How Bishop Auckland FC came to Manchester United's aid in wake of Munich air disaster

Chris Conway visited the homes of Bishop Auckland FC and Manchester United to find out more about their lasting bond for ITVX

It was a tragedy which shocked not just the world of football, but sent shockwaves across the globe.

A plane carrying Manchester United's young team, known as the Busby Babes, crashed during its third attempt at take-off in Munich on 6 February 1958.

Twenty-three people were killed, including eight of the club's players as well as officials, journalists and aircraft staff.

The plane had stopped to refuel on its journey back to Manchester from the team's successful qualifier for the semi-final of the European Cup following a 3-3 draw, and 5-4 aggregate victory, against Red Star Belgrade.

The wreckage of the plane on the runway at Munich-Riem Airport where it crashed on its third attempt to take off. Credit: PA

With fixtures still to play, Manchester United turned to the footballing family for help, with three loan players coming from the unlikeliest place - Bishop Auckland.

"When that tragedy took place it brought the entire footballing community came together," explained Kevin Bowker from Bishop Auckland FC.

"Not just from in and around Manchester, but throughout the country and throughout the world really. It was a dreadful, dreadful day."

The men deployed to the North West from County Durham were Bob Hardisty, Derek Lewin and Warren Bradley - three of Bishop Auckland's best players.

In the following weeks, Hardisty played four games in which he was credited as having helped stabilise United. Lewin played two reserve matches while Bradley, who stayed until the end of the season, played in eight games and scored three goals.

Bob Hardisty pictured in 195, and Warren Bradley pictured in 1959. Credit: PA

Mr Bowker continued: "If Bishop Auckland hadn't have sent the players down, they wouldn't have been able to fulfil the fixture that following Saturday, or whenever it was, and that could have had dire consequences for Manchester United.

"The repercussions of that could have been such that Manchester United might never have been the football club that they've ended up today."

Local author and Manchester United fan, Roy Cavanagh, said it was the connection to the North West that all three players had which played a part in them being selected to go.

"What they desperately needed was experience in the reserve team with all these youngsters coming through at 16," said Mr Cavanagh.

"And obviously Bob Hardisty, Derek Lewin and another younger lad called Warren Bradley, who was a Manchester lad and who studied at Durham University, and who was playing amateur for Bishop Auckland - they were the three that came down."

While the loanees featured in only a handful of games, the gesture cemented a bond between the two clubs.

Derek Lewin, second left, and Bob Hardisty, middle, pictured as part of the British Olympic Soccer team ahead of the 1956 Olympics Games. Credit: PA

At Old Trafford, there remains a lasting tribute to the disaster in the form of a Munich clock on the stadium's south-east corner.

Meanwhile, the club ground in Bishop Auckland has its own tribute - a memorial wall to those who lost their lives.

The Red Devils even gifted Bishop Auckland some floodlights back in 2007

Mr Bowker added: "I've been brought up as a Manchester United supporter, even though I'm heavily involved in Bishop Auckland now.

"To have the association between the two clubs, it is very humbling and I'm very proud that it (the memorial wall) is here."

A memorial wall at Bishop Auckland FC's ground pays tribute to those who lost their lives. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

That pride is mirrored by Manchester United fans. A group recently attended the Bishops' game against Birtley Town, with a giant flag on the terrace which read 'friendship' and 'gratitude'.

Terry Jackson, who has been involved with the club for decades, said: "Friendship and gratitude I think says it all. Hand in hand.

"We have effectively, here at Bishop Auckland, a very close working, if you like, relationship with one of the biggest clubs in the world.

"The thing to remember about this story, is that it is in fact the biggest news story in Bishop Auckland's history, and Bishop Auckland has a remarkable heritage in truth - the most successful amateur football club in the country - but this is the big news story."

The flag signifies the bond between the two clubs. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Steve Newcomb, former Bishop Auckland FC chairman, who helps in the club museum in the town, helped write a radio story inspired by the tale.

He said the gesture would never be forgotten, adding: "You've got to remember that these three lads were superstars of the day.

"They were the Beckhams, the Rooneys of the day and you can't have that now because of the way that football is structured.

"Especially such as Warren Bradley. He not only played for England as an amateur but he played for England as a professional and then of course he went on to sign for Manchester United as a professional. He played for England out in Brazil in front of 150,000 people at the Maracanã Stadium and played Pelé.

"Can you imagine a non-league player doing that today?"

The story of what happened in the wake of the Munich air disaster is one of kindness between two football clubs at one of the beautiful game's darkest moments.

The unlikely bond remains as strong as ever and is something those at each club say must always be remembered.

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