Remembering Gregg's stand-out season at United
In the recent matchday programme for the Wolves league game, United Review paid tribute to Harry Gregg’s most exceptional season for the club against all the odds…
If ever a team needed a goalkeeper to be bold and courageous, a dominant character who could perform minor miracles between his posts while doubling as an inspirational presence in the dressing room and beyond, it was Manchester United in the autumn of 1958. Step forward, Harry Gregg.
The big, flame-haired Ulsterman, who had become the costliest goalkeeper on the planet when he joined the Reds from Doncaster Rovers for £23,500 in December 1957, had already gone way behind the call of duty in demonstrating his personal and professional mettle.
Not only had he justified manager Matt Busby’s judgement by proving a magnificent net-minder, he had emerged from the horror of the Munich Air Disaster, in which eight players died, as a genuine hero – despite his unwaveringly modest protestations that he had acted purely on instinct – by hauling fellow passengers from the burning wreckage.
Then he had starred as United’s patchwork side reached the FA Cup final, endured a searingly controversial refereeing decision as the Reds lost at Wembley, then was voted the outstanding goalkeeper at that summer’s World Cup tournament as Northern Ireland reached the quarter-finals.
After all that, Gregg might have been temporarily spent, but far from it. Come the following August he was just getting started. Standing defiant behind a rookie rearguard in which only fellow Munich survivor Bill Foulkes boasted more than a modicum of experience, the keeper struck magnificent form.
With a playing style was as forthright as his personality, Gregg always aimed to command his penalty area, often charging through friend and foe alike, to gather crosses. It took youthful team-mates like Ronnie Cope, Freddie Goodwin and Ian Greaves a while to adjust to life with this vociferous acrobat, but, when they did, then United benefited with a mid-to-late-season run of 19 wins in 23 games which, against all predictions, earned them runners-up spot to Wolves in the championship race.
Harry’s highlights included a brilliant penalty save from Ken Barnes during the 1-1 draw with Manchester City at Maine Road in September and a stunning display in a goalless encounter with FA Cup finalists Luton Town at Kenilworth Road in April.
Seemingly ever more secure as the season progressed, he missed only one game all term and seemed certain to collect serial medals in future campaigns.
Alas, injuries prevented that, but no United follower who witnessed Harry Gregg in his 1958/59 pomp will ever forget him.