A view of the south east corner of Old Trafford football stadium showing the memorial clock installed in 1960 as a tribute to the victims of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, and also the tunnel below the South Stand (Sir Bobby Charlton Stand) which was renamed as the "Munich Tunnel".

Last weekend, Manchester United’s men’s, women’s and youth teams all marked the anniversary of the 1958 crash at games and services both here and in Germany. Zoe Hodges reports on an emotional weekend.

65 years ago last Monday (6 February) was the darkest day in Manchester United’s history. The team, nicknamed The Busby Babes, had just beaten Red Star Belgrade in the quarter-final of the European Cup and their plane had stopped to refuel in Munich. Upon the third attempt at take-off, the plane crashed due to slush on the runway, killing 23 people including eight players and three staff members at the club. Every year, a fan-led memorial service takes place in Munich at the site of the disaster whilst Old Trafford hosts its own service at the entrance to the Munich tunnel.

All last weekend, the club took time to reflect upon those who were lost in the disaster. At Manchester United’s game against Crystal Palace on Saturday 4 February, both Erik Ten Hag and Palace manager Patrick Vieira laid wreaths on the centre circle at Old Trafford before the referee blew his whistle for a minute’s silence. The whole ground fell silent in a show of respect and a banner was unveiled at the Stretford End showing the Busby Babes and the words ‘We’ll Never Die’. The families of those lost, as well as those affected, were guests of the club; the flags flew at half-mast as a gesture of respect and a rendition of The Flowers of Manchester played as the teams walked out.

The following day at Manchester United Women’s game against Everton at Leigh Sports Village, Marc Skinner along with Everton manager Brian Sorensen replicated what we had seen at Old Trafford the day before as they laid wreaths and the two teams fell silent alongside the fans. Around the advertising boards, the names of those lost: Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Billy Whelan, Walter Crickmer, Tom Curry, Bert Whalley. 

As well as those directly involved with the club, there were a further twelve fatalities. Eight journalists: Alf Clarke, Donny Davies, George Follows, Tom Jackson, Archie Ledbrooke, Henry Rose, Eric Thompson and former Manchester City goalkeeper Frank Swift. The plane’s co-pilot Ken Rayment also died, plus crew member Tom Cable, travel agent Bela Miklos and supporter Willie Satinoff, a friend of United manager Sir Matt Busby.

At the service at Old Trafford on Monday, club captains Harry Maguire and Katie Zelem laid wreaths at the Munich Memorial Plaque. Speaking to club media, Zelem said “I think it is so special for me, the girls and the staff that we can be a part of the club on this anniversary occasion.” The services at Old Trafford and Manchesterplatz, Munich, were led by Munich58 and Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation. The full Under-18 and Under-21 squads were also at Old Trafford and laid a wreath on behalf of United’s Academy sides.

A huge part of Manchester United’s ethos is based upon the legacy of the Busby Babes. All those involved in the club, even those at youth level are encouraged to learn about the history and about the crash. This year, the Under-13s travelled to Munich to pay their respects. They took part in the service with Joe Williams reading a poem written by the squad, and teammate Oliver Meredith laying a wreath. They also spent time with the local community and handed out United scarves to the residents in Munich. Ahead of the service, a new memorial showcase was unveiled at the crash site for fans to visit and pay their respects. The tribute has been funded by donations from fans as well as Red Docs Munich and FC Bayern Munich.

It’s an important part of the club’s calendar every year, to pause and reflect upon that terrible disaster which tore apart the club and all those connected to it. Matt Busby went on to rebuild his team and ten years later they once again won the European Cup, but those talented individuals the Reds lost will never be forgotten and every year at 15.04, the time of the crash on 6 February; the fans, the managers, the players and the academy will pause to remember them.

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Featured image: Old Trafford, The Munich Tunnel and Memorial Clock
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © David Dixon – geograph.org.uk/p/5671550

Munich clock image: PeeJay2K3, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Zoe Hodges

    Zoe has been a journalist for over eight years specialising primarily in music and sports. She has had the pleasure of interviewing some of the biggest artists in the country music genre and covering major sporting events such as the Women's Euros and the Commonwealth Games. In her spare time she enjoys writing and composing her own music.

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