Following up from an article which concentrated on Duncan Edwards, this article looks at the literary contributions to the topic and how they have affected mass opinion on the subject, shedding light on some issues which paint United in a more negative light.
Jeff Connor’s book The Lost Babes provides an alternative interpretation of events, bringing to light to the difficulties which Manchester United had with coping with the long term impact of the disaster. The book discusses how players were disappointed with insurance payouts following the crash. Albert Scanlon is used as an example, but as Tom Clare points out in his review of the book, players who were able to continue their careers fared less well from insurance payouts.
The families of those who could not continue their careers were awarded £8,700, at a time where the average annual salary was £650, a substantial sum of money. Bobby Charlton’s story was one of success despite the tragedy of Munich but bitterness was clearly evident amongst some of the Munich survivors, with no anecdote more poignant than Albert Scanlon’s;
“The two men I blame for it are dead now and that’s Busby and Louis Edwards, who was made chairman just after the crash. They make a show of ’58 when it suits them.”
The players who survived the crash found it extremely difficult to cope with. According to Connor, Jonny Berry suffered at the hands of mistreatment from United. Within 12 months of the crash, he and his family were ordered to leave their club house. According to Gary James, Mrs. Berry hasn’t forgiven United for the mistreatment. Jeff Connor also states that Jackie Blanchflower, who survived Munich, was thrown out of his club houses as was his pregnant wife. He was given a job packing meat onto lorries by Louis Edwards, the new chairman after 1965. In his book A Strange Kind of Glory, Eamon Dunphy describes how he saw United as a bitter place following Munich at the training ground during his time at the club as a youth player:
“On one occasion there was a clear the air meeting in which senior players and Jack Crompton, the first-team coach, accused each other of letting down the United tradition.”
Such anecdotes stretch far from the image to which United was seen from the outside. Sympathy toward a club that did so well to survive was commonplace amongst the population, it was a natural reaction. This is not to say that it can be attributed as the sole impact on the popularity of the club but until the successes of the 1960s, the image was primarily attached to the post-Munich recovery team that emerged out of it. It was not just with players where sentiments of negativity stem back towards United. In a 1998 interview with Daily Mail at the time of the 40th anniversary of the disaster, Elizabeth Wood (survivor Ray Wood’s widow) elaborated on such issues:
“I saw terrible scenes in the hospital after the crash…The airline flew us out to Munich and gave us daily expenses. Even my local priest offered financial help – but there was nothing from United…United have handled things so badly that some of the survivors and their families want nothing to do with Tuesday’s match [the testimonial anniversary game].”
One cannot ignore the perspective that Connor and Dunphy have on the issue of how Manchester United were impacted by the disaster and how they coped and dealt with it. The literature divide seemingly stems from those who have a much deeper attachment to Munich than those who have written from an outside perspective. Tom Clare and David Hall give the best autobiographical accounts of what it was like to live in Manchester through the crisis. They speak of what they saw, felt and learnt. Eamon Dunphy had experience within Old Trafford when he played for the youth team between 1962-1965 and as any footballer would, has memories of negative moments within the training camp.
Connor, who openly admits to only having visited Old Trafford once since the disaster for the purpose of watching a game, interviews many of those who had attachments to Munich in order to complete his research. As time passes, so does the memory, so the accuracy of the interviews must be taken into consideration. I am in line with Tom Clare’s dismissal of Connor’s book on the grounds that the unsavoury content is seemingly taking a swipe at United, considering Connor classes himself as a Manchester United fan, rather than portraying a true account that the long term impact of the disaster had on those related to the Munich disaster.
Manchester United F.C. and its players matured rapidly following Munich. The responsibility of a city rested squarely on its shoulders and by winning through with the glory of 1968, they were able to give some relief to the town which so desperately needed it. The club’s actions represented the vanguard by which Manchester United could be turned around. They had to represent a strong institution upon which people could rely for support. If they had not put the club first, then Manchester United may not have survived the crisis. The news that ‘United were to buy more men’ pushed forth the possibility of renewal that most fans could not see at the time. It was here that the mourning and grief varied between club and community somewhat, with priorities being different. The team had to concentrate on the long-term future of the club and rebuilding, whereas the community wanted to concentrate on the short-term future and remembrance. Now that I have looked at the impact from the perspective of the team and its players, I wish to delve further into the impact that the disaster had on the city of Manchester from the community perspective and how it differed from the United using the Manchester Evening News as my main focus.
Tomorrow we will be starting the next chapter and looking at how the disaster impacted the City of Manchester and its inhabitants.