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Thu 7 Feb 2008 10:33 AM

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Man Utd mourns 'Busby Babes'

Manchester United held an emotional memorial Wednesday for 23 people, including eight of its players.

Manchester United held an emotional memorial Wednesday for 23 people, including eight of its players, killed when the team's plane crashed in Munich 50 years ago as they returned from a match. The service, at the English Premier League champions' Old Trafford ground, included a minute's silence at 3:04 pm (1504 GMT) -- the exact time of the tragedy which devastated a generation of young stars.

Club captain Gary Neville lit candles in holders engraved with the names of all who died as an audience of players past and present, including Ryan Giggs and Sir Bobby Charlton, who was in the crash, looked on with bowed heads.

Outside, hundreds of fans gathered by the ground's memorial to the disaster, which features a clock frozen at the time it happened, to hold a minute's silence for the side dubbed the "Busby Babes" after then-manager Sir Matt Busby.

They had laid a sea of floral tributes and also sang team songs in remembrance.The youthful side was returning from a European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade and their British European Airways plane had stopped to refuel when the smash happened after a failed take-off.

While the focus of events was in north-west England, a smaller commemoration was also taking place in southern Germany at the site of the old Munich airport where the charter plane crashed on take-off in blizzard conditions.

In Trudering, where a plaque similar to one at Old Trafford lists the dead, an English-speaking Roman Catholic priest oversaw a ceremony organised by the Independent Manchester United Supporters Association.

Charlton suffered a punctured lung but recovered and went on to win the 1966 World Cup with England, although the loss of so many team-mates still haunts him.

"There was never an instinct to try to put Munich out of mind. Munich was just too big, too overpowering, to permit that kind of reaction," he wrote in his autobiography, "My Manchester United Years".

"It was something that you knew, right from the start, you had to learn to live with."

He was recently invited by manager Sir Alex Ferguson to give a presentation to the club's current crop of young stars, including Cristiano Ronaldo, on what happened that fateful night.

Wednesday's events were among a series designed to mark the event -- and Busby's successful efforts to rebuild his shattered side, laying the foundations for the superclub of the modern age.

The club is unveiling a free, permanent exhibition of the 1958 side in the South Stand tunnel at Old Trafford, which will now be renamed the Munich Tunnel.

A minute's silence will be held before England's friendly match with Switzerland at Wembley Stadium in London on Wednesday night.

And on Saturday, Manchester United will wear a one-off 1950s-style kit free from sponsorship and numbered 1 to 11 as well as black armbands for their league derby against arch rivals Manchester City.

Their opponents also plan to wear a special kit.

Busby's side were back-to-back English champions and well-positioned to make it a hat-trick, with some commentators suggesting they were on course to become the club's best-ever team.

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