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By ESPN Staff

Survivors and supporters pay tribute to dead

The survivors of the Munich air disaster gathered today to pay tribute to their fallen colleagues as Manchester United marked the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

Sir Bobby Charlton, Bill Foulkes, Harry Gregg, Kenny Morgans and Albert Scanlon joined the families of 19 of the 23 passengers who died as a result of the injuries they suffered when BEA Flight 609 ZU crashed on take-off on February 6, 1958.

On an emotional afternoon at Old Trafford's Manchester Suite, they sat alongside hundreds of invited guests with thousands more gathered outside to mark the occasion, while a ceremony took place in Munich at the same time.

It was an afternoon for sadness, but also reflection on the impact the Busby Babes, winners of five FA Youth Cups, had made on British and European football and perhaps that which they might have gone on to have.

United chief executive David Gill said: 'It's been an emotional day.

'No-one who was here could fail to be touched by the service and the tributes by colleagues and comrades.

'We are sure the exhibition will give fans the chance to learn about the legacy of the Busby Babes for generations to come.'

The accident happened as manager Sir Matt Busby - who was himself seriously injured in the crash - and his players headed back from Belgrade having secured their place in the European Cup semi-finals.

Charlton said: 'If it hadn't been for the accident, United would certainly have won it that year.

'We were certainly up for it. There was no challenge too big for us.

'We would have actually done it.'

In total, 23 of the 44 passengers on the plane that day were to lose their lives, eight of them United players - Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor, Liam 'Billy' Whelan and Duncan Edwards, who died 15 days later - as well as three club officials, secretary Walter Crickmer, chief coach Bert Whalley and trainer Tom Curry.

In addition, eight of the nine journalists who had travelled with the team also perished, as did co-pilot Kenneth Rayment, steward Tom Cable and two other passengers.

The lives of each were celebrated at the service of remembrance, which was followed by a series of tributes and the formal unveiling of a new permanent memorial in the renamed Munich Tunnel housed in Old Trafford's south stand.

United chaplain the Reverend John Boyers conducted the service, during which current club captain Gary Neville lit a candle for each of the dead as the roll of honour was read out at 3.04pm, 50 years to the minute that Flight 609 ZU crashed and changed so many lives.

Many wept as the names were called at the most poignant point in the memorial.

Mr Boyers gave thanks for the heroism of those who rescued and treated the survivors - goalkeeper Gregg famously went back into the wrecked plane to rescue fellow passengers - and for the support the club, the bereaved families and the survivors received from around the country, and particularly from arch-rivals Manchester City.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Busby's grand-daughter, Jane Gibson, were among the readers as successive generations played their part.

The afternoon was concluded when, watched by the five surviving players, Roger Byrne Junior, son of the 1958 captain, and Gill unveiled the new memorial.

However, there were lighter moments when Charlton, Gregg and Nobby Stiles, the irrepressible midfielder, who was Eddie Colman's 15-year-old boot boy at the time of the accident, were asked to recall their memories of the Busby Babes.

Charlton said: 'I am always, always aware of something he (Busby) said to the team many years ago.

'He said: 'Trafford Park, which is just behind us here, is the biggest industrial estate in the city and they work hard, and they work long.

'On a Saturday, it is up to you to provide a little entertainment for them', and he was absolutely right.'

Remarkably, Gregg played for United just 13 days after the tragedy in a 3-0 FA Cup fifth-round victory over Sheffield Wednesday.

Asked if had aches and pains, he answered modestly: 'A lot of people have aches and pains - I had one or two before I got there!'

He added: 'You could not sit about at home, you could not sit and go crazy.

'Today they have psychologists and all those other trick cyclists. You had to help yourself.'

The Munich disaster robbed English football of one of it most promising youngsters in the shape of Edwards, although Gregg insists there was a side to the 21-year-old people seem to have forgotten.

The former Northern Ireland international said with a smile: 'Don't kid ourselves, if Duncan could not get past you, he went through you.'

In Germany, the tributes were lead by Bayern Munich president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who said: 'February 6, 1958 was a black day in the history of Manchester United, but also for football in general.

'I'm proud to be a fan of Manchester United. People in England say 'God save the Queen'. Today, I say God save Manchester United.'