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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fighter Who Overcame Tragedy to Lift United

MANCHESTER, England -- Sir Matt Busby, the footballing father of the Busby Babes, was Manchester United.


After proving doctors wrong and surviving the 1958 Munich air disaster which claimed the lives of eight of his young players, Busby, who died in his sleep Thursday at age 84, rebuilt Manchester United into the world's finest team. They became an emblem for the human spirit and family strength within Old Trafford that enabled the English club to overcome its grief and rise, even stronger, from tragedy.


Under his tutelage as manager, Manchester United won the European Cup, the English championship five times, and the FA Cup twice. Under his patronage as director and club president, it won the FA Cup another four times, and last year finally became champion of England again. But his legacy may never have been so great had his indomitable fighting spirit not pulled him through the Munich air crash.


Busby was haunted by the Munich disaster, which claimed the lives of 23 of those on board -- including eight of his team, whose average age was just 21. But he pushed through the mental torture -- he often saw images of the dead young players as he gazed across the empty pitch -- and within a season had created a brilliant new team.


The glory days returned, with United winning the title in 1965 and 1967. And in 1968 the nation celebrated as Busby's side became the first English club to win the European Cup -- the trophy for which they had been striving when they were struck down 10 years earlier.


Busby, who knew many successes during his long career as a player and manager, described it as "the greatest and most memorable event of my life."


One of Busby's greatest players, Bobby Charlton, who also survived the Munich air crash, once summed up his qualities.


"He has a way with him, a magic, that I've never quite seen in anyone else. He is gentle. He is courteous. He is firm."


Busby, awarded a Knight Commander of the St. Gregory by the Pope for his charity work, will be remembered as much for those personal qualities as his footballing success.