Manchester prepares for derby match
Manchester United players have spent weeks immersed in nostalgia and grief commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster.
Now comes the most poignant tribute to the eight players killed in the February 6, 1958 crash.
Manchester United and Manchester City players will play in 1950s-style kits with no sponsorship markings when they meet Sunday in a highly anticipated Premier League derby match. The five remaining survivors will lay wreaths on the Old Trafford pitch before kickoff, and a minute's silence will be observed. Munich survivor Bill Foulkes, who captained Matt Busby's decimated side, hopes memories of his late teammates will be revived when he looks out at the simple uniforms.
"I think I'll enjoy it," he said. "We had a fantastic team and I can remember a lot of them."
United is hoping the unique tribute doesn't take an emotional toll on the players.
"We've got to be professional," veteran winger Ryan Giggs said. "We know there's going to be a lot of emotion surrounding the game. Our job is to go out and win the game for ourselves and the fans as well."
Manager Alex Ferguson believes his team has an added incentive to win for the five survivors.
"I hope it's a motivation. The players have got responsibility on Sunday to do well," he told reporters Friday. "They always have, but maybe the expectation level is a bit higher on Sunday. "I hope we win an put in a really good performance _ I think the two go hand-in-hand on this occasion."
There has been a massive publicity drive by both clubs to ensure City fans don't disrupt the minute's silence before the match. Access to the stadium will close five minutes early to prevent noisy latecomers, and inflammatory anti-City banners have been removed from inside the stadium.
"Football rivalry is one thing, but when people die too early in an extremely bad accident you've got to respect that it doesn't matter if you're wearing a blue or a red shirt," City manager Sven-Goran Eriksson said Friday. "Don't be a fan for that minute, be a fan after."
A moving memorial service inside Old Trafford on Wednesday was the focal point of the commemorations for the crash, which killed 23 people after a refueling stop returning from a European Cup match at Red Star Belgrade.
Ferguson said the service was one of his proudest moments since taking charge in 1986.
"I realize I'm managing one of the greatest clubs of all time," he said. "It was just fantastic how the older players paraded their affection for the club in the way they did, it was absolutely outstanding.
"If you were taking an advert for Manchester United _ that was the advert on Wednesday."
Ferguson believes his young team, including the beguiling talent of Cristiano Ronaldo, is in the mold of the "Busby Babes." "Given the history of the Munich disaster and the way the team plays these days, the number of young players who are so exciting, I think we've got equally exciting players at our club at the moment," he said. "Young players who are doing the same thing as Manchester United have done in the past, trying to entertain and excite."
City, though, will be determined to pick up its first victory at Old Trafford since 1974 and claim its first league double over the Red Devils in 38 years.
With just one shot on target, City's 1-0 victory in August's derby sent the Blues briefly to the top of the standings and United into a slump. But their fortunes have switched since the summer, with United second in the standings and City 17 points adrift in seventh.
"We have an excellent home record against them but one thing you have to remember is in a derby anything can happen," Ferguson said. "Football can do these things to you, can surprise you and amaze you and can produce miracles. Hopefully it doesn't happen on Sunday."
Eriksson hopes Zimbabwe striker Benjani Mwaruwari can make an impact in his debut after his protracted transfer from Portsmouth. "He's strong, he's quick ... and he could be the difference for us," Eriksson said. "It's a good opportunity for us to show the season's not finished."