Harry Gregg: Sir Bobby Charlton leads tributes to late Manchester United great

Harry Gregg with Sir Bobby Charlton at the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster in 2008
Sir Bobby Charlton survived the Munich air disaster in 1958 when Manchester United team-mate Gregg pulled passengers to safety from the burning wreckage

Sir Bobby Charlton says Harry Gregg was "a fantastic goalkeeper but more importantly an incredible human being".

Gregg passed away on Sunday at the age of 87 and Charlton paid an emotional tribute to his former Manchester United team-mate.

Charlton survived the Munich air disaster in 1958 when Gregg pulled him and other passengers from the plane's burning wreckage.

"I was proud to call him a team-mate," said United and England great Charlton.

Gregg rescued United team-mates Charlton and Dennis Viollet from BEA Flight 609, as well as a 20-month-old baby and her badly injured, pregnant mother.

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Harry Gregg: The Hero of Munich

Speaking to the Manchester United website, Charlton added: "Lady Norma and I are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Harry Gregg.

"For all the matter of fact things Harry said about that night in Munich for me he will always be remembered as a heroic figure.

"It's incredible to think that he went on to play in a match against Sheffield Wednesday just 13 days after that tragic night.

"A shining light both on and off the pitch. For so many reasons, he deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest names in Manchester United's history.

"Harry will be deeply missed and our thoughts are with [his wife] Carolyn and his family at this very sad time."

Sir Alex Ferguson alongside Gregg at the Manchester United great's testimonial at Windsor Park in 2012
Sir Alex Ferguson says Harry Gregg was a "true legend" at Manchester United

Ferguson 'deeply saddened' by Gregg's death

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said he was "deeply saddened" by Gregg's death.

"Harry was a man of great character and a true legend at our club," said Sir Alex.

"I remember that he was always very excited and proud to host our youth team at his boarding house for the Milk Cup [Northern Ireland youth football tournament] every summer so he could recount the tales of his playing days.

"I loved his company and the many pieces of advice he gave me.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Carolyn and his family at this very sad time."

Sammy McIlroy in action for Manchester United in 1978
Sammy McIlroy's Manchester United career included a period when Gregg was club goalkeeping coach

'What a man he was' - Jennings

Pat Jennings, who took over from Gregg as Northern Ireland keeper in the 1960s, recalls a "great relationship".

"I'm sad to hear the news and condolences to his family," said the former Tottenham and Arsenal player.

"He was one of the lads I watched at internationals in Belfast in the late 1950s and encouraged me to become a goalkeeper.

"We met more in recent years at the National Stadium in Belfast and we had great craic talking about the old days.

"What a man he was to go back into that wreckage and pull people out. Most people would be running away. That tells you what he was about."

McIlroy hails 'fantastic character'

Ex-Manchester United star and Northern Ireland boss Sammy McIlroy said Gregg's actions during the Munich air disaster "summed up the man".

"He was a fantastic goalkeeper. Brave as a lion and brave as a lion off the field as well," said McIlroy.

"Going into the burning wreckage and pulling people away from it."

McIlroy, who was legendary United manager Sir Matt Busby's last signing as manager in 1969 before he stepped down from the job, was at the club until 1982 and his time at United included a period when Gregg was the club's goalkeeping coach.

"He was the goalkeeping coach under Dave Sexton. He always had something to say about our performances," McIlroy said.

"After working with the goalkeepers, he would join the lads in five-a-sides."

McIlroy's subsequent managerial career included a three-year stint in charge of Northern Ireland and Gregg was never short of a word of advice to the then national team boss.

"He would come to the hotel. It would start with a cup of tea and the chat would go on for two or three hours. It was very hard to get rid of him," laughed the former Northern Ireland boss.

"After the game when I would come back to Manchester, he'd be phoning me up once, twice a week.

"He was always there for advice and help. I'll never forget him. He was a fantastic character."

Former Irish League player and BBC Radio Ulster football pundit Liam Beckett, who was with the Manchester United great when he passed away at Coleraine's Causeway Hospital on Sunday night, described Gregg as a "man of integrity".

"Despite all the adulation that was showered upon Harry, he was very much a private man," said Beckett, who is a patron of the Harry Gregg Foundation.

"A humble man, a modest man, a man of integrity, a man of principle and he was most happy when he was among family.

"He loved kids, so he set up the foundation to provide a proper structured platform for kids to be able to go out and play the game that he loved.

"When people would always bring up Munich, his answer would always be the same: 'I only did what any other man would have done'.

"Of course, we know that's not true. He was exceptional. The very word legend, it doesn't come close in this instance."