Former Northern Ireland and Manchester United player Harry Gregg waves to the crowd in 2010. Picture: ACTION IMAGES/JASON CAIRNDRUFF
Former Northern Ireland and Manchester United player Harry Gregg waves to the crowd in 2010. Picture: ACTION IMAGES/JASON CAIRNDRUFF

London — Harry Gregg — hailed as a hero for saving lives in the air crash which killed eight of Manchester United’s “Busby Babes” in Munich — has died at the age of 87.

Gregg, who was United’s goalkeeper, rescued a mother and her baby daughter, teammates Bobby Charlton and Jackie Blanchflower and manager Matt Busby from the wreckage of the plane on February 6 1958. He was back playing for Manchester United just 13 days later against Sheffield Wednesday.

Gregg became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper when he joined United in December 1957 for £23,500 and went on to be voted the best at the following year’s World Cup in Sweden. He was capped 25 times by Northern Ireland and played 247 times for United from 1957-1966.

“It is with great sorrow that we inform of the death of Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend Harry Gregg, OBE,” the Harry Gregg Foundation announced on its Facebook page on Monday. “Harry passed away peacefully in hospital surrounded by his loving family.”

Gregg, who legendary United manager Alex Ferguson said was his hero, was humble about his bravery in Munich. “I would be telling lies if I said that I thought about it all the time. In fact, I would go insane,” he said in 2018 before a service marking 60 years since the disaster.

“I know the media would like to talk about what happened on a runway. I don’t blame people for that, but if all I was ever part of, or all I ever achieved was to do with what happened in Germany, in Munich, if that was what my life was all about, it didn’t come to very much.”

It was left to others such as fellow Northern Ireland great George Best — who cleaned Gregg’s boots — to sum up his courage. “Bravery is one thing but what Harry did was about more than bravery,” Best wrote in the foreword to Gregg’s autobiography in 2002.  “It was about goodness.”

The disaster, after a refuelling stop, killed eight of the young side dubbed “the Busby Babes” who had won successive league titles. The crash left manager Matt Busby fighting for his life. The was bringing the team back via Munich from Belgrade after they had reached the European Cup semifinals. The plane crashed on its third take-off attempt in terrible weather conditions killing 23 people, including three of the club’s backroom staff, two crew, eight journalists and two others.

The club recovered to become the first English team to lift the European Cup 10 years later on a deeply emotional night at Wembley.

With Gregg’s passing Charlton is the only member of the United group who was on the plane who is still alive.