This is one of my earliest memories from when I’m, just, four years old.
It’s a Friday morning, 7th February 1958, when I come down our stairs in Liverpool thinking I’m the only one up this early. Not this time though. As I open the door my Dad’s already sat at the breakfast table. Not upright and cheerful, which is his usual way. But slumped, and for the first time I’ve ever seen, crying with the paper open in front of him.
‘They’re dead, nearly all of them. All the team. I think Bobby Charlton’s alive and they don’t know about Duncan Edwards but the rest of them, nearly all dead.’
Then he sits me on his knee and tells me about the Munich Air disaster. It’s happened on the Thursday night on a snowy runway in Germany. But news is slower then and he’s finding out about it now as the morning paper arrives.
‘Matt Busby’s fighting for his life. They’re not sure if it was the plane or the runway or the snow.’
It’s the first time I’ve seen and felt grief in my life and of course it stays with me and is with me now, on a Sunday morning, sat at my own breakfast table reading The Guardian, 60 years on. Daniel Taylor writes about Bobby Charlton:
‘Everyone was affected in different ways but the people who know Charlton best, including his brother, Jack, say that was the day he “stopped smiling’. More than once, I have heard him described as a little stern, or difficult to approach…
He is 80 now, no longer so visible in everyday life at Old Trafford….’
I’m thinking of him now. Thinking of them all. Remembering Thursday 6th February 1958 and how ever since then I’ve had more than a soft spot for Manchester United. How even when they played us at Anfield in the 1960s I knew that Bobby Charlton, Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes, the other survivors, weren’t merely ‘the opposition’ and Matt Busby, when Bill Shankly would shake hands with him, wasn’t just ‘their’ manager. These were Manchester United and it was a privilege to play against them.
These days I’m aware that opposition between fans of both teams has been stoked up to the point where there is often felt to be opposition between the cities. Well we’re too close and too similar and I’ve never felt it and won’t have it. Remembering that day in 1958 when a big strong Liverpool man sat there weeping in front of his little son for Manchester United,