Reds to mark 50th anniversary of Munich disaster
Manchester United have been granted permission to play in non-sponsored shirts, numbered one to 11, in honour of the Munich air crash victims when they play Manchester City at Old Trafford on February 10.
The game is the nearest to the actual 50th anniversary of the disaster on February 6, 1958, when 23 passengers, including eight players, lost their lives when a plane returning from a European Cup tie with Red Star Belgrade crashed on take-off after a refuelling stop in Munich.
Among those who perished were England international and United skipper Roger Byrne, then record signing Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards, arguably the finest English player of all time, who was just 22 when he lost his fight for life after a two-week battle in hospital.
There has been much speculation over precisely how United would mark the darkest hour in their history, especially as England - who will pay their own tribute to the four former internationals who died - are playing Switzerland at Wembley on the evening of the anniversary.
So keen are the Red Devils not to get involved in any kind of commercial activity around the occasion that they are refusing to say exactly what colour shirts they will wear, although as the 1958 team wore the familiar red in that fateful final game, a traditional kit seems most likely.
Shirt manufacturers Nike and sponsors AIG have agreed to the move, with club officials also confirming their in-house TV station MUTV will be free-to-air on February 6, allowing fans to access a wide-ranging number of documentaries, with the station carrying no advertisements.
A free, permanent exhibition to the Munich crash, telling the story of Matt Busby's legendary 'Babes' will be created in the South Stand tunnel, while invited guests, including some supporters, will also attend a memorial service on February 6 that will coincide with the exact time of the crash, 3.04pm.
Mindful of the potential for disruption by Manchester City fans at Old Trafford the following Sunday, United are eager to stress the 'Manchester' aspect to the disaster.
Former City keeper Frank Swift, who was then a journalist with the News of the World, was among those who perished, while the whole of Manchester was consumed by grief when news of the disaster began to emerge.
'The Munich air crash was not just about Manchester United,' said chief executive David Gill.
'It devastated the lives of the 23 families of those who died, as well as those who never played again and united a city in grief.
'Those who are able to remember say it was Manchester's 'Kennedy moment'. Everyone knows where they were when the terrible news came through.
'It is a heavy responsibility that those of us who work for this great club and those who live and work in this magnificent city have to show respect, admiration and regret over that loss some five decades ago.
'I believe that, in partnership with the families, fans, authorities, Manchester City and our sponsors, we have created a programme which will enable everyone to remember, pay respect to and learn about a wonderful side, cut down in its prime.'