RED STAR PUBLISHING: john ludden: cfieldsoffire@aol.com

 
 
 
                          ANGELS IN WHITE



   It was a heartbroken Real Madrid treasurers Don
 
Raimondo Saporta who broke the news of the Munich air
 
crash to Alfredo Di Stefano. On hearing Saporta
 
telephoned the player at his home. A call in which Di
 
Stefano would later recall as amongst the ‘saddest
 
moments of his life‘.
 
 
 
As news filtered through to Madrid,
 
the full extent of the disaster shocked Santiago Bernabeu.
 
He spoke solemnly of: ‘This great tragedy. Of his prayers
 
for the dead and the survivors. None more than so than his
 
great friend Matt Busby. Whom by God’s grace had
 
survived the crash but now hung on for dear life in a
 
Munich hospital. Twice to be given the last rites, but
 
ultimately surviving.
 
 
Of the eleven Manchester United players whom had lined
 
up against the Madrilenos in the two legged semi-final,
 
five lay dead. Roger Byrne, David Pegg, Eddie Colman,
 
Tommy Taylor and Liam Whelan. Whilst Duncan Edwards
 
had fought on valiantly for life. A battle he would finally
 
lose but only after one almighty struggle against the grim
 
reaper.
 
 
Edwards death touched Alfredo di Stefano intently and he
 
told of the ‘magnificent impression’ Duncan Edwards had
 
made on him during the second leg in Manchester.
 
’Such will to win and power in one so young. None
 
deserved more the fullness of a great career‘.

 
 
What truly moved Di Stefano was being told how even in
 
his last ailing days, Edwards had called out for his gold
 
watch presented to him the previous season by Santiago
 
Bernabeu following the semi-final in Madrid. It was a gift
 
cherished by Edwards and after a swift investigation, a
 
taxi was set to the crash site, where astonishingly it still
 
lay amongst the debris, and was returned to its rightful
 
owner.
 
 
 
Placed into his hand the watch for a short period appeared
 
to have a revitalising effect on the player, sadly such was
 
the extent of Edward’s internal injuries, he passed away in
 
the early hours of Friday 21st February 1958. His sold
 
gold watch nearby calling time on a footballing colossus.
 
Respected and feared by the Madrilenos.
 
 
 
Now six lay dead. ‘Los chicos’, the ‘Busby Babes’ were
 
                                 all but gone.

   
      In an act of wonderful generosity the three times
 
champions of Real Madrid offered to hand the grieving
 
Mancunians the European cup for a year, but whilst
 
stricken in despair United politely refused, thanking in turn
 
the Spaniards for their deep friendship. For this trophy had
 
suddenly become so much more for all concerned with
 
Manchester United and had to be one fought for and won.
 
Too much blood had already been spilt,
 
too many hearts broken to accept such an offer.

 
 
There was also much talk of Bernabeu loaning United the
 
heady services of Di Stefano for a season with the Madrid
 
club paying half his exorbitant wages. Whilst it was
 
claimed the player was willing, again the Old Trafford club
 
baulked. Whether through pride or rumours that the petty
 
pen pushers and insular attitudes of the Football League
 
refused point blank the notion of a ‘foreigner’ taking the
 
place of a British player, meant such a sensational
 
scenario never developed.
 
 
 
Perhaps more disturbing was the League’s shabby at best
 
decision to ban United from competing in the 1958-59
 
European cup competition, after being invited by UEFA as
 
a grateful thank you for their ‘Service to Football’. United
 
gratefully accepted and found themselves drawn against
 
Swiss champions Young Boys of Berne, only then to be
 
informed that their participation had been denied by the
 
English hierarchy because they were not League
 
champions. Payback by Football league chairman Alan
 
Hardaker for Matt Busby going against his initial wishes to
 
originally compete in the tournament maybe?

 
 
But despite such ill feelings directed towards them on
 
home soil, in Madrid the cup runneth over with
 
compassion for the Mancunians in their darkest hours. In
 
an act of extraordinary support they came with a helping
 
hand. A special memorial pennant was conferred by Real
 
Madrid to commemorate the destroyed English team
 
entitled ‘Champions of Honour‘.
 
 
 
On it read the names of the dead players. Of which all
 
considerable proceeds were sent to Old Trafford. A further
 
show of Real’s nobility of spirit came that same summer
 
when they contacted Manchester United offering free
 
holidays in Spain to Munich survivors with all expenses
 
paid.

 
 
But most importantly a series of ‘friendly’ matches
 
between the two clubs were swiftly arranged. Santiago
 
Bernabeu not only agreeing to Matt Busby’s plea for help
 
but waiving the normal £12,000 appearance fee normally
 
charged by the Spaniards. A meeting took place in Madrid
 
between Busby and Bernabeu where the United manager
 
asked if they would consider accepting reduced fees, due
 
to the cataclysmic effect the crash had placed upon his
 
club.
 
 
 
A generous Bernabeu insisting that the cash strapped
 
United should: ‘pay us what you can afford’. With the
 
Mancunians out of Europe and severely weakened Busby
 
realised how vital it was they retained the experience of
 
playing against the world’s best. Therefore both teams
 
agreeing to treat the games as serious affairs. All would
 
prove to be occasions with goals galore. The vast majority
 
being scored by the angels in white.