Born: October 27, 1932;

Died: February 16, 2020.

HARRY Gregg, who has died, aged 87, after a short illness, was one of the finest goalkeepers in the history of football, but he is best remembered for his heroism during the Munich air crash of February 1958.

The BEA Elizabethan airliner bringing Gregg and his Manchester United team-mates back from a European Cup tie in Belgrade crashed while attempting to take off from Munich Airport, where it had refuelled. The crash claimed 23 lives, including those of eight United players, but Gregg, thrown clear on impact, returned to the blazing aircraft and rescued several survivors, including team mates Bobby Charlton, Jackie Blanchflower and Dennis Viollet, and Yugoslav diplomat’s wife Vera Lukić, who was pregnant with a son, Zoran, and her 20-month-old daughter, Vesna. He also attended to United manager Matt Busby. Gregg’s heroics that snowy morning in Germany defined the remainder of his life and perhaps overshadowed what a fantastic goalkeeper he was.

Born in Tobermore, near Magherafelt, Co. Londonderry, he left school to take up a joinery apprenticeship, playing for Windsor Swifts, the youth team attached to Linfield. Aged 18, he signed for Coleraine, but was quickly snapped up, as a 19-year-old, by Doncaster Rovers. He won the first of an eventual 25 caps for Northern Ireland when capped against Wales in the Home Internationals in March, 1954. However, it was his outstanding performance in helping Northern Ireland beat England at Wembley for the first time, in November, 1957, that changed his life.

Busby felt goalkeeper Ray Wood had lost confidence following the severe foul he had suffered in the 1957 FA Cup final. He reasoned his reserve goalkeepers were not ready for first-team duty, and, impressed by Gregg’s display at Wembley, paid a then-world record fee for a ‘keeper - £23,000 -- to take him to Old Trafford.

Gregg was capable of the spectacular. He was agile, and brave to the point of foolhardiness. This saw him frequently injured as he repeatedly dived at attackers’ feet. Indeed, in nine years with United, he only played 247 matches, keeping 48 clean sheets.

Indeed, he never collected a winner’s medal with the Red Devils. He had to settle for a runners;-up medal in the 1958 FA Cup Final, where he was shoulder-charged into the net by Nat Lofthouse for Bolton’s clinching second goal. Injury kept him out of the 1963 FA Cup Final, while in the two league-winning campaigns he was involved in with the club, he did not play a sufficient number of games through injury, to qualify for a medal.

Perhaps his biggest honour as a player was to be named as goalkeeper in The Team of the Tournament at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, where he was a star in Northern Ireland’s unlikely progress to the quarter-finals, where they lost to holders West Germany.

Gregg was injured in the final group game, but, when stand-in Norman Uprichard was injured in the play-off against Czechoslovakia, a hobbling Gregg had to play against the Germans, making light of his injuries to pull-off some typically outstanding saves.

His United career ended in December 1966, with a transfer to Stoke City, but he only played two games for the Potters, before retiring at the end of that season.

He entered management with Shrewsbury Town in 1968, then, after four years, he joined Swansea City, resigning to join Crewe Alexandra in 1975, before, in 1978, Dave Sexton took him back to Manchester United as goalkeeping coach.

He then joined ex-Celtic player Lou Macari at Swindon Town, but the pair fell out and Gregg moved on to be assistant to Bob Stokoe at Carlisle United, before succeeding Stokoe as manager, his final job in football.

As the various anniversaries of Munich came round, a new audience learned of Gregg’s heroics thanks to his participation in several memorial TV programmes and films. He had returned to Northern Ireland, where he owned a hotel in Portstewart.

His first wife Mavis died from cancer in 1961. He had two daughters from that marriage, Linda and Karen, who died of cancer in 2009. He married his second wife, Carolyn, in 1965. She survives him, with Linda and his four children from his second marriage – Julie, Jane, Suzanne and John-Henry.

Gregg was made MBE in 1995. This was upgraded to OBE in 2012 while he was also awarded an honorary Doctor of the University degree by the University of Ulster in 2008.Northern Ireland has had three goalkeepers considered among the very best in the world during their careers, the great Elisha Scott in the inter-war years, and Pat Jennings, and Gregg. Northern Ireland fans might argue which of these great ‘keepers was the greatest, but, it is beyond dispute – Harry Gregg was the bravest.