Along with last weekend’s victory at home to Portsmouth came the 52nd anniversary of the Munich air disaster. A once again impeccably observed minutes silence was a stark reminder of the importance of life above a sport which is loved by the entire nation. The tragedy has an important part to play in the history of Manchester United and will never be forgotten by anyone involved with the club at any level.
United have gone on to win the European Cup in both 1968 and 2008, 10 years and 50 years on from the disaster – a fitting tribute to those lives lost – with the memories of those great players lost and the football they represented continually in the psyche of current manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Throughout his tenure at Old Trafford, Ferguson has continually mirrored the footballing philosophy of Sir Matt Busby which was embodied in the Busby Babes side so tragically broken up on the February 6, 1958. One player who lost his life as a result of the air crash, dying 15 days later in hospital, was a 21-year-old Duncan Edwards. A player capped 18 times by his country, Edwards was heralded as the complete player and was many people’s tip for a future England captain, with the potential to lead his country to World Cup triumph prior to the win in 1966.
Before the Portsmouth fixture it had been indicated by England Head Coach Fabio Capello that current United centre-half Rio Ferdinand will take his place as the captain of his country in the wake of John Terry’s off-field problems. This is a proud day for Manchester United as Ferdinand follows Bobby Charlton, Bryan Robson and David Beckham as a consistent England captain. Whether Ferdinand will be able to lead the Three Lions to success this summer is certainly a big ask, but it must be said that considering the current crop of players this represents a real chance for England to do something on the world stage. If they can come home from South Africa successful Manchester United will be central to that success with Ferdinand as captain and the hopes of the nation resting on a player much in the Edwards mould in Wayne Rooney. A fitting tribute to the great man and another chapter written in the history of this great club.
With the Portsmouth fixture came a reminder of the history of United but also a stark reminder of the clubs current fortunes. A comfortable win was again overshadowed by goings on off the pitch with the green and yellow clad supporters clear for all to see during the match and a huge green and gold banner made its presence felt within the crowd. The club’s supporters continue their protests aimed at owners the Glazer family, which show no sign of letting up. Another protest is planned for the Champions League fixture at home to AC Milan on March 10, with many fans planning to miss the first 10 minutes of the encounter to prove to the Glazers how they are alienating many of the common United fans. How much of a benefit this will have for the team on an important European night remains to be seen.
When looking back to the Munich air disaster we can see a catastrophic tragedy, but what we can draw from that time was the unity between the club and the supporters. Each and every person was in mourning and it took a supreme effort by not only the playing staff but also the supporters to come together and continue the philosophy of the club, with the team managing to reach the FA Cup final the same year and finish First Division runners-up the following season. On current evidence this unity is lost and may only be achieved once again if the supporters get their wish, with the Glazers selling up and some part of the club being owned by the Manchester United Supporters Trust.
The current fortunes of the club may seem in turmoil off the pitch but on it the players seem to have come together and are putting in some magnificent performances, spearheaded by the fantastic Rooney. United travel to Villa Park on Wednesday for what will be a very tough encounter having already lost to Martin O’Neill’s side at Old Trafford this season. However, with Villa Park a traditionally happy ground for the Red Devils and with Chelsea facing a tough encounter away at Everton, this provides a fantastic opportunity for United to go top of the table and one step closer to writing another chapter in the history of this famous club.