Munich survivor's story inspires Foundation youngsters

Monday 05 February 2024 12:50

The anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster is a poignant occasion for all associated with Manchester United, including everyone involved in our Foundation.

The Foundation was founded as a legacy to the trailblazing spirit of the Busby Babes, and the club’s time-honoured tradition of supporting and nurturing the talents of young people. Therefore, its staff always ensure that participants understand the importance of the tragedy in February 1958.

As such, a group of young people from the Foundation’s Street Reds community football projects – four girls and four boys – are travelling to Munich today (Monday 5 February) to join club representatives and supporters in commemorating the 66th anniversary of the air disaster.

During their stay in Germany, the youngsters – some of whom will be experiencing their first trip outside the UK – will also enjoy an enriching cultural experience in the city, including a rooftop football match with local youth group Buntkicktgut.

Forever remembered Video

Forever remembered

On the 66th anniversary, we take a glimpse at the lives of the players tragically killed in the Munich Air Disaster...

In readiness for their trip, the participants attended an educational workshop at the club’s museum, where they had the opportunity to hear from Rachel Viollet, daughter of Dennis Viollet - one of the all-time great United strikers and a Munich survivor.

Viollet’s astonishing record in front of goal, scoring 179 goals in 293 appearances, is one that should see him mentioned consistently in the same breath as the likes of Best, Law and Charlton.

Rachel's talk was a chance to educate the youngsters on not only a player who is something of an unsung hero, but also of a survivor’s story, and one who showed incredible determination and resilience to rebuild his life.

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A former sportswoman herself, having played tennis professionally, Rachel spoke to the participants about her dad’s journey to the first team, including how a trip to the family home by Sir Matt Busby himself had convinced the young Dennis to sign for United.

The rest, as they say, is history, as Viollet would go on to take Old Trafford by storm, becoming a mainstay in Busby’s side and setting a record for the most league goals scored by a United player in one season (32) which still stands to this day.

“My dad would be so proud to know about this trip and how such a positive legacy has been forged from something so tragic,” Rachel told us after her talk.

“He would always be noticeably quieter around the date of 6 February and it was clear how much it weighed heavily on him. I think he, and everyone who was unfortunate enough to have their lives touched by this event, would be moved by this, and all the work the Foundation does.”

Rachel Viollet, pictured at a previous Munich memorial service.

A great supporter of the Foundation’s work was Dennis’ close friend Sir Bobby Charlton, who we sadly lost last October of course. It was a friendship strengthened by their shared experience on that bitter day in Munich 66 years ago and Rachel spoke of how their story carries parallels with the participants’ trip.

“Bobby and my dad were really close, especially during their time at United,” Rachel said. “By all accounts, Bobby looked up to my dad as he was a few years older and he helped him settle into the first team.

“They were sat together on the plane, they recovered in hospital together, and I think their bond grew even stronger. Their friendship shows how something positive can come from an awful experience and I think what the Foundation are doing, educating young people about Munich but also providing them with an incredible experience like their trip to Germany, is another example of this.

“Just like the kids I spoke to, my dad was a young person from Manchester looking to achieve his dreams with the help of Manchester United. I hope they found his story inspiring and relatable as they prepare to head out to Munich. It was a pleasure to speak to them and I really hope that they enjoy this fantastic opportunity.”

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Munich was a tragedy that affected many lives, and as we remember those who lost their lives, it is also important to remember those – like Dennis and Sir Bobby – who had to show incredible courage and strength to move on with their lives. In fact, Dennis’s life after leaving the club was equally inspirational, as he emigrated to the United States and played an influential role in the growth of women's football.

“My dad always believed girls deserved the same opportunities as boys and loved to coach them – he always said they listened better than the boys!” Rachel told the participants.

“He coached girls from the youth stages all the way up to the collegiate level, where he was the manager of the women's team at the University of North Florida. I even remember him giving a clinic to the high-school team I played on – I was so proud having him there.

“He’d be thrilled to see United now represented by its own women’s team,” she added. “In fact, I think he would have loved to have managed them!”