Amateurs help save the day after disaster

A North amateur football club’s role in helping Manchester United is remembered on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster today.

Derek Lewin, Bishop Auckland players

A North amateur football club’s role in helping Manchester United is remembered on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster today.

THESE days Manchester United play before crowds of 70,000 plus at Old Trafford, while Bishop Auckland Football Club doesn’t even have its own ground.

But a friendship forged between the two clubs following the Munich air crash on February 6 1958, remains strong to this day.

The main bond is Derek Lewin, now a 77-year-old retired company director living just outside Chorley in Lancashire.

During the mid 1950s, Mr Lewin was a talented wing-half – a midfielder in today’s terminology – with Bishop Auckland.

A true amateur, he worked during the day for his father’s bacon importing firm in Manchester, and made a 200-mile round trip to County Durham to turn out for Bishop Auckland, with whom he won three FA Amateur Cup medals.

“There were no decent amateur teams in the North-West, they were based either in the North-East or London, which is why I chose Bishop Auckland,” he explained.

But as an England amateur international, Mr Lewin became friendly with some of the Busby Babes who lost their lives in the air crash.

“I’d been in the Great Britain Olympic squad in Melbourne in 1956 and we were all told to present ourselves to the nearest league clubs for training. Manchester United was nearest to me.

“A number of the players became close friends. Perhaps my closest was Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne’s understudy, who lost his life in the air crash.”

Knowing some of the Munich victims so well, including Tom Curry, the South Shields-born trainer, it was natural that the then 27-year-old Mr Lewin would wish to pay his respects when the coffins began arriving home.

“The Old Trafford gymnasium was being used as a chapel of rest. I went along there and was quite overcome.

“Jimmy Murphy, who was assistant manager, was running the club while Matt Busby was critically ill in hospital. He tapped me on the shoulder and asked if he could have a word when I had finished.

“I went to his office and he told me he needed help. He said quite bluntly that all I’d read in the press about other clubs trying to help Manchester United was rubbish. He asked if I could bring over some Bishop Auckland players.

“But he was a good, decent man. He was worried about decimating the Bishop Auckland team, he said he only wanted three players. At that time Bishop Auckland had just won three FA Amateur Cups in succession and we were a powerful team.”

Mr Lewin approached Bob Hardisty, at 37 a veteran, but a legend at Bishop Auckland having won every amateur honour, and left winger Warren Bradley, a school teacher who also travelled from the North-West.

“It was Manchester United policy not to play amateurs in the first team, they wanted players they could tell what to do. We played for the reserves in the Central League in front of 10,000 spectators.

“But Warren impressed so much at Manchester United that they persuaded him to sign professional forms by managing to find him a job at a school at Davyhulme in the city,” explained Mr Lewin.

Warren Bradley, who died last year aged 73, went on to score 20 goals in 63 first team appearances for the Red Devils and became the only Englishman to win amateur and full international caps in the same season.

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Bond that spans half a century

A 50-YEAR bond between Manchester United and Bishop Auckland FC remains to this day.

The County Durham minnows are currently in negotiations with the county council over a new ground after moving out of their famous old Kingsway headquarters seven years ago. They currently "lodge" at nearby Shildon.

And the Old Trafford giants have donated a set of floodlights which will be used when the new stadium finally opens at Tindale Crescent in the town.

Last year, Manchester United placed an advert asking amateur clubs to write and explain why they deserved the floodlights being replaced at Old Trafford. Four other non-league clubs also benefited.

And in 1996, when Bishop Auckland faced financial ruin after a rival player threatened to sue over an injury suffered playing against the club, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson sent a team to County Durham to play a fund-raising game.

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Fans remember crash death players

FOOTBALL will pay its tribute to the legend of the Busby Babes today in moments of remembrance on the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster.

They will be remembered with a commemorative service at Old Trafford this afternoon, while a short ceremony, organised by supporters, will take place at the memorial site in Trudering, on the outskirts of Munich.

The Manchester United Independent Supporters Association has organised the 2.30pm service in Germany; after a short religious opening, a reading of the names of the dead will be followed by a citation of "The Flowers of Manchester", the playing of the tune on the bagpipes and a lament as people lay wreaths.

The short ceremony has been planned to allow fans time for their own thoughts ahead of 3.03pm, the time the plane began its failed take- off half a century ago.

In keeping with tradition, United supporters will also gather under the memorial plaque at Old Trafford ahead of that time.

MUTV, the club’s official television channel, will be free to air in the UK throughout today for all cable and satellite viewers – and the memorial service from the ground will be screened live.

Tonight, a minute’s silence will be held ahead of England’s friendly with Switzerland at Wembley as a further mark of respect.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer