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History by Decade

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History by Decade

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The 1950's dawned with the break-up of Matt Busby’s first successful United side - the 1948 FA Cup-winning team. Dressing room dissent led to Johnny Morris departing for Derby and Charlie Mitten exporting his wing wizardry to Colombia. Fans worried by the duo's departure were soon placated.

The great Scot’s plan was to promote the youngsters he’d been recruiting and grooming in the late 1940’s. Jackie Blanchflower and Roger Byrne were the first to emerge and be labelled ‘Babes’ by the newspapers; in their debut season 1951/52, United won the League Championship for the first time since 1911.

In 1955/56 and 1956/57, Byrne lifted the Championship trophy as skipper of a great young side that included several more products of Busby’s youth academy. Eddie Colman, Mark Jones and David Pegg were all first team regulars, having cut their teeth in the FA Youth Cup, which United won five years in a row from its inception in 1953.

Not all the young talent was home-grown, however. The United manager was equally happy to plunge into the transfer market, as shown by the big money signings of proven internationals Tommy Taylor and goalkeeper Harry Gregg.

Another young man who excelled for club and country was Duncan Edwards. So powerful, talented and mature was the Dudley teenager that Matt Busby could not hold him back from United’s first team. In April 1953, he became the First Division’s youngest-ever player at the age of 16 years and 185 days.

One match that epitomised the new Busby Babes era was against Arsenal at Highbury on 1 February 1958. In front of a crowd of 63,578 the Reds beat the Gunners in a nine-goal thriller with goals from Edwards, Taylor (2), Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet.

Sadly, what was perhaps their greatest game on English soil was certainly to be the last for that particular Manchester United team. From Highbury, the Babes headed off into Europe to play the second leg of a tie against Red Star Belgrade. Again they won 5-4, this time on aggregate, but on the way home their celebrations were cut short by tragedy.

After refuelling in Munich on 6 February 1958, the United aeroplane crashed, killing twenty-two people, including seven players – Byrne, Colman, Jones, Pegg, Taylor, Geoff Bent and Liam Whelan. Duncan Edwards died of his injuries fifteen days later in a German hospital. The club, the city of Manchester and the English game entered a long period of mourning. It seemed inconceivable that United could recover from such an appalling loss.

But as Busby defied the medics to recover from his crash wounds, the team bounced back and, patched up by Jimmy Murphy, they reached the FA Cup Final in May 1958. They lost at Wembley to Bolton Wanderers, twelve months after losing the final to Aston Villa.

To continue the theme of finishing a close second, the Reds were also runners-up in the League Championship of 1958/59.

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Copyright, Manchester United Ltd, 2017 Photography provided by Manchester United Ltd and Getty Images

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