February 6th 1958: Ireland Loses Its Rising Star, Manchester Loses Its Heroes

They were the heroes of a generation, a team on a rapid rise to the summit of world football, they were the Busby Babes.

Led by the iconic Sir Matt Busby this Manchester United side stood on the brink of history, hoping to become only the third team to win three successive English league titles and becoming the first British side to lift the European Cup.

 But unfortunately this new generation of stars were unable to continue their meteoric rise as tragedy ensued on February 6th 1958. The team was returning from a European Cup match in Serbia against Red Star Belgrade when they had to make a stop in Munich for refueling. After refueling, the pilots, Captains James Thain and Kenneth Rayment, attempted to take off twice but were forced to abandon both attempts. Captain Thain rejected an overnight stay in Munich in favour of a third take-off attempt which ultimately led to the tragic events we now remember 54 years later.

By the time of the third attempt takeoff the ground had been covered in slush and snow. The aircraft hit the slush and lost its velocity making take-off impossible. It ploughed through a fence past the end of the runway, before the port wing hit a nearby house and was torn off.

 23 of the people on board British European Airways flight 609 died while 21 survived, thanks to the heroics of the United goalkeeper who returned to the stricken plane after hearing a crying baby who he later pulled from the wreck. Among the fatalities where 8 Manchester United players including Duncan Edwards who had the footballing world at his feet. Edwards died some days later in a Munich hospital having emerged from the crash.

Another one of the fledgling Busby Babes who perished that day was Dublin native Liam “Billy” Whelan. The name of Whelan is not synonymous with other footballing greats of the time period as the 22year old was cut short in his prime.

The Irishman was born into a large catholic family and suffered the grievance of losing his father in 1943 when he was only eight years old. Yet such was his determination to reach the top he continued to plug away at Home Farm until he was noticed by scouts from the famed Manchester club.

He quickly gained recognition for himself banging in goals from his midfield role. His 26 goal salvage in 1956-57 endeared him to the fans of United and earned him praise from United legend Bobby Charlton.

 Whelan amassed 98 appearances for United during his short time as the rising star of Old Trafford, clinically scoring 52 goals thus showing his prowess and capabilities in front of goal. The true extent of his potential will sadly never be known. Yet his standing amongst the eight Busby Babes will forever be revered in the world of English football.

We can only imagine what would have been had it not for that faithful flight before which the unconfident flyer remarked “Well, if this is the time, then I’m ready”. R.I.P Busby Babes February 6th 1958

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