Harry’s Windsor game fit for an Old Trafford icon
Gregg is genuinely touched as stars pay perfect tribute
Harry Gregg walked out of the Windsor Park tunnel and was greeted by an adoring full house crowd applauding his every move.
How fitting that this was the venue to honour him. Way back when, it was at Windsor that Harry began his marvellous career as a young Linfield Swifts goalkeeper full of hopes and dreams.
On Tuesday night the players representing Manchester United and the Irish League select side formed a guard of honour for proud Harry to make his entrance.
Tough character he may be, but I swear there was a tear in Harry's eye as he gazed across the old ground with 14,000 packed inside.
Of course they were here to see United but also to pay tribute to one of the iconic figures in the Manchester club's long and successful history, not only for his goalkeeping prowess but also his life-saving heroics in the aftermath of the Munich disaster.
Sir Alex Ferguson promised he would bring his strongest squad with him for Gregg's testimonial and the great Scot was true to his word.
Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes all came off the bench to mighty roars from the Reds inside Windsor while Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Antonio Valencia and our own Jonny Evans, captain for the night, all started. There were even appearances, potentially farewell, for Michael Owen and Dimitar Berbatov.
Now that's how to honour one of your own.
Fair play to Ferguson and United for treating 'Harry's game' with the utmost respect.
No one in the crowd could have felt short-changed by the line-up. And 79-year-old Gregg himself was genuinely touched.
He was introduced to the teams before kick-off with warm handshakes for the visitors and the Irish League players, managed by Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill and Linfield supremo David Jeffrey.
A mosaic was unveiled in the North Stand with the word Hero, just about summing Harry up.
In the South Stand sat First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, a goalkeeper himself in his youth and one who revered Gregg, the Northern Ireland number one in the 1958 World Cup finals.
There was so much demand to attend Tuesday night's game that a temporary stand had to be erected at the Railway End of the ground.
The sell-out crowd was the biggest to watch a football match in Northern Ireland this season.
Say what you like about United — and plenty do — but the Red Devils are box office and with most of the gate receipts going to charity, good causes benefitted.
The fans had a desperately disappointing tension-filled Sunday when derby rivals Manchester City took the Premier League title away from United in the final few seconds of the season, but Tuesday night was one to sit back and savour — seeing their heroes on their own doorstep.
The George Best Carryduff Manchester United Supporters Club, led by the determined John White and John Dempsey, took on the job of organising the testimonial did a fine job.
To think that the letter requesting United to play in Harry's game was only sent in January. Five months later there was all this. It was more of an occasion than a game of football, though the match had its moments especially for Cliftonville striker Chris Scannell, who scored against United in the second half.
It wasn't enough to earn a famous victory for the Irish League select squad — who acquitted themselves well throughout the match — but they certainly pleased O'Neill and Jeffrey in the dug-out.
United won 4-1 thanks to Evra netting on his birthday, Ashley Young scoring twice and crowd favourite Rooney smashing in a penalty.
At the final whistle the supporters rose as one to show their appreciation and an emotional Harry Gregg allowed himself a little smile.
And rightly so. This was for him.