What's it like to visit Manchesterplatz?

Wednesday 10 April 2024 10:00

When Sir Bobby Charlton passed away last October, it meant United’s last direct link to the Munich Air Disaster had left our world.

Those that watched the Busby Babes play are getting older too, so living memories of the players that left us in 1958 are slowly fading. 
Those factors mean it falls to the club and United fans to preserve such precious recollections and stories – something which supporter-led charity Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation has been focusing on since it was founded in 2018.
One of the MMMF’s imperatives is ensuring the legacy of the disaster is 'handed on to future generations’ and, with that in mind, each year they invite an adult and child who have never been to Munich before to attend the annual memorial service.

Forever remembered


On 6 February 1958, 23 people - including eight United players - suffered fatal injuries in the Munich Air Disaster.

This year, that honour fell to Irish Red Alan Egan and his niece, Sarah, from County Kildare, who our matchday programme, United Review, recently invited to be the latest fans to feature in the much-loved ‘handshake’ illustration.
“I get emails from the club every week, because I’m a member,” Alan explains. “And I was sitting in work one day and got this email about the competition [to go to Munich], so I just clicked on to it and thought: that would be interesting. 
“I thought we’d give it a go. I didn’t tell Sarah about it until we’d actually won, but it was very exciting when we found out.”
The pair were tasked with reading out the names of the deceased at the ceremony in Trudering-Riem, and laying a wreath on behalf of United fans.
“Sarah would be very shy and so was I,” admits Alan. “We wouldn’t be the best at talking in front of people. But everyone [from the MMMF] was very good with us. We got to meet Mike Phelan as well, and he was very nice, a real gentleman. That really settled us down.
“Sarah did a brilliant job. When we first got there it was a bit daunting, because the MUTV cameras were right in front of us, about four feet away, which we weren’t expecting. But we got through it very well and everyone was really good with us. 
“Afterwards, we went for dinner and people stopped to congratulate us for the ceremony; one of the guys asked if he could shake Sarah’s hand! So that was a really nice touch from the fans.”
Meeting Mike Phelan helped settle the pre-ceremony nerves, says Alan.
Sarah, a secondary school student, was already well versed on the Babes’ story due to her uncle’s enthusiasm for United. Before the trip was on the horizon, she had been given books on the subject and was working on a project about the disaster.
“It was really sad to hear about it [the disaster],” she says. “I finished the project and made it a little booklet that had a timeline of everything that happened. It was for my classroom-based assessment and I had to present it to the teacher.

“My class-mates were asking lots of questions, because they didn’t know about it. They asked when it happened, which players died and so on.”
Alan and Sarah lay a wreath on behalf of all United fans.
In that story is a small example of how the Babes’ legacy is tangibly being handed down to future generations – not just via the work of the MMMF, but by the thousands of small interactions that take place between United fans every year. Especially around February time.
Alan has been a Red since he was around 9 or 10 years old – citing the excellence of compatriots Denis Irwin and Roy Keane as a key influence – but he believes Munich and the Babes to be a rite of passage for all true United fans.
In attenting the memorial ceremony, Sarah is among a younger generation helping to keep an important legacy alive.
“When I was smaller, learning about the Babes was a big thing,” he recalls. “It drew me closer to the club and made me more of a supporter. It’s something that you wouldn’t ever think would happen. It was very surreal to be there, where it actually happened, but I’m definitely going to go back again and I’d really recommend it to other fans. 
“Everybody you meet is there for the same reason: they’re all big supporters and want to pay their respects to the deceased. At the end, Melissa [Moore, fundraiser] from the MMMF said: ‘You’re part of the family now.’
“It’s great that we’ve built that relationship, and it was lovely to be a part of the memorial.”

For more information on the Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation (MMMF), visit the charity's website.