True hero Harry Gregg honoured
Published 19/01/2009 | 23:53
The man voted the best goalkeeper at the 1958 World Cup Finals last night entered the Belfast Telegraph’s sporting Hall of Fame.
Northern Ireland and Manchester United legend Harry Gregg had his achievements during a 35-year career as a player and manager acknowledged at the gala dinner in Belfast’s Ramada Hotel.
Gregg received the award from the man whose appearance on the international scene ended his own Northern Ireland career after just 25 caps in 1964, the great Pat Jennings.
The highlight of his international career came in that 1958 World Cup when Gregg travelled via land and sea to Sweden for the tournament, reluctant to fly after seeing eight of his Manchester United team-mates perish in the Munich Air Disaster just four months previously.
He was hailed as a hero after pulling team-mates, including Bobby Charlton, manager Sir Matt Busby and a pregnant mother and her baby daughter from the wreckage.
Gregg was back on the pitch in a makeshift United side less than a fortnight later as they progressed to the FA Cup final that season, only to lose 2-0 to Bolton in the final, with Nat Lofthouse scoring both goals.
The second of those saw Gregg bundled into the net along with the ball — something which no referee would allow to happen nowadays, with goalkeepers a protected species.
He put the tragedy of Munich behind him in Northern Ireland’s first World Cup finals to help the team to the quarter-finals of the competition.
A clean-sheet in the opening game against Czechoslovakia and a dramatic 2-2 draw against West Germany led to a play-off for a place in the last eight against the Czechs, which was won 2-1 after extra-time.
A 4-0 defeat to France spelt the end of the tournament for Northern Ireland, although Gregg and goalscoring hero Peter McParland were widely praised for their performances. At United Gregg played over 200 games and is still regarded as one of the club’s greatest ever goalkeepers.
He left Old Trafford in 1966, however, without winning a medal.
That 1958 FA Cup final defeat was followed by United winning the trophy in 1963, but Gregg missed the 3-1 win over Leicester City through injury.
Injuries also curtailed his appearances in the 1964-65 and 1966-67 league winning campaigns and by the time United lifted the European Cup in 1968 — the first English team to do so — Gregg had moved into management with Shrewsbury Town.
His place in the Hall of Fame is well deserved and fully justified. He was a hero both on and off the pitch.