Tag Archives: Munich Air Disaster

AC Torino and Superga: Football’s Forgotten Air Disaster – by Rob Atkinson

Today, February 6th, is the 60th anniversary of theMunich Air Disaster, a seminal event in English football history – in more ways than one. The shockwaves were felt worldwide as the heart was ripped out of a Manchester United team of massive potential, one that had already achieved much, and promised to go on and dominate at home – and possibly abroad, too. The casualty list is well-known, and especially fondly-remembered isDuncan Edwards, a young colossus of immense presence and ability with a glittering future ahead of him. He hung on to life for almost a fortnight after the accident, before succumbing to his injuries on February 19th 1958. The team’s manager, Matt Busby, was also left fighting for his life, and twice received the Last Rites, but thankfully he pulled through and went on to build another great team.

This is the story that everyone is familiar with. The name of Manchester United is synonymous in the minds of football fans everywhere with Munich, and the disaster which decimated the Busby Babes.  The event has such iconic status that it has helped garner the club a worldwide fan base, and certainly in the period preceding the last twenty years of their dominance, Man Utd were often regarded as everyone’s second-favourite team, based largely on the legacy of Munich.

 Image

Superga Air Disaster, May 4th 1949

It may surprise a lot of people then, to hear that Munich was not the only, nor yet the worst disaster of this nature to strike a major football club. On Wednesday 4th May 1949, the Torino football team were returning home from a friendly match in Lisbon, when their aeroplane crashed into the hill of Superga near Turin, killing all 31 people on board including 18 players. The Torino football team, popularly known as Il Grande Torino, were a legendary outfit. They won the last Italian league title before World War II, and when the competition resumed after the hostilities, they won four consecutive post-war titles too. At the time of the crash, Torino was leading the title race with four games to go. They fielded a youth team in each of those games, and as a mark ofrespect, their opponents did the same. The youth team, Primavera, won those four games to claim theScudetto.

The disaster had hit Torino, and indeed Italian football, very hard indeed. Only three of the Champions’ squad were left, each having missed the fatal flight for one reason or another. The national team was also seriously weakened, as the players who died made up the bulk of the Italian squad. The Torino club itself failed to win another national title until 1976, fully 27 years after Superga. The crash was arguably the worst of its kind, in terms of the number of fatalities, the lack of survivors, and the impact on club and national football. Yet there have been other calamities, some much more recent than either Munich or Superga. In 1993, almost the entire national squad of Zambia died in an air crash. Virtually the whole of the Russian ice hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl perished in similar disaster in 2011. There are at least four more comparable incidents.

Why, then, are we so familiar with the story of Munich, but not – for instance – with the terrible loss suffered by Torino AC in 1949? We may think it’s because Manchester United are an English football club, and maybe there is some parochialism going on here. But the fame and infamy of Munich is a worldwide phenomenon, and the modern Manchester United owes much of its current global fan base to the legend that arose around theBusby Babes. Perhaps it’s because news media had progressed in the nine years between the two events, but as we have seen, much more recent tragedies remain relatively obscure.

Munich Memorial with AIG logo highlighted

Munich Memorial with AIG logo highlighted – tacky

The club itself, it must be said, have not been shy about keeping the memory of the disaster very much to the forefront of the public mind, whilst being curiously reticent and some would say callous in their treatment of some of the bereaved and of the survivors. Many felt that the decision toincorporate a sponsor’s logo into the Munich memorial outside Old Trafford was somewhat tacky. And “tacky” is a term that could easily be applied to the treatment of Munich survivor Jackie Blanchflower, for instance, who was severely injured in the crash, yet was removed from his club house shortly afterwards, with virtually no compensation.

Jeff Connor, in his sensitively-written and excellent bookThe Lost Babes, draws an illuminating contrast between the club welcoming publicity about Munich, whilst seeming somewhat uncaring about the consequences for the families left bereaved, and living a reduced existence. The bitterness felt by many people close to the Munich victims does not form a part of the legend as perpetuated by Manchester United FC. It has also frequently been claimed in popular culture that the Manchester United club owes a lot of its current and recent standing to the events of 60 years ago – a famousclip fromJimmy McGovern’s “The Street” features a rant delivered by actor Jim Broadbent, his character in the BBC drama voicing just this sentiment.

Torino AC, the club so devastated by the Superga Disaster all those years ago, did not place the same emphasis on the continual commemoration and reminiscing employed by Manchester United and its fans worldwide. Perhaps this is why they struggled for so long to regain any sort of pre-eminence, whereas it was only ten years after Munich that Matt Busby was knighted in the wake of his club’s European Cup triumph. What seems certain is that the mystique surrounding Munich, which seems to suggest that the 1958 disaster stands pre-eminent in the pantheon of sporting tragedy, does not hold up to closer examination, and should instead perhaps be marked to the credit, for want of a more appropriate word, of those who have worked so feverishly over the years to promote Man Utd as the world’s premier football club.

It is right and proper that the dead of any disaster should be remembered with respect and reverence, for their achievements in life, and to mourn their loss and the sadness of potential unfulfilled. But that should apply to all such tragedies and there has been undue emphasis on the tragedy and themarketability of Munich for far too long now.

If you offer up a thought for the Lost Babes today – I’m right there with you. But come the 4th of May – let’s also light a candle, on the 69th anniversary of that disaster, for the dead of Superga.

Advertisements

Happy Birthday to Leeds Utd & Arsenal Legend Lukic – by Rob Atkinson

Image

Cheer up, John, it’s your birthday!

A slightly belated “Happy Birthday” to newly-53 year old John Lukic, the only goalkeeper to win the League Title with two different clubs and a man who is frequently (and wrongly) cited as a survivor of the Munich Air Disaster whilst still in his mother’s womb.

To clear up that particular urban myth first, the story goes that John’s mum was a passenger on the ill-fated plane that crashed on take-off at Munich Airport, killing several of the legendary Busby Babes.  It’s a simple story to dismiss, as the date of the crash was 6th February 1958, almost three years before the birth of our erstwhile custodian.  Even if Mrs Lukic had been an elephant, the dates wouldn’t add up – as their gestation period is two years, and they’re not allowed in a passenger compartment anyway.

So John’s earliest possible claim to fame turns out to be so much hot air – but he did manage to create a few notable records in a long and successful career, consisting of two separate spells at both Leeds United and Arsenal. Lukic made his debut for Leeds in 1979 and played on until the age of almost 40, making his last appearance in his second spell at Arsenal on 11 November 2000 against Derby – he kept a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw.  This also makes Lukic one of only a very few players to have appeared in the top flight of English football in four consecutive decades.  In between 1979 and 2000, he won two league title medals, and also a winner’s gong in the Football League Cup of 1987, when Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1 (becoming the first side to defeat Liverpool when Ian Rush had scored).

As with any goalkeeper, the odd mistake got a lot more coverage than the consistently good performances over many years – and the mistakes tend to be better remembered, too.  So it is that some Leeds fans can’t forget or forgive instances like the “blinded by the floodlights” goal at Ibrox in 1992, when playing for Leeds against Rangers in the European Cup.  But Leeds owed Lukic much over the years, for the games he saved and the points he earned.  A high point was his performance at Anfield in the latter stages of the 1991-92 season, when a series of fabulous saves preserved a vital point for United on the run-in to the league title.  Lukic had, of course, also figured in the last match of the season at Anfield when Arsenal triumphed by the required score of 2-0 to take the Championship Crown by the narrowest possible margin.

John must go down as one of United’s great goalkeepers, if only for the fact that he was the last line of defence in a team of Champions.  He had the dubious honour of being replaced at Arsenal by David Seaman, who had been his understudy at Leeds before being almost given away to Peterborough for a paltry £5,000.  When Seaman arrived at Arsenal for a seven figure fee, Lukic returned to Leeds for almost as much; rarely can one man have shuttled so often between only two clubs and still had such success.

Happy birthday then, to John Lukic, revered at two great clubs and unlucky to have been around when England were blessed with such quality in the goalkeeping department.  Some say he was the best never to play for England, which is an accolade of sorts.  Others cruelly dubbed him “Blind John” in the wake of a high-profile error.  But he served his clubs and his fans well and is assured of a place in the history of both Arsenal and Leeds United.  And that’s not a bad bottom line to any football career.