Sport on TV: Munich remembered with delicacy as fans and survivors unite in love and grief

The media's obsession with anniversaries is sheer laziness, really - they're little more than easy pegs for stories. A hundred years is fine, 50 is OK. These days, though, they're like boxing world titles, popping up in all sorts of unlikely places.

Although 40 seems a particularly arbitrary period, it would be churlish to complain in the week of the anniversary of the Munich disaster, and ITV came up with a fine film. I'm a bit of a BBC2 snob when it comes to documentaries, but apart from some gratuitous colourising in the footage of the Babes' last game, in Belgrade, The Busby Babes: End of a Dream served as a fine reminder of what the fuss was, and is, about.

Interviews with Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes, Bobby Charlton and Wilf McGuinness meant that all the usual bases were covered, but the makers used their imagination in getting hold of peripheral figures such as Karl-Heinz Seffer, the rescuer who could confirm that there was no ice on the wings, and even Verna Lukic, who owes her life to Gregg. "Underneath a lot of rubbish I found a baby," he said, while for her part she said: "In our family he has always been treated as a hero. If it hadn't been for Harry Gregg, there wouldn't have been a family at all."

There was also an interview with Tom Polter, the policeman who guarded the bodies when they were brought back to Manchester: "I could smell the varnish on the coffins. Whenever I smell new varnish today, I always think of those coffins."

A nurse at the Munich hospital, Gerda Thiel, was also featured - "their spirit of community was amazing" - and the referee in Belgrade, plus several United fans, who did their best to put into words what it was like to follow the Busby Babes and then lose them: "It was something similar to when Princess Diana died," according to Brian Hughes, who can only have been a lad at the time. "People said it was religious," he said. "It wasn't religious. Well, it was a religion, but it was a Man Utd religion."

Perhaps best of all, Ruby Thain got the chance to speak up for husband, Captain James Thain, who was unfairly blamed. "He was the scapegoat," she said. "He made the mistake of being alive."

The events of the day are told well, in crisp soundbites. Twice Captain Thain tried to take off, before the party was sent back to the airport building for coffee. Then they were called back. "I had a cold feeling, I really did," Bill Foulkes said.

"There were frightened people in that plane," said Gregg, while Albert Scanlon described everyone changing seats. Back to Harry Gregg as they waited: "Johnny Berry said: `We're all going to get fucking killed here'."

"Billy [Whelan] leaned across and said: `If this is the end, I'm ready for it'," Scanlon recounted. In the film, the tension built up with the short intercutting. There might be a case for saying that the story hardly needs any narrative manipulation, but it was well done. Journalist Frank Taylor described the take-off: "I saw the end of the runway and said: `Christ, we're not going to make it'. I thought: `What a silly bloody way to die'."

The likes of Foulkes and Gregg have told the story many times, and you sensed them reciting familiar lines, but with feeling. "I asked the doctor: `Where are the others'?" Foulkes said. "And he said: `This is it'. `Aren't they in the other hospital'? I asked him, and he said: `There is no other hospital'."

After, came the recriminations. "I was very, very angry," said Marion Bent, Geoff's widow. Gregg believes it might all have been avoided in the terminal following the second take-off attempt: "If anyone had had the courage to stand up and say: `This is crazy', it wouldn't have happened. But, like all people, we're afraid to lose face in front of our friends. It takes a very brave man to be a coward."

And as Busby told Marjorie English, Eddie Colman's girlfriend - when he rang her, saying: "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry" - he was only a football manager: he wouldn't have presumed to tell the pilot how to fly his plane any more than Captain Thain would have told him how to run his team.

Some fans of other teams resent Munich, believing that the club and its followers imagine themselves as having some sort of spurious moral ascendancy. Maybe we do, but even for someone like me - not born at the time (I was in the womb, as it happens) - it lives down the years. As Brian Hughes put it in the programme: "People say you should forget about 40 years ago. But I can remember it like it was 40 minutes ago."

The last word is left to Gregg: "They say they would have been the best team in the world. Maybe. One thing's for sure. They were the most loved team." And although it's exactly that kind of thing that irritates other fans, it's not far from the truth.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news

Sport
footballScores and Twitter updates from tonight’s games, featuring Bayern Munich vs Manchester City and Chelsea vs Schalke
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Extras
10 best table lamps
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

Maths Teacher (Swindon and Wiltshire)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Maths teachers for short-term cover, l...

Science Teacher 0.4

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Science Teacher 0.4 - Immediat...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week