Unknown Fate
When Saturday Comes|March 2018

Manchester United were not the only team to be devastated by the Munich air disaster – England also lost some of their best players, changing the course of the 1958 World Cup and, potentially, the whole national game.

Roger Titford

At the 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster attention naturally and rightly falls on the loss to Manchester United of eight players and the lasting effects of the crash on others. But there was another loser in the football world that evening: the England team and their hopes of winning the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Three of the fatalities were stalwarts in the international side: Roger Byrne at left-back, Duncan Edwards in midfield and Tommy Taylor at centre-forward.

Sixty years on the World Cup is, for the first time since 1958, in such a helpfully northern latitude – Russia – and it is timely to reconsider one of English football’s greatest and most overlooked what-ifs. The Munich tragedy of February 1958 cost England a talented and experienced quarter of their successful first XI. In the two and a half seasons prior to the disaster England’s record was an impressive W14 D4 L2. This included victories over Brazil (the World Cup winners in 1958), France (third), West Germany (fourth and reigning champions from 1954) and a draw away to Sweden (hosts and runners-up in 1958). The three United men played in the majority of these 20 matches and had become fixtures in the team. They had also helped United win back-to-back League titles in 1956 and 1957.

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