Munich: 50 Years On

The European Cup was created, in many ways, because it could be. The end of the Second World War left Europe with a sizeable quota of aircraft to be converted for commercial use. This, combined with the boastful claims of Wolverhampton Wanderers (who claimed to be the champions of Europe after friendly victories against the likes of Dynamo Moscow and Honved of Budapest) led to the creation of the European Cup. Real Madrid had won the first two competitions in 1956 and 1957, but in 1957/58, Manchester United loomed large on the horizon. Matt Busby’s team had won the Football League Championship in 1957, and going into the spring of 1958, they were strongly placed – in the quarter-finals of the European Cup against Red Star Belgrade, in fourth place in the League again and in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup, they also provided the possible backbone for a future England team, with several already established international players such as Duncan Edwards and Roger Byrne. Having won the First Leg 2-1 at Old Trafford, they drew the Second Leg in Belgrade 3-3 to book their place in the Semi-Finals. On the return journey home, the plane made a scheduled stop-off to refuel in Munich – not uncommon in an age when passenger aircraft were considerably smaller than they are now. After refuelling, the plane attempted to take...

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