The Flowers of Manchester

 One of the songs that is sung at our Supporters’ Remembrance Events at Old Trafford each February is The Flowers of Manchester. This article provides a little bit of history about the song.

The Origins

The Flowers Of Manchester was sent into a folk magazine, Sing, anonymously in October 1958. The words were printed, but no music accompanied it, apart from a note saying it was to the tune of High Germany. It later transpired that the lyrics were actually written by Eric Winter, the editor of Sing.

The first known musical recording was by The Spinners, a North-West based folk group, on their album ‘Quayside Songs Old and New’ on an old HMV-CLP1500 educational label issued in 1962. It was recorded at Cecil Sharp house by Peter Kennedy.

Phillips issued an EP on its Fontana label TE17493 in 1967 titled ‘Flowers of Manchester’. This EP also contained Manchester Rambler, Droylsden Wakes and Sunshine ( a song for Lancashire CC ). This was a live version, different to the earlier studio one and was the record that Mick Groves, a Salford lad and one of the five members of the original Spinners, has donated to the museum at Old Trafford.

It was re-released by The Spinners on their album “Black & White” ( Philips International 6382 047) where it was sung solo by Mick Groves. 

Hanky Park, a Lancashire-based folk duo, recorded a version which has been played at Old Trafford over the PA in recent years at the match nearest the anniversary.

In 2008 Mick Groves released a charity version of the record to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the crash.

Singing at Old Trafford

Although supporters have been meeting up at Old Trafford on 6th February each year since the crash, it was only in recent times that singing The Flowers has become a regular occurrence.

United fan Gez Mason started the tradition around the Year 2000. To promote the event, in the days leading up to the anniversary, he stuck a sheet of A4 paper to a wall near the Munich Plaque advertising the date and time along with the words “Singing The Flowers Here”. Although Gez encouraged people to join in, more often than not he was the only person singing!  

In 2006, Gez gave up the role of leading the singing and Pete Martin, another local United fan, who is also one half of the Hanky Park duo, took over. Although Pete doesn’t promote and organise the event (that is the role of Munich58), to this day, he continues to lead the singing of The Flowers of Manchester at our Supporters’ Remembrance Events at Old Trafford each year. 

Changing Lyrics

It is accepted practice in folk music to allow the words of a song to be changed as long as it doesn’t significantly alter the main theme of the song.

One of the lines in the original song was “There was ice upon the wings and the aircraft never rose”. In 1969, after the official enquiry into the crash cleared Captain Thain of any blame, Mick Groves successfully requested that the line be changed to “There was slush upon that runaway and the aircraft never rose”.

In October 2020 two further changes were made. Srinivas Rao, a United fan based in India, contacted Munich58 asking how the official lyrics could be changed to include Johnny Berry who, although didn’t die at Munich, never played again. At the time the song was first written Berry’s career wasn’t officially over hence his name not being included in the original lyrics.

A conversation between Srinivas, Munich58, Pat Burns of the MMMF and Pete Martin led to the publishers of the song officially changing the line “And Ireland’s brave Jack Blanchflower will never play again” to “Johnny Berry and Jack Blanchflower will never play again”.

At the same time, Pete Martin requested that the line “Big Duncan he went too with an injury to his brain” be officially changed to “Big Duncan he went too with an injury to his frame” as he didn’t die from a brain injury. His cause of death was kidney failure. 

    The Flowers of Manchester Lyrics

    One cold and bitter Thursday in Munich, Germany

    Eight great football stalwarts conceded victory

    Eight men will never play again who met destruction there

    The flowers of English football, the flowers of Manchester

    Matt Busby’s boys were flying, returning from Belgrade

    This great United family, all masters of their trade

    The pilot of the aircraft, the skipper Captain Thain

    Three times they tried to take off and twice turned back again

    The third time down the runaway disaster followed close

    There was slush upon that runaway and the aircraft never rose

    It ploughed into the marshy ground, it broke, it overturned

    And eight of the team were killed as the blazing wreckage burned

    Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor who were capped for England’s side

    And Ireland’s Billy Whelan and England’s Geoff Bent died

    Mark Jones and Eddie Colman, and David Pegg also

    They all lost their lives as it ploughed on through the snow

    Big Duncan he went too, with an injury to his frame

    Johnny Berry and Jack Blanchflower will never play again

    The great Matt Busby lay there, the father of his team

    Three long months passed by before he saw his team again

    The trainer, coach and secretary, and a member of the crew

    Also eight sporting journalists who with United flew

    And one of them Big Swifty, who we will ne’er forget

    The finest English ‘keeper that ever graced the net

    Oh, England’s finest football team its record truly great

    Its proud successes mocked by a cruel turn of fate

    Eight men will never play again, who met destruction there

    The flowers of English football, the flowers of Manchester