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Busby Babe Bill Foulkes dies aged 81

image captionBill Foulkes captained Manchester United in the aftermath of the 1958 tragedy

Former Manchester United captain Bill Foulkes, who survived the 1958 Munich air crash, has died aged 81.

Only Sir Bobby Charlton, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have played more times for United than the Busby Babe, who made 688 appearances.

Sir Bobby Charlton said the defender was a "marvellous man", while United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward said he would "never be forgotten".

St Helens-born Foulkes played for United in their 1968 European Cup win.

Foulkes was a key member of Sir Matt Busby's team of talented young players, who were nicknamed the Busby Babes.

On 6 February 1958, the plane carrying the team back from Belgrade crashed in a blizzard after refuelling at Munich airport.

Twenty-three people died - eight players, eight newspaper journalists and seven members of backroom staff.

Speaking about the disaster in 2008, Foulkes said he had been "put in a bad way" by the crash.

"The back end came up and I saw it came up and down again and this meant all the stuff came out of the back and hit me in the back of the head."

However, he managed to escape from the plane and ran to safety before returning to help the survivors.

"I ran over to Matt and we put an overcoat underneath him and he just turned over, groaned and passed out," he said.

'Hard as nails'

After the Munich tragedy, Foulkes took over the captaincy and became a pillar of some of United's most successful teams.

Foulkes was a four-time league champion and a FA Cup winner.

He also won the European Cup at Wembley with United, when the team beat Portuguese side Benfica 4-1 in 1968.

image captionBill Foulkes captained Manchester United in the aftermath of the 1958 tragedy

Sir Bobby, who played alongside him for more than a decade, said the defender was "as hard as nails [and] as tough as teak".

"I was always glad I didn't have to play against him," he said.

He added that Foulkes had been "a really, really good defensive player and you could say he helped change the course of history for United".

Fellow former United captain Gary Neville tweeted that Foulkes was "a legend", while current player Rio Ferdinand said Foulkes had been a "great servant to the club".

Mr Woodward said Foulkes was "a giant character" in the club's post-war era.

He said the defender had been "a very gentle man, who I was privileged to meet on several occasions, including most memorably with his team-mates at the Champions League final in Moscow, 50 years after his heroics in the Munich air crash".

Foulkes made his United debut against Liverpool in December 1952 and went on to score nine goals in his career. He won his only England cap in 1954.

He joined the club as an amateur in March 1950 and began playing professionally in August 1951 after he left his mining job at Lea Green Colliery in St Helens.

Foulkes left United in June 1970 and went on to manage clubs in the US and Norway.

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