Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United manager and Old Trafford icon, pays a personal and unique tribute to the Busby Babes on the 60-year anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster...
“On the day of the Munich Air Disaster, I was in the library studying for my exams. I used to train two or three nights a week with Queen’s Park, so after I’d finished my work I went along to the training ground, but when I arrived, people were crying. These were grown men. There was a lot of sorrow in the dressing room, so much so that they cancelled training that night.
“It was a really emotional time for anybody who was a football fan. I’m sure the whole public in Manchester felt that way, and Matt Busby carried great resonance for the people in Scotland so it was keenly felt up there too.
“I’d seen Manchester United play in the Coronation Cup in 1953. It was held in Glasgow to mark the Queen’s coronation, and it featured four English teams and four Scottish teams. I went to watch United against Rangers. The bulk of the United side was made of the remnants of the 1948 FA Cup winning team – the likes of Jack Rowley, Stan Pearson, Jack Crompton – but outside left was Roger Byrne, and soon the team was full of young players like Roger.Not long after that, not only were you drawn to the fact that Matt Busby was manager, you were attracted to the fact that the Busby Babes were suddenly in the semi-finals of the European Cup against Real Madrid. They didn’t disgrace themselves at all, either, they were absolutely brilliant, and that was their first experience of Europe.
“The philosophy and belief of producing young players to play for Manchester United was a big thing at the time. The team which won the 1948 FA Cup final was mature, there were no kids in there, but seven years later Matt and Jimmy Murphy had a formation of all these young players playing together. It takes a brave person to do that. You’re in an industry where it’s all about the results, and that’s why most managers have to rely on their first team to keep them in a job and there’s absolutely no compunction about that; it’s a fact of life. To build a football club through young people is the braver thing to do, and actually it’s the correct thing to do because once you’ve got a foundation then you can rely on that for a few years.Matt never spoke to me about Munich, but he spoke about Duncan Edwards, David Pegg, Eddie Colman and all the boys who passed away. The one who did speak a lot about it was Jimmy Murphy. Jimmy did a bit of scouting for me when he first came down and he always spoke very openly about the Babes. He always had a tear in his eye by the end of the discussion because he was a very emotional guy.
“While I was manager, the Babes were always a reference point for us, in terms of having belief and trust in what young players can do and building a loyalty base from there. Not only that, the Babes made the history of Manchester United, without question. Ok, there had been the 1948 FA Cup and some success in the distant past, but actually the history which was made through that particular period of Matt playing those young players is really the history of Manchester United. A decade on, Matt won the European Cup while playing the same philosophy, using players who had been produced by the club, apart from Paddy Crerand and Alex Stepney. It’s incredible. The Babes are what gives this club such a fantastic romance, in terms of how they played the game and how they generated this thread of youth right throughout the club. The spirit of the club is created by all these young players, and that began back then. The Babes are where Manchester United’s history starts.”
This tribute first appeared in United Review on 3 February 2018.