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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 February 2008, 03:56 GMT
Manchester - a city 'United in grief'
By Paul Costello
BBC News, Manchester

Funeral cortege (MEN syndication)
Eight players and eight newspaper journalists died in the crash

A city normally divided by football rivalries became "united in grief" in the hours and days after the Munich air disaster.

As news of the crash filtered back on the afternoon of 6 February 1958 stunned workers poured out of offices and factories desperately seeking the latest on survivors and fatalities.

People huddled together on the wintry streets as rumours spread rapidly.

The word soon passed around the city that Manchester United's plane had crashed on the way back from a European Cup game and that some of the much-loved players, known as the Busby Babes, had died.

But with hard facts difficult to come by, most slowly headed home to gather around their radio and TV sets.

Whether red, blue or uncommitted the city of Manchester was totally united in grief
Author David Hall

As the Thursday night wore on, the realisation that the country's best football side had been devastated began to hit home.

Beryl Townsend, 70, a United fanatic who travelled all over the country to watch the Reds, recalls being sent home from her secretarial job in the city centre.

"I walked up Market Street to Piccadilly," she said.

"There were hundreds of people about like any normal rush hour, except it wasn't normal.

"Nobody was moving towards the buses and everyone was just standing around in little groups.

"The newspaper stands read 'United Plane Crash' but there were no other details.

Front page of Manchester Evening News on night of disaster (MEN Syndication)
Initial reports that 28 had died proved incorrect, but 23 did perish

"I went home to find out more but there was still no news on who had survived.

"I just stood there with my sister crying."

A crowd of about 20 "Stretford Enders" gathered at her home in the Ancoats area of the city.

"We were all stood there next to the TV and radio and then the names of the survivors and victims started to come through one after another.

"It was as if the heart had been wiped out of the city. Part of Manchester had gone because the Babes had gone."

'Sense of disbelief'

Other fans queued outside Old Trafford hoping to hear the latest on the night of the tragedy.

Some even waited outside the Manchester Evening News offices.

Geoff Bent, aged 25
Roger Byrne, captain, aged 28
Eddie Colman, aged 21
Duncan Edwards, aged 21
Mark Jones, aged 24
David Pegg, aged 22
Tommy Taylor, aged 26
Liam Whelan, aged 22

Eight Manchester United players were killed along with eight newspaper journalists and seven staff and crew - 23 dead out of a total of 44 passengers.

David Hall, author of the book Manchester's Finest, was an 11-year-old grammar schoolboy living in Wythenshawe at the time of the disaster.

His father broke the news of the crash in dramatic fashion.

"My dad burst through the side door into the kitchen and just said 'United have been wiped out'.

"I did not understand what he was saying - I couldn't take it in.

"It was difficult for everybody and there was just a sense of disbelief for days afterwards."

Boys at his school paid tribute by tying black shoe laces around their arms during football practice the following day.

Fans wait for news outside Old Trafford on night of crash (MEN syndication)
Fans gathered outside Old Trafford on the night of the crash

Mr Hall said the city began a collective mourning process when the coffins of five players, three club officials and eight journalists were flown into Manchester Airport on the Monday.

He was one of more than 2,000 people who lined the route as the bodies were taken to the club's gym at Old Trafford on a "miserable winter night".

Manchester became a sombre place as a week of funerals then took place in the victims' villages, towns and cities.

"Whether red, blue or uncommitted the city of Manchester was totally united in grief. It was a Manchester tragedy, a football tragedy," Mr Hall said.

"City fans grieved as much as United fans did. They lost one of their greatest ever players in goalkeeper turned journalist Frank Swift - there was a sense of oneness in that."

'Wave of emotion'

A strong bond had been created by fans and players mixing together in the city and this heightened the sense of loss.

"A lot of them lived in digs close to Old Trafford and players like Duncan Edwards and Johnny Berry would cycle or walk to the ground with the fans on match day," Mr Hall said.

"They were approachable and went to the same cafes, pubs and dancehalls on a Saturday night."

Bill Foulkes leads the makeshift United team out against Sheffield Wednesday
The atmosphere was out of this world - Wednesday just did not stand a chance
Fan Norman Williams

As well as mourning the dead, attention was strongly focused on the conditions of the injured survivors.

People listened intently to radio news reports as manager Matt Busby and players Duncan Edwards and Johnny Berry battled for life.

Thirteen days after the crash a makeshift United 11 took on Sheffield Wednesday in an emotional FA Cup fifth-round tie.

The front cover of the match programme read "United will go on" and on the team sheet, there were 11 blank spaces to fill in.

Norman Williams, a then 27-year-old postman from Openshaw, knew he had to attend despite having suffered a broken leg travelling to watch United beat Arsenal in a classic 5-4 match at Highbury.

He said: "I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the Wednesday game.

"I was desperate to go despite having the broken leg.

"The atmosphere was out of this world - Wednesday just did not stand a chance.

"It was that wave of emotion from the fans that went onto carry the team to the final."

Football to honour Munich victims
06 Feb 08 |  Football
'Busby Babes will live on forever'
06 Feb 08 |  Manchester
Munich crash: Survivors' memories
06 Feb 08 |  Manchester
Waiting for news from Munich
04 Feb 08 |  Magazine


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