Martin Smith column: Harry Gregg's story will live forever

If you’re lucky you grow up with stories.

Monday, 17th February 2020, 11:47 am
Updated Wednesday, 19th February 2020, 10:01 am
Harry Gregg

Tales of extraordinary men and women who changed the world or made their indelible mark on it.

I was lucky. I grew up with my dad telling me about Derek Dooley, Bert Trautmann, Jackie Robinson, Jimmy Hagan and Rocky Marciano, men who lit up his younger years. Their feats and personalities, attributes and weaknesses and what made them the men they were.

But Harry Gregg is the one I remember best.

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The man who went back into the wreckage to save a pregnant mother and her baby as Manchester United’s BEA Flight 609 burned on the Munich runway in February 1958. A man who went back again and again to help his mates.

Harry Gregg was a fearless giant with his mighty arms carrying men, women and children from the carnage that killed Britain’s best and favourite team.

My dad told me of Matt Busby lying barely alive in hospital not knowing for days that eight of his young players were dead or dying.

Of the great Duncan Edwards’ long fight for life and his eventually succumbing to terrible injuries.

The sickening death toll, the packed and silent black-and-white streets of Manchester as the news broke.

But Harry Gregg was the one who stuck in my mind most. A modest, quiet man who played for Manchester United against Sheffield Wednesday less than two weeks after the trauma of his role at the heart of the disaster.

How did he do that? Even in an age where many still carried deep scars from two world wars and got on with their lives, his was a feat of immense mental strength.

Playing again was the only thing he felt he could do. He was determined that the crash would not define his career or his life.

I saw Gregg play for Manchester United years later when I was aged 10. I couldn’t believe it was him.

He wasn’t a giant or a comic book super hero. He was just a bloke, just a goalkeeper. And that’s how he wanted to be remembered. But that won’t happen.

Despite his modesty and steely dignity Harry Gregg was a hero, an ordinary man who did extraordinary things to help others.

A man whose story will live forever.