Hugh McIlvanney : Sunday Times
Across 50 years the Munich plane crash retains its raw capacity to send a unique shudder through the spirit. Football in this country and elsewhere has known many disasters numerically more devastating than the failed take-off at a snowy German airfield on February 6, 1958 and each of them has spread immense ripples of anguish. But, without going anywhere near the gross offensiveness of seeking to quantify grief, it is reasonable to say that no calamity in the history of British sport has left more people who had never met the victims with a deeply personal sense of loss.
It focused, of course, on the eight of Manchester United’s Busby Babes who died as a result of the crash. That was neither unnatural nor disrespectful towards the other 15 men who had perished, simply proof that millions felt their own lives had been severely impoverished by the deaths of those young footballers.
The Babes, the outrageously precocious and vibrant team assembled by the inspired managership of Matt Busby, were much more than the pride of Old Trafford, more even than the flower of a football generation. In winning two successive league championships and threatening to dominate the European Cup (the horror of Munich struck when they were on the way home after qualifying for the semi-finals with form that suggested the trophy would be lifted that season) they had stirred a nation still emerging from postwar austerity. Those were days when the relationship between fans and their heroes (heroes they were liable to encounter in the street or on a bus) was closer than the supporters of today could ever imagine. And far beyond Manchester the Babes provided a vehicle for dreams.