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.
Manchester Evening Chronicle
A pianist and former chorister at the Manchester Cathedral, Alf Clarke spent his entire working life with the Manchester Evening Chronicle. As well as taking the plunge to become one of their first journalists to write about film, Clarke covered Manchester United’s matches for over 25 years, proclaiming “there’s only one team in this city and you can’t write enough about them”. Sometimes accused of bias, Clarke became a shareholder at United, as well as Vice President of the Supporters Club and a regular contributor to the United Review. His time spent reporting on the club meant that Clarke developed a keen eye when attending youth team games, noting that Dennis Viollet and Duncan Edwards would be big stars.
At the Manchester Guardian offices, the presses literally stopped as news of ‘Old International’ Don Davies’ death arrived. Seen as a master of all trades by his colleagues, Davies had played amateur football for Northern Nomads in his youth and had earned three amateur international caps. At the outbreak of the First World War, Davies joined the Royal Flying Corps, where he was taken prisoner. Upon his return to England, a severely emaciated Davies was given just six months to live. Confounding expectations, Davies successfully turned his hand to cricket, before moving into journalism; a part time pursuit alongside his role as an education officer at a local firm. As a sportswriter and broadcaster, Davies poured himself into his work for the Manchester Guardian, the BBC and the Boy’s Own Paper. His appreciation for sport shone through his work, with younger journalists such as Frank Taylor aspiring to be like him.
Witty, satirical and honest, George Follows had worked for newspapers in his native Walsall before moving north to write for the Daily Herald, where he became one of the most accomplished sportswriters of his day. In 1957, Follows assisted Ray Wood and Dennis Viollet in the creation of the 40-page brochure ‘The Red Devils’, using his contacts to help print, distribute and advertise the publication. Follows was even credited in 1958’s Manchester United Supporters Club Memorial Brochure with being the first person to apply the, now ubiquitous, nickname to the club.
Manchester Evening News
Alf Clarke’s friendly rival in the quest for Manchester scoops, Tom Jackson began his career at the Manchester Evening News as a messenger. He worked his way up to reporter and would cover some of the biggest events in 1930s Europe. During the Second World War, Jackson served in the Intelligence Corps, where he tracked, and captured Nazi war criminals. On returning to Manchester, Jackson began to cover United alongside his general reporting, but as the Busby Babes gathered momentum, he became a full-time sportswriter, scrutinising the impact of youth on the team’s successes and regularly contributing to the United Review. Jackson was seen as a ‘master reporter’ by colleagues and a plaque was erected at the MEN offices in tribute.