The former Stoke City goalkeeper and Manchester United legend, who died on Sunday the 16th of February at the age of 87, is one the few footballers who will be remembered as much for their valour and bravery off the field as for their heroics on the field during an illustrious 15 year career in English football.
It was on a snow covered Munich runway on the fateful night of February 6th 1958 that Gregg courageously helped dazed and injured survivors from the wreckage of the plane that wiped out Busby Babes; Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, David Pegg, Liam Whelan, Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor together with 17 more on a return trip to Manchester after playing Partisan Belgrade in the European Cup.
Harry Gregg in action for Manchester United (courtesy of the Harry Gregg Foundation Facebook homepage.)
The humble Northern Irishman always played down his role in the rescue operation where he risked his own life to go back several times to the burning plane to see if there was anyone else he could help.
Gregg joined Stoke City in December 1966 but a shoulder injury meant he made just two appearances for the Potters before leaving to become manager of Shrewsbury Town in May 1967.
He was born in County Derry on the 25th of October 1932 and represented the Irish League as a Coleraine player before signing professional forms with Doncaster Rovers in October 1952.
He was renowned for his habit of standing outside his penalty area cheering on his team when they were on the attack.
He was signed by Matt Busby for the Old Trafford club in December 1957 and will be remembered by many for the controversial goal scored by Nat Lofthouse for Bolton Wanderers in the 1958 FA Cup final when the England legend bundled the Munich hero over the line for a goal. United went on to lose the final.
Gregg went on to play for Northern Ireland at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden when they reached the quarter finals.
Sir Bobby Charlton said in a statement on United’s website: “Lady Norma and I are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Harry Gregg.
“I was proud to call him a team-mate. For all the matter of fact things Harry said about that night in Munich, for me, he will always be remembered as a heroic figure. It’s incredible to think that he went on to play in a match against Sheffield Wednesday just 13 days after that tragic night.
“A shining light both on and off the pitch. For so many reasons, he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest names in Manchester United’s history. Harry will be deeply missed and our thoughts are with Carolyn and his family at this very sad time.”
Sir Alex Ferguson, who took his United team to play in Gregg’s testimonial in Belfast in 2012, said: “I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Harry Gregg.
“Harry was a man of great character and a true legend at our club. I remember that he was always very excited and proud to host our youth team at his boarding house for the Milk Cup every summer, so he could recount the tales of his playing days. I loved his company and the many pieces of advice he gave me.
“My thoughts and prayers are with Carolyn and his family at this very sad time. God bless Harry.”
Another legendary Red Devils goalkeeper, FA Cup winner in 1983 and 1985, Gary Bailey wrote on the Harry Gregg Foundation Facebook page;
“Such sad news !!, but I will always remember the hours of passionate and fun coaching time that Harry invested in me as a 21 year old Keeper at Manchester United … Harry certainly helped me cement my place in the first team and his love for the game is one of the reasons I made 375 appearances for United !! RIP Harry”
Gregg spent the last years of his life living in the scenic village of Castlerock near Portstewart in his native County Derry and his life and career will be rightly marked and celebrated in his native land.
He is survived by his wife Carolyn and five children. His daughter Karen died in 2009 and his first wife Mavis died in 1961.
Gregg’s passing comes just over a year the death of Stoke City and England goalkeeper Gordon Banks who made his Stoke debut at the end of the 1966-67 season following Gregg’s departure from the Victoria Ground.
Stoke City announced on their official website;
“The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Stoke City go out to Harry’s family and friends at this sad time.”