Remembering the tragic loss of life at Munich in 1958

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The News Letter, founded in 1737, is the oldest English language daily newspaper in the world.

For the first 150 years of its existence, it barely covered any sport.

From the very earliest papers of the 1730s there were reports of horse racing but apart from that there was nothing approaching a sports column until the 1890s.

By the early 1900s, there was a column each day and just before the Great War several columns as the popularity of sport grew and grew.

But that disastrous conflict, which began in the summer of 1914, knocked back sports coverage to a few brief stories, presumably because sport came to seem like a trivial matter in the face of grave national struggle to survive.

Sport has, in the century since then, grown and grown and grown. It has given incalculable pleasure to hundreds of millions of people round the world.

But at times of disaster and tragedy, when brilliant sporting figures such as Joey Dunlop or Ayrton Senna die, or when fans die in horrifying incidents such as the 1971 Ibrox or 1989 Hillsborough crushes, we remember that sport, for all its joys and thrills, is only a pastime and that it is life that matters.

Sixty years ago one of the great footballing teams of British sport, Manchester United, was involved in an air crash at Munich airport.

The Coleraine-born goalkeeper Harry Gregg, now aged 85, survived the accident.

“I was one of the lucky ones,” he says, when he looks back on the 1958 disaster, adding that he has had difficulty dealing with the trauma of that incident in the intervening decades.

Gregg ignored warnings to flee the burning plane, and returned three times to it to help rescue people including his fellow Ulsterman Jackie Blanchflower.

It is an uplifting tale of selflessness, but also a sobering tale of the fragility of all human life, even that of the fittest and most athletic people alive.