Just after 3pm on 6 February 1958, pilots James Thain and Kenneth Raymentmade a third attempt to take the ‘Busby Babes’ back home.
English champions Manchester United were en route to the UK following a 3-3 draw with Red Star Belgrade – which had been enough to advance to the semi-finals of the European Cup.
Their British European Airways plane had temporarily landed in Germany for refuelling, but it was proving to be a problematic pitstop.
Snow had been coming down hard in Bavaria, creating challenging conditions and leaving thick trails of sludge along the Munich-Riem runway.
Two take-off attempts had already been abandoned due to engine faults, but at around 3.04pm, the pilots decided to have another go.
The plane powered down the tarmac, but failed to gain altitude. By the time the crew realised the plane wouldn’t make it off the ground, it was already too late.
The Airspeed Ambassador careered off the runway, tore through a fence and wrapped around a nearby house, bursting into flames.
23 of the 44 passengers on board were killed in what would forever be known as one of football’s greatest tragedies; a cold winter’s afternoon in Munich that shook the world – and changed Manchester forever.
Manager Sir Matt Busby had turned Manchester United into an international force since taking the helm in 1945 – building a team of gifted players that had brought major silverware to Old Trafford after rising through the club’s youth ranks.
The squad was tipped to continue filling out the trophy cabinet in Stretford for years to come. But in the winter of ’58, everything changed.
Eight members of the team died in the crash, and Manchester United instantly changed beyond recognition.
So too did the management team – with Chief Coach Bert Whalley, trainer Tom Curry and club secretary Walter Crickmer also passing away.
The eponymous leader of the Busy Babes, meanwhile, was rushed to hospital in critical condition.
With a generation of wonderful footballing talent wiped out and their leader gravely injured, the club was left rattled.
There were concerns that United could ultimately fold in the aftermath.
Eight players had gone forever, two former internationals – Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower – were too badly injured to ever play again, and those who survived were still scarred by the incident.
The crash had left a permanent black mark on sport in Britain, taking too many young talents and coaches before their time.
But the footballing world stepped up.
Other clubs provided support wherever possible, with bitter rivals Liverpool even offering loan players so United could fulfil their remaining fixtures.
Real Madrid – the eventual winners of the 1958 European Cup – dedicated the win to the Busby Babes and even offered United the trophy (which was turned down), before selling memorial pennants and arranging friendlies to raise money for Manchester.
Tributes have continued for more than 60 years since.
Each February, hundreds flock to the Munich memorial at Old Trafford to pay their respects, with a rendition of Flowers of Manchester – a folk song written about the tragedy – performed at the home game closest to this date.
The 2008 Manchester derby was contested on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster – with both teams wearing blank kits as a mark of respect (City, too, had suffered loss in the tragedy; former Blues goalkeeper Frank Swift had been on the plane in a journalistic capacity after becoming a sports correspondent for the News of the World upon retirement).
Football is a different beast to what it was back in 1958. But the sport still invariably takes a moment every year to step back from its modern glitz and glamour, pause, and remember the game’s incredible figures who never got to see how huge United – and indeed UK football – eventually became.
The reverberations of the Munich Air Disaster were so powerful they went beyond the game of football itself – even changing the way the sport was covered in the press.
11 of the north’s most prominent sports writers were aboard the flight that day – and just three made it out alive.
One of the three survivors, Frank Taylor of the News Chronicle, mentions in his book that he invited some of the other writers to join him at the front of the plane – where there were several seats still free. But the journalists, already settled, politely declined.
“They treated matches like they would any other event and began to ask experts, such as managers, for quotes to add to their pieces,” Domenghetti states – a new approach which ultimately changed the style of British sports journalism permanently.
World coverage of the crash continued several weeks after the initial accident – with newspapers offering updates on the condition of players and combing through the final moments leading up to the accident; attempting to understand what happened.
A fresh outpouring of grief came two weeks later when it was confirmed that Duncan Edwards – one of the most exciting talents in England at the time – had succumbed to his injuries and passed away in hospital.
Busby’s condition raised deep concern at first, but he slowly improved and eventually left hospital to recuperate. He briefly contemplated leaving football altogether, but was urged by his wife to continue, as she claimed it’s what the lads “would have wanted.”
Busby spent the next few weeks watching his team from afar as Jimmy Murphy took temporary charge – before easing his way back into football management the following season.
The rest was history.
Within years, he had created another incredible team – building a fresh squad around the remaining survivors such as Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes, and Bobby Charlton.
Dr Guy Hodgson, a sports historian at Liverpool John Moores University, claimed that Munich played a role in Busby’s hunger to create another all-star side.
Dr Hodgson told Goal: “If it had not been for Munich, would he have bought players like Mike England and Alan Ball? Because if you look at the 1968 European Cup side, eight of them are home-grown players as he wanted to get the same home-grown thing again. Would he have changed his mind-set had he been building on success?
“Other things might have happened, like would Nobby Stiles have gone with his brother-in-law Johnny Giles to Leeds, because would he have got a game if Duncan Edwards and Eddie Colman had been around? He might never have got to play for United and might have had to go elsewhere for a position.”
Busby achieved his dream, bringing another four major honours to Manchester post-Munich – including two league titles, an FA Cup and European Cup.
An extraordinary feat in any capacity. Utterly miraculous in the circumstances.
Many of those who lived to tell the tale of the Munich Air Disaster have passed away in the 63 years since the crash.
The goalkeeper was injured in the initial crash but regained consciousness whilst the airplane was going up in flames, managing to escape through a hole in the cabin.
Gregg has been described as a “hero” for returning to the wreckage and pulling out passengers – credited with saving several lives.
His death last year left Charlton as the last remaining survivor of the Munich Air Disaster.
Despite the crash, midfielder Charlton developed into one the greatest players to ever don the red shirt, winning multiple championships at United and becoming the club’s all-time record goalscorer until his tally of 249 was surpassed by Wayne Rooney in 2017.
He was also a member of England’s famous 1966 World Cup-winning side.
Following his retirement, Charlton briefly went into management with Preston North End, before serving in a directorial capacity with Wigan.
He joined the Manchester United board of directors in 1984 and continues to occupy a seat 37 years later.
Talking to the BBC about the crash back in 2017, Charlton said he was “just lucky and sitting in the right place.”
He added: “I wondered what would happen, I wondered how we would be able to recover but recover we had to do.
“We had to make the effort.”
Inside the underground Manchester noodle bar serving Chinatown’s spiciest scrans
Over in Chinatown, there’s a relatively new little noodle bar that’s been making a big, spicy stamp on the city’s dining scene.
Its owner, Wendy Ren, hails from the Chinese province of Sichuan – a region that’s home to giant pandas, traditional Sichuanese opera, and some of the spiciest food going, thanks to its famous Sichuan pepper.
Also known as the Chinese prickly ash, the citrus-like peppercorn leaves a tingly numbness in the mouth and on the lips that you’ll either love or hate.
It’s an acquired taste, by all accounts – but those who love it can’t get enough. In fact, on my visit during a packed-out Wednesday lunch service, Wendy stopped to chat with an Italian family holidaying in Manchester who had been in to eat three days in a row. Now that’s an endorsement if I ever heard one.
She’s opened the restaurant alongside her Cantonese husband, Ken Chen, but the recipes are all hers – and on our visit she laughs with us about how it has taken him some time to get on board with her spicy food, saying: “he found out pretty quickly that he either eats it or he doesn’t eat at all.”
For big fans of spice, this is fast becoming the absolute go-to spot in Chinatown – and for those who aren’t so tough, don’t worry, because Wendy’s put some things on the menu for you too (and possibly, also, for Ken).
Called Noodle Alley, the restaurant is tucked away underground on Faulkner Street and beautifully decked out in red and green with little nods to the famous wide and narrow alleys of Chengdu.
Formerly home to China City, a real old-school Chinatown legacy restaurant, the space has a special place in Wendy’s heart.
She tells me that she and her husband used to come and eat here “all the time” when they first started dating, so the location really means a lot to both of them.
Chinatown restaurants aren’t exactly known for their glamorous interiors, and China City, Wendy jokes, was one such place – with the same old carpet, and the same old tables that had been used for the past twenty years.
Now the space is her own, though, it’s markedly different – lovingly decked out in cheerful colours, with little green windows, hanging lanterns, and bamboo rattan paneling on the walls.
Her story of getting into the restaurant business is something of an unusual one. Prior to opening Noodle Alley, she tells me, she spent nearly two decades working at The Marriott Hotel.
After seventeen years of service and the birth of her second child, she asked to go part-time but her request was refused – so she quit the very next day, and began building her own route to independence.
It was during the Covid lockdown, she says, that she really got into cooking group meals – making meals for her friends and spending hours in the kitchen busying away happily over her stove.
A friend with several restaurants in Chinatown suggested she start her own business, and the rest – as they say – is history.
Dish-wise, her menu spans a mouthwatering selection of dry noodles, soup noodles, street food, and small plates, including the likes of deep-fried wavy potato chips with chilli and Szechuan pepper and steamed beef strips wrapped with chilli paste, numbing Sichuan pepper, and five-spiced rice powder.
Dan Dan noodles, the Sichuan dish we probably all know the best, don’t feature – they’re a bit old news now, apparently, and Wendy has some cooler alternatives for us to try.
One is her Su Jiao Mian, a mixture of minced pork, sesame sauce, and house chilli oil, the other is the Wan Za Mian, a fiery mixture of spices combined with minced pork, soft yellow peas, and more chilli which Wendy says is “one of the most popular noodles in Sichuan.”
Apparently, if you’re eating with the cool kids in Sichuan, you should order this. Not one to argue, I dig in – and it’s safe to say her food is pretty damn exceptional. Almost immediately, I’m planning my next trip back.
Other signature dishes here include Wendy’s steamed beef strips, which can be eaten alone or dipped into one of her noodle soups, and a dish of ‘saliva chicken’ – a crunchy, cold, textural dish with steamed chicken, fresh chillis and ribbons of cucumber that sit swimming in a bath of homemade Sichuan chilli oil, so named because it literally makes your mouth water.
We also opt for a dish of pork knuckle with butter beans in an umami-rich pork bone broth. Not one for the faint-hearted, even Wendy seemed a little cautious to recommend this one, but as fans of ‘the weird stuff’ we insist – and it really ends up being a highlight of the meal.
We end up needing a little help with it. It’s a slippery bugger and I end up wearing a fair bit of the broth. before she returns with a knife and fork to cut it up properly for us.
That broth it’s in, though, is so beautiful I could happily bathe in it. Some might say I did, to be fair. As for the soft, succulent pork meat? When sliced into tiny morsels and dipped into an extra special Sichuan chilli oil she retrieves from the kitchen, is something else entirely.
If this is Sichuan heaven, then I’ll happily stay here forever. From plump hand-made dumplings stuffed generously with flavourful pork and drenched in chilli oil, to chicken giblet soup noodles, there’s so much on the menu I will be coming back for.
And for those who really can’t handle the spice, I guess I’ll be recommending the scallion oil noodles with soy sauce and crispy egg. No matter what you order here, I don’t think you can go too wrong.
Featured image – The Manc Eats
The Chemical Brothers’ Ed Simons on upcoming arena tour, forming in Manchester and how the city influenced them
The Chemical Brothers are back and life is good. They never really went anywhere, per se, but they have a new album and a fast-selling UK arena tour, including a date right here in their musical home.
It always surprises us how many people are still unaware that the legendary electronic duo formed right here in Manchester and just how much of our city’s music influenced their unmistakable sound.
Having just released their new record, For That Beautiful Feeling — the tenth studio album in a career spanning nearly three and a half decades — it’s great to know that no matter how much they evolve, you can always spot their signature and that the Manc music scene an integral part in it.
Soon to embark on a fast-selling UK tour with a glorious homecoming at the AO Arena on 27 October, we had the immense pleasure of sitting down with one-half of The Chemical Brothers, Ed Simons, to chat all things past, present and future for one of Britain and the big beat genre’s biggest exports.
Back with more block rockin’ beats and another massive UK tour
So, how much are you looking forward to being back touring new music?
”It’s good to be going back indoors — it’s a big thing, you know, we play a lot of festivals; most of them are good but you get a much better sound [inside] and everyone’s in the same place and, hopefully, in the zone.
“[Post-Covid] A lot of people have still missed out on their first experiences of big loud music and big raucous crowds. Maybe some people are waiting to let go again and thrust into it.”
As for the album, first since 2019, what can you tell us about the direction you’ve gone in?
“Yep, well with performing live we really want to play the new music and just rest on what we’ve done before, we want to incorporate the two. It’s exciting for us. People have heard some of [the record] at summer festivals but now it’s is out there are lots of people that want to experience it for themselves.
“There’s always a core thing: some kind of secret thing between us about what we like about our music. It’s not so much a secret as it is the effect it has on other people but, hopefully, it’s evolving and the sound is still fresh. We don’t ever want people to say, ‘Oh, it’s just another Chemical Brothers record’, there has to be some quality to it.
“It’s a pretty rousing album and has the sense of people waking up again out of a long period where things still are difficult for a lot of people, but that sense of fragmentation that we went through in the lockdowns and what it’s like to come out of that.
“We made a lot of music in that period, but we’ve kind of concentrated on the stuff that feels the most rousing and has a bit of get up and provocation to feel alive again.”
Absolutely — the new singles like ‘No Reason’ definitely tap into that energy. What’s the reaction been like so far?
“Yeah, it’s been good. We had bits of and then had a sort of pressure to put it together into something we could play because we were about to DJ at fabric [in London] a few years ago at a charity gig for a friend of ours and the first time we played it at a club, even a really early version of it, you could feel it had an energy and sounded different. Great bassline too.
“It’s been rewarding and it’s been a really big live track for us this summer and we do a kind of live edit of it, which is fun and fresh.
“The track ‘Tell Me I’m Dreaming’ has also been a really big track. The visual that Flat Nose George [real name Adam Smith] and Marcus [Lyall] put together for that is really crazy, and, yeah, that’s been going down really well. I think that could be pretty huge when played indoors.
“We’ve had versions of it for a long time, but I think the first time we played it was actually at The Warehouse Project in 2021, I think? You know, when things were picking up again and it just immediately had that impact with the loops and the vocal.
“I just associate it with that WHP party in Manchester now and a few DJs have been playing it like Erol Alkan now too, so yeah, it’s kind of a big club track — a strange one but it works.”
Foundations in 0161 and how 90s Manchester influenced The Chemical Brothers’ sound
Definitely, and it doesn’t get much bigger than the AO Arena but what other venues have got fond memories of?
“Well, I know there’s a lot of new venues but given that we’ve been playing Manchester since 1990, we’ve done most venues. We even used to DJ at the Old Steam Brewery [later became ScuBar] which I don’t even know if that still exists [it doesn’t] but yeah we’ve played the Arena and both Warehouses over the past few years and we just love them.
“Victoria Warehouse and WHP are just amazing, you know. Manchester is our second home; we were students there and we’ve still got a lot of friends there.”
“I guess the best memory of the Arena”, Ed chuckled, “was when one of the security guards was walking us back after a said, ‘Corrr, I’ve not seen a crowd like that since Ricky Hatton was here”, adding that it’s a wise-crack that still gets brought up on tour and that all the gig staff here have a “proper good attitude”.
Not too bad a compliment, haha. What about other venues then? Any you’ve still got a soft spot for or have any lasting Manc music memories?
“Well, we were there with all the students and the early ‘Big Barn’ days at Manchester Academy, the indie disco, the house night in a house Thursday; the Wiggly Worm which Justin Robertson ran [went on to become the Millionaire Club] — we were just in and out of all those places and then ended up holding our own club nights.
“We’d hire everything from a swanky bar in town where we’d have to move all our speakers in, to setting up in Pizza Express in Didsbury where we used to go on and party as well.
Amazing. Tell us a little bit about the early days and how you and Tom [Rowland] came to meet at uni.
“Yeah, at the University of Manchester in 1989. We met really early on, pretty much the first week through a mutual friend. We were on this tiny little course on medieval history, so there weren’t many of us, and then I think we were talking about wanting to play the Haçienda, which at that time was the big thing and we’d all heard about it.
“So yeah, we just kind of became friends because we were the only people in this course and we just wanted to go to the Haçienda and I think we ended up going every Friday from September to Christmas. We were just so into the music that Mike Pickering and Graeme Park were playing, and just the whole atmosphere. We also loved buying records together.
“Tom was actually in another band at the time called Ariel, so our thing was just DJing together at first and then after making some more friends about a year into our course we started putting on these nights around town and we got really friendly with a lot of DJs who worked at Eastern Bloc like Robertson and [Richard] ‘Moonboots‘.
It always comes back to Manchester
Ed ended the chat by reiterating that, like many artists who come through here either as natives or otherwise, “there’ll always be a big Manchester connection.”
“We used to buy some really brilliant records that Moonboots would put aside for us and then when we came to London, we were suddenly DJing and playing all these cool records that no one else had heard.
“A really big part of our early career was building that bridge between Manchester and London, and, you know, we were around at the same time as The Stone Roses and we absolutely loved them — that first album had a huge influence.
“There was just that sense of if you’ve got an idea, just try and record it and get it out; there was a sort of can-do feeling about everything and we always feel indebted to that time we spent there. I think without being around all these people and artists printing a thousand white labels, we never would have been exposed to the culture and wouldn’t be coming back to the Arena 34 years later…
“Apparently the lecturer who did that medieval history course still starts his years by telling his students that they’re following in mine and Tom’s footsteps…”