Manchester United legend Foulkes dies aged 81

Defender made 688 appearances for United and part of 1968 European Cup winning team

 Former Manchester United player Bill Foulkes has died at the age of 81, the club has announced. Photograph: PA Wire

Former Manchester United player Bill Foulkes has died at the age of 81, the club has announced. Photograph: PA Wire


Former Manchester United central defender Bill Foulkes, a survivor of the 1958 Munich air crash, has died aged 81.

Foulkes joined United in 1950 and went on to make 688 appearances for the club during 18 seasons, winning four league titles as part of manager Matt Busby’s side.

He was also part of the 1968 European Cup winning team.

“Bill was a giant character in the post-war history of Manchester United. His contribution over almost 700 games and nearly 20 years will never be forgotten,” Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman said on the club’s website (

“He was a very gentle man, whom 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.”

Only Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Bobby Charlton have played more games for United than Foulkes, who made a solitary appearance for England.

Eight players and three club officials were among 23 people who died when the plane carrying them home from a European Cup tie in Belgrade crashed after refuelling at Munich Airport on February 6th, 1958.

Bobby Charlton, who survived and went on to help England win the 1966 World Cup, later recalled coming round from being knocked unconscious and realising that Foulkes and fellow player Harry Gregg were helping people to escape from the plane wreckage.

“It was a very brave thing to do, the plane was on fire and broken in half,” he said afterwards. “Those two ought to be thanked for what they did.”

Foulkes, whose father and grandfather had both played rugby league for his home town St Helens, started work as a coal miner and was still going down the pit at Lea Green Colliery in the mid-50s, by which time he was a regular member of Matt Busby’s United first team and had won his only England cap, in 1954.

After the Munich tragedy, he took over the captaincy and became the leader of the ‘Busby Babes’.

He played for United for his whole career, the highlight coming near the end of his playing days when he was part of the 1968 European Cup-winning team, aged 36. Foulkes had played a key part in the semi-final too, scoring the winning goal against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu.

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