Old Trafford Memorial

Old Trafford Memorial

Five years ago when then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern needed a quick summit meeting with the British Prime Minister Gordon Blair to discuss the problem over the devolution of  justice and policing powers in Northern Ireland, he went to Manchester. They met on a Sunday morning in a conference room at Manchester airport. Mr Ahern was accompanied by the Irish government press secretary Eoghan Ó Neachtain (now TG4 rugby pundit). Myself and an RTÉ News cameraman from Belfast were the only ones allowed to do the “pool” pictures, along with a local stills photographer from PA.

Bertie Ahern & Gordon Brown (PA Pool Picture)

      Bertie Ahern & Gordon Brown (PA Picture)

No questions were allowed to be asked as they sat down together, it was just a photocall. An Taoiseach however did agree to answer a couple of questions for me after the meeting. Both he and Mr Brown then left separately to go to Old Trafford, where Manchester United were remembering the 50th anniversary of the Munich plane crash. I did not get into the ground, where the two leaders were sitting in a VIP box, but spoke to some supporters as they arrived for the game. It gave me a chance to see the Munich memorial attached to a wall at the side of one of the stands, and the memorial clock attached to the south-east corner of the stadium. A special match programme was also issued to remember those who died.

Munich Clock

Munich Clock

Eight Manchester United players from the “Busby Babes” team, among them Billy Whelan from Cabra in Dublin, lost their lives when the Airspeed Ambassador plane they were travelling back to England in crashed on the runway during snowy conditions at Munich airport. Three staff from the club and a number of well-known English sports journalists were also killed. Others were lucky to survive, such as Bobby Charlton and goalkeeper Harry Gregg (then 24) from Northern Ireland. He attended the funeral of veteran sports journalist Malcolm Brodie in Belfast on Monday. Thinking now of the victims and survivors of the crash.

The Flowers of Manchester

One cold and bitter Thursday in Munich Germany

Eight great football stalwarts conceded victory

Eight men will never play again who met destruction there

The Flowers of English football the Flowers of Manchester

Matt Busby’s boys were flying home returning from Belgrade

This great United family all masters of their trade

The pilot of the aircraft the skipper Captain Thain

Three times they tried to take off and twice turned back again

The third time down the runway disaster followed close

There was slush upon that runaway and the aircraft never rose

It ploughed into the marshy ground it broke it overturned

And eight of the team were killed as the blazing wreckage burned

Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor who were capped for England’s side

And Ireland’s Billy Whelan and England’s Geoff Bent died

Mark Jones and Eddie Colman and David Pegg also

They all lost their lives as it ploughed on through the snow

Big Duncan he went too with an injury to his brain

And Ireland’s brave Jack Blanchflower will never play again

The great Matt Busby lay there the father of his team

Three long months passed by before he saw his team again

The trainer, coach and secretary and a member of the crew

Also eight sporting journalists who with United flew

and one of them Big Swifty who we will ne’er forget

the finest English ‘keeper that ever graced the net

Oh England’s finest football team its record truly great

its proud successes mocked by a cruel turn of fate

Eight men will never play again who met destruction there

the Flowers of English football the Flowers of Manchester

Author: Eric Winter (1958)

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