However, his injuries ended the first-team regular’s career at the age of 31. By that time, the right winger had played a part in all three of United’s league titles of the 1950s, a feat equalled only by team captain Roger Byrne, who died at Munich.
When Berry came round in hospital, he had amnesia and could not remember the crash. Having suffered a fractured skull, broken jaw, broken elbow, broken pelvis and broken leg, the doctors kept news of the fatalities from him until he had sufficiently recovered his strength. It was another month before he learnt about the fate of his teammates, including the death of his close friend Tommy Taylor.
Berry’s family consigned his Man U medals for auction at Ewbank’s (25% buyer’s premium) in Surrey on February 24.
They included his 1951-52 League Division One Championship medal – his first for United – in gold and silver gilt, estimated at £15,000-25,000. That medal took £22,000, as did – on the same estimate – his 1955-56 and 1956-57 back-to-back title-winning honours also in their original fitted cases.
One of the best auction performers against estimate was actually a runners-up honour, for the FA Cup in 1957. The gold medal, in original fitted case, realised £13,000 against an estimate of £3000-5000.
Berry had joined from Birmingham City in 1951. He played for United from 1951-58, completing 276 appearances and scoring 45 goals over the next seven years. He wore the number 7 shirt in every game but one, the September 1955 fixture against Everton, when he donned number 11.
Berry’s Football League Representative Match medal from 1954 for a game against the Football League of Ireland sold for £3000 (estimate £800-1200), and a signed leatherbound book on the life of Eva Peron presented for his appearance in an England vs Argentina match in Buenos Aires in 1953 went within estimate at £460. Berry played for England four times between 1953-56.
His Man U contract from June 8, 1956, showing his wage of £12 per week, sold for a mid-estimate £1900. Berry’s son Neil, whose book Johnny The Forgotten Babe, describing his father’s years at United, was published in 2007, said: “He was a very modest man and was proud of his association with Manchester United, although he was underwhelmed by his pay and conditions.
"They used to play on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in those days. He had to borrow a neighbour’s bike to cycle to Old Trafford to play.”
The most Berry ever got at Man U was £20 a week (now about £670), but that was a fortune compared to his pay at Birmingham: £7 a week in the winter and £5 in the summer, when he had to supplement his wages by working as a barber.
All the Berry items – seven in total – were purchased by a buyer in the room, a UK collector.
Ewbank’s sold the football collection and medals of former United captain Norman Whiteside in July 2020.
On March 7-8, the Graham Budd (24% buyer’s premium) Sports Memorabilia auction in Wellingborough offered another winner’s medal from the 1956-57 season. It was given to Berry’s fellow Munich crash survivor whose name is more familiar to most football fans: Dennis Viollet.
A local lad, born in Fallowfield in 1933, he was a key member of the Busby Babes. Viollet scored 16 league goals in the 1956-57 campaign.
The inside forward is joint fifth (with George Best) on the United all-time top goal-scorers list with 179 – but from 293 appearances so he has the best goals per game ratio in the top 10 at 0.61 per game, fractionally more prolific than Denis Law in this respect.
Viollet played for United until 1962 and scored 32 league goals in the 1959-60 season.
The 9ct gold, 15gms medal had been sold in an auction of Football Memorabilia, including the Dennis Viollet Collection, at Christie’s Scotland in October 1994.
At Budd’s sale, consigned by a private collector with a trade card showing Viollet and a newspaper obituary, it doubled the top estimate to make £30,000 from a private buyer online.
A United No 10 shirt worn by another Munich disaster survivor, Sir Bobby Charlton, also took £30,000 (its high estimate).
The red short-sleeved Umbro jersey was worn in the friendly match against Real Madrid played on October 1, 1959 and gained by Ferenc Puskas as a swap after the match.
The clubs played five friendly matches from 1959-62 and were seen as vital parts of Matt Busby’s rebuilding programme after Munich.
The jersey was consigned by Puskas’ granddaughter.