Busby Babe Kenny Morgans, Munich survivor, remembered

Kenny Morgans, the Swansea-born Manchester United winger who survived the 1958 Munich air crash, has died after a short illness, aged 73.

Born on 16 March 1939, Morgans' prodigious pace and skill on the ball were spotted by Sir Matt Busby during a FA Youth Cup match between Swansea Town and Manchester United.

He signed up to join the talented young contingent dubbed the Busby Babes after leaving school at 16 in 1955.

Making his debut in a 4-0 Christmas 1957 victory against Leicester City, he quickly displaced the England international Johnny Berry as United's first-choice right winger.

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Media captionVeteran sports journalist David Meek remembers Kenny Morgans

But just two months later, following a 3-3 draw away to Red Star Belgrade which took his side into the semi-finals of the European Cup, Morgans was aboard the AS-57 Ambassador which crashed on take-off from Munich airport on the 6 February 1958.

Despite only being spotted in the wreckage by two journalists five hours after the official rescue was called-off, Morgans escaped with remarkably few physical injuries, and was back playing by the end of the season.

But according to sports journalist David Meek, who made his reporting debut in Manchester United's next match against Sheffield Wednesday, Morgans shouldn't have returned so quickly.

"Given that eight of his team-mates had died in the crash, and two others were so badly injured that they'd never play again, I think Kenny must have felt some pressure to get back playing for them as soon as possible," he said.

"And even though physically Kenny made an almost instant recovery, psychologically you could see he'd lost his spark and his hunger."

"Back then terms such as post-traumatic stress hadn't been invented; though that's clearly what he'd been suffering from."

Despite the encouragement of United's assistant manager and fellow Welshman Jimmy Murphy, Morgans was allowed to leave Old Trafford in 1961, having made just 23 appearances and failing to score.

But United's loss was Swansea Town's gain, as Morgans returned home to play for the side he'd left six years before.

He made 54 appearances in three seasons for the Swans, scoring 8 times.

Morgans' stint at The Vetch culminated in his side reaching the 1964 FA Cup semi-final, losing 2-1 to Preston North End at Villa Park.

Historian Peter Stead was one of the Swansea fans who watched that famous cup run as a 21-year-old.

"I can clearly remember that season, as I was busy cramming for my finals at university, and so I could only watch our home matches," he said.

"My recollections of that period of the Swans' history was that we had a great passing side who were struggling to stick to their footballing principals, despite the almost constant threat of relegation from the Second Division.

"A player of Kenny's calibre joining us gave the fans just a glimpse of what could be possible one day. But alas, it wasn't to be, as he moved on again after just three years.

"I'm not sure if it was injury, or simply struggling to cope with the attention of being the main man in the team. Kenny always struck me as a very magical yet frail character, both as a man and a player."

Morgans finished his football career with a three-year spell at Newport County.

He is fondly remembered there by 95-year-old Ron Jones, who has followed the club since 1925.

"Absolutely tragic, he was no age at all! We've had some fine players at Newport over the years, but Kenny's up there with the very best of them," he said.

Image caption Morgans was said to be 'charming and eloquent' at Swansea City's centenary dinner

"You could tell that - really - he was too good for Newport. He'd stand around for 88 minutes admiring his looks, and then whoosh! Someone would pass him the ball and you couldn't see him any more - he was that fast!

"He had all the talent in the world, but I honestly don't think his heart was in football after Munich," Mr Jones added.

"He scored hat-fulls of goals for us, but I don't think he was even 30 when he decided to jack it in."

After retiring from football in 1967 Kenny spent ten years as a publican, before becoming a trader in supplies for merchant shipping.

"I think Kenny needed to make a complete break with football in order to properly recover from Munich," said Mr Stead.

"I last saw him just a few months ago, at The Swans' centenary dinner.

"He was charming and eloquent as ever, but more than that, he seemed at peace with himself and the world."

"As tragic as his passing is, we can at least take comfort that Kenny did eventually find that peace."

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