It is easy to understand the disillusionment of long-serving lovers of the beautiful game who miss the honesty and integrity of football before it was hijacked by agents, super rich owners and mercenary footballers who are in it just for the money.
I say it’s easy because I am one of those football purists who cherishes my memories of the good old days when the sport was all about the goals and the glory.
While those days are gone for ever, all is not lost because there is one football club in the English Premier League with enough fans who value the traditions and values on which it was built to keep our dream alive.
A dream that one day our game will break free from the shackles of those who have corrupted football by making it all about the money, and not the glory of winning and entertaining the masses.
Every year at the beginning of February Manchester United supporters honour the giants of our game who perished in the Munich Air Disaster. We remember the eight busby babes who lost their lives in a tragic accident that claimed 23 victims in all. But we also remember what the Babes stood for and how those who survived carried the flag as the club rose like a phoenix from the ashes.
As our fans still poignantly sing: “We’ll never die we’ll never die. We’ll keep the red flag flying high because Man United will never die'”
Sixty two years later, that flag is still being carried, with the Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation leading the way. The MMMF, in the process of applying to become a registered charity, is dedicated not only to keeping the club’s legacy alive. As well as making sure younger fans know and understand our unique history, this not for profit organisation is committed to helping youngsters in Manchester, Munich and Belgrade, where the babes played their last match before the crash.
Tributes to the Babes
It is a magnificent campaign that has inspired me as a filmmaker to shine a light on what the MMMF do in a feature length documentary that will pay tribute to the Babes and the men who truly made Manchester United great.
Before Saturday’s game against Wolves the annual pre-match service organised by Munich58 was hosted under the Munich plaque. And as happens every year, the giant-sized ‘We’ll Never Die’ banner was unfurled and surfed across the Stretford End. This year the match fell on the anniversary of the babes last match on home soil before the crash . . . an epic 5-4 win at Arsenal on 1st February 1958. Goal scorers that day were Dennis Viollet, Tommy Taylor, Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards.
This week a couple of hundred United fans from all around the world – including supporters from Edinburgh, Malta and the USA – make the annual pilgrimage to Munich where every year a memorial ceremony is performed on 6th February at the exact time the crash is remembered with a service back at old Trafford.
What is remarkable is that it’s the fans and not the football club who keep this annual ritual alive. And the men and women who make this happen are all unpaid volunteers.
While Munich58 host the ceremonies back at Old Trafford, it’s the MMMF who fly the flag in Munich. And this year this remarkable organisation is also making a special trip to Belgrade to unveil a memorial plaque at the Majestic Hotel tomorrow (4th February). It is here that the Babes spent their last night before beating Red Star in the quarter final of the European Cup and crashing on take off after stopping to re fuel in Munich
Pat Burns, chairman of the MMMF, heads a delegation in Belgrade for the unveiling. The plaque bears the names of the fallen Babes beneath the iconic image of Matt Busby’s team before their match against Red Star Belgrade. The words “Gone but never forgotten. Forever in our hearts” are poignantly inscribed below the names of Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne (captain), Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Liam (Billy) Whelan.
“For us, United and the Babes go hand in glove. They’re part of our DNA. They’re the reason why virtually every fan I know supports United. It’s the story we’ve been brought up on,” says Burns whose band of diehard United fans are doing a fine job of keeping that Red lag flying high.
Recognition for Murphy
Back in 1958 it was Jimmy Murphy who symbolically carried the flag.
The truth is that without Jimmy there would not be a Manchester United. Matt Busby’s No.2, who missed Munich because he was away managing Wales, refused to let the owners close down the club. And against all the odds, Murphy put together a patched up team and took them all the way to the FA Cup Final in May.
But he was forever tormented by a feeling of guilt that he was not with Matt and the boys for the Red Star match, and how he found the strength to keep United going is a story that should never be forgotten. When he arrived in Munich, this proud Welshmen wept at the Rechts Der Isar hospital where Busby was twice given the last rites and Duncan Edwards bravely fought for 15 days after the crash before succumbing to horrific injuries.
Duncan was the greatest English footballer who ever lived. He was just 21 when he died. But already an icon and a legend in the true meaning of the word. Sir Bobby Charlton, one of United’s only two living survivors of the crash, says he is the only footballer he felt inferior to.
United’s other survivor is Harry Gregg, the reluctant Hero of Munich, who pulled survivors out of the wreckage and found Charlton alive among the bodies. In a graphic and emotional interview that I filmed at his home in Coleraine, Harry shared with me his memories of the crash and how he dealt with the trauma.
My intention is to use this interview and it’s inclusion in my film to help drive a campaign to get Harry knighted. In my humble opinion it’s a disgrace that this has not already happened. Not just for his role in Munich. But for the incredible work done by the Harry Gregg Foundation which earned him an OBE to add to his MBE. But in my humble opinion that is not enough.
At Harry’s specific request, the MMMF is now raising money for a kids charity in Belgrade. “We raise money from simply asking United fans to support us,” explains Pat Burns. “We run an annual JustGiving appeal in January and February, raise money on the away-day coaches, and run an annual dinner.”
In October Pat invited me to attend the last brilliant fund-raising dinner at Old Trafford Cricket Ground that raised over £9,000. It was attended by 170 people including ex-players Paddy Crerand, Lou Macari, Arthur Albiston, along with Harry Gregg’s daughter, Jimmy Murphy’s son and grandsons and Dennis Viollet’s daughter.
Adds Pat: “You can contribute to the MMF’s fund raising efforts via JustGiving. In the 3 years we have been running, we have raised almost £29,000.00 to support children’s charities in Manchester, Munich and Belgrade to preserve and enhance the legacy of The Babes.”
My film will also be putting the spotlight on Jimmy Murphy and the campaign to get what he has done for Manchester United recognised with a visible presence at the Old Trafford stadium.
While the AFMUP have had their request for a Murphy statue turned downed, MMMF campaigner Brian Mulholland has tirelessly petitioned for K Stand to be renamed the Jimmy Murphy stand. I have promised Molly, as he’s know by his friends, that I will do my best to help support his campaign by giving him a voice in my film.
Molly is passionate about getting recognition for Murphy and he underlines why with these words: “This man is one of the most important people in the history of Manchester United because he was instrumental in ‘keeping the Red Flag flying high’. After the Munich air disaster the club would have withered and died without the strength and character of this man who single handedly kept the club alive whilst our manager, Sir Matt Busby fought for his life in the Munich Hospital.”
The MMMF are also big supporters of the Duncan Edwards Foundation, an organisation started by Rose Cook Monk and dedicated to keeping alive the memory of big Duncan.
As a proud ambassador of the DEF, you will not be surprised to hear that our legendary No.6 will also be one of the main characters we focus on in my film.
Bringing Duncan’s life into focus in a unique way is a play written by Rose Cook Monk called ‘Keeping The Dream Alive’. It will premiere in his hometown of Dudley, with two nights at the Brierley Hill on May 18 and 19.
Bernard Hill originally asked to appear in the play and Rose re-wrote the script to give the Lord of the Rings actor a prominent role. Sadly, Bernard had to pull out due to other commitments. But we are lucky to have a magnificent replacement in Welsh singer Anthony Stuart Lloyd – a giant of a man with a wonderful velvet voice who is 100% suited to the role.
The truth is that this play does not need a Hollywood star to be special, because it’s an authentic piece about the greatest of them all, Duncan Edwards.
Fittingly, we expect members of the Edwards, Murphy and Gregg family all to be at the opening night. Along with a convoy of fans from Manchester, including representatives of the MMMF
I confidently anticipate this will be a wonderful tribute to Duncan Edwards, and as technical director of the play I reserve the right to be biased. Telling the story of how and why the play was made I believe will give me the perfect ending to the film.
Meantime, on Wednesday, I fly to Munich to shoot some key scenes for the film which I’m calling ‘The Religion: We Will Never Die.’
The first film in this series pays tribute to the world’s oldest Manchester United Supporters Club, set up in honour of those who died in Munich, a year after the crash. MUSC Malta had its first official meeting on 4th February 1959. That’s 61 years ago tomorrow and anyone who pays to watch that film will be helping me raise the funds I need to finish this next film. So please support me if you can, whether you’re buying the film or just spreading the word. More details at http://manutdthereligion.net or click the video below to watch the trailer.