To about 75% of the world football is the greatest sport in the world(in one of them!) with the other 25% probably probably don’t care about the game or their American who hate that sport they call Soccer especially been a great sporting nation which would see the fans following the likes of American Football, Baseball or basketball. Whatever sport we love we all have one thing in common we all love the game but with passion sadly we get sometimes tragedy and football is no stranger to tragic events over its grand history: From Ibrox, Glasgow, Bradford Stadium fire, Heysel stadium, Hillsboro and Munich the devastating event for this drama, United.
United is a poignant tale of the ‘busby babes’, the celebrated young team of Manchester United built up by Sir Matt Busby, trained (& nurtured) by Jimmy Murphy. They were probably the first team of ‘superstars’ of post-war UK as well as one of the youngest teams to actually won the English football league too. This was a team on the verge of great things but that dream was tragically robbed from them on a fateful day on February 4th, 1958 when the team was returning from a European cup match in Belgrade onboard a special chartered aircraft crashed after a third attempt to depart a snowbound Munich Airport. On board that fateful flight was the team, management, family, friends, Journalists, 23 of them lost their lives including 8 players.
This drama was first shown on BBC 2 during April, which stars David Tennant (Jimmy Murphy), Dougray Scott(Matt Busby), Jack O’Connell (Bobby Charlton) and Sam Claflin (Duncan Edwards). Like what Alan Hansen likes to say on Match of The Day “It’s A Game of Two Halves” is how you could describe this film, first part is the build up to the crash starting around 1956 showcasing that this team was on the verge of greatness, it was also based on Bobby Charlton’s upcoming debut for the first team, it also highlighted the fact at how talented these young guys where. We see the start of Charlton’s relationship with Murphy as well as his close friendship with Duncan Edwards who was regarded as one of the clubs and England’s finest player in a forward position. He was a player young Bobby looked up to even in the ‘art’ of picking up girls – “Don’t tell them you’re a footballer, You make £15 a week and only play until you’re 40- what girls want that?” 50 plus years on its a different matter now the lure of been a WAG for some young girls is too good to ignore especially when the players earn 6 figure amounts weekly now, money most of us will never see in a lifetime.
The middle part of the film is the sad part the Munich crash itself, anyone who’s ever been a survivor, relative of a victim or even a witness to a tragic event, the tragedy will haunt for the rest of your days (Charlton today still suffers though he won’t publically say it). When recreating an event such as Munich sensitivity is the key, not to sensationalise anything be as truthful as possible and thankfully the production team has tread carefully not to take the over the top Hollywood style crash. Everything was a low-key affair (the budget was limited too), effectively done, working on the tension rather than the graphic element, using whirly cameras aggressive cutting. You really do get a sense of something’s not right, we do see the aircraft go through those failed take off’s but as we know now it was n’t third time lucky, the plane is now shaking more aggressively and the screen goes blank for a moment, the silence was is haunting. From the impact the camera pans out slowly to reveal the aftermath first 2 the players still strapped to their chairs one is young Bobby, eventually more horrors are revealed as he realises what’s just happened, blood-soaked snow, debris of spilled luggage, signs of dead bodies thankfully shown in a dignified way but enough to represent something big has just happened.
What really stands out is the individual performances of the main characters. David Tennant proving there is life outside the Tardis and why he is one of UK’s gifted actors, his portrayal of Jimmy Murphy is so convincing (despite some critics having a go at his Welsh accent), a man passionate about the game so proud of the young men he’s nurtured.Murphy was a man who would rather kick a ball than kick a director in the boardroom leaving those formalities to the gaffer Matt Busby, personally, Tennant is one of the best character actors Britain has seen in a long time. Despite playing one of Man United’s icon figures Dougray Scott didn’t have a massive screen time but when he was on screen he pulled off a great performance nailing the legend’s voice, mannerisms, a charismatic man not scared to stand up to authority (just like Sir Alex Ferguson nowadays), a visionary, someone who gained respect from his staff, players even boardroom people would stop listen to his words of wisdom. Jack O’Connell does a grand job as Bobby Charlton a despairing young man full of talent, bogged down with deep guilt on why he survived the tragedy, not his friends, he was a young man crying out for a father figure which we now know Jimmy Murphy gave.
Footballers life in the 1950’s was in a way not too similar to today’s superstars but then again it is a lot different. The players socialised together in local snooker halls smoking, drinking, gambling a lifestyle that would give management nowadays a heart attack. When they went out to dance halls or clubs then they were still celebs though it seems been a plumber financially was more of a pull than been a footballer, but now if a player goes to a club it usually ends up in front of a tabloid with them ending up in court for a sex crime or drink driving. Unless they lost their licence you would never see a footballer been driven to work but we see young Bobby having the pleasure of his uncle (played by Tim Healy) driving him from North East England to Manchester which gave the drama a nice little bit of lighthearted humour.
United maybe about a legendary football team but it’s not a football drama but a moving powerful story about 23 people 8 of them players who were robbed of that footballing dream many players will never experience even today. You don’t have to be a football fan to appreciate this story, it’s an emotive drama that would even bring a tear to the hardest person out there. United is a study celebrating the strength of human spirit in the wake of tragedy.