Vanarama column April 11 – National League North

Vanarama column – the National League North 

By Glenn Moore

Size is always relative: by the standards of non-league football the Vanarama National League North is the graveyard of giants. It is a curiosity that while Vanarama National League South does not contain a single club that has previously played in the Football League the northern section has eight (albeit some have reformed after the original club went bankrupt).

There are many reasons for this disparity, and to an extent it is just a snapshot in time, but the gradual southwards economic shift of the English economy is clearly a factor. There are many upwardly mobile clubs in the south. The likes of Crawley and AFC Wimbledon have climbed into the Football League in recent years, Eastleigh and Ebbsfleet are pushing to join them. Often it is northern clubs that have made way.

Even taking into account that Boston United and Kidderminster Harriers only had four seasons apiece in the Football League in the early years of this century, and Gainsborough Trinity last played League football in 1912, that leaves five once well-established Football League clubs now in the sixth tier of the game.

Of that quintet York City, the FA Trophy holders and a Football League club only two years ago, and Stockport County, a Championship-level club as recently as 2002, look best-placed to secure a spot in the play-offs. Southport, now managed by former Bolton and England striker Kevin Davies, Bradford Park Avenue and Darlington are hoping to join them, but will each need a strong finish. None will win automatic promotion, that seems certain to be claimed by either Salford City, the club bankrolled by the Lancastrian heart of Alex Ferguson’s golden generation, or Harrogate Town, who went full-time at the start of the season.

In a tier in which attendances can dip below 200, and more than half the clubs in the northern section, and all those in the southern, average crowds of less than 1,000, Stockport and York are giants. Only four Vanarama National League clubs have averaged more than their gates, approaching 3,500 for County, in excess of 2,500 for York.  For County this support is especially impressive given this is their fourth season in the sixth tier and they have been sitting in mid-table for most of it.

However, the support and facilities at Edgeley Park can inspire opponents too. “Players do like to come to our place and play in front of 3,000-4,000 fans, but they also come here with a mentality to defend and not concede and that makes it difficult for us,” said manager Jim Gannon earlier this season. County are also part-time, in a league with an increasing number of full-time clubs, including the top two.

York City are full-time, but may not be for much longer. A dispute between owner Jason McGill and the supporters trust ahead of a move to a new stadium in 2019 has clouded matters, with speculation the club may go part-time. That increases the need to go up this May. Jon Parkin, now 36 and the scorer of more than 200 career goals, including 141 in the Football League, is spearheading the Minstermen’s promotion push but with FA Trophy finalists Brackley Town all-but tying up third the chase for the remaining four play-off places is tight.

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Footballer of the Year voting

Voting has opened for Footballer of the Year, and all FWA members should by now have received an email with a code for online voting.  If you have not received an email, however, or would like to register your vote by email, phone, text or post, please contact our executive secretary Paul McCarthy on or 07831 650977 .  Voting closes on midnight April 30th.

Ray Wilkins RIP – an appreciation

The Football Writers’ Association is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ray Wilkins at the age of 61, following cardiac arrest and a fall. Ray was a fine footballer for some of Europe’s leading clubs, a respected coach and an excellent pundit. He was also a good friend of the FWA, always courteous and helpful with reporters, fans and colleagues, and will be much missed.

Martin Lipton, deputy sports editor of The Sun and a member of the FWA’s national executive committee, shares his personal memories of a great football man.

I once gave the ball back to Ray Wilkins.

It was at Brisbane Road, Orient versus Chelsea, in 1976.

Most of the people who were there vaguely recall it was the match in which the Chelsea fans pushed over one of the brick walls running alongside the pitch.

But not me. The ball went into the crowd. Ray Wilkins – THE Ray Wilkins – came over to take the throw. I gave it back to him. And for the first of what was to prove many times over the next 40-odd years, he said, simply “Thank you.”

Courteous. Polite. A gentleman.

Equally, a far, far better player and man than he was ever given credit for. Yes, for some, he was “Ray the Crab”, the master of the sideways pass. But that was because, in an era when possession of the ball was an afterthought, Wilkins believed it mattered.

That keeping the ball counted. That control of possession was vital in any context.

Captain of Chelsea at 18. Yes, 18. An FA Cup winner at Manchester United. Still respected at AC Milan. Recalled with affection at Rangers – where he was a Double winner – and QPR.

And a man who earned 84 England caps, wore the Three Lions armband on 10 occasions, represented his country at three tournaments, including two World Cups.

But, of course, it is at Chelsea, at Stamford Bridge, that Wilkins’ death at the age of 61 will be mourned more than anywhere else.

In truth, the real measure of the esteem in which real football fans held “Butch” was clear only last Sunday. To say the hostility between Chelsea and Spurs fans is brutal is an understatement. The two clubs loathe each other.

But when Wilkins’ face was displayed on the giants screens at the Bridge before kick-off, with prayers and good wishes offered for his recovery from the coma into which he had been induced, both sets of supporters had the same, immediate and genuine response.

Sadly, those warm wishes were not able to halt the inevitable.

Those who knew Wilkins, as a player, a coach, a manager, a pundit or a friend, will always recall him with a smile.

Loyal to a fault – he never said a word against Carlo Ancelotti, even after the Italian stood back and did not intervene when Wilkins was summarily sacked by Chelsea just months after the club had won the Double in 2010. And a man who always had time for real football fans.

A couple of years ago, I was contacted by someone who said they wanted to thank Ray.

They had been in the middle of their wedding in a Surrey hotel, when Wilkins had been spotted in the building. The groom was a Chelsea fan, who recalled watching Wilkins in his pomp. Out of nowhere, he was invited to be guest of honour. He could not let a Blues fan down. Then he made his way off home. I agreed to pass on the regards. Got the details. Picked up the phone and told Ray about the call I’d had.

Thank you,” he said, once again. “It was my honour. Just give him my details.”

That was Ray.

Now, we all say our goodbyes, never to speak to him again. It’s not him who says “thank you” now. It’s me. Thank you, Ray. It was a privilege.”

Football Book of the Year

Biographies of some of the most successful football managers, past and present, dominate the Football Writers’ Association Book of the Year Award Longlist for 2018.

Now sponsored by Coutts, it is one of 10 categories within the Sports Book Awards Ceremony which takes place at Lord’s Cricket Ground on June 7th.

A total of 12 books made the shortlist, selected by members of the FWA’s books committee, and eight of the authors were present at Coutts’ offices on the Strand for a the announcement on Monday March 19th.

Sir Matt Busby by FWA Chairman Patrick Barclay and Quiet Genius (Life of Bob Paisley) by Ian Herbert will compete in the football book category with David Bolchover’s The Greatest Comeback, the story of Bela Guttmann. Each are European Cup-winning managers, a feat that remains elusive to Mauricio Pochettino, the exciting young coach at Spurs and subject of Brave New World by Sky Sports La Liga pundit Guillem Balague, another FWA member.

Stephen Constantine is a lesser-known veteran coach of six different national teams in four continents. His story, written with Owen AmosFrom Delhi to the Den: The Story of Football’s Most Travelled Manager continues the strong managerial theme running through the list.

Last year’s Autobiography of the Year award winner at the Sports Book Awards, Michael Calvin who co-authored Joey Barton’s life story, is longlisted again with No Hunger in Paradise, the third part in his much celebrated trilogy of football writing. James Montague is another previous winner and his book, The Billionaires Club, takes a delve into the unstoppable rise of football’s super rich owners while Martin Lipton’s White Hart Lane provides football fans with a complete history of Tottenham Hotspur’s home  before it re-opens after redevelopment next season.

Tom van Hulsen’s Game Changers – The Remarkable Story of Dutch Masters Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen, celebrates  two great Ipswich Town midfield maestros while Doctor Socrates by Andrew Downie chronicles the maverick, iconic captain of the greatest Brazil side never to win the World Cup. David Tossell’s Alan Ball: The Man in White Boots completes the midfield quartet for the 2018 longlist.

James Corbett’s Faith Of Our Families: Everton FC –An Oral History 1878-2018 is a book told by the people who made the great Merseyside club and completes the long list.

David Willis, Chairman of the Sports Book Awards said: ‘We are delighted to be announcing the Football Writers’ Association Book of the Year Longlist and working in partnership with Coutts for the first time and the highly esteemed Football Writers’ Association.’

Simon Hopes, Director Coutts, in response said: ‘The business of football is very important to Coutts and we are very appreciative of the opportunity to partner with The Sports Book Awards and the Football Writers’ Association for the first time in FIFA World Cup year.’

Mike Collett, Chair of the Football Writers’ Association Books Committee, commented: “We’re incredibly impressed by the quality of this year’s football writing. So much so that we’ve decided to announce this longlist for the first time. We’re thrilled with the continued association with the Sports Book Awards team and by the new sponsorship from Coutts.

“Selecting the winner of this award gets harder every year” added Mike, “It reminds me of the Goal of the Season award — what is better a 30-yard screamer or a goal scored after a mazy run through the defence. ?  The same with these awards, the subjects are so diverse, how do you pick a winner ? The interesting part is that there are certain criteria we set, and the winner invariably meets all of them.
“The standard was so high this year that for the first time, with the backing of the Sports Book Awards organisation we have held a public Long List  launch with eight of the 12 nominated authors able to discuss their work on a panel chaired by FWA Book Committee member Philippe Auclair. It was a fantastic night at Coutts Bank, and many thanks to them and their staff for making the evening such a memorable one.”

The winners of the 2018 Sports Book of the Year Awards will be announced at a gala awards dinner to take place at Lord’s Cricket Ground on the evening of June 7th.

The Sports Book of the Year Awards partners include Sky Sports, The Times, Thomson Reuters, AT Cross and Coutts. The final short lists for the 2018 Sports Book of the Year Awards will be announced at a further reception at Coutts Strand branch on May 10th 2018.

FWA members clean up at SJA Journalism Awards

FWA Members scooped some of the top prizes once again at the Sports Journalists’ Association’s annual awards ceremony at the Park Plaza Westminster on Monday February 26.

Danny Taylor of the Guardian led the way with the most prestigious prize, as Sportswriter of the Year, as well as being voted Football writer of the Year.

Danny’s predecessor as Sportswriter of the Year for the past two years, Paul Hayward, won the Columnist of the Year category this time, while his Telegraph colleague Jeremy Wilson was voted Investigative Sports Reporter of the Year for his groundbreaking work highlighting the links between football and dementia.

The Mail’s Matt Lawton won Sports News Reporter for a remarkable fourth successive time, while the Regional Journalist award went to Chris Wathan who has just joined the BBC from Media Wales.

And there was a special award for David Walker, the outgoing Mirror sports editor, who won the Doug Gardner award for services to sports journalism.

Numerous FWA members were also shortlisted and commended in many categories. You can see a full list of the prize-winners at the SJA website here:

Danny Taylor receives his Sportswriter of the Year award from FWA Life Member and SJA President Pat Collins

Vanarama Column Feb 21 – Highs, Lows and Winning Goals

Highs and Lows and Winning Goals

By Luke Coulson, FWA and Ebbsfleet United

Throughout my childhood, misbehaviour was greeted with the usual disheartening punishment of spending a weekend behind closed doors. Those miserable days were spent peering out of an upstairs window watching my brothers and friends play football; the ultimate torture.  

Similarly, sat on the bench at 3pm on a Saturday watching my team mates play brings those feelings of frustration flooding back.

Two weeks ago, I was dropped from the starting eleven and forced, once more, to feel those disappointing emotions as I watched my team mates face an in-form Solihull Moors side. However, with 30 minutes to go and the game finely balanced at 0-0, I got the nod from my manager to get my shirt on. Taking my disappointment and frustration on to the pitch, I attacked the opposition full back at every opportunity to hopefully make an impact and prove a point.

That relentless and positive mindset had its desired effect and with 15 minutes to go, I scored the winning goal. Collecting the ball on the left side of the penalty area, I cut inside on to my right foot and bent a fierce shot into the far corner. I don’t write these blogs to promote myself but I have to say the goalkeeper had absolutely no chance.

Scoring the winning goal of a football match is exhilarating. The elation and passion that overcomes you as you celebrate in front of thousands of applauding fans is unforgettable. Yet, the ecstasy extends even deeper than that when you see what it means to your fellow team mates who have worked hard every day with you to be in that position.

Subsequently, that positive cameo performance and winning goal was enough to get my name back into the starting eleven for our following match against Halifax. For the long journey up North, there was a new face amongst us with the club announcing the signing of Corey Whitely from Dagenham and Redbridge, and he made an immediate impact.

Despite us being own top, a dubious penalty decision for the home side meant we ended the first half trailing 1-0. However, after coming on as a substitute, Whitely opened his Ebbsfleet account and started the comeback with a close range finish at the back post.

The equaliser gave us all the momentum and with 58 minutes on the clock, I was able to score the winning goal again, my second in two games. However, the joy of scoring that winning goal was delayed as it came early in the second half and for all we knew; it may not have been the last. Yet, when I heard the sound of the full time whistle and my goal separated the teams, that unforgettable feeling washed over me again. 

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Vanarama National League column

Financial reality checks . by Glenn Moore

The collecting buckets are still shaken, with fans implored to throw in their loose change, but like everything else in football fund-raising has moved on. It was a supporter’s JustGiving page which raised the cash to pay off Hartlepool’s tax bill. The deed, announced on Facebook, staved off a High Court winding up order.

Pools are still in trouble though, and they are not alone in the Vanarama National League. At Chester they are preparing for Thursday’s celebrity match with Michael Owen and Colin Murray involved. At Dagenham & Redbridge there is a firesale of players. At Macclesfield the immediate crisis is over, with delayed wages paid, but Moss Rose is rarely flush with cash.

The crowds and headlines may be smaller but non-League football attracts just as much devotion as the Premier League – and without another fat TV deal to attract potential saviours the pain is greater when things go wrong as the likelihood of rescue is more remote. With four clubs facing problems this week’s The Non-League paper had echoes of the London Gazette, where insolvencies are traditionally listed.

It would be wrong, however, to deduce that the fifth tier’s financial model is inherently unstable. As in every division there are clubs living beyond their means as they ‘chase the dream’ of a place in the Football League (or a return to it) but in recent years the league has generally been in reasonable financial health.

Indeed, it can be argued each of the current quartet are a special case, rather than symptomatic of a wider malaise. Hartlepool, the most seriously threatened, are freshly relegated from the Football League. They thus receive parachute payments for two years totalling around £700,000 with two-thirds paid in the first season. That would normally ameliorate the impact but Pools came down carrying a debt burden reported by the local media to be £1.8m. That is more than a year’s turnover in this league and new investment has been elusive.

Chester are fan-owned having re-formed after going bust eight years ago. With the initial rush of triple promotions replaced by an annual slog against relegation interest had tapered away leading to a drop in membership and attendance. That seems to have caused cash flow issues, perhaps exacerbated by management decisions.

At Dagenham the owner, quoting anger at fans campaigning against his managing director, has stopped putting his hand in his pocket. This is not the place to debate the rights and wrongs, just to record the consequence which has a slashing of the squad to cut the wage bill by three-quarters to meet the club’s unsubsidised income. At Macclesfield the owner blamed ‘technical problems’ at his bank, which were resolved after players confronted the club chairman at a local country club.

Macclesfield’s budget is tight at the best of times yet the Silkmen are top of the Vanarama National League. It is some achievement by John Askew and his players. With the wages paid they resumed their winning ways. The dream that drives all these clubs was back on.


Special award at North East FWA Dinner


The friendship between former Sunderland striker, Jermain Defoe, and young cancer patient, Bradley Lowery, touched everyone who saw the pair together.

Bradley, from Blackhall Colliery, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at only 18-months-old and last year his mum, Gemma, shared the devastating news that the cancer was terminal. He passed away in July aged just six.

Jermain’s compassion towards his young friend, and his help raising awareness of neuroblastoma, will be recognised at the North East Football Writers’ Association’s Awards later this month (Sunday 25th February) where he will be named the North East Personality of the Year.

The prestigious award is given in association with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and recognises someone who uses their position in football to benefit the wider community, and a special trophy has been created by Kalki Mansel, a hot glass artist and designer at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland.

Bradley’s Mum, Gemma, was proud to personally add the finishing touches to it by blowing the glass.

Gemma said: “It was fantastic that Jermain became such a friend to Bradley and his continued friendship to us now means a lot.

“He had so much to do with us all in the final weeks of Bradley’s life and he hasn’t just left things there. Jermain is a Patron of the Bradley Lowery Foundation and he wants to be involved because that’s where his heart is.

“This award is something to be grateful for and it’s nice that Jermain is receiving recognition, although he said he doesn’t need that. Everything he has done came from his kindness and the goodness of his heart.

“Sadly, Bradley’s not here to help but I hope I’m the next best thing and I enjoyed helping make the award. I’m sure Jermain will love it.”

Jermain first met Bradley when he was a mascot for Sunderland AFC in 2016 and a very special bond grew between them.

Now a player for Bournemouth, Jermain returned to the North East to spend time with Bradley at his County Durham home just before he died. A week later, he returned again, this time to attend Bradley’s funeral. Jermain wore his England shirt in honour of his young friend.

Lady Elsie says: “This award is very important to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and we can’t think of anyone more appropriate to receive it than Jermain. It’s been absolutely fascinating to see the award being made and a great pleasure to meet Gemma. She’s an extraordinary woman and I admire her positivity and strength during such a difficult time.”

Held annually at Ramside Hall Hotel in Durham, the North East Football Writers’ Association Awards night, sponsored by William Hill, raises funds for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, which helps find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer.

The charity recently made a £1million contribution to fund clinical research and nursing posts at the new Wolfson Childhood Cancer Research Centre at Newcastle University.

Colin Young, secretary of the North East Football Writers’ Association, adds: “Our awards night is a chance to celebrate all that’s good about football in this area. Joining with the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation to honour Jermain highlights the positive things football can do.

“Very sadly, Colin Verne-Jones from Durham Trophies, who supplied our awards for many years, died suddenly from cancer within weeks of last year’s event.

“We had to think of a new approach to the trophies for this year and wanted to make them very special and from this region. Commissioning trophies from the National Glass Centre seemed the ideal choice. And Jermain’s is all the more perfect because of Gemma’s input into it. We’re glad that Jermain will have a lasting reminder of his time in the North East with him when he leaves our awards event.”

The North East Football Writers’ Association Awards will be held on Sunday 25th February at Ramside Hall Hotel.  Other recipients of awards include Men’s Players of the Year, Jamaal Lascelles and Matt Ritchie, Young Player of the Year, Jordan Pickford, and Womens’ Player of the Year, Victoria Williams.

There will also be special presentations to Newcastle United manager, Rafa Benitez, and non-league clubs Blyth Spartans, Spennymoor Town and South Shields.

Tickets to the black tie event are available now at £58 per person, which includes a four course meal and entertainment.  Please call Claire Stephen on 0191 375 3080 or email for more information or to book tickets.

Below are pictures of Gemma Lowery, Bradley’s Mum, and one with the glass designer Kalki Mansel alongside Lady Elsie Robson, Colin Young and Gemma Lowery.

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The Day Two Teams Died

As we remember the Manchester United players and officials who perished in Munich 60 years ago, it is worth recalling the eight journalists who died in the air crash that day.

Roy Cavanagh and Carl Abbott have written a remarkable book detailing the lives of those men, called “The Day Two Teams Died”, which is available from Amazon.  We caught up with Roy to discuss what was, for a lifelong Manchester United fan, a labour of love:

“I am 70 now so I was ten years old at the time of the crash and had already been supporting United since 1954. I’ve written 20 or so books on football and cricket, but I wish I had been a sports journalist. I often speak at after-dinner events and had the pleasure of meeting the late Frank Taylor, who was the only journalist to survive the crash. He had written “The Day a Team Died” and when we spoke it seemed to be a glaring omission that the eight journalists who died that day had not been commemorated.

“I come from a generation when journalists were treated like gods, in the days before blanket coverage of sport on television and radio. You got all your information about your favourite teams and players from newspapers, and the written word was gospel. So some of these journalists were as famous as – if not more famous than – the players. Henry Rose was the most flamboyant of them and he would drive to games in his Jaguar. Only one of the United players had a car at the time, and that was a Morris Minor!

“Manchester had two papers, the Evening News and the Chronicle. Tom Jackson wrote for the former, Alf Clarke for the latter. I grew up in Salford and we would read the Daily Herald, which was the working man’s paper. George Follows was their correspondent.

“Henry Rose was such a big character that over 4000 people went to his funeral, and taxi-drivers in Manchester refused to take payment for anyone going to or from it.

“Frank Swift, the former England goalkeeper, did not really need to be on the flight because he wrote for a Sunday paper, the News of the World, but he was great mates with Matt Busby, who had done him a special favour by getting him along. The players looked up to big Frank and adored him.

“Eric Thompson of the Mail was another fine journalist, but my favourite was Donny Davies of the Guardian, who had played amateur football for England and cricket for Lancashire. He was a beautiful wordsmith, someone I loved to read.”

Frank Taylor was the only one to survive, and so Roy Cavanagh and Carl Abbott felt it appropriate to echo his book’s title in theirs.

“We drew together as much as we could find, from their earliest writing up to the last reports they filed, and what followed; the respect and tributes that were paid to them after the crash. In our minds this was always going to be a lovely tribute, and we believe it is.”

David Walker, the Mirror sports editor, FWA member and chairman of the Sports Journalists’ Association, has written the foreword, and half of the profits will go to the Journalists Charity.

This fine book can be ordered on Amazon:

Munich – 60 years on

To mark the 60th anniversary of the Munich airliner crash that cost the lives of 23 passengers returning from Manchester United’s European Cup quarter-final in Belgrade, FWA chairman Patrick Barclay remembers the journalist victims. Eight of the nine football writers aboard died. Only Frank Taylor, of the News Chronicle, survived along with the photographer Peter Howard and Ted Ellyard, who had wired Howard’s pictures back to the Daily Mail.

These extracts are taken from Patrick Barclays acclaimed book “Sir Matt Busby, The Definitive Biography” published by Ebury Press.

Archie Ledbrooke, a former chairman of the Football Writers’ Association, was among a group of journalists who regularly covered Manchester United at home and abroad. But according to my late friend Peter Thomas, who was the northern sports editor of the Daily Mirror in 1958, Ledbrooke might have been a notable absentee from the trip to Belgrade via Munich.

Thomas had been pestering Ledbrooke for delivery of a long-promised series on Joe Smith, Blackpool’s veteran manager, and had given the writer an ultimatum: finish it or be replaced on the flight by Frank McGhee. With only a couple of days to spare, Ledbrooke had filed. McGhee stayed at home.

Frank Swift was another member of the press gang who might not have boarded United’s Elizabethan at Ringway Airport, Manchester, one cold and misty Monday morning in February 1958. “Swifty”, a genial giant and goalkeeping great who had played alongside Matt Busby for Manchester City, had been originally assigned by the News Of The World to Wales’s World Cup play-off second leg against Israel in Cardiff the same day. But Busby arranged a free trip on the United plane for his old friend.

There was a certain irony in this, for Wales were managed by Busby’s assistant, Jimmy Murphy, while Busby himself had agreed to manage Scotland in the World Cup that summer. Busby had insisted Murphy see his national team safely through to the tournament – having won 2-0 in Tel Aviv, they were duly to achieve the same score at home – rather than accompany United to their European Cup quarter-final second leg against Red Star.

At any rate Swift had gone to Belgrade, where United had extended a 2-1 lead from the first leg to 5-1 before the interval. In the end they had to cling on for a 5-4 aggregate but it was a happy party who gathered the next day: Thursday, February 6. The journalists had an extra reason to be in good spirits. They were looking forward to that night’s Manchester Press Ball.

On the first leg of the trip, Belgrade to Munich, Frank Taylor was teased as he stood in the gangway, big Swifty shouting out orders for cigars and brandy. “You shouldn’t look so much like a waiter,” the rotund, twinkling Eric Thompson of the Mail told Taylor, who had slicked-back hair and a little moustache.

The Daily Express’s flamboyant Henry Rose – such a showman that, when he went to Anfield, he would doff his hat in appreciation of the Kop’s taunts – fretted because he had to finish his precious “postbag”, a column of candid answers to readers’ letters, before going to the Ball. The Manchester Evening Chronicle’s Alf Clarke was snoring. “He must have been reading one of his own stories,” observed the Daily Herald wordsmith George Follows.

The other local-paper man, representing the Manchester Evening News as usual, was Tom Jackson, and the contingent was completed by the Manchester Guardian’s much-loved and highly literate H. D. “Donny” Davies, whose work appeared under the byline “An Old International” in recognition that he had been an England amateur.

When they landed for refuelling and refreshments in the terminal building at Munich, the weather had worsened. There was snow and slush on the runway. Two attempts to take off for Manchester failed and the mood on the Elizabethan became sombre. It lightened when Alf Clarke, who had gone missing in order to telephone a story about the delay to his paper, was ferried by jeep to the plane; his colleagues pretended to be observing two minutes’ silence for him.

As we know, the third take-off attempt was to fail disastrously. Peter Howard and Ted Ellyard emerged from the wreckage virtually unscathed, but Frank Taylor suffered multiple injuries and, like Matt Busby and others, underwent prolonged treatment in hospital in Germany. Even he was lucky compared with the other journalists, all of whom died. As FWA Life Member David Meek, who replaced Tom Jackson at the Evening News, was to observe later: “They were from the cream of the sporting press, and very close to Manchester United because of the journey into Europe. Matt must have been devastated to lose them as well as the players.”

Below is the team-sheet from United’s game in Belgrade.