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Feb 6, 2013

Fergie tells of Munich air disaster anguish

Sir Alex Ferguson has said he will never forget the horror of the Munich air disaster and remains inspired by the way Sir Matt Busby rebuilt Manchester United after the deaths of eight players who were destined for greatness.

• Sandy Busby interview
• Busby Babes remembered
• Okwonga: Munich, Fergie, Sliding Doors

February 6 marks the 55th anniversary of the day when a British European Airways plane transporting United back from a European Cup quarter-final second leg against Red Star Belgrade failed to take off in Munich and crashed.

It claimed 23 lives, including eight of the youthful United side nicknamed 'the Busby Babes' and made a lasting impact on Ferguson, then a 16-year-old in Glasgow.

Now 71, he told the BBC: "I've been affected since a young boy. It was a sad time. For many it's probably long forgotten but for someone like me who remembers the day, you won't forget it."

Ferguson can still remember where and when he was at the time of the Munich air disaster, recalling: "I was in the library, swotting for an exam, and I used to train with a local team on a Thursday night. I came in and one or two players were crying, older players and I had no idea what happened."

"About half past six at night. They cancelled the training. When you are caught up in that and the aftermath of it and the publicity of it, the papers detailed what had happened, you couldn't help but feel that enormous loss and that has carried on for a long, long time. Every year, you have to remember that."

United and England captain Roger Byrne, 28, died along with fellow defenders Mark Jones, 24, and Geoff Bent, 25, plus wing-half Eddie Colman, 21.

The prolific England striker Tommy Taylor, 26, also died along with left winger David Pegg, 22, and the Irish inside-forward Liam Whelan, 22.

Fifteen days later, 21-year-old wing-half Duncan Edwards, regarded as the greatest talent of them all, died in a Munich hospital as a result of injuries sustained during the crash.

"It was a fantastic group of young men who were destined to be great and that was the tragedy of it in how it was taken away from them," Ferguson added.

In addition, two of the survivors, Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower, were injured so seriously that they never played again while manager Busby was read the last rites twice during two months in hospital.

United played again 13 days after the crash, featuring two survivors, Harry Gregg and Bill Foulkes, and managed by Busby's assistant, Jimmy Murphy, went on to reach the FA Cup final that season.

They eventually won the European Cup ten years later, in 1968, under Busby and with a team that included two players who were in the plane at Munich, Foulkes and Sir Bobby Charlton.

Ferguson said: "How we rose to get over that is remarkable in terms of Sir Matt and Jimmy Murphy and all the staff at the time."

England manager Roy Hodgson was not yet in his teens when the disaster happened, and it also left its mark on him.

"I remember that night extremely well," he said. "I remember sitting at home as an 11-year-old and hearing the news and being absolutely devastated.

"So many great players, and a footballing generation in Manchester lost their lives.

"It is a sobering thought but it is important to remember those things."

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