Author David Meek today spoke of the moment he was alerted to the Munich air disaster while he was working as a journalist in Manchester.
Meek was working at the Manchester Evening News when the first reports of a crash at the German airport came through on the news wires.
Eight Manchester United players, eight journalists and seven others lost their lives as a result of the crash 50 years ago today, including Meek’s colleague at the MEN, Tom Jackson.
Meek, who replaced Jackson as the MEN’s United correspondent, said: “I was in the offices of the Manchester Evening News. It was 4ish and we were just winding down before we went home.
“As in those days, most of the stuff from outside, like PA and Reuters, would come through the wire room and the messages from the wire room were dropped through a hatch into the basket on the other side, the editorial side.
“The boys who would bring the messages used to slightly open the hatch, put the message through and shut the door with a bit of a slam to draw the attention of the copy boys on our side.
“The first message just said that Manchester United’s flight was delayed but then they started to say ‘Manchester United involved in a plane crash’.”
Meek said the message boys slammed shut the hatch very loud – indicating the seriousness of the story.
He continued: “Word went round the office that United’s plane was involved in a crash and then subsequent messages reflected the seriousness of it.
“People started drifting towards the sub-editors’ table to try to find out what was going on but the editor Tom Henry, who was a friend of (manager Sir Matt) Busby’s and a United fan, realised this wasn’t going to be very professional so he sent everybody home but kept a little group of experienced subs around him and they set about producing a special edition.
“People waited outside for that to come out.
“I wasn’t on the sports desk at the time so I wasn’t kept behind.
“Most people were hearing the news through the radio and that’s what we went home to listen to.”
Meek was a leader writer for the paper at the time and was asked to write an article trying to sum up the city’s grief.
“By next morning on the way to work, everyone knew by then, word of mouth, the pub, the radio,” he said.
“There was definitely an eerie kind of feeling about people travelling on the train. You know when you arrive at a funeral and nobody is laughing or joking and everyone is talking quietly, it really was that sort of zombie effect.”
United now have as many adversaries as they have admirers after years of sustained success helped make them one of the world’s richest and most decorated clubs, but Meek insists at the time the goodwill towards the Red Devils was universal.
“The Busby Babes had made such an impact, winning the championship twice with such a young team and they had a stature even though the average age was under 22,” said Meek, who served as United correspondent until 1995 and has written a number of books about the club.
“They were supplying a lot of England internationals and they had been taken up by the wider football family.
“It’s hard now to get a comparison but they had become accepted as an exceptional team, that appealed wider than just the United following.
“It’s easy to look back and exaggerate all this but they were an exciting team, they had made an impact and even City fans had a grudging respect for them and non-football people were aware of them.”