London (AFP) – England and Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton says the Munich air disaster that claimed the lives of so many of his young team-mates in 1958 changed his life.
Charlton, a pivotal figure in England’s 1966 World Cup triumph, lost several close friends in the crash, which killed 23 of the 44 passengers and crew as United returned from a European Cup match in Belgrade.
Among those who died were seven of the precociously talented young United side nicknamed the “Busby Babes” after the manager Matt Busby, who suffered such grievous injuries he was given the last rites twice.
“Yup it changed my life,” a visibly emotional Charlton told the BBC in a documentary marking his upcoming 80th birthday.
Charlton, who had been a member of the side that had won the league title in the preceding season, said he had wondered why he had survived and close friends such as Duncan Edwards had not.
“You think to yourself ‘why should it be me?'” said Charlton, who turns 80 on October 11. “There again, I was lucky, I was just lucky I happened to sit in the right place.
“We never got off the floor. We ran into a house and ran into I think a few other obstacles (the plane was trying to take off for the third time in terrible weather conditions) and it was just a nightmare.”
Charlton, who scored twice in the 1968 European Cup triumph over Benfica — the first time an English club had lifted the trophy — said he had had to be sedated once he reached the hospital.
“When we got to the hospital I started ranting and raving,” said Charlton, who is pictured in the documentary sitting up in his hospital bed, his head swathed in a bandage and cotton wool sticking out of his left ear.
“I just didn’t understand. The medical people came around and gave me an injection in the back of my neck and I just collapsed. I didn’t wake up until the following morning.
“This German lad was there and he had a paper. He had a list of all the players and he read them out and if they were alive he would say ‘yes’ and if they were dead he said ‘no’.”
“I had to wait for a couple of days before I could get on the train to go home and when I was on my own I thought about it,” he added. “I thought about it a lot and my personal friends were dead.”
Charlton said that once the grief and the shock had worn off, United had to focus on rebuilding the team and their battered morale.
“I fell in love with Manchester United in the short time I was there. I wondered what would happen, I wondered how we would be able to recover but recover we had to do. We had to make the effort.”
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