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You are in: Manchester > History > History features > The legacy of Munich

The legacy of Munich

It was the blackest day in the history of Manchester United FC. But from the ashes of '58, it has risen to become the biggest club in the world. So what is the legacy of Munich? We asked Dr Rogan Taylor, Director of the Football Industry Group:

Giant Munich mural at Old Trafford [Getty Images]

Munich: MUFC is the biggest club in the world

Is Manchester United the club it is, in some way, because of the Munich air disaster?

"I think inevitably that’s true. It’s not the sole reason that Manchester United is the great club that it is but it’s undoubtedly a contributory factor firstly in picking the club out, a tragic story. But we all know that a sense of identity is formed more powerfully in collective suffering and bereavement. And that sense of identity between the community and the club is, of course, a core part of its value. MUFC wasn’t yet a great club by 1958, although it had a great manager in Sir Matt Busby and it was clearly going places. But it was yet to become what has become in the 50 years that followed and I don’t think there can be any doubt that the Munich air disaster contributed towards the character, towards the brand of the club."

Dr Rogan Taylor

Dr Rogan Taylor

So you think United’s global fan base is rooted in the tragic events of 1958?

"I think there were a number of events. In the case of Manchester United, the Munich air disaster touched everybody - it was a world story, it raised the name of the club into that kind of consciousness. But I think more importantly, the coincidence in terms of rising greatness in the early to mid 60s, and the televising of football – Match of the Day, for example began in 1965 – of course a World Cup in ’66 in which a couple of rather famous United footballers played – and finally, in the post modern period, the accident of having a great rising team with a core of players developed from a youth system which developed from the commercialisation of the game. There are great strokes of luck – both good and bad - for football clubs and I think that MUFC both in the mid 60s and the early 90s benefited from those acts of fate."

Had the Busby Babes team not been so devastated, what do you think might have happened?

"I don’t honestly think that the loss of so many good players was that significant in terms of the construction of the team except that some of the survivors like Bobby Charlton went on to flower from that side. Others of course, like Duncan Edwards, who looked to be such a great player, didn’t and he died very young. I think that sometimes a setback can be an enhancement to growth in the sense that affection, relationship, determination to succeed for the sake of those who went before us, to rebuild and make it better – I think that’s important."

Busby Babes

1957: Busby Babes in action

Would the Busby Babes have dominated football in the 1960s?

"The European question is the interesting one. Whether they could have taken the Real Madrid of di Stefano, Puskas etc… that’s another matter. Those guys won five European Cups on the trot. Beating them would have been something else. There were other very good teams around at the time. And with a young team, and this was the Busby Babes, things can go wrong. So I think it’s impossible to speculate. But if you look at the history of great sides in football, the number of them that have a core of players who have been playing together very often since childhood even – it’s no accident that they become great teams. These things are acts of the great footballing God I think."

Building such a young side was quite revolutionary at that time. What influence has Sir Matt Busby had one the modern game?

"Undoubtedly, Sir Matt Busby was one of the great modern managers, and his approach to player development has been tremendously influential. One of Sir Matt’s greatest friends was Bill Shankly, the great Liverpool manager. I guess many Manchester people may not realise that Liverpool football club sent five players to Manchester United after that terrible tragedy so that they might continue fulfilling their fixtures. These were great men with a sense of community who, along with Jock Stein, were born within 15 miles of each other. These were men from mining communities who knew how groups of men worked together and how teams were built. And who also knew about suffering, in the way that mining villages did in those days."

Sir Matt Busby and Bill Foulkes

Sir Matt won the European Cup in 1968

So, in your opinion, why is Manchester United the biggest club in the world today?

"The way that Manchester United developed in terms of its relationship with its fans – that’s the key to the value of the football club. Sometimes we can lose the reality of what makes a football club valuable. It’s NOT the players, the manager, the clever people who run it or the board of directors. It’s the relationship between the fans and the club which defines its value – for the sponsors, for the TV, for everything – that’s the key element. It’s how many love you, how much do they love you, how widely spread are they geographically, and how prepared are they to spend money in pursuit of that love. That’s what drives the value of a football club.

"I don’t think there can be any doubt that the Munich air disaster contributed towards the character, towards the brand of the club."

Dr Rogan Taylor

It is no accident that if we were to discuss the great football clubs of the world, who are those on the global brand bus and of course, we are talking about Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich and Ajax and Manchester United and Liverpool and the Milan clubs – we all know who they are. If we were talking 20 years ago, it would be EXACTLY the same clubs. Isn’t that odd? Real Madrid won nothing in Europe for 20 years but they’re always Real Madrid. Manchester United won virtually nothing for 25 years, and even went down to the second division, but they have the biggest gate in English football for every one of those years. Doesn’t that tell you something? It’s not just about collecting the pots [sic], or having the most expensive sexy players. It is how much do people love you and what is that love worth?"

And finally, what is the legacy of Munich?

"The legacy of Munich is the club itself. One of the great clubs of the world, a club that is known almost everywhere on Earth, a club that is both loved and hated of course in almost equal measure in England. But a club which struts the stage, a main player. And that, in part, a result of that terrible disaster which signalled the existence of this club and its character under the wings of Sir Matt Busby not just to Great Britain but to the whole world."

Dr Rogan Taylor is the Director of the Football Industry Group at the University of Liverpool

last updated: 19/03/2008 at 15:23
created: 01/02/2008

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