During the last international break, I caught up on some reading, and spent some time with Manchester’s Finest by David Hall – a book about the history of the Busby Babes and the Munich disaster. It contains so much information about the players, the history of the club, of Busby and how they became local heroes on their way to joining Europe’s elite.
Each player is described in detail – the writer remembers seeing them play, and also incorporates memories from friends, family and local people around his community who would spend what little money they had going to Old Trafford and beyond to watch the Babes. These perspectives give the book a unique view of how the tragedy affected the local community.
It is filled with nostalgia, and for us elder Mancunians, it is redolent of a bygone era, where kids played in the streets on frosty nights, with jumpers for goalposts, before sitting by the fire listening to the news on your dad’s radiogram.
Hall also pays homage to the journalists that were killed and injured, as well as the crew and the passengers on that fateful late afternoon in February 1958.
There are quotes from newspapers of the day, and comments from the writers and radio announcers. The slow drip of news from the tragedy left the people of Manchester on tenterhooks for days, as victims of the crash lay wounded and dying in German hospitals, and the contrast with today’s non-stop 24-hour news and social media culture is stark.
It is poignant to read about these players that were about to change the world of football. Their ability and quality, how they would go for a pint after the game with the fans, ride buses or bikes to the ground on match day, and how they loved Manchester United, Matt Busby and wearing that red shirt. Not for money but for pride. Boys who grew up in the streets next to the ground, who found themselves on a global stage, yet lived next door to your gran or your uncle and always said hello in the street.
The saddest part for me was how far we have fallen from those days; how football in general has sold its soul, with the influx of TV money, wealthy offshore owners, and endless corporate partnerships.
It also reminds us that football is a game – it’s not tribal warfare – and it’s moving to read how distressed the rest of the country, and even Europe, were at the loss of such a promising team, a team built by Sir Matt, that had only just begun to blossom in what could have been a European championship team for years to come.
As the Manchester Evening News reported that evening, the team had been wiped out, but they would carry on, and carry on they did. I am prouder today of my team’s heritage than I ever was, and yet sadder than ever at what we, and football, have become.
If you get the chance, get a copy.
Want more? Check out our list of the best books about Manchester United’s history!