20 May 2022

Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg passes away

The 'reluctant hero' of the 1958 Munich air disaster was 87.

Harry Gregg

Gregg was named the best goalkeeper at the 1958 World Cup.

Former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg has passed away at the age of 87.

The Tobermore-born former footballer’s death was announced by the Harry Gregg Foundation on Monday and local MLA John Dallat paid tribute to the County Derry man.

He said: “Harry Gregg was a selfless giant. Despite his incredible talent and success, he remained a down-to-earth gent.

“He was a wonderful role model for our young people. Harry did nothing but project a positive image for our area and for that we are extremely grateful.

“I wish to offer my deepest sympathy to his family.”

Gregg was a survivor of the 1958 Munich air disaster, in which 23 people lost their lives, where he twice returned to the burning wreckage to help both team-mates and strangers, including a 20-month old baby and her pregnant mother.

Just 13 days after the tragedy, the goalkeeper lined up in a 3-0 victory for the Red Devils over Sheffield Wednesday, in a remarkable act of courage and resilience.

In his programme notes before Gregg’s belated testimonial in 2012, Manchester United’s then-manager Sir Alex Ferguson dubbed him ‘a most reluctant hero’.

The footballer had been working as a carpenter before the world of professional football beckoned, combining woodwork with spells playing for Linfield and Coleraine in the Irish league.

Harry’s talent initially earned him a move to Doncaster Rovers at the age of 18, before Matt Busby made him the world’s most expensive keeper, bringing him across the Pennines to Old Trafford for £23,000.

Bad luck with injuries meant that Gregg did not manage to pick up a medal from his time in Manchester and he transferred to Stoke before retiring at the end of the 1966-67 season.

He set up the Harry Gregg Foundation in order to give back to the community that raised him and was fiercely proud of his Northern Ireland roots.

Perhaps his finest moment in the green jersey came months after the Munich air disaster, when he starred for his country in the 1958 World Cup.

Gregg helped Northern Ireland reach the last eight of the competition and was later named the best keeper at the tournament.

He was awarded an OBE in the 2019 New Year Honours list and leaves behind a legacy that highlights his dedication to the grassroots game.

In a statement on their Facebook page, the Harry Gregg Foundation said: “It is with great sorrow that we inform of the death of Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend Harry Gregg, OBE.

“Harry passed away peacefully in hospital surrounded by his loving family.

“The Gregg family would like to thank the medical staff at Causeway Hospital for their wonderful dedication to Harry over his last few weeks.

“To everyone who has called, visited or sent well wishes we thank you for the love and respect shown to Harry and the family.”

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