February 06, 2009


Lifelong United fan Fred Done recalls the Busby Babes…

I was born and grew up in Ordsall where you simply had no choice but to be a United fan. As the crow flies, it’s only about a mile from Old Trafford and the school I went to on Trafford Road was very much a United school. In fact, I can’t remember a single City fan.

I was on my way home from school in 1958 when I first heard about the Munich air crash. I was 14 and somebody on the bus mentioned United had been in a plane crash. At no stage did I think it would be serious. I thought it had just been exaggerated by the newspapers, as they tended to do even then. Then I got home and it started to unfold on the news. It was absolutely devastating.

You have big moments in your life – like Kennedy being shot or the Twin Towers being blown up – where you remember everything about where you were at the time. But this is my strongest memory and comes in front of all those things because it was so close to home. Geoff Bent and Eddie Colman were from Salford, just like me. Eddie Colman even went to the same youth club as me.

To me, a kid of 14, Eddie Colman was fantastic. He had this swagger and we all wanted to be like him. You know how kids want to be like rock and roll singers? Well, it was that sort of admiration. Back then we didn’t even have televisions – we were just coming out of the war and these guys meant everything to us.

I remember going to see United train on the tarmac near the forecourt at Old Trafford because there was frost at The Cliff and they couldn’t use the pitches. Duncan Edwards kicked a ball and it was coming right at me so I turned my back to protect myself. It hit me in the middle of the back and it really hurt. But Duncan came over and apologised to me personally. Then, when the training session finished, he got on a pushbike and rode home. That’s the way it was in those days.

The day after the crash, on Friday 7 February, we went to school and it was like the whole school was in mourning. Kids were in the playground and they were just crying. We had assembly in the morning and kids were breaking down everywhere.

If you think back to when players like Paul Scholes, David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and Gary and Phil Neville were young, and then look at what United went on to achieve, you can start to understand the kind of success we were cheated out of in the late 50s. Munich was one of life’s really bad deals.

I went to the first game at Old Trafford after Munich, when United beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0, and I’ve still got the programme from that day. I remember the crowd being squashed like sardines at that match. Of course, back then the older men would pass the kids over their heads and down to the front so we could see.

Even so, it was particularly difficult to see this particular game but the excitement of seeing United in action again was unbelievable. To be honest, I felt sorry for Sheffield Wednesday. There were 70,000 players against them that night. They couldn’t win.

I’ve seen United win championships and cup finals since then but the Busby Babes were very, very special. The team that died in Munich was my favourite team.