If you have not seen the film United or read others’ thoughts on the new BBC2 documentary, you must be living underneath a rock.
I will not labour long on a summary of the film, but for those of you who have not seen it, it covers Manchester United from 1956 through the end of the 1958 season, covering the buildup to the Munich Air Disaster of February 6, 1958.
David Tennant plays United assistant coach Jimmy Murphy, who is in large part the film’s main protagonist. Tennant’s performance as Murphy is simply outstanding. Even those who did not like the film in general gave a nod to Tennant’s spectacular effort. Bobby Charlton, played by Jack O’Connell, is used as the emotional core of the film. O’Connell’s performance allows the viewer to experience first hand what it must have felt like for the real Bobby Charlton to lose so many of his best mates all in one day.
I thought the film was excellent. Director James Strong adequately captured the level of fame that had been achieved by the Busby Babes by showing them watching their own highlights in a crowded Manchester theatre and through the endorsements by certain players, most specifically Duncan Edwards. The casting for the film was well done, even though I was slightly put off by Sir Matt Busby looking like the long forgotten twin brother of Al Capone.
The film, while it may have failed to deliver on some of the details of the story, excellently captures the spirit of United before and after the Munich Air Disaster. It illustrates the swagger, passion and determination of perhaps the greatest group of footballers to ever play on one pitch in the same kit. Just as significantly, it reflects the drive and dedication to the club on behalf of Murphy and Busby. When many would have given up in the face of such a horrific disaster, Murphy pressed the team on and brought it back to life.
I had a hard time keeping myself together while watching United. There were many times where I almost lost it, especially when they boarded the plane for the final time. I finally broke down when the caskets were in Old Trafford and the families were grieving their lost loved ones. After they had all left and it was just Murphy and two policemen, one of the guards said to Murphy
“I’ll look after them now. I watched them. Every home game I was there. I’ve watched these lads, they were special. They were not just the best team, course they were. They were the best loved. The whole country loved those lads. We didn’t realise it until now.”
This film is for the people whose lives are defined by Manchester United. The supporters who watch every match and live and die with their team. They do not care which players play well and which do not, they support whoever is wearing our beautiful red shirt. It is often said that it is an honour to play for a club like Manchester United, but I would argue it is just as great an honour to support a club like United.
United reminds us all of a time when football clubs were not the playthings of millionaires who do not care for the common fan so long as their coffers are full of cash. It calls us back to an era when the common man could afford to attend a match and be with the people of his town, united for at least 90 minutes a week in support of their football club. I think we can all do well to remember those times and that it is our beloved United, not the Glazers’, that unifies our attentions every weekend.
After viewing the film yesterday, I asked people to send me their thoughts. Here are some of the tweets I received:
@GoddessUtd “My stomach aches and my eyes burn. Every time I thought I was done, I cried again – right up to the end.”
@badgerwolf “My grandad grieved those lads in ’58 with my mum. It’s in our DNA. Means more than any trophy.”
@PeterMcCrackin “This film really shows the no quit, win, fight till the end mentality that has been a part of United until this day.”
@Mideast_Reds “Thought it was very well portrayed. Loved the relationships between the lads. Murphy was such a motivating and committed guy.”
@Youngfaldo “This film ‘United’ has embroidered us all in the fabric of our club… our club Manchester United.”
@badgerwolf “Still drying my eyes. It’s our grief that fuels this club.”
@OwenManc0709 “Even through the tears, and the sorrow, I could not help but feel an enormous swell of pride at supporting United.”
@fsjred “was a kid when the Munich air crash happened, remember sitting on the front step crying for hours couldn’t believe it and cried again.”
I will close with a quote from Jimmy Murphy
“I know those lads better than anyone. I found them. I nurtured them. I was there with them every morning, noon and night, piss and rain and gales and snow. They let me mold their lives from the ground up. They repaid me, they repaid this club with their skill, their passion and now their lives. It’s not about honouring their memory. It’s about showing who we are to the world. Showing we’ll not be bowed by tragedy. Because how we are in the future will be founded on how we behave today.”