A look back at Birmingham City football player Johnny Berry who survived the Munich Air Disaster
Johnny Berry’s amazing story is revisited as his family auction his championship medals from his days at Manchester United
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He’s known as Manchester United’s ‘forgotten number 7’.
Former Birmingham City player Johnny Berry donned the famous shirt adorned by the likes of Beckham, Best, Cantona and Ronaldo and was part of Man U’s league title-winning sides of 1952, 56 and 57.
But while he survived the Munich Air Disaster that killed eight of his teammates in February 1958, the horrific plane crash ended his career at just 31. He died from cancer in 1994.
Now medals belonging to Johnny are expected to fetch at £80,000 at auction - 65 years after the tragic plane crash. Johnny began his football career at Blues in 1946 after learning skills while at school in Aldershot, Hampshire, and during a stint in the army - where he was spotted by Birmingham City FC.
He made 104 league appearances and got six goals before he caught the eye of Matt Busby who paid Birmingham City £25,000 to bring him to Manchester United in 1951. Berry played 277 matches for Manchester United, scoring 44 goals along the way and played for England between 1953 and 1956.
His family have put two of his championship medals up for auction later this month as part of a consignment expected to fetch more than £80,000. Alastair McCrea, head of sporting memorabilia at Ewbank’s auctioneers, said: “This could hardly be a more poignant time to bring these medals to market, 65 years on from the disaster. It is our privilege to be able to honour the memory of the Busby Babes by using the auction to recall what a wonderful talent Johnny Berry was.”
Berry was an integral part of Busby’s young squad - dubbed the Busby Babes - that claimed the club’s first league title for 41 years. He became first choice right winger for the club and wore the famous number 7 shirt on all but one of his appearances for the club, when he wore number 11 in a game against Everton.
He is rated as one of the Magnificent Seven - the greatest players ever to wear the number 7 shirt at United - alongside illustrious stars as George Best, David Beckham, Bryan Robson and Cristiano Ronaldo. But the most he ever got at United was £20 a week, worth around £670 now, and he’d even have to borrow a bicycle to get to Old Trafford on occasion.
Johnny’s son Neil, whose book Johnny The Forgotten Babe, describing his father’s years at Manchester United, was published in 2007, said: “He was a very modest man and was proud of his association with Manchester United, although he was underwhelmed by his pay and conditions. They used to play on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in those days. He had to borrow a neighbour’s bike to cycle to Old Trafford to play.”
His glittering career, which saw him make 276 appearances and score 45 goals as he picked up two more league titles at United and four England caps, was cut short in the tragic plane crash as the club returned from a European Cup match in Belgrade.
Their British European Airways jet crashed as it made its third attempt to take off from the snowy runway at Munich-Riem Airport, having stopped there to refuel.
The disaster killed 23 people on board, including eight players and three members of the club’s staff, and legendary gaffer Sir Matt was read the Last Rites twice.
When Berry came round in hospital, he had amnesia and could not remember the crash. He suffered a fractured skull, broken jaw, broken elbow, broken pelvis and broken leg and doctors kept news of the fatalities from him until he had sufficiently recovered his strength. It was another month before he learnt about the fate of his teammates, including the death of his close friend Tommy Taylor.
His 1951-52 League Division One Championship medals – his first for United – in gold and silver gilt, are each estimated at £15,000-25,000. And his 1956-57 League Division One Championship gold medals are guided at the same price.
Also for sale at Ewbank’s in Surrey on February 24 will be Berry’s Manchester United contract, his FA Cup runners up medal, a match ball from a representative game against a League of Ireland XI.