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Friday, 3 October 2008

Harry Gregg - Reluctant Hero But A REAL Hero !

Last weekend I was browsing the TV channels and saw a program called 'The Pride of Britain'. I thought it sounded interesting and settled back to watch it. All the acts of bravery by so many people was impressive as they one by one came up to collect their awards. They had all been 'heroes' over the past 12 months and to be honest the program is quite superficial and they use the word 'hero' a bit too liberally for my liking. I didn't pay that much attention until the very end when I heard the name Harry Gregg. Harry who ? I hear many people ask. I'll tell you Harry who, right here right now !!

Harry Gregg has always been a reluctant hero.

He always insists he would like to be remembered as the man who was once described as the best goal keeper in the world and not as some sort of 'John Wayne'. After I watched the BBC Documentary "One Life: Harry Gregg Returns To Munich" - his wishes are likely to remain unfulfilled.

This was, without doubt, a portrait of a hero. To be honest John Wayne doesn't come into it, he merely acted the part in mythical fantasies on film.

In this TV program we had Harry Gregg - the cast-iron, copper bottomed, unimpeachable, straight-down-the-line genuine article, who did it in real life - HARRY GREGG, HERO !

There was lots written back in February about the Munich air disaster, it was, after all, 50 years since that tragic day this year. I also watched the brilliant Nation On Film program featuring Sir Bobby watching for the first time rare footage of the Babes in colour. But none of these things matched Harry's program for raw, emotional power. Harry, who is still a big man, was followed by the camera as he returned to places associated with the crash. It began with him walking down the run way that, submerged with slush, had been the last thing many of his friends had seen on 6th February 1958.

Just watching him on the tarmac, head bowed, dabbing his face with a handkerchief, had the tears flowing down my face ... and they didn't stop for the next 40 minutes.

What was so good about the programme was that stuff we have heard a thousand times sounded so fresh, so moving, so immediate coming from Harry's own
testimony. Liam Whelan's last words "if this is death, I'm ready"; Duncan Edwards asking from his hospital bed what time kick off was on Saturday; Gregg himself refusing to run from the scene as instructed by a member of the flight crew and instead heading back into the wreckage, yelling "there's people alive in here": with a master story-teller's timing, he gave it all an immediacy that was astonishing.

He had - as he admitted - told the story many times to those anxious to write his part in history. So, for him, the journey was not so much about laying ghosts as ensuring the memories he had imparted were correct. There has been so much hysteria and so much romance written about the crash said Harry - he just wanted to know he was right in his version of things.

The camera did not shirk from presenting him with the consequences of such memory. It took him everywhere, from the Belgrade pitch where the Babes' last game was played; "wouldn't it be great to be able to run out there once more ?" he said, surveying the pitch, to the Munich airport terminal where the plane stopped to refuel, now abandoned and empty.

"Because of what happened when we left this building, Manchester United changed from a football club into an institution," he said, as acute a summary of the part the accident's mythology has played in United history as you will ever hear.

He went from the crash site, to the hospital, to the hotel where he and Bill Foulkes stayed that night. "Oh yes, this is the place all right, I remember that lift". At times, it was too much for him, and he had to ask for a spot of privacy to compose himself away from the lens' unstinting gaze.

"Do me a favour," he said, as he entered the terminal building. "Forget the camera for a moment or two, just let me walk for a bit." Tough it may have been, but you sensed he was glad to return, to meet people who had actually been there that night, the rescuers, the doctors, the farmer who came running over his field to help. There can't be many of them left.

The most striking part of the film, though, was saved until the end. In Belgrade, Gregg went to the home of the Lukic family. Vera Lukic, the wife of the Yugoslav attaché in London, he had met before. He had not realised until much later that she was pregnant when he had dragged her and her baby from the shattered fuselage. With the camera in attendance, he was introduced for the first time to her son, Zoran, the unborn third member of the Lukic family whose life he had saved, now a 50-year-old man.

Gregg just sat on the family sofa, lost in thought, trying to get his head round the idea that a split-second decision not to run but to go back into the plane had been responsible for giving this man 50 years of life. "I don't know what to say," he said.

He didn't need to. Harry Gregg long ago proved that actions speak louder than words!

1 comment:

AndyCR7 said...

hey there... nice blog... :)
Red forever... :)