UEFA General Secretary David Taylor has spoken of the "unique bond" between Manchester United FC and European football's governing body on the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster. The tragedy cost 23 people – including eight United players – their lives as the team was returning from a European Champion Clubs' Cup quarter-final against FK Crvena Zvezda in Belgrade.
"On behalf of UEFA, the UEFA President Michel Platini, and the entire European football family, I am honoured to be here with you today to pay our respects to the 23 victims of the Munich air disaster, exactly 50 years ago to the day," said Mr Taylor at today's memorial service in Manchester. "Manchester United are one of the great clubs in Europe. They have been pioneers in many areas of football. In the mid-1950s, they were one of the first English clubs to participate in European club competition. These competitions, like Manchester United, have grown to have a special appeal for fans the world over.
"The tragedy of the Munich air disaster has, however, created a special bond between the club and the organisers of European football, a bond which remains strong to this day. Manchester United hold a very special place in European club football history having lifted the European Cup on two separate occasions – in 1968 at Wembley and in 1999 on that historic night in Barcelona. Sadly, no one will ever know whether the team of the 1950s – the Busby Babes – would have gone on to achieve similar success in Europe.
Invitation in 1997
"Perhaps the best way to illustrate the special bond between Manchester United and European football is simply to read out a short extract from an invitation sent by UEFA to the eight surviving members of the 1950s team, inviting them back to Munich to attend the UEFA Champions League final of 1997.
'Players and personalities'
"I quote: 'Manchester United FC is an institution, not only in English football, but in world football, thanks to the style and the performance of many great players and personalities throughout the years. UEFA is proud of having Manchester United as a member of the European football family, and we are happy to see the club as a loyal participant in our competitions, always positive, co-operative and contributive – and extremely well-organised.'
"As the current General Secretary of UEFA, I can confirm that these words are as true today as they were then," Mr Taylor continued. "Just last month, Manchester United were one of the 16 founder members of the new European Club Association, a new grouping set up with the support of UEFA to build stronger links between the clubs and the governing body of European football. Whatever developments take place in the years to come, the tragedy of the Munich air crash will never be forgotten when the story of Manchester United and European football is told."
Belgrade and Munich memories
A delegation of senior officials from Crvena Zvezda attended the Manchester memorial service, including Vladica Popović who played in the match in Belgrade. "That was my, and our, biggest loss," he said. "The match was not important – all of the world had lost a brilliant generation, we had lost friends, journalists had lost their colleagues, family members were lost ... 6 February 1958 was my hardest and saddest day." Munich has also honoured the victims with, among other things, a ceremony at a memorial site on the outskirts of the city.
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