Posted: July 19th, 2002
Sports journalist who survived Man U’s devastating air disaster.
by Brian Glanville, Guardian
The name of Frank Taylor, who has died of cancer aged 81, has long been associated with his moving book The Day A Team Died (1960). He was the only sports journalist to survive the appalling Munich air crash of February 6 1958, which devastated Manchester United for a generation, and took the lives of such correspondents as Frank Swift, the former England goalkeeper, Archie Ledbrook, George Follows, Don Davies (alias the much-admired Old International of the Guardian) and the flamboyant Henry Rose.
Taylor owed his life to two things: first, that he, untypically, sat on his own, rather than with the other journalists; and secondly, that he was hauled from the wreckage by an immensely brave photographer, Peter Howard.
Taylor vividly described how he suddenly felt “a sickening blow below the left ear… my senses slipping away… There was a tremendous hammering on the fuselage near my head, as though a giant was getting to work with a sledge-hammer.” When he came round, “every breath I took was agony”. He found himself laid on a stretcher and tried to sit up, only to be gently pushed down again by another of the day’s heroes, the Northern Ireland goalkeeper, Harry Gregg.
For some time, no one knew who Taylor was, since in his delirium he had spoken the names of one of his sons, Andrew MacDonald, which was consequently scrawled across his chest: when his wife Peggy flew out, this was the only clue she had that he might still be alive. Injuries to his right leg and left arm were so severe that surgeons considered amputating either or both of them, and even when he returned in July to Manchester, it was still a prospect, if a bone graft did not take.
In the event, he was left, as he put it, “with only 50% movement in my left arm, a right leg three inches shorter than the left, plus a rigid right ankle”. When he resumed work as the News Chronicle’s Northern football writer in early 1959, his leg was still in plaster, and he had to mount the steps at Manchester United on his bottom. But he found the determination to surmount these handicaps, branched out into sports journalism at large, and covered the Olympic Games from Rome, in 1960, to Barcelona in 1992. He never forgot his debt to the Munich surgeon, George Maurer.
Born in Barrow-in-Furness, then in Lancashire but now in Cumbria, Taylor was the son of a shipyard engineer father, and went to Barrow grammar school. From there, he joined the weekly Barrow Guardian, and, at the outbreak of the second world war, volunteered for the RAF, where he trained as an aircraft fitter. In Egypt, he was both the armed services’ Middle East sprint champion and editor of the camp newspaper.
Demobilisation in 1946 was followed by work for the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow, and the Sheffield Telegraph. At the end of 1950, he joined the News Chronicle, for which he was working at the time of the Munich disaster. After that paper folded in 1960, leaving him pensionless, he wrote briefly for the Daily Mail (with which the Chronicle merged), the Daily Herald and the Sun.
However, when Rupert Murdoch bought the Sun in 1969, Taylor, a small, sturdy, honest and ebullient man, stayed in the IPC stable, working for the Daily Mirror, where he became senior sports columnist, writing about all major sports until his retirement in 1985.
His career culminated in him becoming president of the Association Internationale de la Presse Sportive (AIPS, the world association of sports writers) in 1974. He was awarded an OBE in 1978.
He is survived by his wife and two journalist sons, Andrew, of the Financial Times, and Alastair, of the Sun.
John Frederick ‘Frank’ Taylor, journalist, born December 7 1920; died July 19 2002
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