The Munich Air Disaster: Part IV – Coping in the aftermath

The Munich Air Disaster: Part IV – Coping in the aftermath

The losses from the crash left massive gaps for Manchester United, which they had to fill before their first match which was to be against Sheffield Wednesday only 13 days later. As the teams lined up, Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes were the only recognisable names on the team sheet. Jimmy Murphy wanted to compliment the influx of youth into the new look Manchester United team by putting some experienced players alongside and in emergency times, Jimmy signed Ernie Taylor and Stan Crowther within days of taking control. The team sheet was left blank as the line-up for the game was uncertain even up until kick off.

Murphy was now the manager of Manchester United in Sir Matt Busby’s absence after Matt told him ‘Carry on, Jimmy’ when Murphy visited the hospital in Munich. The Manchester Evening News ran an article on February 17, two days before the game, giving faces to ‘the New United’:

The losses from the crash left massive gaps for Manchester United, which they had to fill before their first match which was to be against Sheffield Wednesday only 13 days later. As the teams lined up, Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes were the only recognisable names on the team sheet. Jimmy Murphy wanted to compliment the influx of youth into the new look Manchester United team by putting some experienced players alongside and in emergency times, Jimmy signed Ernie Taylor and Stan Crowther within days of taking control. The team sheet was left blank as the line-up for the game was uncertain even up until kick off.

Murphy was now the manager of Manchester United in Sir Matt Busby’s absence after Matt told him ‘Carry on, Jimmy’ when Murphy visited the hospital in Munich. The Manchester Evening News ran an article on February 17, two days before the game, giving faces to ‘the New United’:

With the youth policy in place at Manchester United, there were still many fine youngsters in the youth team who could be called upon. Ronnie Cope was a centre half who the correspondent of the article (see above) believed represented the ‘key-stone around which the new United team could be built’ and Alex Dawson, a 17 year old inside forward, was already in the England Boy’s team when he received his call up. Alongside these two were Freddie Goodwin, a half back who was considered talented enough to be a first-team regular at any other club and Mark Pearson, an inside forward who showed not only ability of shooting with both feet but was a player equally at home on the wing or on the inside. Some sceptical individuals felt that the rushing of these reserves into the first team did not do their careers any good. Albert Scanlon, a survivor of the Munich disaster, was one such sceptical. He played another 40 games for United before he was sold to Newcastle United and his career dwindled out after subsequent transfers to Lincoln and Mansfield. Jeff Connor managed to speak with Scanlon about Munich, who commented that:

“To my mind, Munich killed not only a lot of the players who were on that flight, but some of the survivors, too, and all the young players who had to come in a year or two too early. They were never the same. Things changed for all time at Munich and United didn’t come up to par.”

In an article released 2 days after the game, a Times correspondent felt differently and was extremely impressed with what he saw on the pitch against Sheffield Wednesday. Gary James stated how ‘many non-footballers attended that night, as did supporters from other clubs, spreading the feeling that everybody wanted to help United’, which pushed the attendance to 59,848, United’s second highest attendance in the 1958 season behind the 63,347 that saw the Manchester derby. The performances of Pearson and Cope in the roles they played in the game stood out:

“…But it was the performance of two young men, Cope at centre-half and the 17-year-old Pearson at inside-left that left us rubbing our eyes in astonishment. Their maturity, polish, and skill left one wondering what other magic is hidden away in Old Trafford.”

It was, however, with the performance of a young Shay Brennan in the match against Sheffield Wednesday that a star was born. In a memorable evening, Brennan scored twice for United on his full debut. Over a 13 year period, Shay clocked up 358 appearances as well as helping United to two league titles and European glory in 1968. For Brennan and these reserves, the crash did create some positive opportunities for them to gain a place in a team they would otherwise have only been able to watch from the sidelines.

The youth players that became responsible for Manchester United did an extremely established job to begin with after being thrown in at the deep end. Only 3 months after the disaster, they had successfully reached the FA Cup Final and the in following 1958/59 season, Manchester United pushed on to finish as runners-up in the First Division. When you consider football’s ambiguous status in Manchester in the weeks following Munich, it highlights the extraordinary effort from a team made up mainly of young men who had relatively no first team experience at all. These young players coped with the massive responsibilities which were put on their shoulders in ways nobody could have envisaged.

Part V looks at the reaction to the crash from the Football League and how the game was changing, leading up to part VI which will be a substantial section looking at Sir Bobby Charlton in detail.

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About The Author

Sam founded The Peoples Person back in 2011 after writing his university dissertation on The Munich Air Disaster. Since then, the website has been creating daily Man United content on everything from transfers and features to full match day coverage.