Hello. It looks like you�re using an ad blocker that may prevent our website from working properly. To receive the best Tortoise experience possible, please make sure any blockers are switched off and refresh the page.

If you have any questions or need help, let us know at memberhelp@tortoisemedia.com

A Manchester disaster

A Manchester disaster


64 years ago, a plane carrying the Manchester United team crashed in Munich killing 23 people. It is a tragedy that unites both of the city’s teams.


Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, the disaster that unites Manchester’s teams


Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, the disaster that unites Manchester’s teams.


On Sunday, at four minutes past three in the afternoon, Manchester United commemorated the sixty-fourth anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster. 

“Busby’s Babes, as they were affectionately called, were on their way home from Belgrade when the disaster struck. They were on top of the world. Their three goal draw with Yugoslavia’s Red Star team had put them through to the European Cup semi-finals. They had high hopes of the English FA Cup.”

British Pathé

That day, seven members of the team, nicknamed the “Busby Babes”, lost their lives when their plane failed to take off on an icy runway at Munich airport. 

That total would rise to eight when Duncan Edwards – their 21-year-old star – died in hospital 15 days later. 

With so many members of the team lost in  the crash, there were concerns that Manchester United would have to fold.

Matt Busby, the manager, was read his last rites – twice. But he survived, and would go on to take Manchester United to a European Cup win just ten years later. 

In total, 23 people died, including reporters who were travelling with the team to cover the game. 

And it’s the death of one of those reporters that made this not just a tragedy for United, but for Manchester City as well. 


I’d like to tell you about a man called Frank Swift. 

He died in the Munich Air Disaster while working for the News of the World. 

But before he became a journalist, he was a goalkeeper for Manchester City, a one-club man who made 375 appearances over 16 years.

And for three years, he played alongside Matt Busby at Manchester City. 

Yes, the same Matt Busby who became the legendary Manchester United manager.

“Matt Busby’s sense of judgement when he’s taking a pass is one of his great assets, and he can trap a ball with unfailing precision. He’s very swift on the ball, which brings us to the goalkeeper, Frank Swift.”


In the same team as Frank Swift and Matt Busby was my great-grandad, Peter Percival.

And in 1934, they won the FA Cup with Manchester City.

My Dad has photos of Peter running along Southport beach alongside Frank Swift and Matt Busby. They went there for a training camp ahead of the final. They played golf together too. 

At 23 years old, Peter was on the fringes of that team. He’d started two matches that season, versus Aston Villa and Leeds United. 

But in 1934, substitutes weren’t allowed, which meant he missed out on a mention as being part of the squad for the FA Cup final. But we know he was part of it. 

Manchester City won 2-1 versus Portsmouth in front of 93 thousand fans at Wembley. 

Long before the days of rich foreign owners and a new stadium, Manchester City held a victory parade.  

“All along the route, crowds turned out to cheer them. This is how Manchester received them. Over a million people greeted the team.”



In 1935, my great-grandad Peter transferred to Sheffield Wednesday. My Nanna was born that year in a house owned by the club, not far from Hillsborough. 

The next year Matt Busby also left Manchester City for Liverpool but Frank Swift remained until his retirement in 1949. 

He was the first goalkeeper to captain England in the 20th century. And he’s widely regarded as one of the best English goalkeepers of all time.

Despite his lofty achievements, Frank Swift remained a man of the people. 

As a player, he would catch the same bus to the ground as the fans. He was President of the Manchester City supporters’ club after his retirement. 

When my Nanna bumped into Frank Swift on a school outing, he remembered his former team-mate, her dad, and passed on his regards.

Taking a job after retirement from football wasn’t unusual in those days, even for a top-level player like Frank Swift. 

In fact, it was pretty necessary. My great-grandad’s contracts show that reserves were paid four pounds per week, and first-teamers got five pounds.

And it was when Frank Swift was working as a journalist that he was killed in the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. 

My great-grandad died of an asbestos-related illness just two years later. He’d gone to work in a brick factory after he retired from football.


The Munich Air Disaster will forever be linked with Manchester United and rightly so. 

“Robust red numbers at rest in a timeless slumber, alongside pressmen, pilots and passengers. United in peace. 

“15:04, sport’s an afterthought…”

ITV Granada Reports

But it’s also worth remembering that the blue half of the city has one of their legendary players to mourn too. 


Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.