Sunday Mirror article on the Busby Babes

By Mike Langley

Scandal blemished the Busby Babes only once. Duncan Edwards was hauled before the beaks and fined a quid for pedalling his bike on a pavement. No BMW's then. Or Spice Girls either. Still less any equivalent of today's millionaire toadies to fawn on footballers earning only the League maximum of 20 pounds a week when crashing on their third take-off at Munich in February, 1958.

Such a different world and, as the 40th anniversary approaches fast, so little surviving evidence for the screen. Granada director Alan Brown, busy right now cutting and shaping his hour-long documentary on the Babes, says: "TV coverage was almost non-existent. United's 2-2 draw with Real Madrid in Manchester went out live but unrecorded. Only five or six of the Babes' league games were filmed for highlights. A lot were lost or wiped."

Action film of left-back Edwards, an England regular at 18 is sparse. Of right-half Eddie Colman even rarer. Cameras of the era were glued on the goalmouths, keeping only keepers and strikers in constant shot. So Brown, and producer Ricky Kelehar, found another way of answering their central questions: "Who were the Babes? What were they like? If Edwards was a colosus, what made him one?" Sir Bobby Charlton provided an unexpected answer: "We didn't think of ourselves as Busby's Babes, but as young people growing up together. A team of lads, a team of pals."

Modesty was their pride. David Pegg did the washing-up in his digs. Colman never mentioned the club in outside company. He said only that he worked at Trafford Park, hinting vaguely at painting and decorating or plate-laying with his dad on the Ship Canal. When he offered a match-ticket to a favourite girl, she accepted with surprise for he had never talked football. Her bewilderment was all the greater when, as she gazed around to see where the devil he might be, Eddie ran out of the tunnel behind skipper Roger Byrne.

Tommy Taylor, a hang-in-the-air header of goals, along with Big Dunc from Dudley and the handy-round-the-house Pegg, are three of the film's four main Babes. The fourth is Colman, Old Trafford's Own through being born at 90 Archie St in the terraced, outside-lav row that inspired Coronation Street. Charlton called him "The trendy one. The first I'd seen in drainpipe trousers and winkle-picker shoes. He also had sideburns and was never without a comb to tidy his hair."

Taylor came from Barnsley for 29,999 pounds and a back-hander of two Cup Final tickets. He kept close links with his home-town friends like Harry England, agreeing to be his best man in April, 1958. Harry's on camera saying that, disaster or not, he still wanted Taylor at the church in spirit. So he walked down the aisle in Tommy's shoes. Mrs Sarah Edwards, Duncan's 88-year-old widowed mother, tells of ticking off her prodigious son for practising football in the street, not with a ball, but a brick! She talks of her enormous joy at sitting behind the Queen at Wembley and seeing Duncan on his England debut, wave from the pitch.

A phrase used by Mrs Edwards in this rare interview was a hot contender for the film's title. It goes out a fortnight today at 6.30pm on all ITV channels as; "The Busby Babes: End of a Dream". Yet it could have been "All our Sons" from her comment about the eight dead players: "They were all our sons .... and they will always be young."

But the fatalities were not only footballers. Three United officials perished, along with eight journalists, plus a British European Airways pilot and a steward, a travel agent and a United fan. In all, 23. Also, for it was a sort of death, central defender Jackie Blanchflower and winger Johnny Berry, neither of whom could play again. Goalkeeper Harry Gregg, a heroic untiring rescuer on the snowy runway, pulled out Bobby Charlton, Dennis Viollet and a baby girl from the carnage. Granada traced her in Yugoslavia. Her mother too was found and spoke of regaining consciousness in hospital with a fractured skull ... "Unable to remember who I was. I had forgotten Vesna, my baby. Forgotten that I was pregnant again. Then, when I saw nuns hovering around me speaking German, I though the war had re-started."

Karl-Heinz Seffer, an airline mechanic, was found with proof that demolished "frozen wings" as a cause of the crash. He showed photographs of himself walking on the silver wings of the Elizabethan ... "Impossible if there had been ice."

So many deaths caught the airport firemen on the hop without blankets for the bodies. A manager told them to strip the covers off all the VIP cars as makeshift shrouds. "It was dreadful" says one "Especially when we returned from the mortuary and the same man ordered us to go back for the car covers.

Home in Manchester, a policeman from Stretford spent a night guarding the dead and imprinting on his memory an unusual smell of tragedy - "Fresh varnish on the coffins. I can't forget it."

Gareth Williams, an archive researcher for granada, showed me a European Cup photograph meant to be cheerful but, in retrospect the grimmest of warnings. David pegg, shouldering a broom like a rifle and accompanied by Viollet and Mark Jones, grins on the runway at Bilbao where the whole squad had just swept their plane's homeward path clear of snow. The order was given by Busby, worried about being delayed for Saturday's league match. It was January 17 1957, just over a year away from another quarter-final, and the snow turning crimson.

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