Belfast Telegraph

Munich disaster babes' spirit gave Manchester United inspiration for 1968 heroics, says Charlton

The images are etched in the memory.

George Best dribbling the ball around the goalkeeper and sliding it into the net. Brian Kidd rattling the crossbar and then heading home the rebound.

Most of all, the sweat-stained shirt of Bobby Charlton lifting the European Cup to the Wembley skies after Manchester United had beaten Benfica 4-1 to give manager Matt Busby the prize he craved most.

It was 10 years after the Munich air crash, and Sir Bobby is convinced the spirit of the Busby Babes, who perished in February 1958, provided the inspiration for United to become the first English side to win football's most prestigious club prize.

He also believes the triumph helped ease Busby's sense of responsibility for the tragic consequences of taking the club into Europe.

Charlton said: "It was marvellous because winning the European Cup was something you could aim at to put things right in a way. The accident had happened, this great tragedy.

"And if we could win the European Cup for Matt Busby because it was his team, his lads, it would be fantastic.

"When we won it, that was a big thank you really.

"I think Matt Busby could feel a lot happier because he probably missed the players more than anyone else. He felt responsible."

Charlton scored two goals in the final, and it was a night which was all the more poignant because United had invited the parents of the eight players who died in the crash to the game and the post-match banquet at London's Russell Hotel.

You can only imagine their thoughts as they helped congratulate Best, Pat Crerand, goalkeeper Alex Stepney and the rest.

Charlton said: "I think of all the parents of the little kids who wanted to play for Manchester United and Sir Matt actually brought them to play at Manchester United and they were his.

"It was a family club. It is said often but it really was a family club and he was the father, so you can imagine when it happened it was a tragedy that hit him more than anyone else."

Charlton is convinced, however, that United would have won the European Cup 10 years before they actually did if it had not been for Munich.

They had reached the semi-final in 1957, and one year later Charlton believes United could have wrecked one of sport's great feats, the one which saw Real Madrid win the European Cup five times in succession from its inaugural competition in 1956.

Charlton said: "If the accident hadn't happened, I think we would have won the European Cup that year.

"Real Madrid won the European Cup for the first five years, but we were never going to go backwards once we set off on this path to be the best in Europe.

"We would have beaten Real Madrid."

No-one will ever know for sure, but you sense Charlton might just be right.

Belfast Telegraph

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