Bill Foulkes, a Manchester United soccer player who survived an airplane crash in Munich in 1958 that killed eight players and who had a key role in the storied team’s recovery, died Nov. 25. He was 81.

His death was announced by the team, which did not provide further details.

Mr. Foulkes won titles four times in the top tier of English soccer and helped Manchester United capture the European Cup for the first time.

“He was a really, really good defensive player,” said Bobby Charlton, a former United teammate who also survived the crash, “and you could say he helped change the course of history for United.”

Early in his career, Mr. Foulkes continued to work five days a week in a coal mine after joining United in 1950. He made his first-team debut in 1952 and went on to make 688 appearances.

“Bill used to turn up pitch-black with coal dust, straight from the pits in St. Helens and straight into training,” Charlton said, recalling a time when pay for soccer players was capped at 20 pounds a week. “It took a long time to persuade him to become a full-time professional.”

When he did, Mr. Foulkes stayed committed to United for his entire playing career.

He survived the Feb. 6, 1958, accident that left 23 of 44 passengers dead, including eight members of United’s starting 11. The plane carrying the team back from a European Cup match against Red Star Belgrade had stopped to refuel in Munich but crashed on takeoff.

“I managed to get out of the plane,” Mr. Foulkes later recalled. “Someone shouted to me to get out, quick, and I got out the quickest way I thought was there, I could see the light. So I went and I got out of the plane.”

Mr. Foulkes, who was named the team’s new captain, then entered the next phase of his career, trying to honor the memories of the United greats, including Duncan Edwards, who succumbed 15 days after the crash.

A decade after the disaster, at 36, Mr. Foulkes scored the goal against Real Madrid that took United to its first European Cup final, which it won 4-1 over Benfica.

After his playing career, Mr. Foulkes managed three teams in the North American Soccer League: the Chicago Sting, the Tulsa Roughnecks and the San Jose Earthquakes, where he coached former United teammate George Best.

Survivors include his wife, Teresa, and two sons.

— Associated Press