Liam Whelan MUFC
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Liam Whelan: Dublin’s Busby Babe

At Munich-Reim airport ,Liam Whelan replied, “Well, if this is the time, then I’m ready,” as the significant aircraft attempted to take off once more. (Harry’s game)

Liam, the fourth of John Whelan’s seven kids, was born on April 1, 1935, at 28 St. Attracta’s Road, Cabra, Dublin. John and Elizabeth Whelan were labourers. Although he was a skilled Gaelic football player and hurler, his true passion was football, and at the age of twelve, he joined the highly regarded Home Farm club.

Liam Whelan: Manchester United

To locate a new forward, United trainer Bert Whalley came to Dublin in 1953. Whalley had been following a different player at first, but he was drawn to an eighteen-year-old who had been with Home Farm FC since he was twelve. Liam Whelan was signed by United right away, and two weeks after his arrival, the native of Ireland had scored in both legs of the FA Youth Cup final over Wolves.

He made his United debut in a 2-0 victory over Preston North End, two years after moving to the team. By the 1956–57 season, Whelan had become established in the first team thanks to his impeccable accuracy. In 98 games, he scored 52 goals, setting a club record that stood for over 50 years when he scored in eight straight League games.

Bobby Charlton wrote about how, while United was in Switzerland for the 1954 World Cup, the Brazil team showed up for one of their matches in his autobiography. United triumphed 9–1. Brazilian club authorities inquired about Whelan’s availability due to his remarkable performance. According to what Charlton heard, they intended to return him to South America.

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Whelan was a humble, religious Catholic who lived close to his family off the pitch. He sent his mother a quarter of his monthly salary.

A 6–0 victory over Shamrock Rovers in the following year’s European Cup tournament in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Dalymount Park, a short 10 minute walk from his birthplace, was one of Whelan’s final matches for United.

In his final two international matches, Whelan faced up against a number of his United teammates, notably Duncan Edwards of England. The Irishman nutmegged his opponent in a sportsman’s bet.

Munich Air Diaster

In 1958, Busby’s team would play Red Star Belgrade in the second leg of their quarterfinal European Cup matchup in Yugoslavia. The Red Devils advanced to the semifinals after United won the first leg 2-1 and the away match ended in a 3-3 tie. Whelan and his youthful teammates were transported home from Belgrade by a BEA Elizabethan, which was piloted by James Thain.

The aircraft, which was carrying one of the best youth football teams the English game had ever seen, crashed through a fence at the end of the runway and struck a house and fuel storage. A slush pile near the runway’s end was the cause of the accident.

Whelan and his fiancee, Ruby were going to get married in June of the following year when he passed away. On February 12, thousands of mourners flooded roads and witnessed his funeral at St. Peter’s church in Phibsborough. The funeral procession then proceeded to his final resting place in Glasnevin cemetery.

I went up to his home in Cabra the night before with my father. The house was open to everyone on the night, and it was crowded. I saw Liam’s mother for a moment, but the poor woman didn’t know where she was. Everyone was shell-shocked.

Dublin, like Manchester, was under a pall of gloom. It couldn’t be any other way in a city with such a football tradition, a city full of kids dreaming of playing for Manchester United.

Johnny Giles

23 individuals lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster on February 6, 1958, including some of the greatest soccer players of their period: Geoff Bent (25), Tommy Taylor (26), Liam Whelan (22), Eddie Colman (21), Duncan Edwards (21), Mark Jones (24), David Pegg (22), and Roger Byrne (28). 15 days after the accident, Duncan Edwards — regarded by many as the best player of his generation—passed away. 

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Legacy

On the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster in 2008, Liam Whelan was portrayed on an “An Post” stamp. In his hometown of Cabra, Liam had a bridge named after him in 2006 that was unveiled by Bobby Charlton, a former teammate and possibly the greatest Manchester United player of any era. Liam’s grave is still visited by Manchester United fans every year on the Munich Air Disaster’s anniversary.

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