On the 6th February 1958, the world woke to the news that the plane carrying the Manchester United squad of the time - the legendary Busby Babes - had crashed during a failed take-off attempt from Munch airport. The team had been returning from a European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade in Yugoslavia, stopping in Munich for routine refuelling. Snow had begun to fall after two aborted take-offs, leaving a slush on the runway that caused the plane to lose traction, crashing through the fence at the end of the runway and colliding with a nearby house.
20 people were killed in the crash, with a further three dying as a result of their injuries. United lost eight players to the disaster alongside three staff members, with team manager Sir Matt Busby remaining hospitalised for two months following the crash, during which time he was twice read his last rites. The tragedy itself is something that should never be forgotten, the fragility of life rarely more apparent than in the deaths of a group of young men in their prime, but perhaps more significant to the footballing community at large, was what followed.
With the United squad decimated by the disaster they were inevitably short of players - despite the promotion of a group of young players from the reserve team - and received a loan of three players from non-league Bishop Auckland. They were also reportedly offered player loans from Liverpool, Leeds and Nottingham Forest. Minutes silences were held up and down the country prior to kick-off in the following matches and black armbands were worn by opposition players as a mark of respect for the lost players.
Following their European Cup victory later in the season, Real Madrid offered the trophy to United and, when it was refused, offered to play cut priced friendlies with full strength squads to boost the experience of the young squad and provide much needed funds in the wake of the disaster. They also offered holidays in Spain to the players and their families to help them recover from the mental trauma they had suffered. These gestures allowed Manchester United to avoid the same fate suffered by Torino, who suffered a similar tragedy only nine years earlier, which lead to bankruptcy and relegation in the following years.
The message that everyone should take from the Munich disaster is that, when we come together as human beings, there is no reason why we cannot recover from any tragedy that we suffer. In the same way that the footballing world came together following the collapse of Bolton Wanderers player Fabrice Muamba, and a large majority of fans - despite the insistence of the media to focus on the few idiots who bucked the trend - supported the fight for justice for the 96 who lost their lives at Hillsborough.
I hope that football fans across the country and across the world, are able to put aside their differences and their loyalties for just one minute as we remember the tragic loss of 23 lives. Many fans - myself included - will not remember the tragedy, but if you happen to have the opportunity to watch the meeting between United and Everton on Sunday, perhaps it is worth using the minutes silence to remember those losses closer to yourself, particularly those friends or family members who were taken before their time.
I will end this article with a list of the people who died on that fateful night in 1958, but would like to sum up with a quote from Sir Matt Busby's wife Jean. As he was recovering in the aftermath of the disaster, Sir Matt was contemplating retiring from the game. Jean sat him down and said something that we could all do well to remember when we lose those closest to us. "You know Matt, the lads would have wanted you to carry on."
Captain Kenneth Rayment