LONDON — Harry Gregg, a former Manchester United goalkeeper called the "hero of Munich" for rescuing two teammates as well as a baby and her pregnant mother from the burning fuselage in the 1958 air disaster that killed 23 people, has died. He was 87.
Gregg died peacefully in a hospital, surrounded by family, The Harry Gregg Foundation said Monday.
A former Northern Ireland international, Gregg spent nine years with Manchester United after joining as the world’s most expensive goalkeeper in 1957. He played 247 times for the club, including in a victory in an FA Cup match against Sheffield Wednesday 13 days after the air crash in February 1958.
The team was returning from a European Cup game when their airplane crashed after refuelling in Munich. Gregg escaped the wreckage, but returned on two occasions to help teammates Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet and then a 20-month-old girl and her badly injured mother.
Eight United players died in the disaster.
"He will always be remembered for what he did at Munich," Charlton was quoted as saying by the BBC, "but on top of that he was a really great goalkeeper."
In his autobiography, called "Harry’s Game," Gregg said the air disaster in Munich "established my identity" but "the notoriety has come at a price."
"For Munich has cast a shadow over my life which I found difficult to dispel," he wrote.
United said it was with the "deepest sadness" that the club learned of Gregg’s death.
"Not only did Gregg survive the Munich air disaster," United said, "but he also returned to the plane to rescue teammates and other passengers in an act of incredible bravery.
"He was back playing within a couple of weeks and had a remarkable career."
Gregg, however, never won a medal with United, injury having ruled him out of the 1963 FA Cup final and restricting his appearances in two title-winning campaigns.
He left Old Trafford for a brief spell at Stoke before an underwhelming managerial career, when he was in charge of Shrewsbury, Swansea, Crewe and Carlisle.
Gregg played 25 times for Northern Ireland, including at the 1958 World Cup, when he was selected as the best goalkeeper in the competition.
When Windsor Park in Belfast was officially reopened following development in 2016, Gregg was afforded a warm on-field ovation by the fans as well as meeting boxing champion Carl Frampton and golfer Rory McIlroy.
Four years earlier, then-United manager Alex Ferguson brought a full-strength squad to Windsor Park to face an Irish League XI in honour of Gregg, whose career at United ended without a testimonial.
In his program notes, Ferguson described Gregg as "beyond legendary" and "a most reluctant hero."
Gregg was awarded an OBE in the 2019 New Year Honours.