I Had My Visa Ready But Matt Busby Said I Wasn't Going On This Trip. I Know Now How Fortunate I Was
Feb 6 2008 By Chris Roberts
Old Trafford Clock Marks Time Of Munich Air Disaster.. But Scot Alex Needs No Reminder Of His Lost Team-Mates Exclusive
THE name of Alex Dawson might not instantly mean much to many.
But the 67-year-old from Aberdeen played a crucial role in keeping Manchester United alive after the Munich air disaster ripped the club apart.
Dawson narrowly missed out on boarding the ill-fated flight back from Germany.
And as the footballing world today pays tribute to the eight Busby Babes and 23 passengers who died 50 years ago, Dawson remembers the many good friends he lost.
Dawson scored on his debut against Burnley a year earlier aged just 18 and scored in each of the final three matches that season to help win the title and secure United's passage into Europe's premier club competition.
His mother even expected him to fly out with the rest of his teammates to Belgrade for the quarterfinal of the European Cup but he didn't get the nod from Sir Matt Busby.
Dawson said: "When I heard the tragic news I thought I had better ring my mum because she would have expected me to be on the plane.
"I used to go on those trips and had a passport and visa all ready but the boss just told me I wasn't going this time.
"I had already been on two or three trips just to break me in. "Chief coach Bert Whalley said to me, 'There will be another one for you,' but I wouldn't have wanted it in those circumstances.
"I know now how lucky I was to be left in Manchester. The omens were on my side."
Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan and Duncan Edwards lost their lives.
Dawson recalls being stunned into silence after being told the news at the ground that day.
He said: "I was at the ground playing snooker with Kenny Morgans when a boy came in and nearly broke the door down.
"The boy said, 'Haven't you heard? The lads have been in a crash'.
"There was a man putting the flag at half-mast because one of the directors had died before that. We told him to wait.
"We thought straight away of Duncan, Roger and the rest of the lads. I just couldn't believe it.
"We couldn't say anything. We were absolutely in shock. It was unbelievable.
"I thought it can't be right.You are hoping it can't be right.But of course we knew it was right once we switched the news on.
"We were all so close and Duncan was also a good friend to me before the accident.
"We were all friends and you could speak to any of them. They never looked down on you. They couldn't do enough for you."
With Busby fighting for his life in hospital, his trusty No.2 Jimmy Murphy pulled a team together to face Sheffield Wednesday in the fifth round of the FA Cup - just 13 days after the accident.
Dawson took his place beside survivors Bill Foulkes and Harry Gregg as United won 3-0 - the same score by which the reserves beat their Wednesday counterparts on the same day.
Dawson said: "Jimmy Murphy was marvellous with the youngsters.
"He picked the team around Bill andHarry and said, 'We are going out there and we are going to play and winfor those lads who died'.
"He said, 'I know you will do it. We will show them what this club is all aboutand those lads were all about'.
"Jimmy was absolutely marvellous. His team talks were inspirational. We did it and we took it from there.
"The crowd were marvellous. There were 60,000 inside and 60,000 outside and that really got us going.
"The reserves played the same day with a load of juniors playing and both United teams won by the same score which was incredible.
"In the dressing room I remember thinking, 'Come on, let's just get out there'.
"This was my chance to repay those boys.
"I remember going down the tunnel to this amazing roar and it made me shiver.
"I thought,'This is it, this is where the new Manchester United begins'. Jimmy got us to the Final which was agreat tribute to the team."
But Dawson is convinced that United - with 21-year-old Edwards in the side - would have dominated European football had it not been for the plane crash.
United drew 3-3 with Red Star in Belgrade to set up a European Cup semi-final against AC Milan before the tragedy eventually claimed the life of Edwards, who had already made 18 appearances for England. Dawson said: "United would have been a major force in Europe if it hadn't been for the disaster.
"Real Madrid were a good side at that time but United were going to overtake them.
"The players were just coming into their prime.
"Duncan was such a good player, there is no doubt about that.
"He was a wonderful fellow as well as a real gentleman.
"I will never, ever forget him because he died on my birthday, February 21, and before that he was the one who really helped me settle in."
United progressed to the FA Cup Final that season before losing controversially to Bolton at Wembley when Nat Lofthouse barged keeper Gregg into the net with the ball in his hands.
Dawson said: "Harry got knocked over by Nat and he told me that he knew it was a foul.
"Nat said he wanted to frighten Harry but not hurt him."
Dawson had an incredible record at Old Trafford, scoring 54 goals in 93 games.
He is still the youngest player to score a hattrick for the club, hitting a treble aged 18 years and 33 days in the semi-final replay against Fulham in March 1958.
After bowing out to AC Milan in the semi-final of the European Cup in the aftermath of the disaster, Busby began to rebuild his squad to win that trophy.
He brought in David Herd from Arsenal and the new boy helped United win the trophy in 1968. But Dawson left to join Preston, where he became a Deepdale legend.
He said: "When Matt came back from hospital he wanted to win in Europe.
"I remember we were hammered 4-0 and David Herd scored a hattrick against us.
"Not long after that, Matt signed David and I thought my time was up at United.
"But I had nothing against David and I got on very well with him."
Dawson became known as the The Black Prince of Deepdale and scored 114 goals in 197 appearances and helped them win the FA Cup in 1964.
But his heart was always with United after realising a childhood dream with the Old Trafford side.
He said: "I remember watching Manchester United at Pittodrie in 1948 and they were losing 3-0 to Aberdeen. I said, 'I don't think much of this English football'.
"Then United turned on the style and won 5-3.
"After that I told my parents I was going to play for United and luckily I was spotted by Jimmy Murphy.
"We were always winning the youth cup - we were undefeated in five years.
"It was marvellous being involved with the first team and getting £20. I thought I was a rich man."
The class of 2008 will hope to put on a fitting display against Manchester City in an emotionallycharged derby at Old Trafford on Saturday.
But Dawson already thinks that the way Sir Alex Ferguson's side are playing is the greatest tribute to the Busby Babes.
He said: "United have always played one brand of football that is synonymous with the club.
"You don't change anything from the youths, reserves and first team.
That is really fitting. "I am pleased that the tragedy is remembered and will never be forgotten.