As promised, here is part XI of the continued Munich series.
Communal grieving was something that was prominent in the immediate aftermath of the Munich disaster. Public funerals were commonplace. Nobby Stiles, a member of the youth squad, remembered how ‘all he seemed to be doing for weeks was going to funerals. He even served on the altar at the requiem masses’. David Hall recollected the story of one fan, 54 year old David Bunn, for whom the funerals and tragedy became too hard to bear, as he stabbed himself to death in a state of manic depression soon after the accident in February. Willie Satinoff’s public funeral was the first of these in Manchester. Willie, who died in the Munich disaster, was a Jewish businessman from Manchester who owned a factory in Strangeways, Greater Manchester.
Jewish mourners and others came together from all across the country to grieve at the procession of 60 cars for this funeral, ‘many workers, both past and present, watched silently outside as the cars past’.
The first game following Munich was Manchester City against Birmingham on 15 February 1958. It was a sombre affair from the start with the Beswick Prize Band’s rendition of Abide by Me before kick-off setting the tone. With an attendance of 23,461 in a season where the average attendance was 32,765, it summed up the general attitude of the public. In the face of this adversity, football seemed trivial to watch. Seemingly everybody in Manchester knew someone that died upon the plane in Munich, such was the impression of an entire city grieving. City Chairman Eric Alexander once described how ‘it affected everybody in Manchester…we all lost something that day’. Manchester Guardian football writer Donny Davies was the head teacher of Mather and Platt’s apprentice school, and was one of the journalists who died on the plane. Alan Crookhall, an employee at Mather and Platt’s factory at the time remembered vividly how ‘you could hear all the machines all over the factory going off until the whole place was silent. Nobody could believe what had happened.
Funerals happened a lot in the weeks following Munich. Duncan Edward’s funeral dwarfed all others, with 50,000 people packing the streets of Dudley but others were locally significant. Billy Whelan was buried in Dublin in ‘streets lined with thousands’. Henry Rose was mourned by 4000 including Gordon Erridge, General Manager of British European Airways and Louis Edwards, the new director of Manchester United. However, it was not only with funerals that the public expressed their sympathies. A small housing estate in Newton Heath, the birthplace of United, named streets Eddie Coleman Close, Billy Whelan Walk and Tommy Taylor Close, after those players lost in the disaster. A service was set up for before United’s match against Nottingham Forest on 22 February at Old Trafford. Created by the leaders of the main religious groups in Manchester, they held a memorial service for the lost. Interestingly, this article also highlights how the Dean of Manchester was holding talks with ABC television network, who were doing a memorial programme for the Busby Babes that aired the same night on 10 February. Clearly Manchester United had established themselves enough globally to be covered by American television, no thanks to the appeal of the Babes. Even lower down amongst the working class of Manchester, public affection and sympathy were seen. The groundsman at Old Trafford remembered seeing the mourning of the workers and being touched by its honesty:
“Before dawn workers from Trafford Park stepped off at the ground, heads bowed…It has been a remarkable sight, seeing men on bikes and foot paying homage.”
My research has led me to the conclusion that the fans felt so well bonded with the Manchester United players, the disaster manifested itself into a communal family loss. To many of the fans, the players seemed so close they were like family. Christopher Eccleston, life-long Salford born United fan, talked of the players during an interview with Denis Campbell in 2002. He mentioned how his father would ‘talk about them as players’ while his mother ‘talked about their personalities’. In what is rare footage, Professor Bluckman of Manchester University spoke of his feelings about the disaster in an interview on 6 February 1958 in Manchester, immediately after the crash:
“I feel as if it is a tragedy involving a lot of my personal friends who I have got to know over the years…I felt too as an immigrant of Manchester that, through football, I became a Mancunian.”
The concept that Professor Bluckman felt Mancunian specifically due to football highlights the role that football had in Manchester’s society. Players in the modern game found it hard in the celebrity lifestyle that emerged on the scene thanks to a certain George Best who ‘spent 90% of his money on women, drink and fast cars, the rest of it he wasted’. The celebrity lifestyle did not exist at these times and players played football for the pure enjoyment of it. An extract from the 7 February Manchester Evening News article gives reasoning behind why it did not exist:
“The next group out – five people – left Manchester before noon, 39 minutes late, for Amsterdam to connect with a K.L.M plane for Munich. The party to fly to Amsterdam is Mrs. Wood, Mrs. Berry, Mrs. Viollet, Mrs. Blanchflower and Mrs. Scanlon.”
Despite having an average age of just 25, all of these players were married. Duncan Edwards was even engaged to his sweet heart at just 21. Bobby Charlton (see left) married his life-long lover Norma, who he still remains loyal to until this day. Young marriage was not uncommon amongst Manchester United’s footballers. The fact that they were all family men made it more difficult for fans to accept as they knew what was left behind when they were
The series is coming to a close with only a few entries left. The next piece will take a look at how modern day memories of the Munich Disaster and how they vary from those in the past. Time has certainly altered the image of the disaster in Manchester with the emergence of fan tribalism causing a rift in the use of it’s memory.