Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Like most boys on February 6th, 1958, I was left stunned by the shocking air disaster in Munich which visited death and injury on the Manchester United football team. Duncan Edwards was my hero. Difficult to understand why, because I never saw him play, and only saw odd clips of him on TV. He was a creature of my imagination, sculpted by the words and opinions of writers who were captivated by his power and skills. That's how we appreciated sport in 1958. I still remember picking up the family Daily Express every morning from the Post Office in Castle Caereinion, to read as I waited for the school bus, and then to read again about Duncan Edwards' progress in hospital, hoping in vain that he would live.

Today, we don't need to create our own images. The TV camera is all-seeing with its action replays, and exaggerations of human weakness that so diminishes respect for our star performers - and seems to diminish the respect many of them have for themselves. In 1958, the imagination was fired and shaped by the retelling of witness' stories, by radio commentary and by newspaper reports. It was the same with cricket. We depended on John Arlott to paint pictures in our minds. And wonderful, graphic pictures they were. To this day I remember England Captain, Brian Close, scoring an impossible 64 in the gathering gloom to save a test match against the best that West Indies could throw at him on a wicked pitch - refusing to acknowledge any discomfort as his body was turned black and blue as he defied a blitz of bouncers. Every ball was analysed in great depth. The image has stuck because of the awe in which the occasion was held and conveyed by the commentators.

But how good was Duncan Edwards, and how good would he have become, and how would he have coped with his fame. I've read respected journalists say that he was 'better than John Charles'. No praise can be higher. I did see film of John Charles, and will forever be indebted to the BBC for inviting me to a function where I enjoyed a long conversation with 'the Gentle Giant'. For me John Charles will always be the best - perhaps because Duncan Edwards died before he could do it all, aged just 21. The images I created for Duncan Edwards didn't allow for any blemish. He always took the ball cleanly, always stopped his man, always passed with unerring accuracy and always surged forward from his wing half position to score when his team needed him to. Like the death of John Kennedy, John Lennon and Princess Diana, the Munich air crash will never be forgotten.

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