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Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Munich is top of United’s problems but Nani ain’t one

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Last week saw a big few days for Manchester United. Prodigal son and spray tan admirer Cristiano Ronaldo sauntered back into town with the same cocksure swagger and over-preened sense of self-worth he left with four years ago, and along with his slightly misfiring team broke the hearts of his former charges. As no doubt you’re aware, the second leg of the United/Madrid Champions’ League tie ended in defeat for the Reds and the hours and days since have been filled with tales of discontent, rage, sorrow and an overwhelming sense of perceived pain and anguish.

Nani’s red card, made all the more ironically devilish by the fact that it’s the first time he’s made a tackle in his professional career, incredibly caused some United fans to get so irate that they called their local police station to report the sending off as a crime. A bewildered desk sergeant calmly explained that it wasn’t classed as a felony, and certainly wasn’t a matter for Lambeth Police Station. Of course there was also the ongoing saga between Sir Alex and Wayne that’s playing out like some dramatic climax to a Hollywood movie; how long will it be until Fergie takes Rooney aside and utters the truth: “cuhhh, huuhh, Wayne, I am your father”? But all of this wallowing self-pity and whiney bitching from United after their European exit can, and should be put into stark context with Channel 5’s broadcast of Manchester United: Munich Air Crash earlier in the week.

A part documentary, part re-enactment of the fateful 1958 Air disaster that callously claimed the lives of twenty-three people on a chilly Munich airfield, this was a fairly glossy pick through the clues and debris of the tragedy in a style reminiscent of those Hallmark/History Channel documentaries we see so much of. So it was with a quiet and understated reverence that we were taken through the unsettling events that led up to the accident; the jovial mood among the young and talented United squad as they re-boarded a plane they had safely completed the first leg of their journey on mere hours earlier; the sense of unspoken unease felt by the same players as two take-off attempts were abandoned. And finally the heart breaking feeling of dread as the full horror of the crash was revealed.

The documentary was given additional gravitas with the contribution of Harry Gregg; former United goalkeeper and Munich survivor who spoke with real courage and solemnity about his fallen friends and teammates and the incident that could easily have claimed his own life. Indeed Gregg’s inconceivable bravery on that horrific night, in which he courageously ignored warnings to leave the combustible wreckage and instead repeatedly went back to carry out the wounded bodies of his stricken comrades (including Bobby Charlton and Jackie Blanchflower), serves as a sad indictment of the overwrought posturing of today’s footballers: “a man must do what a man must do” he stoutly proclaimed when pressed about his bravery. Even now, Harry Gregg maintained an unflinching resolve and strength as he emotionally recounted the appalling circumstances his young eyes had to withstand, and yet I dare say he shouted fewer obscenities and shed fewer tears than Nani did wandering off the Old Trafford pitch last Wednesday after his own ‘stressful’ evening.

It was these personal insights that raised the programme’s stature. Along with survivor Gregg, we also heard from the daughter of the doomed aircraft’s pilot. Wrongly blamed for the disaster by the German authorities Captain James Thain, an RAF pilot and World War II veteran, spent ten years attempting to clear his name of wrongdoing and was only exonerated seven years before his death in 1975. It was his personal torment and battle to preserve his reputation that served as the centrepiece of the story; the crucial fragments of evidence that swung the blame from his shoulders to others and back again were almost as dramatic as the accident itself and showed clearly that the tragic events of that night stretched far beyond the icy Munich runway.

The heart wrenching tragedy of Manchester United’s Munich Air disaster is not a new story, and there was no real fresh information contained in this documentary, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth telling. The deplorable waste of life and talent, perhaps illustrated no better than with Duncan Edwards, still talked about as the greatest prospect these Isles have ever produced, demonstrates the need to keep the memories of the twenty-three who perished alive and well, and re-telling the tale ensures that new generations of football fans can comprehend the true injustices that football has had to endure, not the churlish decisions we brood over in today’s game. I think the heroic frame of Harry Gregg says it best: “I don’t think about the accident. I think about what I was part of”. He was part of something special just as we all are today; let’s not forget that, and let’s not forget the victims of Munich. - Football News & Transfers
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