Duncan Edwards: The Greatest Player That Never Was

Barney CorkhillSenior Writer INovember 3, 2008

The date Feb. 6, 1958 has been implanted in the memories of all Manchester United fans and most football fans. Even those who weren't alive on that date have heard about the tragedy that occurred.

One of the most promising football sides that had ever been seen were robbed by the dreadful Munich Air Disaster.

Many great players were killed, including the United captain, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan, Mark Jones, and Geoff Bent.

Walter Crickmer, Tom Curry, and Bert Whalley were members of the United staff who perished that day, and Alf Clarke, George Follows, Donny Davies, Tom Jackson, Archie Ledbrooke, Henry Rose, Eric Thompson, and Frank Swift were the journalists who also died on that fateful day.

Players such as Bobby Charlton, Harry Gregg, Bill Foulkes, and Dennis Viollet were "lucky" enough to survive. I emphasise the word "lucky" because on that day they weren't feeling so. In his autobiography, Sir Bobby Charlton outlines the regret and almost guilt he felt that he survived while others didn't.

Manager Matt Busby also survived the crash, despite being given the Last Rites twice.

All those deaths marked a dark moment in English football history, and no one death is more tragic than another. But purely in terms of talent, and I stress that point, perhaps the biggest loss of the tragedy came 15 days later.

After a courageous struggle against his injuries, Manchester United and England star Duncan Edwards finally lost his battle for life. He was just 21.

Despite being so young, almost all who played with him or against him couldn't find a level of praise high enough to describe his abilities. Sir Bobby Charlton, who played with George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Moore, and against Alfredo Di Stefano, Pele, and Eusebio, has said that Duncan Edwards was near that standard even when in his teens.

He was in no doubt that Edwards could have become the greatest player ever.

His charisma, influence, and quality belied his age, and led to him becoming the youngest player to play in the First Division, and for England, since the war.

In fact, he was so good that it is rumored that he was in line to become the England captain which, at the tender age of 21, would have cemented his place in history as the youngest England captain of all time.

He started playing for the first team at only 16 years old, while a slightly younger Charlton, a man many consider to be the greatest player in United's history, would be languishing in the reserves for a few more years.

All who had ever seen the great man play were under the same impression: Duncan Edwards was a special player.

From Sir Matt Busby to Jimmy Murphy, the man in charge of United's youth development program before Munich, no one could find the words to describe just how good Edwards was.

His quality was at the level of the all-time greats when he died, and his potential was still huge. Perhaps a small indicator of his class was that he was an inaugural inductee into the English Football Hall of Fame, despite having only been in the game for five years.

It really is a tragic story of what could have been; one of many from that fateful day in Munich.

Duncan Edwards: The greatest player that never was.