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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 February 2008, 03:53 GMT
'Busby Babes will live on forever'
By Chris Mason
Europe Correspondent, BBC News

Manchester United fans (l to r) Mick Wilcock, David Cottam, Alan Taylor
Some United fans felt it important to be in Munich for the anniversary
"It will be very emotional - there will be a tear in my eye," says Mick Wilcock.

"Even thinking about it to this day brings a tear to my eye, even though I was only a kid at the time. The Busby Babes will live on forever."

Mr Wilcock, 55 from Heywood, Greater Manchester does not look the type to cry.

A lifelong Manchester United fan, he even sports George Best's signature as a tattoo on his arm.

But the 50th anniversary of the day that tore apart a team widely thought to be on the verge of great things humbles him.

It was United that pioneered European football for English clubs, Busby was a visionary
United fan David Cottam

On the 6 February 1958, British European Airways flight 609 crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush covered runway at Munich Airport.

The team, returning from a European Cup game in Belgrade, were dubbed the Busby Babes after their manager Sir Matt Busby - and because they were so young. Most of the squad were in their early twenties.

A total of 23 people were killed in the crash - eight of them Manchester United players.

Mr Wilcock says he could have spent his holiday money getting a tan in Spain.

A memorial to those who lost their lives in the plane crash
The memorial was erected on the spot where the plane crashed

But he would rather be in overcast, windy Bavaria, to pay his respects.

The commemorations in Munich later, which are being jointly organised here by the City of Munich and the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association, will include prayers, the reading out of the names of the dead, the playing of bagpipes and the laying of wreaths.

Hundreds of fans are expected to attend the memorial marking the spot where the plane crashed - now in the corner of a leafy suburban housing estate, the airport having closed and moved elsewhere.

But before the time of reflection, those who have made the journey are meeting friends - and enjoying Munich's hospitality.

An Irish pub in the city centre includes a chalk written note on its blackboard specifically welcoming those fans from Manchester - and beyond.

David Cottam from Silsden in West Yorkshire, who is in Munich with Mr Wilcock, says that despite the tragedy happening 50 years ago, the legacy of that era lives on.

A blackboard in a bar welcoming United fans for the anniversary
Fans have been welcomed in to the city for the anniversary

"I think everything we take for granted today - youth policies and playing in Europe, nobody had done that, the Busby Babes were the first team to play in Europe, Busby defied the FA to play in Europe," says Mr Cottam.

"It was United that pioneered European football for English clubs, Busby was a visionary."

At the time of the accident, there wasn't the gap there is now between the fan on the street and the player on the pitch.

That is one reason why, many argue, the impact of the crash has proved so profound for Manchester United and their fans, even half a century on.

Lifelong supporter Alan Taylor sums it up.

"It really means a lot to me to be here," he says. "It's good to be here, with the rest of the United fans."

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06 Feb 08 |  Manchester
Munich crash: Survivors' memories
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