Something about the Munich air crash has been brewing within me for some time. In fact, I suggested the idea of writing up on this site a controversial City fan’s view around a month ago.
I’ve avoided actually doing it because wasn’t sure what it was that I wanted to say. Did I want to point out that United arguably exploited the disaster to create a kind of club founding-myth (something that was suggested in the Manchester Evening News as early as 1959)?
Did I want to say something about the hypocrisy of some of the things coming out of the club and its sympathisers in the media, given how little respect fans of United (and every other club, including City) give to the memory of the Hillsborough disaster? (I always find a good test of how offensive something is, is to remove the word ‘scouse’ and replace it with ‘black’, and think about whether a “respectable” broadsheet paper would publish it. But that’s another issue.)
On the other hand, did I want to write an apology to United for what some City fans might do – or for what they might have done without the sustained pressure from inside and outside Eastlands? Did I want to muse on the rights of football fans to say what they like inside the ground, given what Sol Campbell said earlier this season about abuse?
I don’t know. There are too many issues I want to explore and I don’t really think, on reflection, that it’s appropriate to base a discussion of them around the anniversary of a tragedy.
National newspapers don’t necessarily like complexity, so for most of them this week has been about one young man – Duncan Edwards, who died at the age of 21 and a few months, younger than I am now. His death has been made to stand for the whole Munich crash: the end of a great team, and the cruel way in which youthful promise was taken away. Not many events in football have this kind of symbolic power.
Generally, it is football itself that inspires us. So although a moment of silence on Saturday is only proper (and I sincerely hope it is observed), the best way to honour those young men, many of whom were from the very city whose two great clubs are meeting, is to play a great game of football.
“To say that these men paid their shillings to watch 22 hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut, that Hamlet is so much paper and ink… for not only had you escaped from the clanking machinery of this lesser life, from work, wages, rent, doles, sick pay, insurance cards, nagging wives, ailing children, bad bosses, idle workmen, but you had escaped with most of your mates and your neighbours, with half the town, and there you were, cheering together, thumping one another on the shoulders, swapping judgements like lords of the earth, having pushed your way through a turnstile into another and altogether more splendid kind of life, hurtling with conflict and yet passionate and beautiful in its art.” — JB Priestley