“I’m simply Harry Gregg, the ex-footballer.”
Sometimes being a hero is doing what we expect to see a hero do; save people’s lives. That’s why Spiderman was the hero and not the useless ragamuffin bystander eating a bacon butty; this man certainly wouldn’t be seen watching a disaster unfold while chomping on his pig-based snack, this guy’s a hero.
Harry Gregg was Manchester United’s goalkeeper during the famed Busby Babes era. He was signed in 1957 and was part of one of the most exciting and talented teams in football. That was until 6 February 1958, when the team were leaving Munich after a stopover following their European Cup match in Belgrade. After two failed take-off attempts due to faults with the aircraft, the plane made its third attempt at taking off. Unfortunately, slush had begun to form on the runway and the plane hit it and lost take-off velocity, careering through a fence at the end of the runway before hitting a house.
Thrown into the snow when the fuselage split, this man went straight back in to find and save his colleagues, despite being shouted at by the pilot to get out, believing the plane would explode at any second. As well as saving Bobby Charlton, Jackie Blanchflower and Dennis Viollet, he managed to pull his manager, Sir Matt Busby out. This is heroic enough but he didn’t stop there, instead going in to save a pregnant woman and her baby too. Despite all of this, Gregg does not want to be defined by his actions in Munich, but by the way he played.
However, the Munich disaster cast a shadow on Gregg’s playing career. This was a man who was voted player of the tournament at the 1958 World Cup despite a) being a goalkeeper and b) playing for Northern Ireland. He was rated as one of the best keepers in world at the time and is certainly up there in Old Trafford folklore as the best of the best. However, like a successful Kieron Dyer, injury blighted his career and prevented him from winning any honours (a shoulder injury kept him out of the 1963 cup final, while a string of injuries stopped him from playing enough games to qualify for a winner’s medal in the team’s championship years.
Selfless footballers aren’t as rare as people make out but heroic ones are, and as such Gregg should be treasured in that way.