Harry Gregg will be awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list, six decades after he showed immense heroism at the Munich Air Disaster during his playing career for Manchester United.
He has proved to be a humble and kind man who has, despite having to overcome personal tragedy on far too many occasions, dedicated much of life to helping others, particularly since 2015 with the Harry Gregg Foundation.
Gregg received an MBE in 1995. Now 86 years old, he thanked his family and others upon the announcement of an OBE.
“I owe so much to my wife Carolyn,” he said, as per the Belfast Telegraph. He also thanked the Busby Babes “who mean so much to me”.
A man hit by tragedy at Munich, Gregg also suffered due the death of his first wife Mavis in 1961 and his daughter Karen in 2009. In 1958 on that snowy runway, Gregg ran straight back into a burning aircraft to save a mother and her daughter from the flames.
He turned out for United less than two weeks later alongside Bill Foulkes, another member of the team who had been on the plane that crashed at Munich on February 6th, 1958.
Gregg’s footballing ability
While Gregg is famous for his selfless heroism, his footballing ability is forgotten too often.
In the same year as Munich, Gregg kept goal for Northern Ireland at the 1958 World Cup finals. The team reached the quarter-finals and Gregg was named Goalkeeper of the Tournament. That was despite Lev Yashin, widely regarded as the greatest of the era, playing for the Soviet Union. Gregg made 25 appearances for his country and is still loved by the Northern Irish.
He moved to England at the age of 18 to sign for Doncaster Rovers and signed for United in 1957. The transfer cost the Reds £23,000, a world-record fee for a goalkeeper.
That alone shows that Gregg’s ability should not be forgotten. In fact, although he never won a medal as a United player due to a number of reasons, he is one of the club’s best ever goalkeepers on the pitch, regardless of his bravery off it.
As Wayne Barton pointed out on Twitter on Friday, Gregg was a unique goalkeeper at the time and helped to formulate the ‘United way’ because of the way he pushed the defensive line in front of him forwards.
Although a goalkeeper dominating their box is the norm these days, and in fact sweeper-keepers are becoming more and more frequent, Gregg was one of the first to demand his defenders moved forward on the pitch and left him to do the work inside his own box.
That meant, according to Barton, that United’s defensive line shifted forward by about 20 yards. Goalkeepers had previously been seen as just a shot stopper, but Gregg’s ideas ensured that all future United ‘keepers had to have a similar style where distribution was a key factor.