Ex-Manchester United defender Bill Foulkes dies at the age of 81

Munich survivor Bill Foulkes pictured in 1968

Former Manchester United stalwart Bill Foulkes has died at the age of 81.

The central defender, who survived the 1958 Munich disaster, collected four League Championship medals, while also enjoying victories in two Wembley finals - the FA Cup of 1963 and the European Cup five years later.

Although not a prolific goalscorer during his 18-year career at Old Trafford, one of his finest moments came against Real Madrid in the semi-finals of United's European Cup winning season of 1967/68.

With the score 3-3 on aggregate at the Bernabeu, Foulkes - then 36 - made a rare journey upfield to latch onto George Best's pass and score the goal that sent the Red Devils into the final against Benfica who they beat 4-1 after extra-time.

Foulkes, who made his first-team debut against Liverpool in 1952, also won one England cap which came two years later at the age of 22 against Northern Ireland.

He played 688 games for the club - in all competitions - scoring nine goals before calling time on his career in the summer of 1970.

But 12 years earlier, the St Helens-born Foulkes walked virtually uninjured from the plane crash in Germany that claimed the lives of so many of his team-mates.

Many years later Foulkes said of the tragic accident on that icy runway in Munich: "It was obvious that we would struggle to take off and they took the chance.

"They should never have done that. I don't feel guilty about being a survivor. I was just damned lucky.

"But I do harbour this feeling that it wasn't necessary, that angers me. It cost the club, it cost the country so much."

And former teammate Sir Bobby Charlton is saddened by the news, and paid tribute to Foulkes by saying: "He was as hard as nails, as tough as teak - I was always glad I didn't have to play against him.

"He was a really, really good defensive player and you could say he helped change the course of history for United.

"He survived the Munich air crash (as did Charlton) and then became the captain for a time."

Busby Babe Bill Foulkes dies

Manchester United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward paid tribute to

Foulkes, saying: "Bill was a giant character in the post-war history of the club.

"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."

United defender Rio Ferdinand wrote on Twitter that Foulkes was a "great servant to the club."

Foulkes, who began his working life as a coal miner, tried his hand at management both in the United States and in non-league English football, but he will best be remembered wearing the red shirt of Manchester United during the 1950s and 1960s.