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Manchester United great Foulkes dies aged 81

Bayern Munich's German soccer legend Gerd Muller (R) and Manchester United's Bill Foulkes (L) lift the European Cup in Barcelona April 22.
Bayern Munich's German soccer legend Gerd Muller (R) and Manchester United's Bill Foulkes (L) lift the European Cup in Barcelona April 22.

LONDON (Reuters) - Former Manchester United central defender Bill Foulkes, a survivor of the 1958 Munich air crash, has died aged 81, the club announced on Monday.

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 (www.manutd.com).

"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 refueling at Munich Airport on February 6 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 realizing 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 was quoted as saying on manutd.com. "Those two ought to be thanked for what they did."

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Clare Fallon)

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