Tributes paid in Manchester & Munich for 60th anniversary of Man United disaster
Eight first team players were killed and a further 15 – including crew, club officials and journalists – lost their lives when the team’s plane attempted to take off in treacherous conditions at Munich airport, skidding off the runway and crashing on its third attempt.
The team had been about to embark on the second leg of their return journey from a European Cup quarter-final 2nd leg versus Red Star in Belgrade, Serbia, where they had advanced on aggregate to the next round. The slush on the German runway meant eight of the team never saw the semi-final.
Manager Matt Busby’s side were English champions and had reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, and had defied the English FA to enter the European Cup, a newly created tournament between teams on the continent. Busby, who begot his side of young stars their nickname, was seriously injured in the crash.
He and assistant Jimmy Murphy carefully rebuilt the side, leading them to further league and FA Cup success and then vindicating their foray into Europe to their first European Cup win at Wembley a decade later in 1968.
On the 60th anniversary, a memorial service was held at Manchester United’s Old Trafford home ground, attended by 4,500 fans and club figures including United legends Sir Bobby Charlton, who was a passenger on the plane, and goalkeeper Harry Gregg, who pulled survivors from the burning wreckage.
Snow fell while fans queued outside Old Trafford and throughout the service and renditions of the hymn ‘Abide with me’ and club chant ‘We’ll never die,’ sung by the first team wearing club suits and Munich badges, standing beside former manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who paid tribute to the Babes.
"The Babes are what gives this club such a fantastic romance, in terms of how they played the game and how they generated this thread of youth throughout the club. The spirit of the club is created by all these young players, and that began back then," he told the club's official match program United Review.
Hundreds of Manchester United supporters also flew out to Munich to pay their respects. For many, the 60th anniversary celebrations merely coincided with their annual pilgrimage to the site of the disaster to lay flags, flowers, banners and mementos with messages in remembrance of the Babes at the specially-named Manchesterplatz near the site of the crash.
Online, the football world paid tribute, led by past and present Manchester United players, including Wayne Rooney and Pele. Premier League clubs also posted memorial tweets, including United’s rivals Arsenal.