Sir Bobby Charlton, who died at the age of 86 on Saturday, spent his entire career bearing the unwavering memory of his friends and comrades who perished in the horrific Munich flight disaster.
When Charlton looked back on a career that included leading Manchester United to their first European Cup and helping England win their only World Cup, he frequently thought of the friends who should have been there.
Charlton was one of the people who survived the 1958 plane disaster that killed twenty-three others, including eight of the young players on the team that became known as the “Busby Babes.”
Many years after the tragedy, Charlton said, “Not a day goes by without my thoughts turning to what transpired and the dear friends who are no longer with us.” Manchester United was on the verge of becoming one of the best teams in Europe at the time. Everything changed after the accident. It is quite sad that those players are no longer with us and that we will never get to see their full potential. They will always be youthful.
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Under manager Matt Busby’s tutelage, Charlton first made his name at Manchester United as an inside forward, becoming the most promising young player.
During this time, the team won consecutive English league titles and began to focus on gaining dominance over Europe.
The unexpected events caused the team’s return from a European Cup encounter in Prague in December 1957 to be redirected to Amsterdam; the team then took a ferry to return to England.
There were 44 people on board, and 23 of them died. Eight players, journalists, and club executives were among the casualties. Players lost their lives in the crash: England center forward Tommy Taylor, midfielder Eddie Colman, and club captain Roger Byrne. To make matters worse, 15 days later, midfielder Duncan Edwards, whom Charlton considered “the best player I ever saw,” passed away from injuries. Edwards and Colman were both only twenty-one years old.