Sir Bobby Charlton: Remembering the Munich Air Disaster

Sir Bobby Charlton was one of 21 survivors in the Munich Air Disaster. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

Sir Bobby Charlton said he felt a great responsibility to 'keep the club going' after the Munich Air Disaster which killed eight of his teammates.

In a resurfaced interview, the Manchester United great, who died on 22 October 2023, recalls how he woke up still 'strapped in his seat' and how the tragedy impacted the club.

He was just 20-years-old when a plane carrying the team - who were known as The Bubsy Babes - crashed on take-off on the way home from a European Cup tie.

The crash in February 1958 resulted in 20 passengers dying at the scene, another dying on his way to hospital, and two others dying later that month while in hospital.

In several interviews with ITV News in the decades that followed, Sir Bobby Charlton claimed he felt guilty and yet lucky he had survived.

"The plane just went and it went, and it went down the runway. Then you started realising this isn't right, there's something wrong with this," Sir Bobby says.

"And then we hit the perimeter fence."

Sir Bobby was part of the Busby Babes. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

The plane, full of the Busby babes - named after manager Matt Busby - was on its way back from Belgrade.

They were a generation of footballers developed by the club themselves and dominated European football through the late 50s and early 60s.

Sir Bobby continued: "I think I put my head down and the next thing I remembered was waking up away from the airplane, and I was sitting strapped into a seat.

"The plane there was some smoke and it was just a shell really, it was awful.

"I woke up the following morning, and a German read them out and that's how I found out who was alive and who was dead."

The first memorials at Old Trafford to the lost players and staff were unveiled on 25 February 1960.

"The players that didn't survive, they didn't fulfil anything - they were gone," said Sir Bobby.

"I would think that most people would feel guilty, but I also feel lucky as well.. so lucky. You wonder why was it me, why was it not any of the others?"

The following season, the English league was won by Manchester United managed by Matt Busby, and United then went on to become the first English team to play in Europe.

"It was such a tragedy because we were such a good team, and we had created a feeling about English football that hadn't been there," he said.

For the club, the disaster changed everything and at first, there was speculation that the club would fold.

United completed the 1957–58 season, with Busby's assistant Jimmy Murphy standing in as manager because he had not travelled to Belgrade as he was in Cardiff managing the Welsh national team.

A generation of footballers who changed English football were lost in the crash. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

The first match after the disaster against Sheffield Wednesday was played by a team made up of reserve and youth team players.

The programme for that match showed simply a blank space where each United player's name should have been.

"Instead of just being a young player who was just breaking into the first team, suddenly everyone was looking at me like I was one of the experienced ones and that happened because of the accident," added Sir Bobby.

"I felt as though suddenly I had responsibility...people expected more of me. That's how it affected me really, there was a great desire to make sure that the club had to keep going."

The team that followed the air disaster were determined to continue playing and went on to win the European Cup.

Sir Bobby said: "For years and year afterwards, European matches were the thing that were really important here at the club.

"You could really say that not that people would forget Munich, but they would remember it for the right reasons if Manchester United could win the European cup sometime for them and it happened in 1968, when we beat Benefica at Wembley.

"What happened in Munich was an absolute disaster, but in terms of what happened in the future for Manchester United, in terms of the size of the club and where it's got today is just marvellous."