On this, the 60th anniversary of the Munich air disaster, the Bundesliga would like to commemorate the 23 lives that were lost on a dark day in 1958 when a plane carrying a young Manchester United team crashed while attempting take-off.
The tragedy that took place at Munich-Riem Airport on 6 February accounted for the lives of eight United players who formed part of young side known affectionately as 'the Busby Babes.' The accident also took three of the club's coaching staff, eight journalists, a travel agent and a friend of former Manchester United coach, Sir Matt Busby. Cabin steward Tom Cable was killed, while co-pilot Captain Kenneth Rayment died in hospital some weeks later as a result of his injuries.
Prior to their arrival in Munich, Manchester United had been in Belgrade, where they played out a 3-3 draw in the second leg of their European Cup quarter-final against Red Star that ensured passage through to the tournament's semi-finals. En route back to England, their British European Airways flight stopped for refuelling in the former West Germany. It was there, amid wintry conditions and following two aborted take-off attempts, that Flight 609 crashed while making a third attempt at becoming airborne.
"As we accelerated down the runway, something told me we were not going to make it. My last memory is of pushing a pack of cards into my pocket," United central defender and crash survivor, Bill Foulkes, recalled in quotes that appeared in the Manchester Evening News.
"I didn’t know where I was. I was still sitting in my seat - which had somehow been ripped from underneath the plane. I thought I’d just closed my eyes," Sir Bobby Charlton recalled of the immediate aftermath of the incident.
Of the 23 who lost their lives, most died at the scene. United coach Sir Matt Busby remained close to death for two months in hospital afterward, but would survive, famously returning to help rebuild the club following the the monumental tragedy that had befallen it. "Keep the red flag flying," Busby implored assistant Jimmy Murphy during his convalescence.
The players that died in February 1958 - Duncan Edwards, Liam Whelan, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, David Pegg, Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor and Geoff Bent - helped to form the nucleus of a formidable, young side that seemed destined for domestic and European dominance.
Indeed, the young Red Devils were challenging to win a third successive English league title at the time while the previous season they reached the semi-final of the European Cup, where they succumbed to a legendary Real Madrid outfit. Armed with that experience, United were set to face AC Milan in confident mood in the competition's last four in 1957/58, before tragedy intervened.
"There is no doubt that, but for that failed take-off, Manchester United were destined for great things," David Meek, a reporter with the Manchester Evening News said. "It was such a momentous event, for so many young people to die just on the verge of the great success that was ahead of them, and I couldn't understand why," United's talismanic midfielder Sir Bobby Charlton said in a television interview in 2007.
Determined to keep the spirit of the original Busby Babes alive, survivors Charlton and Foulkes had a new team formed around them, developed under the guise of their returning coach, Busby. Some ten years after the horrific event, United reached the European Cup final at Wembley and with the trio on board, saw off Benfica to bring a first continental title back to Manchester.
In a letter recently penned to Manchester United's current crop of players ahead of a tribute to those who died in the Munich air disaster, Sir Bobby Charlton wrote: “Words cannot describe the devastating effect that this had on the football club and the lives of those affected. Whether on board the plane, or in the aftermath for those and their families and friends, this disaster was life-changing for so many of my good friends."
In sentiments echoed around the world, Charlton added, "The devastating effect still lives on and this great football club, which you are part of, has risen from its darkest hour in a way like no other."
The site of the crash, now officially known as Manchesterplatz, is a memorial to those who lost their lives in 1958. To mark the 60th anniversary of the disaster, over 1000 United fans made the journey to Munich to pay their respects.
A ceremony was being held at Manchesterplatz and included speeches from Mayor of Munich Dieter Reiter, as well as Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge addressing the crowd in English. He then laid a wreath with Bayern President Uli Hoeneß ahead of a minute's silence at 15:04 - the exact moment the aircraft came down.