Who were the Busby Babes? Man Utd's talented players devastated by Munich air disaster

Busby Babes Manchester United muralGetty Images

The Busby Babes occupy a special place in the history of Manchester United, not just because of the success they enjoyed, but also the horrific tragedy that afflicted them.

Indeed, such was the degree of their impact at the club that Sir Alex Ferguson argued that Matt Busby's team are the ultimate reference point for any Manchester United manager.

”The Babes are what gives this club such a fantastic romance, in terms of how they played the game and how they generated this thread of youth right throughout the club," Ferguson told the United Review in 2018.

"The spirit of the club is created by all these young players, and that began back then. The Babes are where Manchester United’s history starts."

As United prepare to honour the memory of the Busby Babes and what they achieved, Goal takes a look at who they were.

Who were the Busby Babes?

The term 'Busby Babes' is believed to have been coined by Manchester Evening News sub-editor Frank Nicklin who used it in a report of a game between United and Liverpool in 1951.

Two youngsters were handed their senior debuts for the Old Trafford club in the game and Nicklin's phrase caught on as more young players were integrated into the team.

Busby had overseen the implementation of a new youth policy at United which came to fruition in the 1950s, with five FA Youth Cup titles and three First Division (now Premier League) crowns secured that decade.

With scouts such as Joe Armstrong identifying talented prospects and Jimmy Murphy training them, the club dominated the FA Youth Cup when it was first introduced in 1952, winning the first five editions.

A significant number of those players subsequently graduated to the first team under Busby.


As the name suggests, the defining feature of the teams of that era was their relative youthfulness and the average age of the team that won the 1955-56 First Division was just 22.

"It takes a brave person to do that," Ferguson said of Busby's novel approach to building a team. "You’re in an industry where it’s all about the results, and that’s why most managers have to rely on their first team to keep them in a job and there’s absolutely no compunction about that; it’s a fact of life.

"To build a football club through young people is the braver thing to do, and actually it’s the correct thing to do because once you’ve got a foundation then you can rely on that for a few years."

Bobby Charlton is perhaps the most notable member of the clutch, having gone on to break both appearance and scoring records for the club, as well as helping England to a World Cup triumph in 1966.

Others include Duncan Edwards, Bill Foulkes and Denis Viollet, while Wilf McGuinness later replaced Busby as United manager.

Below is a list of players who are considered part of the Busby Babes group:

  • Geoff Bent
  • Johnny Berry
  • Jackie Blanchflower
  • Roger Byrne
  • Bobby Charlton
  • Eddie Colman
  • John Doherty
  • Duncan Edwards
  • Bill Foulkes
  • Harry Gregg
  • Mark Jones
  • Wilf McGuinness
  • Kenny Morgans
  • David Pegg
  • Albert Scanlon
  • Tommy Taylor
  • Dennis Viollet
  • Liam Whelan
  • Ray Wood

The parameters of what qualified an individual to be considered part of the Busby Babes group were not particularly strict, but the general idea was that they were young players who matured under Busby's watch at Old Trafford.

Indeed, not all of the players who are grouped among the Busby Babes came through the youth ranks at Manchester United.

For example, Harry Gregg was signed from Doncaster Rovers, Ray Wood joined from Darlington, Tommy Taylor signed from Barnsley, Colin Webster was recruited from Cardiff City and Johnny Berry arrived at the club from Birmingham City.

Munich air disaster

Munich air disaster memorialGetty Images

Tragedy struck at the heart of Manchester United in 1958 when the plane carrying the team home from a European Cup tie against Red Star Belgrade crashed.

The crash occurred on February 6 in Munich and it claimed the lives of 23 people, with 21 passengers surviving the incident.

Of the 23 who died, eight - namely Bent, Byrne, Colman, Edwards, Jones, Pegg, Taylor and Whelan - were United players.

Berry and Blanchflower survived the accident, but the extent of their injuries forced them to retire at the ages of 31 and 24 respectively.

Busby survived the disaster - having been pulled from the wreckage by Gregg - and returned to management, but, sadly, the all-conquering team that he built was totally devastated.

Who was Matt Busby?

Pat Crerand Matt Busby George BestGetty Images

Busby, the eponymous father figure of the Busby Babes, is widely regarded as one of Manchester United's most successful managers.

Interestingly, his playing days saw him line out for two of United's fiercest rivals Manchester City (who he won the FA Cup with in 1934) and Liverpool.

The Bellshill native's career, like that of thousands of others, was disrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 and subsequently came to a close, but he swiftly moved into management.

Following the war, in 1945, Busby took the reins at Manchester United and he set about establishing a new base for success. Thus, the Busby Babes were born.

The Scottish coach steered United to an FA Cup triumph in 1948 and, four years later, clinched the First Division title, which ended a four-decade wait for success at the summit of English football.

Busby's 'Babes' reached maturity in the 1955-56 season, winning the league by 11 points. They retained their crown the following season, finishing eight points ahead of Tottenham at the end of the campaign.

Tragedy struck in 1958, but, despite witnessing the devastation of the team he'd built and suffering grievous injuries himself, Busby carried on and restored the club's glory days.

He masterminded two further First Division title wins, an FA Cup win and, in 1968, delivered United's first-ever European Cup.

Who is the best No.9 in the world?

31864 Votes

Thanks for voting.

Results will be shared soon.

Who is the best No.9 in the world?

  • 22%Karim Benzema
  • 36%Erling Haaland
  • 4%Harry Kane
  • 13%Robert Lewandowski
  • 12%Kylian Mbappe
  • 13%Victor Osimhen
31864 Votes