Next week, Coleraine Academy will pay tribute to Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend Harry Gregg MBE, who was one of the survivors and heroes of the tragic Munich air disaster in 1958.
The great and the good from the world of Northern Ireland sport, politics, show business and commerce will attend the launch of the Harry Gregg Foundation at the University of Ulster Coleraine on Thursday February 19.
Manchester United’s website acknowledges his heroism in the crash that shocked the world of football on February 6, 1958.
It records: “Gregg was one of the disaster’s great heroes. Having escaped with just a bloody nose, he went back into the wreckage to pull out those who were trapped. He rescued a 20-month-old child, a pregnant woman and attempted to revive Matt Busby.
“It wasn’t out of character. A real tough nut, Gregg was as vocal, commanding and abrasive as Peter Schmeichel would become three decades later. His bold personality and powerful physique had persuaded Busby to fork out £23,000 – then a world record fee for a goalkeeper – just three months before the crash.
“After the disaster, Gregg was a part of the patchwork team built by Jimmy Murphy who reached the FA Cup final three months later. United were heroic in defeat, yet that losers’ medal would be the only decoration of Gregg’s time at Old Trafford.
“The Northern Ireland international was voted best goalkeeper at the 1958 World Cup and remained United’s first-choice custodian for four years until a shoulder injury threatened his career. Gregg was told by surgeons he may never play again but eventually had major surgery and staged a comeback against Benfica at Old Trafford seven months later.”
Former international midfielder Steven Lomas, whose pathway to professional football was influenced greatly by Harry, will be among a host of famous footballing figures eager to pay tribute to the great man.
John Linehan, Tim McGarry and Alan McKee will be joined by Stormont ministers in The Diamond at the university to mark the launch of the Foundation.
The people of Coleraine have long been keen to mark the achievements of the former Northern Ireland and Manchester United goalkeeper, who was also a successful coach in the game after he retired from playing.
Harry’s exploits are the stuff of legend, but the man from 34 Windsor Avenue has always eschewed the limelight and any notion of a statue being erected in the town to mark his endeavours.
But the idea of having a foundation dedicated to community involvement projects and in particular developing young people and encouraging them to fulfil their dreams was a perfect fit for a man whose passion for the game and his home town remains undimmed.
“Dad didn’t want a statue in his honour,” said Harry’s daughter Linda. “But a ‘Foundation’ to inspire those that have dreams.
“I hope that all who have dreams can be inspired by Dad, for he made his dreams come true.”
Grass roots football has always been close to Harry’s heart, and this week he reflected on the times he grew up as a lad in Windsor Avenue and played football with his friends for the Station Gates and in the fields nearby.
“I was lucky enough to have been born at 34 Windsor Avenue, just 300 yards from ‘the Station Gates’ where Peter ‘The Great’ was born.
“Peter Doherty was then and remains to this day the greatest footballer ever to have played for Northern Ireland, and I sued to play for the Station Gates against Killowen. “We also used to play on the meadow across the way from my house, myself and all the lads in the area, we played for hours and those times meant everything to me, they made me what I am today.”
Coleraine FC Academy’s community charity, which will be renamed the Harry Gregg Foundation, facilitates weekly, programmes for over 4000 people today, of all ages, backgrounds and ability.
The aim of the foundation is to further develop and facilitate the engagement of youth and wider community through the association of the glorious game and to encourage participation in football and various other health, lifestyle, educational, heritage and social inclusion activities.
MUTV will join local broadcasters and media outlets to mark the launch on Feb 19, with Harry himself as the Guest of Honour.