A memorial service was to be held on Wednesday for the eight Manchester United players killed when the team’s plane crashed in Munich 50 years ago as they returned from a European Cup match.
The remembrance service, at the English Premier League champions’ Old Trafford ground, was to start at 3.04pm GMT — the exact time of the tragedy that also killed 15 other people on board British European Airways flight.
But while the focus will be in north-west England, thoughts will inevitably be in southern Germany at the site of the old Munich airport where the charter plane crashed on take-off in blizzard conditions half a century ago.
In Trudering, Munich, where a plaque similar to one at Old Trafford lists the dead, an English-speaking Roman Catholic priest was to conduct a religious ceremony organised by the Independent Manchester United Supporters’ Association.
The names of the 23 dead will be read out, The Flowers of Manchester — a song penned in tribute after the disaster — played on bagpipes and wreaths laid.
Survivors of the crash — the darkest day in the giant club’s illustrious history — will be among the congregation at Old Trafford, including Bobby Charlton, the midfielder who was part of then-manager Matt Busby’s talented young side.
Although he went on to win the 1966 World Cup with England and became part of the footballing establishment, the loss of so many teammates still haunts him.
”There was never an instinct to try to put Munich out of mind. Munich was just too big, too overpowering, to permit that kind of reaction,” he wrote in his autobiography, My Manchester United Years.
”It was something that you knew, right from the start, you had to learn to live with.”
Wednesday’s events are among a series designed to mark the event — and Busby’s successful efforts to rebuild his shattered side, laying the foundations for the superclub of the modern age.
Busby’s side were back-to-back English champions and were well-positioned for a hat-trick and have been seen as being on course to become the club’s best-ever team.
The club is unveiling a free, permanent exhibition of the 1958 side — forever known as ”the Busby Babes” — in the South Stand tunnel at Old Trafford, which will now be renamed the Munich Tunnel.
MUTV, the club’s official television channel, is being shown free on cable and satellite all day on Wednesday and a minute’s silence will be held before England’s friendly match with Switzerland at Wembley Stadium in London on Wednesday night.
And on Saturday, Manchester United will wear a one-off 1950s-style kit free from sponsorship and numbered 1 to 11 as well as black armbands. Their opponents, rivals Manchester City, also plan to wear a special kit.
Former City goalkeeper Frank Swift was one of the crash victims. He had been reporting on the European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade that saw United advance into the semifinals with an aggregate win.
”We’ve tried to make sure we deal with things around the anniversary appropriately and compassionately,” said United chief executive David Gill, who has described the crash as ”Manchester’s Kennedy moment”. — Sapa-AFP