Prince Philip was a special guest at countless illustrious sporting events throughout his life, from an international football match between England and Scotland in 1949 to the Rugby World Cup final at Twickenham in 2015.
But few would have been more poignant than the 1958 FA Cup final between Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers.
Winning the FA Cup was then defined as the pinnacle in English football, but Bolton hero Nat Lofthouse’s smile as he was handed the FA Cup by the Duke of Edinburgh in front of 100,000 fans didn’t capture the whole mood on a profound day at Wembley Stadium.
On February 6 1958, Matt Busby’s United team was involved in one of sport’s greatest tragedies, the Munich Air Disaster.
Eight players from Busby’s side, nicknamed the ‘Busby Babes’, were among 23 fatalities after a plane crashed in West Germany on United’s return from a European match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
Just 86 days later, Busby was leading his makeshift United team out to Wembley, clutching a walking stick, still wounded from the crash three months earlier.
The iconic Scot returned to the dugout after weeks in hospital, alongside assistant Jimmy Murphy who had led the club through its greatest crisis.
This was an occasion that gripped the nation and United were given an incredible greeting as Prince Philip shook the hand of each and every brave player before kick-off.
The game itself won’t be remembered as much as the moving scenes that overwhelmed it, but still included one of the most controversial goals in FA Cup history.
Bolton defeated United by two goals to nil and legendary Lofthouse scored both goals. His second came after a shoulder barge on Harry Gregg, the goalkeeper labelled ‘the Hero of Munich’ for pulling out three of his teammates from the burning plane.
The Busby Babes had beaten their Lancashire opponents 7-2 in a league game at Old Trafford before the Munich disaster decimated their team, but this fixture was one step too far on an incredible run to the final by a grief-stricken club.
The Duke of Edinburgh gave warm congratulations to Lofthouse, Bolton’s greatest ever player, before handing him the coveted FA Cup before respectfully muted celebrations began.
Prince Philip was aged 36 at the time of the final and would look back at an emotional contest with great fondness and admiration for not only the winners but United’s courage and the sincerity of all who attended.
Image courtesy of British Movietone, via YouTube.