Former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg, a survivor of the 1958 Munich air crash, has passed away aged 87.
His foundation said in a statement:
“Harry passed away peacefully in hospital surrounded by his loving family.”
Gregg was born on October 27, 1932, in the County Londonderry village of Tobermore.
His family just moved to Coleraine, and as he started his career at Windsor Park Swifts, the reserve team of Linfield, it is very evident that he outperformed everyone on the team.
He became one of the members of Sir Matt Busby’s team of young and talented players, who were also referred to as the ‘Busby Babes’.
He was signed by United in December 1957 for £23,000, a world-record fee for a goalkeeper.
On 6 February 1958, the plane where the team rode back from Belgrade crashed in a blizzard after refueling at Munich airport.
Greg recalled what happened:
“There was a sudden crash and debris began bombarding me on all sides.”
“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.”
Gregg managed to get out of the burning wreckage but decided to went back in and brought Vera Lukic, the pregnant wife of a Yugoslav diplomat, and her young daughter, Vesna, to safety.
He immediately returned to the plane and dragged out injured United pair Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet, and assisted his manager Matt Busby and fellow Northern Ireland international Jackie Blanchflower.
Eight players were killed that night, including Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, and Duncan Edwards – who passed away due to his injuries a fortnight later, while Blanchflower and Johnny Berry’s injuries were so tragic that they never dared to play again.
Months later, Gregg starred for Northern Ireland at the World Cup finals in Sweden. The Red Devils player who won 25 international caps, helped Northern Ireland to make it to the quarter-finals where he was hailed goalkeeper of the tournament.
Gregg experienced personal tragedy in 1961 when his wife, Mavis, passed away due to breast cancer, leaving him to take good care of their two daughters. He married Carolyn Maunders later on and they had four children together.
Manchester United and England legend Bobby Charlton said:
“He will always be remembered for what he did in Munich, but on top of that he was a great goalkeeper.”
Gregg migrated to Stoke City in December 1966 but made only two appearances before retiring at the end of the season.
He moved into management, from Shrewsbury Town in 1968 followed by spells with Swansea City and Crewe Alexander.
He returned to the team Old Trafford as a goalkeeping coach, before being an assistant manager at Swindon Town, and finally manager with Carlisle United.
According to reports, he returned to Northern Ireland and ran a hotel in Portstewart.
When Gregg was awarded the MBE in 1995, he 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 always an emotional trip back in time for Gregg, who tried so hard to return to the old airport building and runway in the city for the first time since the disaster.
He also had the first meeting with Vera Lukic’s son, Zoran, with whom she was pregnant when Gregg rescued her in 1958.
In 2015, the Harry Gregg Foundation was launched to encourage young people’s participation in football and other health, lifestyle, educational, heritage and social inclusion activities.
He decided to make his final trip to Old Trafford in 2018, before being hailed as OBE in the Queen’s 2019 New Year’s Honours.
Former United manager Alex Ferguson said:
“He is part of the rich history of our club and we should never forget that.”
However, Henry Gregg said in an interview before that he wished to be remembered for his career as a player, and not for his heroic acts in Munich.
“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.”
“That’s what I want to be remembered for – not something that happened on the spur of the moment.”