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Duncan Edwards- 50 years on
2:59pm Wednesday 30th January 2008 in News
A DAY of Memory Sad to recall Without Farewell he left us all'.
His usually red and white carnation drenched gravestone in Dudley Cemetery sums up the town's tragic loss.
Duncan Edwards, icon of Dudley, was involved in the disaster which cruelly claimed his life 50 years ago next Wednesday.
It would immediately immortalise him and his Manchester United team mates who perished.
On February 6 1958, Edwards- nicknamed The Tank'- was a member of the party travelling home on a British European Airways twinned-engined Elizabethan flight from a 3-3 European Cup clash at Red Star Belgrade when disaster struck.
That fateful day, the plane crashed on its third attempt to take off after a refuelling stop in Munich. The German city's slush and snow would eventually claim a nation's hero.
Just 54 seconds after the pilot had opened the throttle, the plane hit the German airport's perimeter fence and ploughed 200 yards across the snow, tearing off the planes' wing and breaking off the tail section, leaving bodies scattered.
A total of 21 people lost their lives. The list included football journalists and seven of Duncan's team mates including captain Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, David Pegg and Billy Whelan.
At first there was hope for Duncan. He had suffered a catalogue of injuries which ravaged his body, including multiple leg fractures and severely damaged kidneys.
But Duncan's 21-year-old body put up one heck of a fight. Doctors were left amazed and awestruck by his courageous, yet ultimately futile, 15-day fight for life.
Tragedy struck when he lost his brave battle at the Rechts der Isar Hospital, Munich on February 21, 1958.
Due to his unparalleled physique grief-stricken team mates and fans were convinced he would make it through. It is thought if it happened today, Duncan would have survived his injuries.
In a poignant aside, Duncan had become engaged to his sweetheart Molly Leach just days before the disaster. She emigrated to America after he died.
The wing-half was buried five days later in a funeral which proved to be Dudley's answer to a state occasion as thousands of devastated residents jam-packed the town's streets.
Buried with his sister Carol Anne, who died aged just 14 weeks in 1947, this site has acted as a beacon of remembrance for Dudley and national football fans alike.
Their father Gladstone- who died in 1978- and mother Sarah Anne- who lived until 2003- are buried just yards from their only two children.
Duncan's gravestone has become a shrine, a physical outlay for a towns' and nations emotions.
This iconic resting place is so poignant that every time Manchester United play in the West Midlands, the travelling coach stops off at Dudley Cemetery, Stourbridge Road to mourn Duncan.
Speaking to duncan-edwards.co.uk, John Phillips, Dudley Council's Assistant Cemeteries and Crematorium Manager, explains more.
He said: "Visitors come to the grave all through the year. It is still a shrine.
"It is hard to put a figure on the numbers who come here each year. It's not only individuals who come to stand in silent respect at the grave, but whole parties, as if on a pilgrimage."
BORN at 1 Malvern Crescent in the Woodside area of Dudley on October 1, 1936, Duncan quickly moved to the Priory estate where his early football career would blossom.
The Priory Primary School and Wolverhampton Street Secondary School pupil became an England schoolboy international in 1950 after outclassing opponents on school pitches across the town, quickly becoming a target for professional clubs.
23145376 Lance Corporal Edwards D also served in the Army for two years doing National Service.
Alongside Bobby Charlton, as he would do later on in his life, Duncan spent most of his spell in the Forces at the Ammunition Depot at Nescliff on the Welsh border.
He was regarded as such a talent that a Manchester United chief scout at the time, assigned to watch young Duncan in action, recommended then manager and future mentor Matt Busby to go to Dudley and watch the boy for himself.
Busby did and after the club had watched him for two years they gave Duncan a memorable 16th birthday present on October 1, 1951 when club coach Bert Whalley drove through the night to get to Duncan's house for sunrise to make sure he signed the contract with the Old Trafford outfit as soon as possible.
To realise his ultimate ambition, Duncan turned his back on near-by Wolverhampton Wanderers.
And it would quickly prove what was Wolves' loss was Manchester United's great gain.
The Busby Babe
"THE only player who made me feel inferior was Duncan Edwards.
"If I had to play for my life and could take one man with me, It would be him."
An emotionally charged tribute from team mate, friend, Munich survivor and fellow footballing legend Sir Bobby Charlton.
Munich and his actual career meant the names Manchester United and Duncan Edwards would be paired together forever in fans' hearts.
Described as the "complete footballer", Duncan Edwards' career was one showered with honours, promise and potential, brutally cut short by tragedy.
Crossing Old Trafford's white lines for the first time against Cardiff City on April 4, 1953, this was a match which would sum up his future career.
On this day another record was shattered as Duncan became the youngest player in the Football League.
After establishing himself in United's first-team, he quickly swapped the red shirt of United for the white of England, making his international debut in a 7-2 victory against Scotland on April 2, 1955 aged just 18 years and 183 days.
During his brief yet illustrious career Duncan played 175 times for Manchester United between 1952 and 1958, winning three league championships in five seasons, scoring 21 times and wearing the three lions-clad white England shirt 18 times, finding the back of the international net five times.
The Busby Babes' terrified defences, notching up trophies and fans during their peak in the 1950s.
But Duncan shone the brightest in his team's galaxy of stars.
Long before the days of Best, Charlton and Law in the 1960s or Rooney and Ronaldo, the current stars who light up Old Trafford, it would be Duncan and co, dubbed The Busby Babes', who initially put the club on the map.
A key performer at the arena, later dubbed The Theatre of Dreams', Dudley's defensive midfielder proved its greatest performer paving the way for generations of his red, white and black draped successors.
Duncan's on-field adaptability was to Matt Busby's advantage.
Starting out at left-back, he made his considerable name as a powerhouse, strong-as-an-ox defensive midfielder but not before he had played as a centre-back in Dudley in his Priory Primary days.
A peerless player loved by all, he had a powerful shot, could play with both feet, was good in the air, a good tackler and passer.
His skills were so admired it is widely reported if Duncan had lived he would have been a cornerstone of England's 1966 World Cup winning squad.
Could Dudley's Duncan Edwards have lifted the Jules Rimet trophy on that hot July day at Wembley? Sadly, we will never know.
Legacy lives on
STAINED glass church windows, a bronze statue, inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame and a cul-de-sac and Priory pub named in his honour are just some of the ways Duncan's life and legacy has been acknowledged and indulged.
Generations of Dudley families pass down the story of Duncan's dramatic life and death ensuring his memory never leaves the town.
Duncan left a unique legacy. Few footballers have a stained glass church window depicting their image, let alone two.
This is the case for Duncan. Two of the windows at St Francis' Church, Laurel Road, Dudley are decorated with the town's hero.
And a statue standing tall in Dudley town centre proves a constant reminder to the great man.
Showing him proudly wearing his England kit, the impressive statue by sculptor James Butler, officially unveiled by Duncan's mum Sarah Anne and Sir Bobby Charlton in 1999, acts as a stopping point for residents' remembrance.
Amongst the collection of monuments and artefacts to commemorate his life surely the story of the Duncan Edwards pub on the Priory is the most colourful.
Sadly the pub paralleled its subject, cruelly cut short by tragedy when a fire ripped through the site in May 2006 after it had closed to punters in late 2005.
In a tragic twist, the derelict pub, renamed in 2001, eventually became a haven for drug dealers and arsonists.
Branded a "disrespectful disgrace" by angry Priory residents, the depleted remains of the former watering hole created a sad and unwelcome eyesore for several months afterwards until its demolition in December 2006.
Not too many people have streets named after them but that's what happened to The Tank' in 1993.
A cul-de-sac of housing assocaiation homes off Queens Cross in Dudley was re-named Duncan Edwards Close.
The honours kept on coming to celebrate his memory, ability and potential.
He would take his place alongside other soccer greats in the National Football Museum's Hall of Fame at Preston North End's Deepdale ground.
Closer to home, Dudley has recognised his legacy through an exhibition of memorabilia which stood at Dudley Leisure Centre for 20 years. This collection of classic artefacts has since transferred to Dudley Museum and Art Gallery.
The exhibition, Duncan Edwards 50 Years On' runs until May 24 this year ahead of a space dedicated to the soccer superstar which will be opened in May.
Dudley Museum has also lent two of Duncan's 18 England caps to the Manchester United Football Museum at Old Trafford.
Manchester United will mark Munich with a memorial service in the city next Wednesday (February 6) which will see Duncan's surviving team mates stand beside the current crop of club stars and officials.
The Busby Babes story will be told at a new, free exhibition at the ground- in a bid to educate younger fans and make sure the team ravaged by tragedy will never be forgotten.
The Manchester Derby takes centre stage at Old Trafford on Sunday February 10 with a minutes silence just one of the sure-to-be poignant marks of respect on the day.
Dudley will reflect to respect on Thursday, February 21 at Duncan's statue in Market Place from 11am. A service will be led by the Rev Geoff Johnston from St Francis Church and Dudley Mayor David Stanley.
A day of football matches will remember the soccer star at Castle High School on Saturday June 7.
But away from the numerous physical tributes to "The Tank" lies the fact Dudley misses and loves its true sporting icon.
He may have been cut down in his prime but Duncan Edwards forever lives in the hearts of everyone in Dudley, making sure their fallen hero never dies.
The Munich air disaster will be marked on BBC Radio 4's 'The Archive Hour' this Saturday (February 2) from 8pm to 9pm. The likes of Wilf McGunness and Sir Bobby Charlton will give their views of the tragedy as part of the programme.