Manchester United commemorate Munich disaster victims among Covid lockdown restrictions

'It is only the fourth time we have played on the actual anniversary,' Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

A banner with a quote from former Manchester United manager Sir Matt Busby is seen in the stands before the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture date: Wednesday January 27, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Dave Thompson/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
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In-form Everton, Saturday's opponents at Old Trafford, have previously been the visitors on significant Manchester United memorial days.
In 1994, the Merseyside team and their fans were impeccable observers as a lone piper walked out on to the field following the death of legendary manager Sir Matt Busby. It was a spine-tingling occasion.

Everton arrive this weekend on the 63rd anniversary of the 1958 Munich Air disaster, when eight United players and three club officials were among the 23 who perished in the snow after their chartered aircraft crashed on take-off on an icy runway after stopping to refuel en route from Belgrade.

No fans will be present for Saturday’s game, but there will be a minute’s silence before kick-off with both captains laying wreaths in memory of those who died. Both teams will also wear black armbands. Manchester United women and the club’s academy sides will do likewise.

"It is only the fourth time we have played on the actual anniversary," Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told The National. "It's important we put on a fitting performance and honour them with a result.

File photo dated 27-01-2021 of Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Issue date: Monday February 1, 2021. PA Photo. Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has repeated the calls for social media platforms get a grip on racist abuse after Marcus Rashford became the latest player to be targeted. See PA story SOCCER Racism. Photo credit should read Tim Keeton/PA Wire.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says the date is an important part of the club's history. PA

“It’s such an important part of our history and the spirit of the club. We have spoken to the players who come into the club (about the disaster) and they will be part of this anniversary. “It is a big day and an emotional day. Hopefully we can put a team out which shows the Man United spirit. We have six or seven academy graduates and they’ll lead us on.”

Flags dedicated to the players who lost their lives in the disaster have been supplied by the fan group Big Lily and now hang from the Stretford End. A giant banner has been positioned in the stand’s lower tier behind the goal with the words ‘We’ll Never Die’ underneath an image of the Bubsy Babes’ final game in Belgrade against Red Star.

Visiting teams have always been respectful when they have played United around the anniversary of the disaster. In 2008, Manchester City and their fans impressed for the 50th anniversary when a lone piper led the teams out to the strains of “The Flowers of Manchester”, a folk song which mourns the dead Babes.

Quiet replaced the tribal animosity with both Manchester teams wearing simple shirts without sponsors’ logos. Sir Alex Ferguson and the City manager Sven Goran Eriksson laid wreaths on the centre spot and the silence which followed meant a day for remembering was a day worth remembering.

Over 1,500 United fans travelled to Munich on the 60th anniversary of the disaster three years ago and hundreds make the journey every year, with events being organised by the Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation. They’re now a registered charity whose mission is to “endeavour, through raising charitable donations and through supporting charitable works in Manchester, Munich and Belgrade, to keep the memory of the Busby Babes preserved and enhanced”.

Bayern Munich, who have a space in their club museum for the disaster, bring out their leading officials. Flights were booked and cancelled for this year’s trip in line with the current Covid restrictions. Planned events have been cancelled, though the group have arranged for wreaths to be laid at the site in the Manchesterplatz by the old Munich Riem airfield on behalf of all United fans. The memorial in Munich is located in a quiet residential area and visiting fans are always welcomed by locals.

In Manchester, there’s usually a remembrance ceremony underneath the Munich clock on the Old Trafford forecourt which becomes better attended each year. In the mid-90s, there were a handful of people on the forecourt. Nowadays, hundreds attend each year with senior club staff and managers present.

That too has had to be cancelled because of Covid restrictions but a memorial organised with the Munich58 group led by Reverend John Boyers will be held and broadcast. There will also be a minute’s silence at 15:04 GMT, the time of the fatal plane crash.

United are second in the table and Tuesday’s 9-0 win against a Southampton side reduced to ten men for most of the game was easily Solskjaer’s biggest in his 99 games as a Premier League manager. However, the Norwegian pointed out that Everton have won their last four away games. All seven Premier League games since United’s win against the Saints have resulted in away wins. Results have been skewed with no crowds and United’s own form at Old Trafford is far from indomitable. At least Solskjaer should have Edinson Cavani after recovering from an ankle injury. Eric Bailly is a doubt but the rest are all available.

United have beaten Everton away twice already this season in league and cup and played well in both, but Everton’s away record is only bettered by United and Leicester.

Sometimes in the past United’s players have been subdued by the emotion of a full Old Trafford United in sorrow – but perhaps although the occasion will still be a solemn one, they’ll put on the performance it deserves.