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Man Utd legend Harry Gregg’s funeral

Mourners including Sir Alex Ferguson and legendary player Sir Bobby Charlton gathered today for a funeral service for Harry Gregg from Manchester United.

The former Northern Ireland goalkeeper was praised as a hero after the Munich air disaster in February 1958, killing 23 people. He died on Sunday at the age of 87.

Former Manchester United winger Keith Gillespie and youth player David Jeffrey were also among the tributes. His funeral was held from noon at St Patrick’s Parish Church in Coleraine, Co Londonderry.

Harry Gregg, who survived the Manchester United Munich air disaster, pictured in his house in Co Londonderry in 2008

Harry Gregg, who survived the Manchester United Munich air disaster, pictured in his house in Co Londonderry in 2008

Sir Alex Ferguson arrives for the funeral of former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg

Sir Alex Ferguson arrives for the funeral of former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg

Sir Alex Ferguson arrives for the funeral of former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg

Sir Bobby Charlton and his wife Norma arrived at the church in Coleraine today to pay their respects

Sir Bobby Charlton and his wife Norma arrived at the church in Coleraine today to pay their respects

Sir Bobby Charlton and his wife Norma arrived at the church in Coleraine today to pay their respects

Mourners watched as Gregg's coffin arrived in the church today. Gregg became the world's most expensive goalkeeper when Sir Matt Busby's United Doncaster paid £ 23,000 in 1957 and a year later was voted World Cup best keeper

Mourners watched as Gregg's coffin arrived in the church today. Gregg became the world's most expensive goalkeeper when Sir Matt Busby's United Doncaster paid £ 23,000 in 1957 and a year later was voted World Cup best keeper

Mourners watched as Gregg’s coffin arrived in the church today. Gregg became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper when Sir Matt Busby’s United Doncaster paid £ 23,000 in 1957 and a year later was voted World Cup best keeper

Former Manchester United winger Keith Gillespie

Former Manchester United winger Keith Gillespie

Former Manchester United youth player David Jeffrey also made his way to St Patrick's Parish Church today

Former Manchester United youth player David Jeffrey also made his way to St Patrick's Parish Church today

Left, former Manchester United winger Keith Gillespie. Precisely, former Manchester United youth player David Jeffrey also made his way to St Patrick’s Parish Church today

Denis Law attends the funeral with former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg at St Patrick's Parish Church, Co Londonderry

Denis Law attends the funeral with former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg at St Patrick's Parish Church, Co Londonderry

Denis Law attends the funeral with former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg at St Patrick’s Parish Church, Co Londonderry

Gregg's grandson Harry Junior is seen with a cane while arriving today for his funeral in Co Londonderry

Gregg's grandson Harry Junior is seen with a cane while arriving today for his funeral in Co Londonderry

Gregg’s grandson Harry Junior is seen with a cane while arriving today for his funeral in Co Londonderry

Former Huddersfield and Manchester City star Denis Law came in with Sir Alex Ferguson

Former Huddersfield and Manchester City star Denis Law came in with Sir Alex Ferguson

Former Huddersfield and Manchester City star Denis Law came in with Sir Alex Ferguson

Former Northern Ireland footballer Gerry Armstrong joined hundreds who expressed their respect

Former Northern Ireland footballer Gerry Armstrong joined hundreds who expressed their respect

Former Northern Ireland footballer Gerry Armstrong joined hundreds who expressed their respect

Hundreds of people showed respect when the procession passed through Coleraine

Hundreds of people showed respect when the procession passed through Coleraine

Hundreds of people showed respect when the procession passed through Coleraine

The former Northern Irish lady Dame Mary Peters attended the service to remember the footballing hero

The former Northern Irish lady Dame Mary Peters attended the service to remember the footballing hero

The former Northern Irish lady Dame Mary Peters attended the service to remember the footballing hero

Sir Alex Ferguson and Denis Law chatted when they left with their fellow grieving this afternoon

Sir Alex Ferguson and Denis Law chatted when they left with their fellow grieving this afternoon

Sir Alex Ferguson and Denis Law chatted when they left with their fellow grieving this afternoon

John-Henry Gregg thanks the guard of honor for the start of his father's funeral

John-Henry Gregg thanks the guard of honor for the start of his father's funeral

John-Henry Gregg thanks the guard of honor for the start of his father’s funeral

DUP leader Arlene Foster was also one of the tributes to the moving service today

DUP leader Arlene Foster was also one of the tributes to the moving service today

DUP leader Arlene Foster was also one of the tributes to the moving service today

Gregg survived the Munich crash and returned to the burning hull twice to bring United teammates and strangers to safety.

He saved the United players Sir Bobby and Dennis Viollet from the BEA flight 609, as well as a 20-month-old baby and her seriously injured pregnant mother.

In nine years at United, Gregg played 247 times, including in a 3-0 win on Sheffield Wednesday, only 13 days after the tragedy in Munich.

Gregg became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper when Sir Matt Busby’s United Doncaster paid £ 23,000 in 1957 and a year later was voted World Cup best goalkeeper.

Gregg became a hero on and off the field when he survived the Munich crash and returned to the burning hull twice to bring United teammates and strangers to safety

Gregg became a hero on and off the field when he survived the Munich crash and returned to the burning hull twice to bring United teammates and strangers to safety

Gregg became a hero on and off the field when he survived the Munich crash and returned to the burning hull twice to bring United teammates and strangers to safety

United star, Denis Law. Rev. Ian Ballentine said the large crowd outside the church was a tribute to Gregg, whom he described as an “excellent professional footballer and a man with exceptional courage”

There was a moving guard of honor outside the church this morning before the service

There was a moving guard of honor outside the church this morning before the service

There was a moving guard of honor outside the church this morning before the service

Former Manchester United youth player David Jeffrey arrives this morning for the funeral of Harry Gregg in Coleraine

Former Manchester United youth player David Jeffrey arrives this morning for the funeral of Harry Gregg in Coleraine

Former Manchester United youth player David Jeffrey arrives this morning for the funeral of Harry Gregg in Coleraine

Sir Bobby Charlton and his wife Norma held each other's hands as they made their way to the church to remember the football legend

Sir Bobby Charlton and his wife Norma held each other's hands as they made their way to the church to remember the football legend

Sir Bobby Charlton and his wife Norma held each other’s hands as they made their way to the church to remember the football legend

Mourners arrive this morning for the funeral of Harry Gregg in the Parish Church St. Patrick in Coleraine, Co Londonderry

Mourners arrive this morning for the funeral of Harry Gregg in the Parish Church St. Patrick in Coleraine, Co Londonderry

Mourners arrive this morning for the funeral of Harry Gregg in the Parish Church St. Patrick in Coleraine, Co Londonderry

Sir Alex Ferguson today at the funeral. In nine years with United, Gregg played 247 times, including a 3-0 win on Sheffield Wednesday, only 13 days after the tragedy in Munich

Sir Alex Ferguson today at the funeral. In nine years with United, Gregg played 247 times, including a 3-0 win on Sheffield Wednesday, only 13 days after the tragedy in Munich

Sir Alex Ferguson today at the funeral. In nine years with United, Gregg played 247 times, including a 3-0 win on Sheffield Wednesday, only 13 days after the tragedy in Munich

Manchester United greets Sir Bobby Charlton, pictured, Sir Alex Ferguson and Denis Law among mourners who arrived for the funeral of Harry Gregg in Coleraine

Manchester United greets Sir Bobby Charlton, pictured, Sir Alex Ferguson and Denis Law among mourners who arrived for the funeral of Harry Gregg in Coleraine

Manchester United greets Sir Bobby Charlton, pictured, Sir Alex Ferguson and Denis Law among mourners who arrived for the funeral of Harry Gregg in Coleraine

Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg in action on March 22, 1958

Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg in action on March 22, 1958

Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg in action on March 22, 1958

Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg pictured on September 5, 1957

Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg pictured on September 5, 1957

Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg pictured on September 5, 1957

The wreck of flight 609 is in the snow. The plane, with the Manchester United football team, crashed at the airport during a heavy snowstorm

The wreck of flight 609 is in the snow. The plane, with the Manchester United football team, crashed at the airport during a heavy snowstorm

The wreck of flight 609 is in the snow. The plane, with the Manchester United football team, crashed at the airport during a heavy snowstorm

He only won 25 caps for his country during an international career that was hampered by injuries.

Gregg had spells with Windsor Park Swifts, the Linfield reserve team and his local club Coleraine before moving to England to sign for Doncaster at the age of 18 and playing for Rovers between 1952 and 1957.

When he retired, a management career followed, with spells in charge of Shrewsbury, Swansea, Crewe and Carlisle.

IAN LADYMAN: Harry Gregg never wanted to be in the middle of one of the biggest football tragedies … reuniting with Sir Bobby Charlton during the 60th anniversary of the Munich disaster ended a chapter of his life

Harry Gregg’s favorite chair was a large armchair by the window in front of his house on the hill in Castlerock, an hour outside of Belfast.

His football books, mostly autobiographies and his newspaper, lay on his coffee table. His cigarettes were close by.

Towards the end of his life Gregg was watching television on football. Manchester United was still his team.

Former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg (left) next to Sir Bobby Charlton

Former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg (left) next to Sir Bobby Charlton

Former Manchester United goalkeeper Harry Gregg (left) next to Sir Bobby Charlton

Gregg greets the players of Manchester United during his testimony at Windsor Park in 2012

Gregg greets the players of Manchester United during his testimony at Windsor Park in 2012

Gregg greets the players of Manchester United during his testimony at Windsor Park in 2012

Gregg (circled) stands next to his teammates before taking on Partizan Belgrade in 1958

Gregg (circled) stands next to his teammates before taking on Partizan Belgrade in 1958

Gregg (circled) stands next to his teammates before taking on Partizan Belgrade in 1958

“At home here, when United has a new manager or player, I just look at it like any other fan,” he told me.

“My simple little head wonders:” Is he a good player or is he a pill? “.”

Time spent with Harry Gregg was never wasted. It would listen a lot and sometimes bring a little patience. But he, from everyone who was there that terrible day in Bavaria, had a lot to say.

Gregg never escaped the shadow of Munich. He wanted it, but he couldn’t. As he was inclined to say: “I know what happened. I know what I saw. I was there.’ For years – too many years – those details seeped into his dreams.

As a goalkeeper, he was impressive and charismatic. In his case, sport reflected life. Even in his later days he stood tall. Conversations took place at his pace and followed his way. Often confrontation was central and it wasn’t always a joke.

I was lucky to know him towards the end. An afternoon spent in his house for an interview in the fall of 2017 was perhaps the most cherished of a 20-year career with this newspaper. Much of that time was spent persuading him to let me turn on my tape recorder. Another piece was devoted to eating his wife Carolyn’s sandwiches.

Carolyn – gracious, charming Carolyn – was the gatekeeper in Castlerock. No one has reached Harry without saying it. Understandably, she was always suspicious about people’s motives.

The time spent with Gregg, who won 25 caps for Northern Ireland, was never wasted

The time spent with Gregg, who won 25 caps for Northern Ireland, was never wasted

The time spent with Gregg, who won 25 caps for Northern Ireland, was never wasted

Gregg’s life was accompanied by great tragedies. He lost his first wife and his daughter to cancer. Without Carolyn he asked me out loud, he may never have recovered.

It is true that Gregg’s relationship with United over the years has not been easy. Unlike some of the 1958 team, he didn’t get the chance to squeeze the circle when the European Cup was finally won 10 years later in Wembley. He was sold to Stoke City in 1966 and never won a medal. This might bother him more than he would ever admit.

He found that some of his old teammates were too quick to tell their stories about Munich, including others who were not there. As for Sir Bobby Charlton, the two men were not close. Given what had happened between them on the runway, it was a remote place that was not easy with Gregg during his retirement years.

But then Harry Gregg didn’t want to be everyone’s cup of tea, nor did he want to be. He gladly said of himself: “I am not a nice man.” This was not true, but it was his own way of recognizing the sharp edges that could cut when needed.

The truth is that his place in the middle of one of the most tragic stories of football was a place he never wanted. He bore it with grace and appropriate responsibility, but he also suffered with it.

The players and officials of Manchester United who survived Munich pose in March 1958

The players and officials of Manchester United who survived Munich pose in March 1958

The players and officials of Manchester United who survived Munich pose in March 1958

“I never wanted to be John Wayne,” he told me.

Our relationship sometimes consisted of a telephone relationship. If he had something he wanted to say, mostly about Manchester United, Carolyn would call. Then he asked me questions about football that he knew I couldn’t answer.

“I think I’ll tell your editor about this,” he would grate.

The last day I saw him, I saw him slowly walk to his seat in Old Trafford for the 60th anniversary of the disaster two February ago. He wasn’t sure he wanted to come. He almost canceled. He had not been back for years and was honestly a little afraid of what he would feel.

On the day the organization failed him a bit. He was almost the last man to appear and was left to walk to his chair alone and confidently. It was snowing and he looked hollow and vulnerable.

A few hours later he asked me to meet him at the hotel bar across the street from the stadium. When I arrived there, the fire had returned in his eyes.

As a goalkeeper, Gregg was impressive and charismatic. In his case, sport reflected life

As a goalkeeper, Gregg was impressive and charismatic. In his case, sport reflected life

As a goalkeeper, Gregg was impressive and charismatic. In his case, sport reflected life

‘Where have you been?’ he burst. “Did you have anything better to do?”

He was happy that the day was almost over, happy that he had come. He was now among his people, his family, and his friends, and a weight had been lifted. The day before, on the training ground at United, his grandson had met Zlatan Ibrahimovic and he had a word with manager Jose Mourinho.

“Do you think he knew who I was?” he asked. It wasn’t a joke.

But most importantly, Gregg and Charlton had been together after the ceremony. Charlton’s opening sentence had disarmed him a bit.

“Hello big man,” he said simply. ‘Everything good?’

For Harry Gregg, that simple exchange – a moment of courtesy between the two remaining survivors of that terrible winter scene – closed a chapter of his life. It drew a line under something that had bothered him for far too long.

“Yes, I’m glad I came,” he told me under the top of his baseball cap.

“I think I should come here. Just one last time.’

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