The loss of the Busby Babes was not Munich’s only blow to the footballing community. Of the eleven experienced and beloved sports journalists on the flight, only three survived, as some of the brightest lights in sports writing were extinguished.
The only person to hold the twin offices of chairman of both the Football Writers Association and the Cricket Writers Club, Archie Ledbrooke joined the Daily Mirror in 1955, where he earned the by-line “the writer you MUST NOT MISS”. A quiet man compared to some of his colleagues, Ledbrooke was always prepared to help a fellow journalist in need. An article about Blackpool boss, Joe Smith, almost prevented Ledbrook from joining the expedition to Belgrade. Another journalist had been poised to take his place, before he filed the article in the nick of time and made the flight.
The most-read football writer the Daily Express ever had, Henry Rose was an enigmatic character whose fun, yet controversial columns produced heated discussions and a dedicated following. A proud Welshman with a Ukrainian-Jewish background, Rose entered journalism after the First World War and came to Manchester in 1927. The colour and humanity he brought to his writing saw him set records for fan mail, and he would be greeted at sports grounds with cheers and signs proclaiming, “Henry Rose is here today”. Though his tongue in cheek writing won him fame, his knowledge earned him the respect of colleagues, including players, managers and directors who looked to him for guidance. It is estimated that 4,000 people turned out for Rose’s funeral, the procession stretching for six miles as taxi drivers offered free lifts to the cemetery.
News of the World
A much-loved figure in Manchester, Frank Swift made his Manchester City debut in 1933, in the same squad as Matt Busby, who would later try, and fail, to sign the ‘keeper for United. In 1934, Swift played in his first FA Cup final. Facing Portsmouth at Wembley, City forced a win, and the young Swift fainted after the game. Though he recovered enough to receive his medal, King George V sent a telegram the following Monday to enquire as to his condition. After retiring from football, Swift turned his hand to journalism with the News of the World. A jovial, friendly man with a great ability to tell stories, he was as flamboyant writing about the action as he was in the middle of it. Swift had been the first English goalkeeper to appear at the Berlin Olympic Stadium and was the first man to be recognised at the Rechts der Isar hospital, alerting the staff to who they were treating.
Once described as the J B Priestley of journalism, Eric Thompson saw reporting as a thing to be enjoyed. Though his words often evoked a chuckle, there was never any malice behind his wry observations. As well as an expertise in the world of sportswriting, which saw Thompson author a best-selling book, Mad About Sport, he was also a cartoonist and would illustrate his own articles with anything from a thumbnail sketch to a full cartoon. A guest contributor for the United Review, he even penned an article about the relatively new hobby of programme collecting. Consistently up for fun, Thompson tried on Frank Swift’s enormous coat whilst waiting to board the Munich flight, shuffling around in the gigantic garment whilst Swift squeezed himself into the smaller man’s jacket.