Ex-Canaries recall Munich disaster

Events staged this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster brought back painful memories far beyond the confines of Old Trafford and the city of Manchester itself.

Events staged this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster brought back painful memories far beyond the confines of Old Trafford and the city of Manchester itself.

Football is a relatively small world and the death of eight Manchester United players, out of 23 fatalities in all, in the air crash on February 6, 1958, left its mark on all who played with or against the members of the Busby Babes who lost their lives.

For two of Norwich City's best-known former players, the commemorations carried an added poignancy because those who died - or survived - were in some cases not just former team-mates or opponents, but personal friends.

Terry Allcock shared a room with United outside-left David Pegg when they played together for Yorkshire schoolboys. Bill Punton was a roommate of wing-half Eddie Colman, the youngest United player to die in the crash, in their Army days together.

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And both ex-Canaries have their own special memories of playing and training with Duncan Edwards, regarded at the time as England's finest postwar player, who died from his injuries 15 days after the crash, at the age of 21.

Scottish winger Punton, who joined Norwich from Southend in 1959, was still a Newcastle United player at the time of the disaster, which happened just a few weeks before inside-forward Allcock left Bolton Wanderers for Carrow Road.

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It was through the Army that Punton first encountered some of the biggest names of Matt Busby's legendary team.

Punton recalled: “I was at Newcastle in the days when you had to do two years National Service. I was based at Catterick camp with the 7 Training Regiment, Royal Signals, and the colonel was a fanatical Newcastle supporter, so I was always able to get time off to play.

“When the new recruits came in they tried to keep all the sportsmen together, the professional footballers, cricketers - Brian Close went there - and rugby players.

“When Eddie Colman arrived, all the positions in the gymnasium were filled so the colonel gave him the job as the rat catcher.”

Punton and Colman played together in a British Army squad that played matches against top club sides and other Forces teams from home and abroad.

“We had a cracking side. Eddie Colman was my roommate, and there were people in the Army side like Duncan Edwards, Bill Foulkes and Bobby Charlton, all in that Manchester United team,” said Punton.

“In training Duncan would play in any position, even in goal. He could have played anywhere, he was as strong as an ox. Eddie was very slight, probably no more than nine stone but a superb player with a tremendous body swerve.

“I played against that Manchester United team for Newcastle and we lost five or six-nil and we just couldn't get a touch of the ball. They had that passing game off to a fine art.”

News of the Munich crash was all the more shocking for Punton because he knew many of the players on board.

“When they are mates of yours, it's terrible. You can't believe things like that can happen,” he said.

Allcock, second in City's all-time scoring list, knew many of the United squad as team-mates or opponents.

He first met Pegg when they were schoolboys and said: “I was exactly the same age group as most of those lads.

“When I was captain of Yorkshire schoolboys, I came from Leeds and David Pegg came from Doncaster and we were roommates.

“When I got to the England schools squad, Duncan Edwards played as well.

“I played against several of the others and when I was captain of the RAF side we played the Army and people like Foulkes, Colman, Albert Scanlon and Edwards played, and I got to know Bobby Charlton reasonably well.”

Allcock recalls the shock and uncertainty as first news of the crash began to filter through.

“My first thoughts when it came on the radio were that I couldn't believe it, and for some time people didn't know who was dead or alive,” he recalled. “It was a terrible tragedy.

“In a way, it was the launch of Manchester United's worldwide fame. From then on everybody knew the name.”

United did not play after the crash for 13 days, when, with coach Jimmy Murphy in charge while Busby recovered from terrible injuries, a re-shaped side met Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup fifth round in front of almost 60,000 fans at Old Trafford. They won 3-0 and went on to reach the final by beating West Bromwich Albion and Fulham in the next two rounds, before losing 2-0 to Bolton at Wembley.

“I was just seven miles up the road at Bolton and I went to the Sheffield Wednesday game,” said Allcock. “It was such an emotional occasion, it carried the side and they won 3-0, and it was an amazing achievement to reach the final.

“That same season, I had played for Bolton in two of the previous rounds but by the time the final was played, I had signed for Norwich and was heavily involved in things here.”

Allcock did not have to wait long for an FA Cup meeting with Busby's rebuilt side, however. The Canaries' famous 3-0 triumph over United in the third round the very next season, in January 1959, was the beginning of their giant-killing march to the semi-finals as a third division side.

“When we beat them 3-0 they had several of the players who survived at Munich - Foulkes, Charlton, Harry Gregg in goal, Dennis Viollet and Scanlon,” he recalled.

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