FORMER MANCHESTER UNITED defender Bill Foulkes, a survivor of the 1958 Munich air disaster, has died at the age of 81, the club announced on Monday.
Foulkes made his United debut in 1952 and played 688 times for the club — a figure surpassed by only Ryan Giggs, Bobby Charlton and Paul Scholes.
He was one of the people who survived after a plane carrying the United squad crashed on a snow-covered runway in Munich in February 1958 while returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade.
The crash claimed the lives of 23 people, including United stars such as Duncan Edwards and Tommy Taylor, but Foulkes went on to play for the team that won the club’s first European Cup in 1968.
United said that he had passed away in the early hours of Monday morning but did not disclose the cause of death.
Foulkes (centre) with Bobby Charlton and Alfredo Di Stefano. Credit: Martin Rickett/PA Archive/Press Association Images
“Bill was a giant character in the post-war history of Manchester United,” said United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
He was 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.
“Bill’s contribution over almost 700 games and nearly 20 years will never be forgotten. The thoughts of everyone at the club — directors, players, staff and fans — are with Bill’s family.”
Foulkes started work as a coal miner and was still working down the pit in the mid-1950s, by which time he was a regular member of United manager Matt Busby’s side.
A centre-back, he played for United for his entire career and became captain following the death of Roger Byrne in Munich.
He was 36 by the time United defeated Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final at Wembley, having previously scored the decisive goal in the 4-3 aggregate semi-final win over Real Madrid.
He also won four league titles and the 1963 FA Cup during his time at Old Trafford.