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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bernard Galvin remembers

Everyone knows where they were, what they were doing when they heard the news of certain world-shaping events. Kennedy’s assassination, John Lennon, Martin Luther King. It always seems to involve violent and untimely death. For Mancunians / Reds of a certain age the defining event, burned indelibly into memory, is where they were, what they were doing when they heard about the Munich air crash.

I was seven years old. I supported United because everyone in my family, in my street, in my school did. It was not a big deal, my allegiance was pre-destined, there was no alternative.

I was in the barbers just up the street. I went straight after school so it must have been about quarter past four. There was one man in the chair and one waiting. I sat there waiting my turn quite happily, listening to adult gossip and feeling quite grown up (it was probably the first time my mother let me go to the barbers on my own). Then a man came in and said “Have you heard the news? United’s plane has crashed. I’ve just heard it on the wireless. There’s a lot been killed.”

I’d like to describe the feelings in the barber’s shop – disbelief, false hope, mostly devastation, but seven year olds don’t analyse emotions very well. All I can remember is running home crying, the rest is a blur of vague recollections of the next few weeks.

Stunned people huddled in groups on the street, hoping someone might have news. Queues outside the paper shop before the Evening News came. Prayers in school and church for the dead and (hopefully) the recovering. In the end the prayers were mainly focussed on Matt and Duncan. People felt the loss personally as if family members or close friends had died. This may be hard to understand now. The players then were certainly heroes, but must have seemed like local heroes with a lot in common with the fans. Eddie Colman lived with his mum and dad in a terraced house in Salford
Players inhabited the same world as their fans. Instead of limousines, exclusive clubs and expensive restaurants, they used the bus, went to the pub and ate in the café. This must have created a closer, more personal bond between fan and player than is possible today. To say so is not to be critical of today’s players. Today is a different world.

The scale of the tragedy seemed to increase as the days and weeks went by. There were hospital bulletins on the radio every day, sometimes hopeful but more often not. Every day the Evening News had pictures of coffins arriving at Ringway Airport and of funeral corteges. The grief and devastation was felt and shared by all.

It was not a maudlin, sentimental grief; mass hysteria such as we often see these days. People everywhere were touched by the tragedy, the loss of youth and hope, the unfulfilled potential, the what-might-have-been. On the previous Saturday this sensational team beat Arsenal 5-4 at Highbury and were applauded off the field by the home supporters. This team could have dominated Europe for the next ten years. Duncan Edwards could have become the best player in the world, he had the potential. No disrespect to Bobby Moore but he might have lifted the world cup as captain of England.

This tragedy and the years of recovery and rebuilding which followed have shaped and defined the spirit of Manchester United forever. The beautiful football, the class and the swagger, the ugly football when necessary, the never say die attitude, the will to win. This is the legacy of Munich and the Busby Babes, something at the very heart of United which sets it apart from other clubs. For me and tens of thousands of other fans it was and still is a life-defining experience, something which is crucial to our perception of ourselves and our club. Something which can never be bought or owned, only shared.


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