60 Seconds of Silence – a poem for the Busby Babes


Terry Christian phones me up on a regular basis and asks me to write poems – it’s great cos like terry says – “You poets, you just sit their with nawt to write about, scratching your head and you need people like me to phone you up and give you jobs to do.”

He’s done it a few times- once when tony wilson died and again when it was the 50th anniversary of the munich air disaster. I like what terry does – he challenges me to explore the subjects close to my home and heart. Also, its a great excuse for me to geek out in libraries, bookshops and on the internet researching the thing i love to read about, the thing i like to know a lot about.

I was pissing about in all those stupidly expensive 2nd hand shops on Stockport road when he rang – “Mike, i need a poem about the busby babes, for the BBC – you’ve got two weeks – it’ll be great – it’ll be read out at 3 oclock on the radio – buzz me when its done.” and the phone went dead.

Who am i to talk about the busby babes? I wasn’t even born? I panicked

I’m a geek – i know loads about the busby babes because of united folk tales injected by big brothers listening to elton john in box bedrooms of a fallowfield home, a stones throw from maine road. These stories were compounded by drunken irish uncles at weddings, funerals and twenty firsts so i knew a lot about them –

Sack it, I thought – i’ll have a go – so i did. Read loadsa good books, uncovered things i never knew before (like the influence of jimmy Murphy on the babes), went to Old trafford and chatted to old reds and sat in cafe’s for hours on end with a pen waving over a blank piece of paper.

The hardest thing about writing a poem for public consumption is finding rythmn, shape, theme or idea. But i was helped – it was going to be read before the league game on the February 6th, 50 years to the day and we were playing city –

There had been a lot of debate about whether there should be 60 seconds of applause or 60 seconds of silence – the fear was that some of the city fans might start singing Munich songs or jeering and they’d be heard during the silence, but not during the applause

My belief was, how can you have 60 seconds of applause for the men who perished, it wouldn’t be right. What are you applauding? – i also believed that no matter how much grief united and city have, I knew deep down that the city fans wouldn’t ruin it by chanting stupid things, but the fear was always there. so, in a sense, that dictated the theme of the the poem. If you were a city fan who was tempted to kick off or sing daft Munich songs, take a minute to listen to or read the poem and hopefully the words and sentiment will stop anyone disturbing the silence.

I’m renowned for long poems but this one lasts exactly 60 seconds – read it aloud and time it.

I think it worked.

Sixty Seconds of Silence

Hold your tongue
Speak not ill of the dead
Find your own silence inside
Seeking only the truth
That boys in their prime perished that night
And the very heart of this city stopped beating
Manchester flowers
Scattered across a foreign field of powder white snow

News hissed through
Like the gas on a cooker whose flame had blown out
Freckled faced paperboys on Peter St and Piccadilly
Cried louder than they had ever cried before

Sons were lost
Mother’s sisters and wives deep sighed
Dads and brother died inside
And red and blue stood side by side by side
In silence
Because silence is so much louder than applause


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