An Irish bishop has paid tribute to Manchester United and Northern Ireland goalkeeper Harry Gregg, saying he “treasured” his friendship with the star.
The Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Down and Connor, Anthony Farquhar, also revealed how the football legend helped to inspire his homilies to young people at confirmation services.
The bishop, who attended Gregg’s funeral at St Patrick’s Church of Ireland in Coleraine, Co Derry today, Friday 21st February, paid tribute to his friend, noting that while he is rightly hailed for his courage after the tragic Munich air disaster, Gregg should also be admired for his values and standards.
“He was renowned for his sporting prowess and for his bravery in the Munich air disaster. But he was also to be admired for the highest values and standards he lived by,” Bishop Farquhar told The Belfast Telegraph.
“Harry could be forthright and direct, as many have acknowledged in the tributes to him. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. But he also had a warm and gentle side.
“I treasured his friendship and his company.”
Bishop Farquhar, who as a young football fan had cheered Gregg on, met the sports star at the Milk Cup tournament and eventually the pair became good friends.
The bishop also revealed how he borrowed a line from Gregg’s acceptance speech when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Ulster University.
“Harry told the students that when he was at school, a teacher had said to him: ‘Gregg, you’re stupid and you are a dreamer’. He then added to an audience who hung on his every word: ‘I’ve proved I am not stupid and never give up on your dreams’.
“I thought it summed up perfectly what I wanted to say to young people starting out on life’s journey, said Bishop Farquhar, adding: “It also gave me the chance to tell them the story of Harry Gregg.”
Gregg became the world’s most expensive goalkeeper when United, and Sir Matt Busby, shelled out £23,000 in 1957, and he was voted the best at the World Cup a year later.
He was a survivor of the horrific Munich air disaster on 6th February 1958, in which 23 people were killed, and he twice returned to the burning fuselage to drag team-mates and strangers to safety.
He rescued United team-mates Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet from the BEA Flight 609, as well as a 20-month-old baby and her badly injured, pregnant mother.
Gregg previously spoke about his religious faith, saying he used to attend church on a Sunday everywhere he travelled with the United and Northern Ireland squads.
“If I couldn’t find one of my own Protestant faith, I attended a Catholic service because to me a church is a church,” he said.
Manchester United greats Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Alex Ferguson and Denis Law were among mourners who attended his funeral.
Picture: Archive photo, dated 31st January 2008, shows Harry Gregg at his Co. Derry home in Northern Ireland. (Paul Faith/PA).