Iain Matthews is a lifelong Manchester United supporter. Football was his life as a boy. He was 11 years old in 1958. The news his mother gave him when he came home from school one February afternoon had a profound effect on him. This from his memoir Thro’ My Eyes:
I came home from school one February afternoon in 1958 and Mom had just got in with her shopping. ‘Have you heard about the crash?’ she asked. I hadn’t. ‘Sit down,’ she said and then told me that there had been a plane crash in the ice and snow at Munich airport and Manchester United was involved. I turned on our tiny black and white television with the magnifier on the front. The news came screaming at me. The Busby Babes, my Babes; David Pegg, Roger Byrne, Mark Jones, Billy Whelan, Tommy Taylor and Frank Swift, the guru of all sports writers, were all dead. Duncan Edwards was clinging to life and Matt Busby was on a respirator. They’d been returning from a European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade and had stopped to refuel at Munich. The plane crashed into a bank at the end of the runway following a third attempt to take off with ice forming on the wings. My tiny fragile world came crashing down. I couldn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it. I ran out of our house up to Martin Carnaby’s about a half mile away. Had he seen it? Was it true? He had and it was. We shed a tear.
For the rest of the term I couldn’t concentrate at school. I paid little attention to what the teachers were saying and became quarrelsome with friends. This got me in hot water with my teachers and some of them I’m sure were unable to forgive me for the rest of my time there. I became more withdrawn and moody at home. No one seemed to notice and that only served to make things worse. Didn’t they realise what it meant? The Babes were the single most important thing in my life. Why was I the only one feeling this way?
Thrirty-four years later, the impact of the tragedy still lingered in him and came out in song. This led to a spooky encounter whilst on a European tour with Al Stewart.
Thanks to Al, I played before some big crowds on that tour and his fans loved to see us come out together to sing ‘Meet on the Ledge’ as an encore. I was a good opener for Al and later that same year he took me on his German tour. One of the shows was in Munich. By then they had built a brand-spanking-new airport and the venue for the night was the old abandoned airport. After the soundcheck, one of the promoters walked up beside me.
‘I’ve been looking for you,’ he said and took me by the arm. ‘Come with me, I want to show you something.’
He walked me away from the terminal, out into the darkness, until we were away from all the commotion going on inside. Looking back, I could see large chunks of stonework missing from the walls of the old building.
‘Okay, stop here’, he said, ‘this is it. This is the spot. This is where it happened.’
As if I’d been hit in the back of the head with a brick it dawned on me what he was talking about. I was standing on the very spot I’d seen so vividly in those old black and white television images. This is where my heroes died. For a moment I was that distraught eleven-year-old kid again. I re-experienced the sheer hopelessness I’d felt all those years before, the absolute irreplaceable sense of loss. I turned and walked back towards the terminal, forcing myself into a workable reality. I had once thought I was over it, but now I don’t know if it will ever leave me.
On my album Pure and Crooked I wrote eight of the songs. One of them, ‘The Rains of ’62’, was about leaving home for the bright lights of London. Another was a tribute to my boyhood heroes and called ‘Busby’s Babes’. This was the song my German guide had heard.
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