Reflections on United's powerful trip to Belgrade
Standing beside the pitch in Belgrade, where the Busby Babes played their final match in 1958, it was impossible not to feel a deep connection to the history of Manchester United.
Just yards away was the exact spot where Roger Byrne, Duncan Edwards and that famous side lined up, in preparation for a European Cup tie against Red Star that ended in a typically thrilling 3-3 draw.
The resulting photo of the Babes, proudly standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, has become one of the most iconic in our club’s history and is still on display at the nearby Hotel Majestic.
That is where Matt Busby, his staff and players stayed during that fateful trip to Serbia some 61 years ago.
The small building in the centre of Belgrade was visited by countless Reds supporters during this week’s trip to the capital city, which was only our second since the 1958 tragedy.
Bryan Robson is another such character and he was proud to lay a wreath on the pitch at Partizan Stadium on Thursday morning, when a private ceremony was held in memory of those lost. The former club captain later revealed he’d previously spoken to Sir Bobby Charlton about the match that was played in Belgrade and was clearly moved by the sense of history at the venue.
Three members of the Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation - Anthony Crook, Mellissa Moore and friend Malcolm – attended, too, and they were also visibly moved by the powerful ceremony.
As a mere employee of the media department, I genuinely felt privileged to attend the memorial event in Belgrade, with a task to document what was a poignant tribute to those who were lost.
United's emotional return to BelgradeVideo
“It’s an old stadium and it has the history around it,”Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told us, after arriving at Partizan Stadium.
“When you sign for the club our history is special, the good and the bad, and I’m sure the players will know this is a special place.”
Our manager is a student of United history and, with him in charge, the principles that Busby instilled in his Babes are alive and well as defining characteristics of our great club.
Solskjaer has repeatedly referenced Sir Matt’s mantra that you are old enough if you are good enough and that was again evident during our Europa League tie against Partizan.
It was fitting that some of United’s best players came from the youth system, and with five of the 14 players used all aged 21 or younger. That’s a remarkable statistic in such an intimidating venue.
Highlights: Partizan 0 United 1Video
The pick of the bunch was Man-of-the-Match winner Brandon Williams, who at 19 produced a performance that was befitting of a senior professional. He was a constant threat on the left flank, played with confidence, showed no fear and won the penalty which ultimately earned the victory.
James Garner also made his full debut for club by starting in central midfield alongside his fellow Academy star Scott McTominay. The start was a deserved reward for the youngster’s excellent form during the pre-season tour and also during this campaign with the Under-23s.
All of our young players handled the European stage with impressive composure and maturity, coping admirably with a rowdy atmosphere that has justifiably been described as intimidating.
As Solskjaer and the squad left Partizan Stadium after the victory, dressed immaculately in those historic club suits, the connection to 1958 and the club’s historic past felt strong and powerful.