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Thursday, February 5, 1998 Published at 09:06 GMT


3.04pm, February 6, 1958
image: [ The plane crashed during its third attempt at take-off ]
The plane crashed during its third attempt at take-off

A young Manchester United team, said to have been one of the best in the club's history, met with tragedy on a snowy runway in Munich 40 years ago. Eight players died, their average age was just 24. The BBC's North of England Correspondent, Kevin Bocquet, looks at an infamous event in the history of one of the world's most famous football clubs.

The Munich air crash was one of football's worst ever disasters, but it also marked the birth of the Manchester United legend.

[ image: A twenty-third victim, Duncan Edwards, died two weeks later]
A twenty-third victim, Duncan Edwards, died two weeks later
Twenty-three people were killed when the BEA Elizabethan airliner crashed while taking off from the snowbound runway at Munich airport.

Among the dead were eight of United's most promising young players - the Busby Babes - the finest English club side to emerge since the war.

As the club was engulfed by a wave of sympathy, its name became a household word, and it has never lost that worldwide following.

Sir Bobby Charlton, who as a 20-year-old was one of those who survived the crash, later said that before Munich, United was just a local club - afterwards, everybody owned a little bit of it.

The United team, which had won the First Division championship in the 1957 season, was returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade. The aircraft had landed in Munich for refuelling.

[ image: The BEA Elizabethan split in two]
The BEA Elizabethan split in two
The crash happened as the plane made its third attempt to take off. Survivor Bill Foulkes said: "There was a tremendous impact. I looked down and below my feet the plane had just split in two. We got out as quickly as we could, and did what we could for the people who'd been hurt."

The injured were taken to a Munich hospital. Former United player, Albert Scanlon, whose skull was fractured, was unconscious for five days:

"When I woke up, I was on a ward with five of the team. I started wondering where all the others were, and asked a priest. Eventually he said to me 'what you see is what you've got. There's nobody else, everyone's dead.'"

Seven of the United team, including skipper Roger Byrne, were killed in the crash itself. Duncan Edwards, one of England's finest footballing prospects, died in hospital fifteen days later. Eight journalists, who'd been covering the match, were also killed.

[ image: Matt Busby recovered and went on to lead United to European glory]
Matt Busby recovered and went on to lead United to European glory
The team's manager, Matt Busby, recovered from horrific injuries and a decade later, led United to success in the European Cup.

That victory - the first in the competition by an English club - confirmed the Manchester United legend. Meanwhile, players like George Best and Dennis Law gave the club a glamorous pop-star image, which continued into the 1990s with players like Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham.

But while some of the Munich survivors, like Sir Bobby Charlton, went on to enjoy glittering careers, others felt they were forgotten.

Albert Scanlon, who now lives on a small pension at his home in Salford, said: "The only compensation we received was a few hundred pounds from BEA. The club did pay our wages while we were injured, but apart from that they gave us nothing. Nowadays, I even have to pay, just like anybody else, to watch United play."

Former goalkeeper Ray Wood, who now lives in East Sussex, also on a basic pension, said: "It would have been nice to have had some recognition from the club, as the players who made it what it is today."

[ image: Eric Cantona is set to make a return to Old Trafford]
Eric Cantona is set to make a return to Old Trafford
Manchester United, now one of the biggest clubs in the world with profits last year of 27m, are organising a testimonial match later this month to benefit the survivors, and the relatives of those who died. United will take on an Eric Cantona European XI with the former United captain playing a half for each side.

Club chairman, Martin Edwards, said: "There was a disaster fund at the time, but the amounts raised for the players were paltry by modern standards. Now is the appropriate time to do something more for them."

Bill Foulkes said: "It's a little bit late - but better late than never.

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