Arsenal v Manchester United at Highbury

How Arsenal paid tribute to United in 1958

In the immediate aftermath of the tragic events of 6 February 1958, the entire footballing community came together in mourning for those lost, and in support of Manchester United in the club's darkest hour.

One of the most poignant tributes came from Arsenal, our age-old rivals who had provided the final opposition on English soil for Matt Busby’s brilliant young team just five days before their plane crashed in Munich.

The Gunners set aside two pages in the match programme for their next home game against Bolton Wanderers on 18 February, to echo the thoughts being shared across the sporting world.

Entitled 'Tribute to Manchester United', it read: “The air disaster which struck Manchester United on their way home from Yugoslavia on Thursday 6th February, 1958, is a shattering blow to English football. Seldom, if ever, has such a shock hit British sport as did this tragedy.

“Famous players and well-known sporting personalities are dead and others are injured. That much-admired and well-known team, variously known as ‘Busby’s Babes’ and ‘Red Devils’ has been shattered. Seven fine athletes in the prime of their careers have been killed and ten others have been injured, some so seriously that it will be a long time before we shall know whether or not we shall see them on the field of play ever again.”

The Clock End at Highbury
The famous Clock End at Highbury, where the Busby Babes played their last game in England, against Arsenal.

“The Club’s Secretary and Chairman of the Secretaries’ and Managers’ Association – that fine fellow Walter Crickmer – has lost his life as have Tom Curry, the Trainer, Bert Whalley, the Coach, and eight much respected sporting journalists. Friends of the team and a member of the aircraft’s crew are also dead.

“As the days have come and slowly gone since that fateful day, we in football and the millions of English football supporters have anxiously awaited the news about Manager Matt Busby and those of the party who were injured and as the time passes we take some small consolation, at this tragic time, in the news that those who survived are slowly gaining ground in their fight for recovery.

“The Manchester United team was not just a football team, it was an institution which stood for all that was fine in the skill of the game, for all that was good in youthful athletics and for all that was commendable in British Sportsmanship. An inspiration to every young Englishman. Under the leadership of Matt Busby, whose fight for life has been just as inspiring as many of his football triumphs, the United team has acquired during the past few years that sparkling mantle of the greatest team of modern times, star-studded with brilliant young players, most of whom had barely reached their prime. To Matt must go most of the credit for the Club’s achievements since the end of the war.

“Arriving at Old Trafford in 1945, where there was little but bomb-damage rubble and precious little material upon which to work, he adopted the policy which has been paramount in all his dealings; to depend on youth first, second and always, but he has never ignored the transfer market when the necessity has arisen to keep his team in the forefront of the battle.

Forever remembered article

On 6 February 1958, 23 people - including eight United players - suffered fatal injuries in the Munich Air Disaster.

“Since Matt Busby settled down at Old Trafford it has been just one success story after another. For three years in succession United were Runners-up in the League, then they were 4th; then Runners-up again and eventually Champions in 1952. In 1953 they were 8th, and 4th again a year later. In 1955 they were 5th and the last two seasons they have been Champions. In addition, during this post-War period, they have been in the Cup Final twice.

“Whenever the necessity has arisen there has usually been a man in the Reserve team ready and able to take his place in the senior XI, and this goes down the scale until we find that the Junior team has won the F.A. Youth Cup five years in succession.

“That a new ‘United’ will arise out of the shattered remnants of that once great team is the one certainty about football’s future for the Busby policy has proved itself one-hundred-per-cent and the man who has helped Matt achieve all these successes – Jimmy Murphy – who was not with the party owing to the calls of his native Wales, will undoubtedly continue the good work until Matt is fit and well enough to take over the direction again.

“Every club in this country will be ready and willing to co-operate to the full in helping United in their troubles but it is unlikely that the club will avail itself of such offers of players as may be made (with perhaps an isolated exception) for the true answer is in the development of a new set of ‘Babes’. To them will be given an opportunity earlier than anyone could have expected but, being members of a great club they will know how much depends upon them and we feel sure they can be relied upon to give everything they have got in the building of a new Championship team.

“And so, whilst we remember with affection those fine fellows Tommy Taylor, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Billy Whelan, David Pegg, Mark Jones and Geoff Bent – who lost their lives – and all the injured players who are struggling back to fitness let us all join in the hope that the time will not be far distant when Matt Busby returns to the managerial chair; when the injured boys are back playing again, and that team – respected throughout the land for their mastery of our great game – will again become our most beloved and most feared opponents.”

The tragic postscript to this beautiful tribute came three days later, when the cautiously optimistic note sounded about the recovery of those injured was shattered with the news that Duncan Edwards had lost his battle for survival. He joined his seven team-mates among those mourned by the footballing world and beyond.

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