Book Review of Iain McCartney’s ‘Manchester United 1958-68: Rising from the Wreckage’


By Nathan Thomas

Manchester United Rising from the Wreckage 1958-68 Iain McCartney

Published: 30/05/2013
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
ISBN: 9781445617985

The tragedy that occurred in Munich on the sixth of February 1958 has become no less emotive despite the passing of time. Reds young and old are still touched by the moving tributes that are paid to those who lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster each year. There are none who fail to recognise it as arguably the definitive moment in the history of Manchester United Football Club, one that irretrievably shifted the team from one path, to another entirely.

Inevitably, a moment in time as significant as this is always going be discussed and debated in depth. However, despite the amount of literature that is available on Munich, it is always interesting to read a new outlook.

Iain McCartney, lifelong United fan and author of numerous United books including the brilliant ‘Roger Byrne – Captain of the Busby Babes’ provides this in his latest work ‘Manchester United 1958-68: Rising from the Wreckage’.

McCartney’s succinct knowledge of the club and the era in which he writes of is displayed throughout. However this no mere chronology of stats and facts, it is a book that includes not only detailed and anecdotal reports of the matches following the disaster opinions of fans who lived through the disaster – many recalling their utter devastation following the news that they would never see their heroes play again.

This is something that is often forgotten when remembering Munich, that it not only affected the club, but the local community of Manchester and on a national basis too. McCartney encapsulates the agony that fans felt as they listened to sporadic reports on their wireless radio sets for news of who escaped relatively unscathed and those who had died. Many things have changed in British culture since the time of the disaster and the time of the authors writing. However, through his discussions with fellow United fans, McCartney conveys a strong sense of loyalty and community spirit amongst those who supported the club through the tough years that followed the disaster, something that those who follow the club in 2013 will know is still very much prevalent – if you look in the right places.

Easily the most fascinating part of this book, is McCartney’s depiction of the rebuilding process that ensued, championed by the colossal figures of Sir Matt Busby and Jimmy Murphy. Often, books about Munich can leave the reader feeling glum, however the disaster only forms part of McCartney’s offering.

The sense of the journey from disaster in ’58 to glory in ’68 being an excruciatingly long and tiresome road is present throughout. McCartney talks of United’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ nature of the early 1960’s where players who once sparkled such as Charlton and Viollet (unsurprisingly given their horrific experiences at Munich) flattered to deceive. In the years immediately following Munich, final postings in the league typified McCartney’s assertion with United mixing respectability with mediocrity. However, the lowly finish of 19th in 1963 was forgotten about with the teams FA Cup triumph against Leicester City. McCartney sites this as the moment when the belief within the club, that hung by a thread after Munch, was well and truly re-ignited. With fresh, exciting talent such as Denis Law and George Best emerging into the first team, along with the old guard such as Bobby Charlton and Bill Foulkes, there was much to be optimistic about. Finally, there was solid proof that there could be life after Munich. Just as United Chairman Harold Hardman had predicted, Manchester United would rise again.

The best aspect of McCartney’s latest book, in my opinion, is how he encapsulates and era that could essentially declare itself as a microcosm of the ethos of our Football Club. Although in radically different circumstances, United have rose from the ashes time and time again in its 135 year history. The club have flirted with bankruptcy twice and have recovered from relegation in 1974 to sing hi-ho silver on Wembley Way not three years later. Our club is famed for using disappointment and angst to fuel the push for glory. Even as recently as last season, when United apparently ‘finished’ obliterated all-comers to seize the title back from our neighbours whom they said would go on to dominate – showing that the Munich spirit of strength in adversity is as prevalent today as it was during those dark winter days of 1958.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to any red, young or old. It is drenched in fascinating anecdotes and McCartney’s passion for his club is easily detectable and struck a chord with me and I am sure that it will do the same for many of you who read this site. Munich will always be synonymous with grief and strife, however the glory and positivity that was born out of the ashes should not be forgotten and McCartney covers this brilliantly.

You can buy ‘Manchester United 1958-68: Rising from the Wreckage’ from Amberley Publishing HERE, Amazon HERE or Waterstones HERE
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