As the 60th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster is fast approaching (6th February 1958) there is a steady increase in the number of articles, tweets, posts, tribute events and reminiscences becoming apparent across the media and social media.
For the last 10 years I have been specifically looking as the commemoration of Duncan Edwards, one of the Manchester United footballers who died as a result of the injuries sustained in the crash, specifically I have studied the dedicatory activity at his grave. I was supported in my studies by a team led by John Hughson at the National Football Institute at UCLan (University of Central Lancashire) which is the research arm of the National Football Museum in Manchester.
The findings of my research are now a PhD thesis which was recently completed and now ‘out in the world’. It includes unique testimony from some of Edwards’ family which has never been recorded before, a case study of 4 years of photographic documentation and analysis of the commemorative activity at Edwards’ grave in Dudley, West Midlands and it considers Edwards and the Munich Air Disaster within the wider context of the social and cultural responses to death, dying and remembrance.
At the heart of the study is my unique relationship to the subject. I was inspired to study Edwards by mother’s reminiscences of Edwards (her cousin) as they shared a childhood. Edwards was so integrated into our family history that I had to remind myself that although it felt like was ‘living’ alongside us, he had died years before I was even born. What inspired me the most to delve deeper into the subject was my family’s desire to remember Edwards privately and in there own way, to the point that they are never referenced within the ‘official’ family cohort nor do they choose to attend memorial events. However they form a special group of individuals who knew and grew up with Edwards. For them the 60th anniversary will not be the mourning of a famous footballer and Manchester United son. Their mourning will be for a boy that they shared part of their lives with, before Manchester and ultimately Munich came along.
When Edwards is remembered and celebrated this month by so many people in so many ways, I’d like to think that somewhere in some quiet back street there will be a young girl or boy kicking a ball against back gates and walls pretending to be ‘Big Dunc’.
For me that would be the most fitting and lasting tribute.