A good number of the comments on yesterday’s post dealt with today’s Manchester United soccer game, where the team will wear a throwback kit in honor of the victims of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster. Setting aside for now the actual looks of the kit, which was disparaged for being boring, it’s best to know a little more about the events being memorialized.
The crash claimed 23 lives, including eight Manchester United players and three staffers. To a soccer-mad country — and for a club with a far-reaching fan base — the crash had a particularly devastating effect. Of the players lost in the crash, most notable was Duncan Edwards. Though only 21 years old, Edwards was the star of the national team — hailed as the world’s next great football talent. The stained-glass window above is from a church in Edwards’ hometown of Dudley, England. Here’s a huge version. That’s his Man U kit on the left and England kit on the right. Said Sir Bobby Charlton, England’s all-time leading scorer:
“He was incomparable, I feel terrible trying to explain to people just how good he was, his death was the biggest single tragedy ever to happen to Manchester United and English football. I always felt I could compare well with any player – except Duncan. He was such a talent, I always felt inferior to him. He didn’t have a fault with his game.“
To put Edwards’ death into perspective related to American sports history, take Ted Williams’ first four seasons — ages 20 through 23. Over those seasons, he hit 127 home runs, drove in 515 runs, scored 541 runs, and hit for a .356 average. In 1941, he hit .406. After the 1942 season, he went to war. But what if he didn’t come back? What do those stats say about what would have been? Might he be canonized like Edwards? The comparison is apt, though slightly morbid. Edwards’ death likely impacted British soccer for the next dozen years, or more.
But on to the kit itself. Though some details aren’t quite right — the red stripe seems to be missing from the shorts in this shot — it’s a good-faith reproduction. Keep in mind it’s just a promo shot. That may not be the final product. Note also, however, that Edwards’ image on the left pane above is also missing the stripe. Is it boring? Perhaps, but it was 1958. Things were like that then. And a snazzier kit no doubt could have been chosen, but those players didn’t have the luxury of choosing the year of the crash.
Finally, given the historical impact of the event, Manchester United’s remembrance might be considered understated — especially when compared to all of those No. 21s for the NFC team in the Pro Bowl today. I’m willing to take the heat for it (that’s why I got the bigger inbox for my email), but I’ll take a simple, classy, one-time gesture over a press conference memorial any day.
Enjoy your Sunday, folks. — Bryan