Posted: 8/17/2006


     I can remember the day, and the hour as if it was yesterday, instead of February 6th 1958. On my way home from school I had to change buses and there was the evening newspaper headlines " Manchester United Air Crash".
I had made my first pilgrimage to Old Trafford the year before and also watched the team train when they came to the Norbreck Hydro Hotel by the sea in my home town on mid week breaks.
Eight players, plus club officials and journalists, including former Manchester City and England goalie Frank Swift died when the British European Airways Elizabethan aircraft, returning from a European Cup win over Red Star Belgrade, refueled and tried unsuccessfully 3 times to take off from the snow covered Munich Reim Airport and crashed.
  There was team captain Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, David Pegg, Geoff Bent, Mark Jones and Billy Whelan. Edwards the young giant of a player battled for life in the Reich der Issor hospital in Munich but died after a few days. In hospital with him were Matt Busby and Bobby Charlton who eventually recovered, but other players never set foot on a soccer field again. The story of the crash, the hospital dramas and the rebuilding would be the top story for weeks ahead.
The official programme for the next home match, against Shefield Wednesday, is one of the most famous for all collectors and historians, The Manchester United line up was left blank as the club quickly promoted youngsters and signed new players.
  Four months later England's chances at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden were diminished as the first five players were on the national team.
Bobby Charlton went to Sweden 'for experience' but didn't play, as did Theo Walcott in 2006, and later of course Bobby became a leading part of England's 1966 World Cup triumph, and a knight, and now Manchester United's President.
  Last night I looked up at the famous clock above the Old Trafford South Stand, stuck on the time - 3.04pm and the date-February 6th 1958.   High up on the East Stand is the statue of Sir Matt Busby , whose later Busby Babes made history and legends at this Theatre of Dreams, Old Trafford.
After the disappointment under the Sven-Goran Eriksson regime at Germany 2006, a new era was about to unfold. Steve McClaren is the new England manager, and David Beckham, after 94 England caps has been dropped.  Owen Hargreaves now wears his number 7 jersey and Steven Gerrard assumes his position in midfield. With Wayne Rooney suspended and Michael Owen and Joe Cole still injured, it was a new look England.
  As I watched mounted policeman, PC 6774 on his horse Beadle control the last minute surge in ticket buyers. Greece, the European champions were to be the first opponents in the new era.
Well, by half time it was 4-0 as the dominant Hargreaves, the free running Gerrard and the very confident back four squashed the inept Greece attack and Stewart Downing, Frank Lampard, Peter Crouch and tiny Jermain Defoe ran riot.
New captain John Terry scored the first followed by Lampard and two from Crouch.
  McClaren had promised that even these friendly matches would be taken seriously, and apart from substituting never challeneged goalie Paul Robinson for Chris Kirkland at half time, the outfield stayed the same for 70 minutes, by which time it was all over.
A few weeks from now, at the same venue England take on minnows Andorra on the road to Euro 2008 in Switzerland and Austria. The Theatre of Dreams is one of THE great soccer stadiums in the world with an unmatched history of triumphs, sadness and rejuvination, both for the Red Devils and the Three Lions.