Read a poignant piece of United history

Saturday 18 February 2023 12:00

On 19 February 1958, Manchester United played the club's first match following the Munich Air Disaster. The tragedy had claimed the lives of 23 people, including eight players and three members of staff.

The Reds hosted Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup on that poignant day and 65 years on, the match programme from that historic fixture is available for you to read here in digital form.

Adorned with the message "United will go on..." the programme is dedicated to those who had tragically perished by the time of publishing, and many more who still lay in hospital on the date of the match including manager Matt Busby. In his absence, the team was selected and coached by his assistant Jimmy Murphy.

As journalist and broadcaster Michael Parkinson writes in his book, Michael Parkinson on Football, "It wasn't a football match. It was a demonstration of grief so profound and resonant it still echoes today."

"Outside Old Trafford, thousands massed in silence, muffled against the bitter cold, as if awaiting an announcement that there had been a terrible mistake and the disaster had not happened," he continued.

"We didn’t realise we were witnessing a resurrection of such consequences that it recruited devotees far afield from the city limits of Manchester and created one of the world’s great sporting institutions.

"What Sheffield Wednesday learned on that occasion, and other teams were quick to understand, was that the odds and sods managed by Jimmy Murphy neither expected nor wanted to be handled like porcelain. More often than not, this message was conveyed by Stan Crowther, a hard man signed from Aston Villa for the purpose of dissuading opponents from any outward display of sympathy."

How Munich was remembered at Old Trafford


On the 65th anniversary of the disaster, players, staff and supporters gathered for the annual service.

Goals in both halves from Shay Brennan and a further effort from Alex Dawson saw the Reds progress to the next round of the competition, but the result paled into insignificance compared to the magnitude of the fixture.

"Some indication of the task facing Murphy was that when the programme was printed for the first game after the crash, the Manchester United team consisted of eleven blank spaces," recalls Parkinson.

"Remarkably, the names Murphy fitted in around four of the players who survived – Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes, Dennis Viollet and Bobby Charlton – took the team to Wembley.

"In all the history of English football, there is no story more inspiring than Murphy’s achievement of getting United to the final of the FA Cup.

"They might have lacked the glitter of the others but it would be difficult to name another who so courageously battled against overwhelming odds."

Memorial plaque unveiled in Belgrade hotel


United and the Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation have added the missing piece in the tributes to the Babes.

Indeed the odds were stacked against the Reds, but Murphy ultimately managed to achieve success by nurturing young players. That philosophy is very much the bedrock on which the Manchester United Academy is built.

The FA Cup tie against Sheffield Wednesday was an emotional occasion for everyone connected with the club, and the matchday programme embodies the sadness and reflection of that day, 65 years ago this Sunday.

You can read the digital version of United Review from 19 February 1958 here.