The players we lost in Munich

Tuesday 06 February 2024 10:00

As the decades pass and memories fade, it is more important than ever to remember those we lost in Munich, 66 years ago.

This year’s commemorations have added poignancy, coming so soon after the passing of Sir Bobby Charlton. With this in mind, we have revisited a feature from the 50th anniversary, when Sir Bobby, together with team-mate Wilf McGuinness, provided their personal recollections of the eight players who died in the Munich Air Disaster.

Born: 8 September 1929
Appearances: 280 | Goals: 20
Debut: 24 November 1951 v Liverpool (A)

Reliable and fleet of foot, captain Roger Byrne was a fixture in both United's and England's defence.

Sir Bobby Charlton: "Roger would talk about football constantly. He loved the game. Of course, he was a tremendous player and I'm sure he'd have gone to the World Cup in the summer of 1958. He wasn't the most vocal captain – instead he led by example. He had great presence on the pitch and we all looked up to him immensely. If you did well, you would not expect more than a pat on the back. Yet from Roger, it was a gesture you would prize very highly."

Wilf McGuinness: "I don't remember Roger making too many tackles. He didn't need to because he read the game so well. And he had tremendous pace! He was also quite strict with the young lads – he made them knock on the door of the first-team dressing room before walking in. He was admired and I've no doubt he would have captained England."
Roger Byrne.
Born: 29 January 1932
Appearances: 191 | Goals: 131
Debut: 7 March 1953 v Preston North End (H)

A record signing from Barnsley, bustling centre-forward Tommy Taylor made the game look easy.

Wilf: "Most people talk about Tommy's heading ability, but he brought more to the side. Even though he was a big lad and stood well over six feet, he moved with grace and was forever pulling defenders out of position. It's down to Tommy that others like Dennis Viollet, Bobby Charlton and Billy Whelan scored so many goals. Tommy's runs would create gaps for the ball to be pushed through by creative players, such as Duncan Edwards and Eddie Colman. Whenever you looked up, there he was, always making himself available."

Sir Bobby:
"Tommy was sensational at heading the ball. And that was when balls were much heavier. He was strong, too, although he also had a great touch for a big lad. When we bought him for £29,999 it was a record fee, but he repaid that very quickly."

Tommy Taylor was a scorer supreme


Remembering one of United's best-ever strikers, ahead of the anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster.

Born: 15 June 1933
Appearances: 121 | Goals: 1
Debut: 7 October 1950 v Sheffield Wednesday (H)

Renowned for his pipe and wearing his trilby hat, Yorkshireman Mark Jones was wise beyond his years and a gentle giant.

Sir Bobby: "Mark was a few years older than me but we spent a lot of time together. He was a big, strong lad and he came from a mining background – like Tommy Taylor, David Pegg and my family – so I had an affinity with him. He took me shooting near Knutsford and was always keen to talk about football, plus, like Roger Byrne, if you played well he'd make a point of coming to tell you. On the pitch, Mark could head the ball almost as far as some people could kick it – as could many centre-halves in those days."

Wilf: "Even though he was only 24 when he died, Mark was almost like a father figure to us. He was a real family man but also a gentleman who looked after us. If he thought we were stepping out of line, he'd tell us, but always in a nice way – a friendly warning, you might say..."
Mark Jones.
Born: 1 April 1935
Appearances: 98 | Goals: 52
Debut: 26 March 1955 v Preston North End (A)

An inside-forward and a devout Catholic, quiet Liam Whelan let his football do the talking.

Sir Bobby: "He was certainly one of the most skilful footballers I ever played with. He had tremendous ability and control in tight situations. Mind you, he had to be skilful because he wasn't the fastest man in the game but, like all good players, he always made time for himself and scored his fair share of goals. Coming from Ireland, he felt a tremendous responsibility every time he went out to play; he really felt he was playing not just for United, but for Ireland as well. Billy and I stayed in the same digs for a while, so I saw a lot of him. He was a shy lad, and all he ever wanted to do was play football. It was his life."

Wilf: "Even to this day, he's the most underrated of all the players who died at Munich. I remember the youth team once played in Switzerland as a pre-cursor to a Brazil friendly, as part of their preparations for the 1954 World Cup. Billy, as we used to call him, was so talented the Brazilians asked Matt Busby if they could take him home with them!"

Born: 27 September 1932
Appearances: 12 | Goals: 0
Debut: 11 December 1954 v Burnley (A)

Two broken-leg injuries and the form of steadfast skipper Roger Byrne meant Salford boy Geoff Bent played just a dozen games for United.

Sir Bobby:
"Geoff only played 12 times for the first team, but in my younger years I spent a lot of time with him in the Reserves. He was a wonderful left-sided player who was very versatile and comfortable on the ball. He was equally at home at left-back or left midfield but he was known more for his defensive qualities. He was a quiet lad, although he was tough as nails on the pitch and liked to get stuck in. Unfortunately for Geoff, Roger Byrne, our captain, was usually picked ahead of him, although whenever Geoff came into the side he would play very well. He was really quick, decent in the air and, I think, good enough to command a regular spot in almost any other first team. We were all very pleased to have someone as reliable as Geoff in the squad. He might not have played every week at United but he gave the club terrific service."

Wilf: "To play with Geoff was a privilege because he was so reliable and read the game so well. When he tackled, his left leg came around a striker and hooked the ball away. He was great to play with and would have stayed at United a long time. You knew exactly what you were getting with Geoff and he was a great understudy to have. He would have walked into most other teams' starting line-ups. He was a quiet lad and there was no arrogance about him. Geoff was what you'd call an honest player, although he was a hard tackler. In training, you'd get out of his way and let him have the ball!"
Geoff Bent.
Born: 1 October 1936
Appearances: 177 | Goals: 21
Debut: 4 April 1953 v Cardiff City (H)

Blessed with power, pace and limitless potential, Duncan Edwards shone brightest in a team of stars.

Wilf: "Duncan Edwards made his debut for United at just 16 and he had everything, even then. He was, quite simply, the complete player. If he played a long or short ball, it would end up exactly where he wanted it. If somebody needed to be tackled, he'd be there winning the ball; if we were on the attack, he'd inevitably be at the heart of the move. Duncan could play anywhere on the pitch and that's how I got my championship medal in 1955/56. They selected me when he moved to inside-forward, centre-half or centre-forward, so I was grateful for his versatility. Because of his power and strength he sometimes played at centre-back but it was a waste to place him there while he was young because he could cover so much ground."

Sir Bobby:
"Duncan was head and shoulders above everyone else – a talent I hadn't seen before in terms of his all-round game. I'd seen tough players, fast players and intelligent players and good passers of the ball, but never anyone that could do the whole lot. In a way he was my first hero. I used to think if he could hit a 60/70-yard pass along the floor I would have to try and do that. I learned a lot from him, more than any other player."

Born: 20 September 1935
Appearances: 150 | Goals: 28
Debut: 6 December 1952 v Middlesbrough (H)

An England star in the making, Doncaster-born David Pegg terrorised the toughest defences that Europe had to offer.

Wilf: "David Pegg was just one of many players in that side who could really charm the ball. If a defender gave David room he'd find Tommy Taylor brilliantly with his centre – he could really pinpoint his crosses. The opposing captain would yell to the right-back to get tighter with him and when the full-back did, it gave David the opportunity to dribble round him. He was absolutely brilliant when we lost 3-1 in Madrid in 1957. He caused that much havoc over there that Madrid went out and bought the best full-back in the country to mark him in the second leg."

Sir Bobby: "David was on the fringe of the England team. He was a classic left-winger – somebody who could jink past a man and deliver an accurate cross. We were great friends and he spent his last New Year's Eve with me and my family in the North-East. I was really, really sad when it was confirmed David had died."
David Pegg.
Born: 1 November 1936
Appearances: 108 Goals: 2
Debut: 12 November 1955 v Bolton Wanderers (A)

Incredibly stylish both on and off the pitch, Salford's cheeky Eddie Colman brought joy to the lives of everyone he met.

Sir Bobby: "Eddie Colman was one of my closest friends, a fantastic little player and a lovely man. He was a little gem – that's the best way I can describe him. Eddie had a terrific character that he took on to the field with him. He had this swagger, this certain arrogance about him, and he played with such control. They called Eddie 'Snakehips' because he used to do this fantastic little shimmy..."

Wilf: "He'd be going to the left, look to play it with his right foot, but he'd drag it back and go in the other direction. It confused a lot of very good players. I've never known a person with a better personality than Eddie Colman. We used to go to the dance halls in town and he wore tight trousers ... until Matt Busby got hold of him and said: "No, we'll have you in smart clothes, thank you!" I would go as far to say Eddie was my favourite person – he had everything you wanted from a friend and I just loved watching him play."