Manchester United honors team wiped out in 1958 Munich air crash

Updated on Feb 06, 2008 07:39 PM IST
So it was again on Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of the Munich plane crash which killed eight United players.
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AP | By, Manchester

Manchester United was in mourning _ and the world united behind the stricken club.

So it was again on Wednesday, the 50th anniversary of the Munich plane crash which killed eight United players.

Survivors and victims' relatives joined current players and soccer dignitaries at Old Trafford for a memorial service which was to start at 3:04 p.m. (1504 GMT) _ the time when disaster struck on Feb. 6, 1958, on the snow-covered runway and generated an outpouring of global grief.

Again tears will flow around the storied stadium, which was turned into a makeshift mortuary. Again the wasted talents will be eulogized. Again survivors will express gratitude and question their fortuity.

"It was the biggest team, the best team, and it was just an unbelievable tragedy," said Bobby Charlton, the young forward who survived and today serves as a United director and ambassador. "For the people who survived, all we can say is that we were lucky." Beneath Old Trafford's memorial, fans, relatives and former players gathered Wednesday to leave red and white bouquets, replica jerseys and to recall treasured memories of the "Busby Babes." "It's important to remember the old times and the old great players," said 63-year-old Keith Williamson, clutching an album of photos featuring Matt Busby's hallowed team. "I'm a Busby person and always will be. It was a golden era in the history of this club."

At the disaster scene in Trudering, on the outskirts of Munich, hundreds of United fans were gathering for a short religious service.

Appropriately, Wednesday's commemorations in Manchester will be split into 45-minute halves and will focus equally on remembrance and educating young fans about Busby's team.

A memorial service will be led by Rev. John Boyers, the club's chaplain.

Then speakers will recall Duncan Edwards, Roger Byrne, Geoff Bent, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Mark Jones, Liam "Billy" Whelan and Tommy Taylor, as well as 15 other officials, supporters and journalists who perished returning from the European Cup quarterfinal match against Red Star Belgrade.

"We can instill in younger fans a greater sense of history and with that, a greater sense of pride in what Manchester United is really about," club secretary Ken Ramsden said. "It's not just about winning the league this year or last year, it's about a football club."

To serve that purpose, a free permanent exhibition dedicated to the "Busby Babes" will be unveiled Wednesday. A strong emphasis will be on United's rebirth, which produced a European Cup triumph a decade after the 1958 disaster.

"The way Sir Matt built that team, we're trying to repeat it," said United manager Alex Ferguson, a 21-year Old Trafford veteran. "We want young players who were brought up at this club the right way, and to understand what playing for this football club is. "And the younger you get them, the better it is." Ramsden, a lifelong United fan, worked at Old Trafford from 1960 and was instrumental in the club's survival.

"The club had no money, everything we bought was secondhand," he said. "The club relied on people coming down to the ground to do a day's work, opening envelopes, sell tickets, brew up, do the jobs. I can't get over it, even now. How the club survived it is beyond me."

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