Recollections on becoming the manager of MUFC: "It was not an easy assignment. The ground had been blitzed, they had an overdraft at the bank, what is more I had no experience as a manager, and I felt they were taking a great risk in appointing me."

Wearing a track suit whilst holding a training session: "Playing a wee bit o' football with the lads."

His first act after becoming MUFC manager was to ask Jimmy Murphy to be his assistant: "It could be that what either Jimmy Murphy or I lacked the other had. He would always give a straight-forward opinion. He was no yes-man."

To Stan Pearson facing big spenders Derby County in FA Cup semi-finals 1948 who duly scored a hat-trick in that match: "The greatest thrill in soccer is playing at Wembley on Cup Final day."

Keen on entering the new European competition against Football League's wishes: "Prestige alone demanded that the Continental challenge should be met, not avoided."

Introducing youth players from the academy be it Roger Bryne and Jackie Blanchflower vs Liverpool in Nov, '51 and many others since "If you’re good enough, you’re old enough."

His philosophy after winning the League in 1955 with Busby Babes: "From the very start I had envisaged making my own players, having a kind of nursery so that they could be trained in the kind of pattern I was trying to create for Manchester United."

Whispering to Jimmy Murphy as Busby lay in hospital bed after the crash: "Keep the flag flying"

Returning to Manchester for the first time: "Resting in Interlaken, Germany was one thing and facing Old Trafford another. When I approached the ground and moved over the bridge along which our supporters had squeezed fifty abreast in there tens of thousands to shout for us I could scarcely bear to look. I knew the ghosts of the babes would still be there, and there they are still, and they will always be there as long as those who saw them still cross the bridge, young, gay, red ghosts on the green grass of Old Trafford."

Trauma of being a survivor of a tragedy: "To be honest, I suppose I wasn't sane. I was raving and creating hell with everyone. Why us? Was it some human error or had this been decreed from above? If so, why hadn't I died with them?"

Fighting back: "There were many difficulties to overcome, but the hardest thing of all was coming round to flying again. For a few matches after Munich we went abroad by sea and train, but obviously that couldn't go on for too long. We all had to deal with it in our different ways."

Inspiration to carry on after Munich: "Frankly, ever since my wife, Jean, had told me in the Munich hospital that she felt sure the lads who had died would have wanted me to carry on, I had become increasingly obsessed about United winning the European Cup. It was almost as if this glittering trophy were the Holy Grail."

On Bobby Charlton scoring 68 goals in three seasons immediately after Munich "When things looked their blackest after the Munich accident, and there were times when I felt great despair, I was enormously cheered to think that Bobby Charlton was there. His presence was a great source of inspiration to keep working for the restoration of Manchester United."

On George Best who between 1964 to 1971 for 8 seasons hardly missed any games against hard tackling players like Ron Harris, Norman Hunter, Tommy Smith, Frank McLintock, Mike Doyle, Danny Blanchflower in an era when referees could not do anything to protect creative players: "George Best had more ways of beating a player than anyone I've ever seen. He was unique in his gifts." Incidentally George Best received the second ever Red Card in English game when it was belatedly introduced in 1976 when he used foul language against referee playing for Fulham in the second division.

Surprisingly lost to Partizan Belgrade in the semi-finals of European Cup 1966 when the United squad was at its peak: "We'll never win the European Cup now."

Decisive game of 1966-67 season beating West Ham 6-1 at Upton Park (who had three World Cup winners Sir Bobby Moore, Sir Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters and had reached the finals of Cup Winners Cup) with the finest display of football seen in England post the second world war: "This was my greatest hour." All three of the Trinity - Charlton(1), Law(2) and Best(1) scored in that game. That same XI except Denis Law who was injured and replaced by Brian Kidd played in the victorious European Cup final a year later.

To his players before the start of crucial extra time in the European Cup final 1968: "I told them they were throwing the game away with careless passing instead of continuing with their confident football. I told them they must start to hold the ball and play again."

His decision to retire on 14th January, 1969: "Manchester United have become rather more than a football club. They are now an institution. I am finding less and less time to attend to the thing I consider paramount, which is the playing side."

Being conferred Manchester's first Freeman: "Football's great occasions are, for me at any rate, unequaled in the world of sport. I feel a sense of romance, wonder and mystery, a sense of beauty and poetry. The game becomes larger than life. It has something of the timeless, magical quality of legend."

Wrong to the compare Chelsea and MUFC youth

Chelsea will start as favourites in the League Cup fourth round match on Wednesday at Stamford Bridge on back of seven consecutive victories. They had a better squad when Frank Lampard took over amid the transfer ban and ushered in the youth players who had been winning the FA Youth Cup for 6 of last 7 years, having them loaned out to other clubs in between to continue their development.

Its a complete contrast to what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer inherited at Manchester United. Top players not willing to come to MUFC after Sir Alex Ferguson retired, players bought under four different managers with differing styles, two clear outs by Louis van Gaal and Solskjaer that made the squad thin, failure to win the FA Youth Cup since 2011, reserves team suffered relegation, many potential youth players being snapped up by other clubs, dressing room in disarray, players wanting out, players biding their time not playing, many long term injuries,... in short a complete mess. Neither the management had a recruitment team like Chelsea that brought players with a clear philosophy irrespective of who was the manager. That meant a life-long MUFC fan Christian Pulisic joining the blues of Chelsea having been on their radar and not of the Reds of Manchester.

Credit to Solskjaer to have started with a clear out and uniting the dressing room by promoting the youth with Marcus Rashford the torch bearer at a tender age of just 21 with 50 goals already. That's also putting pressure on them quite early. Mason Greenwood, Tahit Chong, Angel Gomes, Axel Tuanzebe, Brandon Williams and James Garner are still very young compared to the Chelsea counterparts in their first team by about 2 to 4 years and without being loaned out nor having experienced playing every week. At that age the difference is massive to learn the nuances of the game, to recover from a game or injury, adjust to the pace, adapt to travel across Europe, have more than one pre-season training to prepare for a grueling schedule. Tammy Abraham is older than Marcus Rashford let alone Mason Greenwood with whom he is compared with wrongly & by 4 years.

MUFC being synonymous with Busby Babes by winning six straight FA Youth Cup's from its inception and later Sir Alex Ferguson reviving it with Eric Harrison which is a policy that many have tried to emulate since. Only Chelsea have matched the Busby Babes record for winning six straight FA Youth Cups and incidentally last year MUFC stopped them by beating in the 3rd round itself thereby protecting the Busby Babes record. MUFC last won the FA Youth Cup in 2011 with Paul Pogba, Ravel Morrison, Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jesse Lingard, Keane brothers and since then have struggled year after year. Last time MUFC went past the 5th round of FA Youth Cup was in 2012 in a semi-final loss to eventual winners guess who, Chelsea! That's clearly a big gulf between the two youth setup's however reputed MUFC youth team were once upon a time.

Chelsea have over the last five years been loaning out its players to teams across the continent and can count a dozen goal keepers on its books. That's a very large pool of players for each position in the team that the coaching staff can choose to bring into the first team. MUFC can hope for only two loaned out players Dean Henderson at Sheffield United and Aidan Barlow at Tromso to break into the first team. Frank Lampard being the Chelsea legend is making good on the last accusation of his club i.e., not integrating the youth in the first team although forced by the transfer ban to groom Callum Hudson-Odoi, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Recce James, et al. Chelsea not only won the FA Youth Cup's but did so by thumping their opponents Manchester City and Arsenal by scores like 6-1 or 4-2 such has been their dominance. Jody Morris who coached most of these players has returned as assistant to Frank Lampard.

Solskjaer was a reserve team coach when Paul Pogba was groomed before joining Juventus. Ricky Sbragia was brought back and sacked, Warren Joyce left to join Salford City in July this year and replaced by team of Neil Wood and Quinton Fortune. Finally Nicky Butt has vacated his role as academy director to be replaced by Nick Cox from Sheffield who moves up from being academy operations manager. With the focus on hiring young British talent Solskjaer will look to Nicky Butt as head of first team development to provide them coaching as the Norwegian will have limited time as Manager. Cup competition is by no means the only yardstick to gauge the success of youth players but not getting beyond the 5th round since 2012 is a huge failure on both scouting system and development. Here's hoping Nick Cox to turn things around.

Manchester United Junior Athletic Club formed in 1937 was a brain child of the then club chairman James W Gibson to make MUFC competitive in economic depression when he saved them from the brink and were unable to fund any transfers. James Gibson secured the acquisition of the Cliff training ground, persuaded Midland Railway operating Manchester Central to London St Pancras trains to stop at Old Trafford on match days to increase gate receipts and MUJAC helped in discovering players from Charlie Mitten to Marcus Rashford. MUFC can count on at least one player from the academy in their first team on a match day squad since then which is 3,989 games over 81 years!! No wonder MUFC top the rankings of promoting academy players to first team. Chelsea under Lampard are all set to catch up.

Belgrade evokes the toughest of MUFC memories

We'll meet again,
Don't know where, don't know when,
But we know we'll meet again
some sunny day...

So Roger Byrne led his team mates to sing when the waiters brought sweat meats to end the meal at a banquet in Majestic Hotel, Belgrade. MUFC beat Red Star Belgrade 5-4 on aggregate in the 1958 European Cup quarter-finals and drew 3-3 in Belgrade on their last match on 5th February before heading for fateful refueling stop at Munich. That last match was played at the present Partizan stadium due to lack of floodlights at the old Avala which was rebuilt in 1963 into a new Red Star stadium later renamed in 2014 to honour club legend Rajko Mitic.

Cruelty of English Football Association was exposed when they snatched Sir Bobby Charlton for a friendly against Portugal while MUFC ravaged by Munich disaster played AC Milan in the semi-finals. Charlton was absent for the 2nd leg as he was picked by the FA to play Yugoslavia and in Belgrade! Sir Bobby Charlton was selected for 1958 World Cup with England having lost Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards at Munich, but was never played!! Pele was 3 years younger to Charlton at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden where he burst on the scene!!!

MUFC came up against Partizan Belgrade in the 1966 semi-finals of the European Cup and lost 1-2 on aggregate. Partizan showed tremendous resistance true to their name to hold on to their 2-0 win at home with 0-1 loss at Old Trafford. George Best had his delayed cartilage operation immediately after the match. Losing this opportunity to win the European Cup Sir Matt Busby called it "my lowest ebb since Munich." MUFC finished fourth that season and out of European competition hence concentrated solely on winning back the league in 1967 to be in Europe for one last attempt at scaling the European peak to avenge the loss of Babes at Munich, and yes they did it in 1968.

MUFC won their second European trophy the Cup Winners Cup in 1991 by beating Barcelona and faced Red Star Belgrade the winners of European Cup in the curtain raiser of the European campaign the Super Cup. This two legged tie was reduced to a single leg at Old Trafford due to civil war in Yugoslavia. Brian McClair scored the only goal in an MUFC win.

Serbian Nemanja Matic will miss this tie with an injury. He refused to wear Remembrance poppy for a Premier League match against AFC Bournemouth in 2018 as NATO had bombed his native village Vrelo in 1999.

Luke Shaw, Axel Tuanzebe and Paul Pogba are the other main absentees. Tonight's Europa League tie away at Partizan is probably the toughest of the group. Victory today might clinch qualification with home games coming up next. Injury hit MUFC have taken academy players Ethan Laird, Brandon Williams, James Garner and goalie Matej Kovar. Jesse Lingard is back while David de Gea is being rested for the crucial fixture at Norwich.

Harry Maguire will make his European debut for MUFC after having missed the AZ Alkamaar game and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might again opt for three at the back with either of Lindelof, Rojo and Jones. Scott McTominay might have to put another shift in with Fred and Pereira after they out ran Liverpool midfield last Sunday due to thread bare squad. All eyes will be on James Garner who has been in great form for the reserves scoring five times from midfield and the amount of game time he gets based on the context of the match. Jesse Lingard will be able to provide much needed rest for Daniel James who can come on as a substitute if MUFC need to get cracking, while Mason Greenwood might cover for Marcus Rashford with Anthony Martial set to start.

New kids on the block from MUFC - Its not '55 nor '95 will it work

MUFC head into the new 2019 English Premier League season with only 3 signings and net spend of approx 65 million which might still come down if Darmian, Rojo and Sanchez are sold before end of European transfer deadline. Considering that the club had not bought anyone in January nor spent heavily last summer meant the expectations of fans were raised given how well Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had turned around the fortunes between December and February, and social media pressure of the #GlazersOut movement.

Beneath the surface there seems to be a method employed by the coaching staff all of whose positions have been filled for the first time in a decade. They have not only sought young and hungry players who consider joining this illustrious trophy laden club as a step-up but also have picked out defense as an area requiring urgent repair.

In Harry Maguire they have got a leader apart from being England's best centre-half. Mourinho was furious with the club last summer for not recruiting one although he broke the record for the same position twice in Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof. Clearly the missing element was leadership. United have not made their best player as Captain in recent seasons but senior-most who might not play every match. Fans hope that after David de Gea signs his contract extension he will wear the arm band, last worn by Goal Keeper in 1919 - Jack Mew. Another area where no one since Gary Neville's retirement made his own seems to have been finally filled in Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back and he comes with EPL experience unlike Matteo Darmian. Luke Shaw the left-back was voted the clubs player of the season last year while Victor Lindelof had a steady season after a slow start to his United career. For the first time since United last won the league in '13 under Ferguson, they now have a formidable defense.

Ole's mentor Sir Alex Ferguson also signed a right-back in Viv Anderson and centre-half in Steve Bruce as two of his first three signings. Comparisons do not end there. Like in '95 where Ferguson famously let Hughes, Ince and Kanchelsks go and replaced them with 'Class of 92' prompting Alan Hansen to say "You can't win anything with kids", Ole has let Fellaini, Herrera and Lukaku off without replacements. Ole retracted Pereira after the FA Cup 3rd round game and made him ready by February when the change was there for everyone to see, esp the goal against Southampton. Fred had a great night in Paris against PSG. McTominay ran riot against Barcelona in the first leg of Champions' League quarter-finals and has persisted with the Scot ceding the fact that his positional sense will naturally improve with age. Only player yet to respond to Ole has been Alexis Sanchez and one gets a feeling its only a matter of time before the Chilean starts to produce the magic his earnings so demand.

Apart from these Ole has promoted youth and bought a sensation of the championship last season in Daniel James. Tuanzebe (back from two excellent campaigns on loan at Villa) in defense, Angel Gomes and James Garner in midfield, Mason Greenwood in attack, Tahit Chong on the wing. All of them had a great pre-season tour of Far East, restoring the belief in Ole that "If they are good enough, they are old enough." a famous Matt Busby quote. This has prompted comparisons with Busby Babes of '55 and  Fergie's Fledglings of '95.

Busby introduced the Babes from '51 onwards after their debut against arch rivals Liverpool ("United's Babes were cool and confidant", Tom Jackson). They had won the League in '51 after a gap of 41 years with Carey, Chilton, Pearson, Cockburn, Aston Sr, Rowley forming the backbone of the squad who also played in '48 FA Cup triumph. This coupled with United winning the first six FA Youth Cups from '52 gave Busby plenty of options to think about. '53 would prove even more significant with record signing Tommy Taylor and debut to Duncan Edwards, both of whom dominated the '55 and '56 league winning teams.

Ferguson re-focused the emphasis on youth under an impressive coach Eric Harrison that bore results by winning the FA Youth Cup in '92. And later became mainstay of the senior squad from '95 while Giggs was already part of the first team since '91. That team had a spine of Schmeichel, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin, Keane, Cantona. On that foundation United went on to win the League and FA Cup double with kids in Neville brothers, Butt and Scholes.

Ole meanwhile has just got his defense together and are yet to know each others strengths and weakness. While apart from De Gea and Pogba, United have lacked a spine capable of holding the team against tough opponents and guide the upstarts in the fast, pacey and physical demands of the league. Ole has broken from the recent mistakes of using just the cheque-book to fill the gaps, choosing instead to form a structure with a high-press style that requires lot of stamina which was the focus of the pre-season training. This has certainly excited the long serving die-hard fans with eager anticipation of the new campaign. But doubts remain if United would do any better than finishing 6th given the absence of a proven spine, lack of depth in other positions and loss of their talisman Lukaku.

Lot rides on young Rashford and Martial to not only make up for loss of Lukaku but start proving their credentials of becoming a lead marksmen for the team on a consistent basis. The right midfield was bereft of creating ideas in recent seasons and introducing James or Chong on the wing with consistent run of games for Pereira might yield better results. Sanchez might occupy the left attacking role where he had clashed with Pogba in the past for possession. McTominay and Fred have to support the slowing Matic, whose positional sense is still great to thwart and create chances. Attack and midfield areas still need sorting out in later transfer windows requiring patience from fans and MUFC Board. From Busby, Ferguson analogy and the spine of the team that needs strengthening in a methodical way, Ole has created a 3 year blueprint to challenge for the top which is better than quick fixes that have not solved the root cause.

At long last the defense is sorted and new kids are raring to go as per the great traditions of this famous club, can't wait to get behind the team. #OlesAtTheWheel #OurManOfDestiny #GGMU

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