John “Jackie” Blanchflower, Northern Irish footballer, is born on March 7, 1933, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He graduates from Manchester United‘s youth system and plays for the club on 117 occasions, winning two league titles, before his career is cut short due to injuries sustained in the Munich air disaster. He is also capped 12 times at senior level by Northern Ireland.
Blanchflower is the younger brother of Danny Blanchflower, the captain of the Tottenham Hotspur side that dominates English football in the early 1960s.
Blanchflower’s first appearance in a professional game is for Manchester United on November 24, 1951, against Liverpool, away at Anfield. He becomes a regular first team player in the 1953–54 season, when he plays in 27 out of 42 league games and scores 13 goals as an inside-forward.
Blanchflower helps the club win the league title in 1956 and again in 1957. Nicknamed “Twiggy” by his teammates, he is renowned for his versatility. He begins his career as a left-half before the emergence of Duncan Edwards in this position, at which time he switches to the forward positions. The Manchester United manager, Matt Busby, recognises his intelligent positioning sense and aerial power and chooses to play him at centre-half by the 1955–56 season, with John Doherty and Billy Whelan now competing for his former position. He faces fierce competition for the solitary centre-half place due to the presence of Mark Jones. He covers in goal in the 1957 FA Cup Final while Ray Wood receives treatment for an injury suffered in a collision with Peter McParland, who scores both of Aston Villa‘s goals as United loses 2–1. Blanchflower also plays in some of United’s first European Cup fixtures.
Blanchflower scores 27 goals during his time with Manchester United, most of them during his time as a forward.
On February 6, 1958, the Manchester United team that had travelled to Belgrade for the second leg of a European cup tie have their chartered plane stop in Munich to refuel. Weather conditions cause the plane to crash when the pilot attempts to take-off from Munich airport and 23 of the 44 people on board are killed. Blanchflower is severely injured, suffering from a fractured pelvis and arms and legs, and crushed kidneys, and his right arm is nearly severed. He is in hospital for two months and, although not a Catholic, is read the last rites but survives.
Blanchflower tries to return to football, but never makes a full recovery. Doctors advise him not to return to football because of fears he would damage his kidney and, a year later, he retires from football. The Munich air disaster means that he had played his last game of football when still only 24 years old, having earned 12 caps for Northern Ireland, played well over 100 times for Manchester United and won two league championship medals.
Blanchflower marries his wife Jean in 1956 and eventually pursues studies in finance and begins a career as an accountant. He later becomes an after-dinner speaker and is a regular on the after-dinner circuits until his death from cancer on September 2, 1998. He is 65 years old, and just two weeks prior to his death he attended the Munich air disaster testimonial match at Old Trafford.
He is survived by his three children; Krista, Senior (born 1958), Laurie (born 1961) and Andrew (born 1963), as well as his wife, Jean, who dies in 2002 following a long illness.