February 6, 1958, is a date that would live on forever in the hearts of true Manchester United fans. An aircraft ferrying Manchester United players, amongst other people, from Belgrade to Manchester crashed on take off from Munich, where it had stopped to refuel. The team was returning after having played a European Cup game against Red Star Belgrade. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, and the club has announced their plans for the occasion, in memory of an occasion that truly defines the club’s history.
On February 1 that year, United played what some people believe to be the greatest game of football played on English soil, when they beat Arsenal 5-4 at Highbury in front of 63, 578 fans. Little did they know that this would be the last match they played in England. United beat Belgrade 5-4 on aggregate, and were ecstatic due to their triumph. But celebrations were cut short when tragedy struck. Seven players died there, while another player succumbed to his injuries fifteen days later. Miraculously, Sir Matt Busby, hailed as one of the best managers ever, survived and led United to an FA Cup final appearance that very season. They may have lost to Bolton at Wembley that year, but the fact that they made it so far having lost such a large and vital portion of their team is nothing but astonishing. United then entered a transition period, and returned to winning ways when they lofted the FA Cup in 1963. Two successful League Championship campaigns later, the first in 1965 and then in 1967, United went onto win their first European Cup in 1968, just ten years after the Munich air crash.
This year, on February 10, United will mark the occasion by playing their nearest home match to the date of the anniversary in retro 1950s-style kits. The match is against their city rivals, Manchester City. City provided considerable assistance to United in the aftermath of the tragedy. Their own former goalkeeper had perished in the crash. A memorial service, involving survivors of the crash and family of those who were lost will also be held. Old Trafford’s famous South Tunnel will be renamed the Munich Tunnel.
Why should you keep the evening of the February 10 free? For one, the Manchester Derby is as exciting as any in the world. Two, this is certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the likes of Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo playing in kits that seem to be half the size of their present ones (Ladies, even you wouldn’t want to miss out on Cristiano Ronaldo running in tight shorts that barely cover half his thighs, do you?). It is indeed an extremely touching and remarkable way to commemorate a historic event of football.