‘The classic terrace tribute to the Busby Babes starts: “There is a plaque at Man United, it’s underneath the old Main Stand, It bears the name of Duncan Edwards, he was the finest in the land…”, and in the previous four volumes of Great United Songs, there has been, by way of further information, this: ‘this refers to the original Munich plaque, which is now hidden and part of Old Trafford’s brick work within the Main – South – Stand”.

Though I’d always been fascinated as to exactly what happened to this original plaque, I have to admit, somewhat shamefully, that that was as far as my knowledge went. I presumed that, for whatever reason, the plaque was now somehow enclosed within the fabric of Old Trafford, and knowledge about how this came to be and why was just another one of those little mysteries we’d never fathom.

But in preparing the centre-spread for RN112, which featured the shot from the early 60s by C Stand showing the crowd approaching the ground, we discovered that the original plaque was in the corner of the image, above the old Directors Entrance. For some reason this compelled me to find out more about the Plaque, to thankfully get off my arse and see what the exact script was.

And thankfully Red News managed to find out quite a bit. As far as I knew, the original Munich plaque was apparently too fragile to move during ground redevelopments made in the mid 1970s. It was said that the club decided to keep it in its original place but it would not be possible to see it as it became part of the building work itself of Old Trafford. That was as much information as I knew.

The Red News website can be a bit of a pain, a few lads trying to do their best and update the news in their spare time yet getting abused by e.mail for not having stories up and ready by 9am! But if the negatives of dealing with abuse and bizarre enquiries from Timbuktu, the positives are that through the internet we have opened ourselves up to loyal readers, new and old alike, who go out of their way to help us with appeals such as this we put out.

Before that though, I came across this priceless first step – http://pmsa.courtauld.ac.uk/pmsa/MR/MR-TRA04.htm – which details the exact architectural and chronological elements of the original Plaque. That revealed that it was unveiled on the 25th February 1960, and was to become the first of three such plaques.

Three? I knew of two, this original (which had a green pitch as the main frame) and the one currently residing by the East Stand entrance to the right of the Busby statue. Their website explains: “Several ideas for a memorial were considered by the club before one based on the Old Trafford ground was decided upon. The design was produced by a local architect, J. Vipond…The names of those who died were incised in black and gold glass on the green faience.

Its construction was undertaken by Messrs Jaconello (Manchester) Ltd. The cost was £2,100. Above the memorial was a carving in teak of two figures, representing the players and spectators, standing with bowed heads on either side of a wreath, beneath which was a football, inscribed with date, 1958.

The memorial was placed above the main entrance to the Directors’ box. It was unveiled by Matt Busby in a ceremony attended by the relatives of those who had died, survivors of the crash and members of the present team. Two further memorials were unveiled on the same day: a bronze plaque naming the eight journalists who died in the crash was placed in the press box by Frank Taylor of the News Chronicle (a survivor of the crash) on behalf of the Football Writers’ Association, and a memorial clock, paid for by the Ground Committee, which was erected at the front of the stadium.

Alterations to the ground in the mid-1970s necessitated the removal of the memorial. However, due to its fragile nature it proved impossible to do this without damaging it, and the decision was taken to leave the memorial in situ (now part of the East Stand) and commission a new memorial. This was a somewhat simpler and smaller representation of a football pitch in slate, on which the names of the dead were recorded. It was installed in 1976. A third memorial was commissioned to coincide with the installation of the statue of Sir Matt Busby, it having been decided that the statue would stand beneath the memorial at the Old Trafford end of the ground. This followed more closely the design of the original, showing the pitch and stands. It was the work of Mather & Ellis, stonemasons, Trafford Park, and installed in 1996.”.

I decided to contact the club to see what their take on all this was, and if they could shed any more light on it, as RN readers started to send their own memories in. The consensus, proved above, was that the old plaque had not been destroyed, but was, as we thought, walled up inside the re-building of the Main Stand, no longer visible. But did that mean it was still visible within Old Trafford, say to club staff?

The first contact we had from a RN reader – and there were many – confirmed the worst, that the plaque had been damaged during the reconstruction in the 70s. Tony told us: “What a load of bollocks about it being safe. Having been brought up on the Stretford End when the match was over and we came out we’d all be headed for the forecourt via the main entrance, you’d ALWAYS look up to the plaque above the main entrance and momentarily quietly pay your respects to the great ones whom tragically met their fate as you passed by. BUT as the building work progressed I distinctly remember seeing a huge hole cut out of the plaque with a concrete beam going straight through it – and that is on my kids lives! I could not believe my eyes, it was sheer sacrilege on behalf on the club, my heart sank to the bottom of my stomach. I just couldnít comprehend something like that being allowed to happen. It should have been saved and placed in the Museum just like the original main front doors were and that red bench you can sit on and the row of wooden seats. They can dig out and resurrect dinosaurs and put them back together (why not this?). Ask them to cut a hole in the tunnel roof under the Main Stand side above where the main door was – my thinking is the proof is there!î

Though you can’t help but feel times have changed, so that if the same thing happened now, building practices are such that this would never have been allowed to happen, it doesn’t say much for those at the club who didn’t keep their eyes on the ball to prevent this damage back then, as PE Red wrote on 4 the RN forum: “If the plaque was damaged in building through lack of care, that would really p**s me off. Somehow, though, I think this would be typical of some aspects of MUPLC (or the club and the people running it at the time) – the appreciation of history goes amiss in the chase for the dollar/pound/yen, etc.î One reader dates the damage happening after 1977 when it was still visible (and safe).

As someone else put though: “The romantic in me likes to think that the plaque is there, out of sight, built into the stadium and represents the heart of the club.” Then Mike Thomas of www.munich58.co.uk had this from a source at the club: “The first one is the one which it was not possible to move, the second one which replaced it is currently in store (and will be relocated to the Museum soon) and the third one is now on the corner of East Stand.”

A few readers informed us that the club have a whole warehouse full of memorabilia which is currently not on show at the museum, including that 2nd plaque. We hoped then that the 2nd plaque was well protected and Mark Wylie, the excellent curator of the Museum (who even collects RN), told Red News that:

“The second Munich plaque is indeed waiting to come over to the museum. It is currently in store at Old Trafford and we are planning new display panels for our Munich commemorative display. Once we have the new panels we will then have the plaque and panels installed together, as the current display panels are the wrong shape and size. It is literally just the ‘pitch’ section of the plaque with the names on, not the complete memorial.

There isn’t really either a warehouse or a room full of items kept in storage for the museum but located outside the museum. There are various storage areas around the ground containing all manner of things from spare seats to the aforementioned plaque, but the plaque is only in there because we had no room in our Museum store for something so large. We do have a museum object store within the museum, which contains the club collection. It contains a large number of items that are periodically displayed in the museum.”

United’s Communications Dept then got back to us and even managed to get a reply out of one of the Kens (we’re still not sure which one, Ramsden or Merrett!). They told us: “The plan was to move the original when we started to create Exec facilities, (it was located above the Directors Entrance). It was set into concrete, I think, but in any event was damaged and could neither be repaired or removed.” Again, no doubt moving such things would be possible now, but Cliff Butler also informed us about the memorial in the press room. “The original one was stolen from the Press Box in the 80s, the replica is now in the Press entrance behind the counter.” Which journo stole that then?

United’s reply doesn’t give much hope that much of the original plaque remains (if any?), and the cynic in me wonders if there actually is any of the plaque there at all, and was this story put out to appease any fans’ anger if it leaked out. Sibelius on the forum wrote: “Perhaps it was fixed, and remains in place, but I wonder if reference to the plaque still being insitu is actually a reference to its remnants.” Whatever did happen, it is a sorry tale, for the fact that so little was really known about what happened to it, and why someone wasn’t able to preserve it. But in the RN appeal another source of information came forward in a mailed letter.

Mick Wilkinson of Darwen wrote in: “I work at the factory that made it and know one of the people who worked on it so I asked him about his memories of it. Trevor was in his 20s when he worked on it, he’s in his 70s now. Shaws of Darwen who made it, actually made two. It was made in seven pieces and fitted together on site. The pitch is in 4 pieces, the figures 2 pieces, and the central feature between the figures the last piece. Two were made in case any part split or cracked when it was fired up in the kiln.
It was made of clay and then sprayed to the colours it was and he thinks the lettering was picked out in gold leaf. When it was fired in the kiln it came out perfect and the 2nd one was not needed. This spare one stayed in the warehouse until 1982/83 when the company went bust and the site was cleared out so it went in the skip. The company opened under new management and is going strong to this day.”

A revealing insight into its birth, and two things immediately spring to mind. Firstly, if itís sad that nobody was able to preserve the original, how unfortunate that United didn’t contact Shaw as they had a replacement that could have been used to replace it with – as it is this rare and lost duplicate is probably somewhere out there, who knows where. And secondly if little old Red News can find out all this information, in little under a month with our limited resources, you would hope that a massive institution like the club itself would be better able to keep a tab on certain valuable pieces of information about our history and aspects of it.

As it is, at least the current plaque resembles the first, though I don’t like the idea of the plaque being ‘around the corner’ as it is now, displaced because of the Megastore. As some readers argued, surely when the ground is redeveloped and that area is filled in and the plaque has to move once again, shouldn’t it be in a more prominent position. For good this time.