A quiet dignity: Old Trafford remembers the Babes

Tuesday 06 February 2024 17:00

The weather, as it so often is in these parts, was wet and unrelenting.

But Manchester United's loyal, battle-hardened fans turned out in deep numbers on Tuesday afternoon, as we do every year on 6 February, to remember those whose lives were cruelly taken away by the Munich Air Disaster.
The crowd included those young and old, from the famous to the anonymous, as the club and its fanbase came together to honour the 23 who perished due to the 1958 plane crash – including eight first-team players and three staff members.
This event, led by the Munich 58 group, has always been labelled as 'for the fans, by the fans', but many present were clearly touched to see some of the most senior figures present to show their support – most notably Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Jim Ratcliffe.

The players we lost in Munich


We revisit a feature in which Sir Bobby Charlton and Wilf McGuinness remember their team-mates who perished in Munich.

Not that their presence was amplified in any way – this was a service that was all about quiet, dignified reflection.
There were no phones being brandished, no shouting or posturing, just a solemn sense of respect, community and shared history.
Former club chaplain Rev John Boyers hosted the memorial, and began by inviting a series of supporters to the platform to deliver various poems and songs.
The 66th anniversary event in Munich Video

The 66th anniversary event in Munich

The Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation held their annual service at Manchesterplatz, to mark the 66th anniversary...

Men's team manager Erik ten Hag and United Women boss Marc Skinner laid a wreath on behalf of the club, as did our two senior club captains, Bruno Fernandes and Katie Zelem.
Further wreaths were laid on behalf of the Association of Former Manchester United Players and our fans, respectively. Perhaps most movingly, one of our Under-13s team, Joe, read out a special poem from the United Academy.
The service culminated in a two-minute silence at 3.04pm – the time at which the plane crashed in Bavaria – before an emotional rendition of folk song The Flowers of Manchester.
After the tune had finished, the crowd spontaneously broke out into a raw chorus of defiant United fan favourite We'll Never Die.
A moving poem at Manchesterplatz Video

A moving poem at Manchesterplatz

Watch a 15-year-old Foundation participant read a stirring poem to fans at Manchesterplatz in Munich…

As Rev John brought proceedings to a close, we spared a thought for those who had recently left us, most notably Sir Bobby Charlton – the last of United's survivors from that terrible day. Also mentioned were Mark Pearson, who made his debut in the first match after Munich – a 3-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup – plus Lady Cathy Ferguson.
How lovely it was to hear the names of two late, great United fans, Ian Stirling and Tom Clare, also being saluted. Neither of those men played on the pitch for Manchester United, like the Busby Babes did, but they devoted so much of their lives and energy to helping fellow Reds and keeping the United flame burning fiercely.
I am confident that both would have been deeply, deeply honoured to receive even the briefest of nods in a ceremony set up to pay tribute to the Busby Babes. 
But Munich, after all, is something that brings all of us – fans, players and staff alike – together on a very human level, and the strength of feeling never seems to fade. The glory and tragedy of the Babes remains at the centre of our club's story, and there it will always stay, as both our sorrow and our inspiration.