Old Trafford ceremony remembers Munich air disaster 60 years on

Fans, players and survivors hold minute’s silence in remembrance of 23 people killed in 1958 crash

Football fans, players and the families of victims of the Munich air disaster have held a minute’s silence at Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium 60 years after the tragedy.

Standing in the stadium’s east stand in gently falling snow, a 4,500-strong crowd sang hymns in remembrance of the 23 people killed when a plane carrying the United team crashed during takeoff from Munich-Riem airport on 6 February 1958.

The players – nicknamed the “Busby Babes” after the team’s manager, Matt Busby – had been returning from a European Cup match in Yugoslavia in which they had drawn with Red Star Belgrade, taking them to the quarter-finals of the competition. After stopping to refuel, the plane skidded in slush on the runway during takeoff, crashed through a fence and hit a cottage.

Eight players were killed along with three members of the team’s staff, eight journalists, two members of the cabin crew, a travel agent and a United supporter.

Opening the ceremony on Tuesday, the club’s chaplain, the Rev John Boyers, said: “Some of us will have very vivid memories 60 years ago this afternoon, when news began to filter through via teleprinter, the BBC newsflash, the local papers, of that dreadful accident in Munich. Family, friends, colleagues, teammates and heroes were dead or injured near to that smashed BEA aircraft that should have flown to Manchester.”

He later added: “When Munich happened a wave of grief and anguish swept this nation and in Manchester it impacted all. Here grief and anguish hit both United and City supporters alike. It mattered not whether you were red or blue; both sets of supporters stood together, wept together, mourned together. They all knew, together, that a remarkable team was no more.”

Among the survivors were Bobby Charlton, who would win the World Cup eight years later, and Harry Gregg, who went on to become Northern Ireland manager, both of whom attended the ceremony. The current Manchester United manager, José Mourinho, and the club captain, Michael Carrick, laid wreaths on behalf of the club and players.

Michael Edelson, a non-executive director at the club, read from Ecclesiastes 9 and 12: “No man knows when their hour will come: as fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare.” The club’s former manager Sir Alex Ferguson read from Psalm 103: “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone.”

Sir Alex Ferguson gives a reading in front of a clock displaying the time of the crash.
Sir Alex Ferguson gives a reading in front of a clock displaying the time of the crash. Photograph: Man Utd via Getty Images

The crowd sang the Flowers of Manchester, a song written in tribute to those who died in the crash, containing the lines: “Oh, England’s finest football team its record truly great, its proud successes mocked by a cruel turn of fate. Eight men will never play again, who met destruction there, the flowers of English football, the flowers of Manchester.”

Parallel ceremonies marking the tragedy were held in both Belgrade and Munich. United’s under-19 academy side, who were in Serbia for a match, visited Partizan stadium where the 1958 team played before the crash.

Among those who died was Donny Davies, a football correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. His nephew Prof Norman Davies, a historian, said “Uncle Don” was a “a real Lancastrian character and an all-rounder if ever there was one”. As well as working as a headmaster, he played cricket for Lancashire for a decade, was a Scout commissioner, a lay preacher, a journalist and a broadcaster.

He said his uncle had an infectious laugh: “He was brimming with good humour from morning till night, and the chuckles would grow into guffaws with the slightest provocation, till tears ran down his face. It was quite extraordinary.”

Davies was 65 and was survived by his wife, Gertrude, and two daughters. “He only went on the Belgrade trip at the last moment,” his nephew said. “What we heard was that a young reporter rang him up on the Thursday saying that his wife was ill or having a baby – I can’t remember which. So Uncle Don volunteered to take his place and never came back.”


Frances Perraudin North of England reporter

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Still feeling the pain of the Munich air disaster | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to coverage of the 60th anniversary of the plane crash that killed eight Manchester United players, three of the team’s staff, eight journalists and four others


08, Feb, 2018 @5:52 PM

Article image
Manchester and Germany remember Munich air disaster
Services held to mark the 50th anniversary of crash which killed 23 people

Matthew Weaver and agencies

06, Feb, 2008 @4:22 PM

Article image
For one Munich survivor, Chapecoense crash brings back painful memories
Former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg survived the 1958 air disaster that killed eight of his teammates. He says only getting back to training stopped him from going mad

Henry McDonald

02, Dec, 2016 @3:13 PM

Article image
How the Manchester Guardian reported the Munich air disaster in 1958
News of the plane crash that all but wiped out Manchester United’s young team dominated coverage in the following day’s paper

Jason Rodrigues

05, Feb, 2018 @5:42 PM

Article image
Flowers of Manchester: the football world remembers Munich 60 years on
The Busby Babes, current Manchester United players and legends of the game have been paying their respects

Guardian sport

06, Feb, 2018 @4:09 PM

Article image
The Munich disaster 60 years on: 'They were the best team by far'
Sixty years on Geoffrey Fink, a Manchester United season-ticket holder since 1945, and his wife, Ruth, have vivid memories of the Munich air crash and its aftermath

Jamie Jackson

06, Feb, 2018 @10:08 AM

Article image
1958: Manchester United players killed in Munich air crash

Darkest day in United's history: Aircraft carrying the 'Busby Babes' crashes in Munich

Guardian Research Department

28, May, 2011 @2:00 PM

Article image
Liverpool apologise after Twitter account mocks Munich air disaster
Liverpool have apologised and launched an investigation after their Twitter account appeared to mock the Munich air disaster

Guardian staff

30, Aug, 2013 @10:14 AM

Article image
Donny Davies, the Guardian correspondent who died in the Munich air disaster | Richard Williams
Donny Davies was the son of an orphanage boy and survived a German POW camp in the first world war. In February 1958 he was among those to lose his life in the wreckage of G-ALZU

Richard Williams

05, Feb, 2018 @1:02 PM

Article image
Manchester City lay wreath to commemorate Munich air disaster
A team of Manchester City delegates has laid a wreath in the Manchesterplatz in Munich to commemorate the Munich air disaster

Ian McCourt

27, Sep, 2011 @5:33 PM