We all love victims—and what a victim that day made United. Twenty-three people, including eight players, lost their lives in a freak accident in Munich, Germany. The plane had stopped to refuel after honoring a European Cup quarterfinal victory at Red Star Belgrade.
Manchester United had to be rebuilt from scratch. Fortunately their iconic manager, Sir Matt Busby, survived the accident; they had been spared this gentleman of a coach to rebuild the side to glory. As soon as his injuries were healed Sir Matt got down to work, signing seasoned players, such as Denis Law and Pat Crerand, as well as young lads such as George Best.
Manchester United is not the only team to have suffered a plane crash. On May 4, 1949 the entire players and officials of Torino AC (as they were then known), but one, were killed in an accident when their aircraft crashed at the outskirts of Turin after a farewell game at Benfica. The lone survivor stayed home to nurse an injury.
One would have thought Torino AC should be the most revered club side in the world then? No. Torino is not in England, where the game is native to. The game evolved in England and that is where all the attention is. Had Torino been an English club the story would have been different. I am thinking Torino and Manchester United would have been the two most loved football clubs in world soccer.
Torino is an Italian club. Football is not played there with the passion and intensity that pertains in England. Or take the Gabon national side that crashed off the Gabonese coast on April 27, 1993. The entire occupants perished in the cold of the Atlantic Ocean. Only three members of the team—they were not on the flight for various reasons—were spared death.
Is the “Chipolopolo” then the most loved African national side in the world if not in their native Africa, then? No. This is obviously because national teams are national teams. Each person supports the national side of the country in which he is from.
After the crash, Zambia went on to the finals of the African Cup of nations in Tunisia and placed second. Maybe their opponents, out of pity, played it soft for them and allowed them to go that far. That was all the pity the world had for the Zambian national side that was grieving in the wake of the greatest disaster to plague African soccer.
Manchester United is loved because the world loves victims. In the wake of a disaster, there is an outpouring of condolences. United however made it to the final of the FA Cup where they were promptly beaten 2-0 by Bolton Wanderers. United also won only one of their last 14 matches and were lucky to finish ninth in the league that season, even though opposing teams played it soft for them.
The line between “love” and “pity” is a thin one, indeed. That is why Manchester United is the most “loved” club in the world.