Alan Hodgkinson will shed a tear on the 50th anniversary of the Munich Air Disaster.

Oxford United's goalkeeping coach lost colleagues and a good friend in the horror that engulfed Flight BEA609 at 3.04pm on February 6, 1958.

Among them were Duncan Edwards - who exactly ten months earlier on Hodgy's England debut at Wembley Stadium had smashed a brilliant 25-yard winner - and Eddie Colman, who had become a good personal friend.

The disaster was one of the blackest moments in British sporting history.

Manchester United's squad - the legendary 'Busby Babes' and acknowledged as one of the finest football teams ever assembled - were returning from Belgrade after drawing 3-3 with Red Star in their second-leg European Cup tie.

It should have been a routine refuelling stop at Munich-Reim Airport, but the plane failed to take off from the slush-glazed runway and crashed into a house 300 yards from the end of the 2,000-yard long runway.

Of the 44 people in the Elizabethan class aircraft, 21 died that afternoon and two more died later in hospital - Edwards, and the co-pilot Captain Kenneth Raimont, who had been at the controls that fateful snowy afternoon.

Eleven belonged to the club and eight were journalists - among them Frank Swift, the famous Manchester City and England goalkeeper who had become the News of the World correspondent, and someone Hodgkinson, the young Sheffield United keeper greatly admired.

Hodgy had trained with and played alongside for England many others who lost their lives, including the Manchester United captain Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor, who scored 16 goals in 19 games for England, and the brilliant winger David Pegg.

But it was 'snake hips' Eddie Colman who had become Hodkinson's good pal.

Colman, 21, whose play at right wing-half made him an Old Trafford favourite, never won the England cap he deserved.

"I'd been in national service with Eddie and we'd been stationed together at the same time," Alan reflected. "I went to his funeral.

"I also played with Duncan Edwards, Roger Byrne, Tommy Taylor and David Pegg.

"I remember the day it happened. I'd been training as normal (at Sheffield United) . . . it was such a shock to everyone, to the whole country.

"Yes, especially for me, of course, when it's people you know and people you'd worked with and played with.

"It was a very, very sad day for the whole football world. Everybody was stunned, particularly those who knew someone involved."

Edwards, the youngest player to be capped by England, only 21 and already an international on 18 occasions, had been the pride of Manchester United.

Like the other survivors of the crash, he had been taken to Munich's Rechts Dez Isar Hospital.

He had internal injuries, a fractured leg, fractured ribs, and severe shock. It was too much even for a giant. He stayed alive for 15 days, continually calling out 'What time is the kick-off against Wolves (Manchester United's Saturday game after their return from Belgrade)?' Then he died and England lost the best teenage footballer she had ever produced.

Alan recalled: "The boy Duncan Edwards hung on for quite a while, just over two weeks. He was a big, strong boy, a wonderful, wonderful footballer who would have gone on to be one of the world's greatest players."

Hodgkinson recalled how hard it naturally was for some of his England teammates to overcome the fear of flying after Munich.

"We travelled a lot together, we were all international players. Like me, Roger Byrne had made his England debut in 1957. Bobby Charlton was a survivor, but remember, this was before he had played for England.

"I travelled with Bobby Charlton on quite a few occasions and even shared a room with him. But Munich was not something anyone would talk about, they were all very reluctant to talk about it and you can understand that.

"After the disaster, if you flew anywhere then it always entered your mind. But Bobby Charlton got on with it and began to fly, though I'm sure he was quite nervous about it."

Alan added: "I have great respect for all of them.

"For me it was a wonderful time of my life because I was a young footballer who had just broken into the England team, but sadly for most of them it ended tragically. It was really sad.

"A lot of football supporters now, 50 years on, probably don't even know about the Munich Air Disaster. It was a sad time.

"I'll be thinking back when there's a minute's silence on Wednesday and will probably shed a tear," he said. "I was only just across the border, in Sheffield, and the anniversary brings back memories.

"Fifty years . . . . it's only like yesterday."