A defining part of the club’s history, Sir Matt Busby and The Munich air disaster played a major part in making the club what it is today.
The legend of Sir Matt Busby is no small one. His figure looms large over the club and for good reason. Who knew a man that played for both Man City and Liverpool would go on to have such an impact on the club?
Sir Matt took over at Old Trafford in 1945 after turning down the assistant manager job over at Liverpool. Although he accepted the job in February he only took up the position fully in October as he was yet to be demobilised by the armed forces following the Second World War
He instantly brought in Jim Murphy as his assistant, one of his most important signings in his time at the club, and 3 years into his tenure he won his first piece of silverware as United beat the Blackpool 4-2 to win the 1948 FA Cup. United had finished runner up in the league 4 times since 1947 but in 1952, Sir Matt got it right and United won their first league title since 1911.
By this time the United team that Sir Matt and Jim Murphy had built was beginning to age. People expected him to spent big money to replace his aging stars but instead he looked to youth bringing through the likes of Bill Foulkes, Mark Jones , Jackie Blanchflower, Albert Scanlon, David Pegg, Liam Whelan and Bobby Charlton. But the stand out player from this new generation was a young man named Duncan Edwards. Judged to be the finest player of his generation, Edwards was capped by England at just 18.
These players would go on to be dubbed ‘The Busby Babes’ but Jim Murphy’s influence on their development is vastly underrated. The Welsh man scouted and trained these young men, bringing them through to the first team when they were ready. He would spend hours with players teaching tactical and technical lessons to those he thought could were capable of becoming first team players.
The Busby Babes would win the league in 1956 and 1957, narrowly missing out on a league and cup double losing to Aston Villa in the FA Cup in 1957.
The team started the 57/58 season in high hopes as they looked planned an assault on the League, FA Cup and European Cup but on a journey home from the away leg of a second round European tie against Red Star Belgrade disaster struck.
The plane carrying the Babes stopped over to refuel in Munich, West Germany, after engine trouble stopped the plane taking off twice on the 3rd attempt it crashed due to slush on the runway.A number of players and club officials were amongst the 23 people who lost their lives and Sir Matt received multiple injuries leading to him twice being read the last rites but he recovered and left hospital two months after the accident. Whilst in hospital Jim Murphy took control of the team and prior to an FA Cup 5th round tie against Sheffield Wednesday Sir Matt uttered the now famous words to his assistant,
“Keep the flag flying.”
He did and United won 3-0.
Sir Matt took control of the team again in August 1958 and built a team around the survivors of the crash that were still able to playlike Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes. He brought in new players like Paddy Crerand, Denis Law as well as a young George Best during the late 50s and early 60s and the team would win its first silverware since the crash in 1963 beating Leicester City to pick up the FA Cup.
They would pick up the league in 1965 and 1967 again giving Sir Matt the chance to claim the European Cup and in 1968 he did as United beat Benfica 4-1 at Wembley, a fitting tribute to those that lost their lives 10 years earlier. The success saw Busby knighted for his services to the game.
Busby almost retained the trophy the following season but United bowed out to AC Milan in the semi final of the competition. Sir Matt’s would retire at the end of that 1968/69 seadon to become the general manager but after Wilf McGuinness appointment didn’t go as planned he was reinstated as day to day manager temporarily after only a year out of the job.
He would also hold the position of club director and president in his time at the club and in 1993 the road which runs past Old Trafford, formerly known as Warwick Road North was renamed the Sir Matt Busby Way.
Sir Matt passed away on January 20th 1994 finally succumbing to cancer, tributes came from all over the world to pay respect to Sir Matt and in 1996 the club unveiled a bronze statue in honour of the great man. 5 years later on what would have been Sir Matt’s 90th birthday, Sir Alex Ferguson’s team went to Barcelona and repeated Busby’s great feat by winning the European Cup, beating Bayern Munich 2-1.
The club’s player of the year award is named after Sir Matt Busby another reminder of the presence he still has at the club.
At the moment Sir Alex Ferguson is doing his best to usurp Sir Matt’s position as the greatest manager and figure in the club’s history but for some Sir Matt holds a place in their hearts and atop the club that cannot be taken by anyone.