The Lost Babes: Manchester United and the Forgotten Victims of Munich

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9780007208074: The Lost Babes: Manchester United and the Forgotten Victims of Munich

A moving story of how a legendary football team was lost to tragedy – and how this disaster irrevocably altered the lives of the survivors and the bereaved families, and ultimately brought shame on the biggest football club in the world.

The Manchester United team Matt Busby had built in the fifties from the club's successful youth policy seemed destined to dominate football for many years. Such was the power of the ‘Busby Babes’ that they seemed invincible. The average age of the side which won the Championship in 1955-56 was just 22, the youngest ever to achieve such a feat. A year later, when they were Champions again, nothing, it seemed, would prevent this gifted young team from reigning for the next decade.

But then came 6 February 1958, the day that eight Manchester United players died on a German airfield in the 'Munich Air Disaster' – a date to be forever etched in the annals of sporting tragedy.

Duncan Edwards, Eddie Colman, Tommy Taylor, Roger Byrne…the names were already enshrined in legend before the air crash, but Munich in many ways earned them immortality. They have never grown old.

Jeff Connor traces the rise of the greatest Manchester United side of all time, alongside a vibrant portrait of England in the 1950s, but he also paints a dark picture of a club that enriched itself on the myth of Munich while neglecting the families of the dead and the surviving players. The repercussions and the toll the disaster took on so many linger to the present day.

Drawing on extensive interviews with the Munich victims and players of that era, The Lost Babes is the definitive account of British football's golden age, a poignant story of the protracted effects of loss and a remorseless dissection of the how the richest football club in the world turned its back on its own players and their families.

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Review:

The Lost Babes (subtitled Manchester United and the Forgotten Victims of Munich) is Jeff Connor's compellingly readable account of one of the great tragedies in sporting history and its aftermath. The great manager Matt Busby had forged Manchester United into an invincible team in the 1950s. No one seemed able to halt the progress of these young and immensely talented players as they added the 1955-6 Championship Trophy to their accomplishments, repeating the feat next year. But all this was to change in the most tragic fashion when on the sixth of February, 1958, the plane bringing the team home from Munich crashed, ending the lives of eight of the Manchester United players along with other passengers on the plane. Britain (not just fans of the team) was devastated, as the careers of such talents as Roger Byrne (Englandís Captain), Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor and Eddie Coleman were ended at a stroke. Connor describes this devastating incident with both vividness and sympathy, but he is equally to be praised for his handling of subsequent events, notably the lives of the players who survived the crash and the families of those who didn't. The Lost Babes describes the inauguration of one of the great football teams in sporting history, and does so against a richly drawn panoply of the Britain of the day. He is unsparing and when describing the aftermath of the plane crash, with the club making the Munich tragedy emblematic while not looking after the survivors or the families and relatives of those who died. Of the surviving members of the team, some were unable to play ever again, and the case of the celebrated Jackie Blanchflower, severely injured in the crash, became a cause célèbre, as he became homeless when he was abruptly removed from the club house very shortly after the accident, with virtually no compensation.

Connor has spoken at length to the victims of the Munich crash, along with many other players (and important figures) of the era, and he makes the case that the resonances of the tragedy have echoed down to the very present, with current surreal and stratospheric payments to modern stars (such as Eric Cantona) throwing into relief the injustices of the past. When so many sports books are anodyne celebrations, Jeff Connor is to be applauded for making such an uncompromising and trenchant book so immensely readable. --Barry Forshaw

Review:

‘The legend of the Busby Babes will never die’ Manchester Evening News

‘A fascinating memoir' The Times

'Betting men should seize the obviously generous odds for a riveting new work, published by HarperSport, to hold off all comers for the next 11 months and be proclaimed sports book of 2006 at Christmas.' Frank Keating, Guardian

'Jeff Connor manages to bring a fresh eye to the topic without seeming to exploit the grief of the survivors and the relatives of the victims. His account of the crash itself is informed by survivors, and makes terrifying reading …The book is a thorough, and thoroughly moving piece of work.' Daily Telegraph

Reviewed by Ian Wooldridge in The Daily Mail: '….a diligently researched book'; and by Leo McKinstry in the Sunday Telegraph, '….a readable, well-researched book.'

'Connor is unsparing in his attacks on (Manchester) United.' '…a worthwhile, often poignant book. The voices of the families, filled with anger at betrayal, are an antidote to the wealthy smugness that now pervades too much Premiership football.'

The Birmingham Post calls it '..a thought-provoking book..' and The Sunday Business Post, 'A compelling and uncomfortable read…'

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