Former Manchester United keeper Harry Gregg - dubbed the 'Hero of Munich' - dies, aged 87

Former Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg - dubbed the "Hero of Munich" - has died at the age of 87.

His death was announced by the Harry Gregg Foundation on Monday morning.

"It is with great sorrow that we inform of the death of Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend Harry Gregg, OBE," it said in a statement posted on Facebook.

"Harry passed away peacefully in hospital surrounded by his loving family."

Gregg had signed for United just two months before the Munich air crash disaster in 1958 which claimed the lives of 23 people, including many of his new teammates.

He twice returned to the burning fuselage to drag team-mates and strangers to safety.

Gregg was hailed for his actions in the aftermath of the crash. Credit: PA

Had a 25-year-old Gregg not been on the BEA Flight 609 on February 6, 1958, or not survived the ill-fated take-off, the shocking death toll would have been higher still.

It was Gregg who sought out and delivered to safety a 20-month old baby, Gregg who returned for her badly injured, pregnant mother and Gregg who dragged Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet from the wreckage by their waistbands, not knowing if they were dead or alive.

The aircraft crashed in heavy snow on an icy runway in Munich, 1958. Credit: PA

The courage of Gregg, who has died at the age of 87, has been formally hailed in Germany and in Serbia - home to the rescued Lukic family - not to mention at Old Trafford, back home in Ulster and in countless thousands of conversations with the man himself.

It has been recreated in film and retold via documentary, passed down through generations in the telling of one of football's darkest days.

But he never embraced or amplified his own valour, and wrote in his autobiography Harry's Game: "Munich established my identity, of that there is no doubt. (But) the notoriety has come at a price, for Munich has cast a shadow over my life which I found difficult to dispel."

Gregg, who was awarded an OBE in the 2019 New Year Honours, leaves behind five children, including four with second wife Carolyn, and an unimpeachable legacy.

Gregg was born in Tobermore, South Derry, on October 25, 1932, the eldest of six children.

By 18, he had been snapped up by Doncaster, where he enjoyed five good years before becoming the world's most expensive keeper when United, and Matt Busby, shelled out £23,000.

He spent nine years with the Red Devils and, although he never won a medal with the club, injury having ruled him out of the 1963 FA Cup final and restricted his appearances in two title-winning campaigns, an unforgettable career was forged. Not many people can say they had their boots cleaned by a young George Best.

Gregg remains a touchstone for United goalkeepers, a dominant leader between the posts and a revered shot stopper. In all he played 247 times for United, including, incredibly, a 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday just 13 days after the Munich tragedy.

Of those who had been on duty in Belgrade before the fatal crash, only Gregg and Bill Foulkes wore the jersey in that emotional fixture less than two weeks later.

He eventually left Old Trafford for the briefest of stopovers at Stoke and a underwhelming managerial career followed, with spells in charge of Shrewsbury, Swansea, Crewe and Carlisle.