The Shoreham Airshow disaster – a football perspective

Worthing United’s Matt Grimstone and Jacob Schilt were, tragically, not the first footballers to have their lives claimed in an aviation accident, as Dan Long investigates…

Worthing United couldn’t play their Southern Combination League match against Loxwood last Saturday. It will undoubtedly be a tough ask when the fixture is rearranged.

But they should have been able to. A cruel twist of fate during Sussex’s Shoreham Airshow, on 22nd August, claimed the lives of goalkeeper Matt Grimstone and midfielder Jacob Schilt – both just 23 years old. On Saturday afternoon, unbeknownst to the pair, high above their car on the A27 was experienced pilot Andy Hill, preparing to perform a loop-the-loop manoeuvre in his vintage Hawker Hunter. But instead of completing the feat, the jet plummeted towards the busy road at 300mph and exploded, killing 11 drivers.

Grimstone or “Grimbles” was described in a club statement as “a huge talent, quiet and reserved with huge potential to go further in the game”, whilst Schilt was “small in stature and a tenacious midfielder, also very skilful with an eye for goal”. Both players were part of the club’s most successful season in its history, in which they won the league and cup double. All club fixtures have been postponed in the wake of the UK’s deadliest airshow disaster since 1952.

Tragically, this was not the first disaster to fatally injure members of the footballing community; most recently in 1993, the entire Zambian national team was killed when their plane suffered engine failure en route to a World Cup qualifying match in Senegal. Pilot Fenton Mhone realised the problem and shut down the engine down; at least he thought he had. Crucially, he had shut down the plane’s only working engine causing a catastrophic loss of power, sending the 25 passengers and five crew spiralling into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Gabon, to their deaths. A newly reassembled team reached the final of the African Nations Cup, inspiring the documentary ‘Eighteam’ and in 2012, the Zambians triumphed in the same competition, dedicating the win to their fallen compatriots.

And for perhaps the most well-known disaster, one must rewind to February 1958. Manchester United manager Matt Busby and his “Busby Babes” are due to fly back to England after a European Cup quarter-final match against Yugoslavian (now Serbian) side Red Star Belgrade. Pilot Captain James Thain and his colleague Kenneth Rayment have successfully flown from Belgrade to Munich, where they would refuel their Airspeed Ambassador 2. One of the plane’s engines is experiencing problems and two unsuccessful take-off attempts have led to the passengers being escorted from the plane – 15 minutes later they return. Striker Liam Whelan utters the now-haunting words, “This may be death, but I’m ready”. After much deliberation, Thain and Rayment attempt a third time. But the weather has taken a turn for the worst and snow is falling heavily onto the runway, rapidly turning to slush.

During the latter stages of take-off the plane begins to lose speed, skids and crashes into a perimeter fence; hitting a family home on the way. The cockpit smashes into a tree; the fuselage hits a wooden hut with a fuel lorry within it, causing a major explosion. 23 of the 44 passengers died that day, including the aforementioned Liam Whelan and Duncan Edwards, the latter of whom was described by Busby as “the most complete footballer in Britain – possibly the world”.

Despite the fact Grimstone and Schilt were simply non-league players, just as is true of the Busby Babes, their untimely passing will immortalise them to thousands, as heroes taken too soon from the game they loved so much.

Worthing United have announced that they will return to action on 6th September against East Preston in the FA Vase, with the game being billed as an all-ticket affair with the proceeds from the game being donated to the fund in Grimstone and Schilt’s memory.

It is truly heart-breaking to have to say it once more, but nobody should leave home for a football match and never return.

The original article can be found here.


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