"The most important away trip I've ever made" was how one Manchester United fan described an emotional service in Munich yesterday, remembering the crash that claimed 23 lives 50 years ago.

More than 200 supporters were joined by local residents to pay their respects at a memorial stone at the site of the 1958 disaster in Trudering, Munich.

The normally quiet road was filled with Mancunians, who hung banners on garden walls reading "Forever in their debt", and "The Flowers of Manchester".

Despite the club's official ceremony taking place at Old Trafford, many wanted to travel to Munich to see where the crash actually happened.

In recent years the trip has become a pilgrimage for supporters.

Ivan Johnson, 53, travelled from Redditch, Worcestershire to be at the ceremony.

He said: "I've followed this club for 40 years and it was built on the Busby Babes.

"I couldn't not come. It's the most important away trip I've ever made."

The ceremony, which lasted just under an hour, was opened by the Mayor of Munich, Christian Ude.

He said: "This is a location of painful remembrance and we are deeply touched by your presence here today.

"Today we commemorate the 50th anniversary of the day on which an aircraft of British European Airways with 38 passengers and six crew members crashed on the field we are standing on.

"I am afraid to say that it was the worst air disaster Munich had ever seen so far.

"The 23 victims, including eight players of the legendary football team of Manchester United, are not forgotten, not just in the UK but also here in Munich."

The reading of the names of the dead brought loud applause from some, whilst others wept.

A bagpipe rendition of The Flowers of Manchester, a tribute song penned after the crash, was a poignant moment in the service, conducted in English and German.

The proceedings were concluded by a Manchester United fan taking to the stage to thank the people of Munich for their support. The fans then dispersed, chanting songs about the Busby Babes.

Meanwhile, at Old Trafford a steady stream of fans arrived to lay floral tributes at a memorial stone at the East Stand of the ground.

The numbers gathered pace as the clock ticked down to 3.04pm - the exact time of the tragedy on February 6, 1958.

The crash robbed the world of an emerging team of footballing greats, including Dudley-born Duncan Edwards, but gained United a worldwide following it has retained to this day.

* Politicians' tribute confusion


Councillors from the home town of Duncan Edwards were left red-faced yesterday after a glaring inaccuracy on a sympathy card from them suggested they weren't quite sure which anniversary of the Munich air disaster they were commemorating.

At a ceremony in Dudley marking the 50th anniversary of the tragic crash, the glaring inaccuracy on a sympathy card to the legendary Manchester United player signed from the town's Labour MP Ian Austin and three local councillors reads "on this 25th anniversary of your tragic death".

But in a photograph taken half an hour later, it seems somebody noticed the shocking error and scribbled over the 25 with a 50. None of the councillors or Mr Austin were available for comment.