Harry Gregg: Munich hero dies aged 87

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February 17, 2020
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    Northern Ireland keeper Harry Gregg fails to stop Germany's Uwe Seeler from scoring in the World Cup match in Sweden in 1958

    Northern Ireland keeper Harry Gregg fails to stop Germany’s Uwe Seeler scoring in the World Cup match in Sweden in 1958

    Harry Gregg was an outstanding club and international goalkeeper, but he will best be remembered for his bravery in the 1958 Munich air disaster.

    The Northern Ireland player signed for Manchester United just two months before the tragedy, in which 23 people died.

    Gregg is often referred to as the ‘Hero of Munich’ after pulling passengers free from the burning wreckage.

    Two weeks later, Gregg kept a clean sheet as Manchester United put Sheffield Wednesday out of the FA Cup.

    The goalkeeper was determined that the tragic event would not define his career, or indeed his life.

    Henry Gregg was born on 27 October 1932 in the County Londonderry village of Tobermore.

    His family moved to Coleraine and he excelled with his hometown club after starting his career at Windsor Park Swifts, the reserve team of Linfield.

    Gregg secured a cross-channel move to Doncaster Rovers at the age of 18 before joining Manchester United in December 1957 for £23,000, at the time a world record fee for a goalkeeper.

    The ‘Busby Babes’ were returning from a European Cup game when the airplane they were travelling crashed while attempting to take off on the slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport on 6 February 1958.

    “There was a sudden crash and debris began bombarding me on all sides,” said Gregg.

    “One second it was light, the next dark. There were no screams, no human sounds, only the terrible tearing of metal. Sparks burst all around.”

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    Gregg escaped from the burning wreckage but went back in and brought Vera Lukic, the pregnant wife of a Yugoslav diplomat, and her young daughter, Vesna, to safety.

    Harry Gregg kept 48 clean sheets during his nine years at Manchester United

    Harry Gregg kept 48 clean sheets during his nine years at Manchester United

    He returned to the plane and dragged out injured United pair Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet, and came to the aid of manager Matt Busby and fellow Northern Ireland international Jackie Blanchflower.

    Eight players were among the dead including Duncan Edwards, Roger Byrne and Eddie Colman.

    Later in the year Gregg starred for Northern Ireland at the World Cup finals in Sweden.

    The Red Devils player, who won 25 international caps, helped Northern Ireland reach the quarter-finals and he was named goalkeeper of the tournament.

    Gregg was to experience personal tragedy in 1961 when his wife, Mavis, died from breast cancer, leaving him to care for their two daughters.

    He married Carolyn Maunders four years later and they had four children together.

    Gregg’s time at Manchester United was blighted by injuries and he made 247 appearances for the team.

    “He will always be remembered for what he did at Munich, but on top of that he was a really great goalkeeper,” said Manchester United and England legend Sir Bobby Charlton.

    Gregg moved to Stoke City in December 1966, but made only two appearances before retiring at the end of the season.

    He moved into management, starting with Shrewsbury Town in 1968 followed by spells with Swansea City and Crewe Alexander.

    Gregg returned to Old Trafford as a goalkeeping coach before becoming assistant manager at Swindon Town and finally manager with Carlisle United.

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    Following his career in the game he returned to Northern Ireland and ran a hotel in Portstewart.

    Harry Gregg was honoured with a testimonial between Manchester United and an Irish League Select six years ago

    Harry Gregg was honoured with a testimonial between Manchester United and an Irish League Select

    When he was awarded the MBE in 1995, Gregg dedicated it to those who lost their lives at Munich and Peter Doherty, his manager at Doncaster Rovers and Northern Ireland.

    The 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster was an emotional trip back in time for Gregg, who returned to the old airport building and runway in the city for the first time since the disaster.

    There was also a first meeting with Vera Lukic’s son, Zoran, with whom she was pregnant when Gregg rescued her in 1958.

    The death of his daughter, Karen, in 2009 from cancer at the age of 50, brought more personal grief.

    A testimonial for Gregg, between Manchester United and Irish League Select, was played at Windsor Park in 2009.

    In 2015, the Harry Gregg Foundation was launched with the aim of encouraging young people’s participation in football and other health, lifestyle, educational, heritage and social inclusion activities.

    He made his final trip to Old Trafford in 2018, before being named OBE in the Queen’s 2019 New Year’s Honours.

    “He is part of the rich history of our club and we should never forget that,” said former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.

    It was his career as a player, and not for heroic actions at Munich, which Gregg wished to be remembered.

    “I’m Henry Gregg, 34 Windsor Avenue, who played football. Who was useful at it on good days and rubbish at it on bad days,” he said in 2008.

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    “That’s what I want to be remembered for – not something that happened on the spur of the moment.”


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    February 17, 2020
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