Every year when the clock clicks round to 3.04pm on 6th February Manchester United fans around the world stop what they are doing to remember those who perished in the Munich Air Disaster of 1958.
Today at Manchesterplatz in Munich, fans from every corner of the planet will make the annual pilgrimage to the scene of the crash for a ceremony that will honour those who died.
Back at Old Trafford, near the entrance to the Munich tunnel, under the clock forever stopped at the time of the crash, another ceremony will take place outside the stadium with the same theme, the same message.
We will never ever forget the 23 victims including eight Busby Babes whose lives were claimed in Munich.
But 61 years on from the horrors of Munich, the truth is that there is one glaring oversight at the Theatre of Dreams . . . a fitting tribute to the man who saved Manchester United.
It is not an express criticism of the current regime because Jimmy Murphy should have been honoured a long time ago. But there is a growing unease among Supporters Clubs and former players alike that Sir Matt Busby’s No.2 has been overlooked.
“Without Jimmy Murphy, there would be no Manchester United,” is how Harry Gregg – the reluctant ‘Hero of Munich’ – described the man who became caretaker manager after the crash, when we met in Coleraine to film for a documentary.
Gregg, who survived the crash before pulling team-mates and other injured passengers from the wreckage, including a pregnant mother and child, is a living legend who should have been knighted a long time ago. At least Harry received the OBE in the 2019 New Year’s Honours list to add to the MBE he was awarded in 1995 for services to football
Murphy on the other hand never received any official recognition from the establishment.
Meanwhile, requests for a statue at Old Trafford in memory of the Welshman who single-handedly kept the Red Flag Flying High when the club’s directors wanted to close the club have fallen on deaf ears.
Murphy, who missed Munich because he was taking charge of Wales’ World Cup qualifier against Israel, kept United going while Busby lay in hospital fighting for his life.
Against all the odds he took United all the way to the FA Cup Final at the end of that tragic season. He is also credited with persuading The Boss and Bobby Charlton to carry on when both men wanted to walk away in the aftermath of the crash.
In the same way that Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson – along with the Holy Trinity of Law, Best and Charlton – have been enshrined forever with statues in prominent positions outside the stadium, there is a strong desire to add Murphy to the collection.
It is common knowledge that last June the Association of Former Manchester United Players (AFMUP) made a written request to the club to consider a statue for Murphy.
But so far there has been no official response, other than this statement made last week to The Mirror newspaper:
“Jimmy Murphy holds a unique and special place in Manchester United’s history, which we recognised through the naming of the Jimmy Murphy Centre at the Aon Training Complex as a tribute to him in 2012.
“Whilst we have no immediate plans to extend the range of statues at Old Trafford, we are hugely respectful of the immense contribution he has made to the club.”
As I said earlier, this article is not intended as a criticism of the football club or the current regime who have clearly done more to honour Murphy than anyone else. But what I do stress is that now is the time to do the right thing.
Before last week’s home match with Burnley a massive banner passed over the Stretford End proclaiming the Babes “Will never die” and that is exactly why Murphy must be remembered now more than ever.
Giving Murphy a visible presence at Old Trafford would be a wonderful way to remind future generations of what this football club stands for. Busby’s righthand man won a record six youth cups with the youth team and his contribution to the club was on a par with Sir Matt, who hailed him as his most important signing of his managerial career.
Emboldened by the unanswered AFMUP proposal for a statue of Murphy, I can tell you that there is now a massive groundswell of prominent and well-respected Manchester United fans who want to unite behind a campaign to make this happen.
Outspoken Red Devil Tony O’Neill, currently employed by Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs at Hotel Football, spoke up for many earlier this week when he used social media to urge the football club to “get their finger out” and make a decision about erecting a statue.
My good friend Peter Wood, who runs the Edinburgh branch of the Manchester United Supporters Club, meantime, is ready to help mobilise supporters to get the ball rolling because “without Jimmy Murphy, there is no United . . . it’s as simple as that!”
Says Peter: “I feel like Tony (O’Neill) and many others that this needs to happen now. I’d love to see a committee set up with a view to raising funds to commission a statue of the great Jimmy Murphy, with people who feel passionately about this.
“I would love to be involved in any such supporter led initiative. I can think of many more who would be delighted to have an involvement in such an amazing and worthwhile project.
“Let’s see in the meantime if the club respond positively, or indeed in any way to the Association of Former United Players’ proposal?”
Twelve months on from the 60th anniversary of the disaster, the determination to honour those we lost is stronger than ever thanks to organisations like Munich58 and the Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation, who have undertaken to ensure future generations never forget our history.
In so doing let’s make sure we keep alive the memory of the man whose guts and determination ensured Manchester United survived our darkest day and rose from the ashes to become the most widely supported football club on the planet.
MUNICH 58 AND MANCHESTER MUNICH MEMORIAL FOUNDATION
In recent years it has become a tradition for fans to visit Old Trafford on February 6th each year to pay their respects to those who perished in the crash.
This Supporters Remembrance Service is organised by Mike Thomas and Elaine Giles, who founded the munich58.co.uk website in 2001 with two aims – to be an online memorial to those who died at Munich, and to educate the younger element of the United fanbase and football fans in general about the crash.
Munich58 work closely with the Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation, the charity that co-ordinates the ceremony over in Munich, where MMMF is dedicated to preserving the legacy of 1958 and ensuring it is carried forward by future generations.
MMMF spokesman Patrick Burns, who is in Munich managing proceedings says: “Weʼre raising £6,000 to Support children’s sports related charities in Munich, Belgrade and Manchester on behalf of the Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation.”