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A moving story of how a legendary football team was lost to tragedy and how this disaster irrevoc….The Lost Babes (subtitled Manchester United and the Forgotten Victims of Munich) is Jeff Connor’s compellingly readable account of one of the great tragedies in sporting history and its aftermath. The great manager Matt Busby had forged Manchester United into an invincible team in the 1950s. No one seemed able to halt the progress of these young and immensely talented players as they added the 1955-6 Championship Trophy to their accomplishments, repeating the feat next year. But all this was to change in the most tragic fashion when on the sixth of February, 1958, the plane bringing the team home from Munich crashed, ending the lives of eight of the Manchester United players along with other passengers on the plane. Britain (not just fans of the team) was devastated, as the careers of such talents as Roger Byrne (England’s Captain), Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor and Eddie Coleman were ended at a stroke. Connor describes this devastating incident with both vividness and sympathy, but he is equally to be praised for his handling of subsequent events, notably the lives of the players who survived the crash and the families of those who didn’t. The Lost Babes describes the inauguration of one of the great football teams in sporting history, and does so against a richly drawn panoply of the Britain of the day. He is unsparing and when describing the aftermath of the plane crash, with the club making the Munich tragedy emblematic while not looking after the survivors or the families and relatives of those who died. Of the surviving members of the team, some were unable to play ever again, and the case of the celebrated Jackie Blanchflower, severely injured in the crash, became a cause célèbre, as he became homeless when he was abruptly removed from the club house very shortly after the accident, with virtually no compensation.
Connor has spoken at length to the victims of the Munich crash, along with many other players (and important figures) of the era, and he makes the case that the resonances of the tragedy have echoed down to the very present, with current surreal and stratospheric payments to modern stars (such as Eric Cantona) throwing into relief the injustices of the past. When so many sports books are anodyne celebrations, Jeff Connor is to be applauded for making such an uncompromising and trenchant book so immensely readable. —Barry Forshaw