Manchester and Munich unite to recall 'a black day in the history of football'

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The Independent Football

From an unprepossessing corner of east Munich to a stand at Old Trafford, the 23 lives lost in the plane crash which has come to define Manchester United were remembered yesterday.

At 3.04pm – a time engrained on the club's psyche by the clock stopped at that time on Sir Matt Busby Way at Old Trafford – a group of 200 fans gathered at the memorial stone in the Munich suburb of Trudering, near the site of Reim airport which has since made way for a trade centre. "The Flowers of Manchester" was played on bagpipes as those gathered, including the Bayern Munich chairman, Karl Heinz Rummenigge, bowed in reflection.

Around 1,000 people, including the United owner Malcolm Glazer's sons Joel, Avram and Bryan, gathered in the Manchester Lounge at Old Trafford where the image which perhaps best defines United's loss – their starting XI, lining up on a freezing evening to face their last match against Red Star Belgrade fewer than 24 hours before the tragedy – was projected throughout a two-hour commemorative event. Thousands more gathered outside the ground.

The full emotion in Manchester is reserved for Sunday's derby match, when both City and United will wear 1950s kits, free of commercial logos. But Munich's came yesterday as Rummenigge, who worked hard to ensure that a memorial befitting the tragedy was erected in 2004, spoke of the loss.

"Six February 1958 was a black day in the history of Manchester United, but also for football in general," Rummenigge said. "I can imagine today the thoughts of my old friend Bobby Charlton, team member of that great and fantastic Busby Babes team."

A United supporter took the microphone and expressed fans' gratitude for the site before the crowd dispersed, some singing Busby anthems.

Back in Manchester, many fans wore modern shirts with the legend "Munich 58" emblazoned on the backs, while the late Duncan Edwards' No 6 jersey was in abundance. The names of the 23 who died were read out before a minute's silence and a service inside led by club chaplain, the Reverend John Boyers.

One of the early arrivals for it was the club's former goalkeeper Alex Stepney, a schoolboy of 15 at the time of the tragedy. "I am very humble," he said. "I was 15 at the time and I remember how shocked everyone was. Little did I think or dream then that I would play for the team when they won the European Cup in 1968."

Underneath the huge poster of the iconic Belgrade image currently hanging from the East Stand, supporters paid their own tributes and few were more poignant than that of Derek Taylor, 66, who was working for a local newspaper as a copy runner, taking breaking news information from a teleprinter, on the day of the crash. Inside, Sir Bobby Charlton told those gathered that the team "decimated in Munich" would have been the first British team to win the European Cup that year.

A free, permanent exhibition of the Busby Babes in the South Stand tunnel, now renamed the Munich Tunnel, was unveiled by United's chief executive, David Gill, and Roger Byrne, whose father, the United captain Roger Byrne, died in the crash.