Alex Ferguson and Bobby Charlton among mourners at Harry Gregg's funeral
Manchester United greats Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Alex Ferguson and Denis Law were among mourners attending Harry Gregg's funeral in Coleraine today.
Family, friends and fans of the former international goalkeeper gathered at St Patrick's Parish Church in the town to pay tribute to the hero of the 1958 Munich air disaster.
Addressing the church, Mr Gregg's son John told mourners that the funeral was being held on the anniversary of Duncan Edwards' death.
The Manchester United star died in a Munich hospital weeks after the plane crash.
Members of Mr Edwards' family attended the service in Coleraine.
In a eulogy at this afternoon's service, BBC Sports presenter Stephen Watson recalled Mr Gregg's childhood, where he was the first of six children.
"Harry always admired the courage and resilience of his younger brother Billy who suffered with polio, and lost the use of his legs. Harry was so proud Billy was able to set up his own business.
"Soon Harry and family moved to Windsor Avenue in Coleraine and from the moment he was old enough to walk, football was his passion. Every spare minute in his early years were spent kicking football in Victoria Park in the summer, and in the winter it was street football, with goalposts on the gable wall."
The coffin of @ManUtd and @OfficialIrishFA football legend Harry Gregg is carried into St Patrick’s Church in Coleraine ahead of his funeral service. The Munich hero died earlier this week aged 87. pic.twitter.com/jAM7QzfZB4— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) February 21, 2020
Sir Bobby Charlton arrives at St. Patrick’s Church in Coleraine pic.twitter.com/2ZqCF9TSOb— Q Radio News (@qnewsdesk) February 21, 2020
"As a child, Mr Gregg's footballing idol was Glasgow Celtic goalkeeper Johnny Thompson.
"Probably the reason Harry wanted a career between the sticks - even though not many know he started at left back.
"Harry also purposely flunked an exam so he didn't have to go to grammar school as they concentrated on rugby and cricket."
Mr Watson recalled how Mr Gregg was first signed for Manchester United.
"Soon, while at Doncaster Rovers, one of the world's biggest football clubs came calling. Manchester United. Harry told me how he was bundled into a car, blanket put over his head and taken to a house - when he was able to open his eyes in front of him was Sir Matt Busby.
"Before Matt even had the words out "do you want to join Manchester United?", Harry said yes! No signing on fee... still said yes!
It was for a world record fee of £23,500 - as Harry said himself it doesn't sound like much now - and David Beckham spends more on haircuts - but he was the most expensive goalkeeper on the planet.
"Harry was proud that he was signed for United - yes for his ability - but also, as he later found out, for his character".
Mr Watson added that while the Munich air crash had a significant impact on Mr Gregg, the death of his wife Mavis "was his darkest hour".
"At the age of just 25 his wife Mavis passed away with breast cancer. Munich was extremely harrowing but it Mavis's death that was the core of the pain that he suffered. It was his darkest hour."
He said Mr Gregg loved spending time with his family, and will be missed by them: "His 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren I know will miss spending time with him."
Mr Watson described how being the "Hero of Munich" impacted on Mr Gregg, adding that while it shaped his destiny, it would not shape his life.
"The story has been well-documented - the plane carrying the United team and civilians crashed on take-off on a snowy runway in Munich.
"Of the 44 people on board, 23 people died including eight of the United team, but Harry survived and despite the captain telling him to run as the plane was about to explode, he went back selflessly into the carnage and the horror inside the burning wreckage.
"He saved many team mates, including Dennis Violet, Jackie Blanchflower, the boss Matt Busby and Bobby Charlton who would go on to captain England to the 1966 World Cup.
"Harry Gregg's notoriety because of the Munich air crash came at a price - it cast a shadow over his life that he found difficult to dispel, but he always carried it with grace. Harry was determined that even though Munich shaped his destiny - it would not shape his life.
"Harry's actions though, on the runway that fateful day, meant he transcended sporting greatness. He was called the Hero of Munich, but he always wanted to be remembered simply as a footballer and a coach of some repute. In his own words - 'I'm Harry Gregg from 34 Windsor Avenue in Coleraine who played football - I was useful on some days and rubbish on others. That's how I want to be remembered. Not for something that happened on a spur of a moment'.
"Harry Gregg. What an incredible man, and what a remarkable life. We will never forget you. We celebrate your life today," Mr Watson concluded.
Police warned of significant disruption in the town as mourners gather at St Patrick's Parish Church to say their final farewells to Gregg, who died on Sunday aged 87.
Hailed as a hero after the Munich air disaster in February 1958, in which 23 people were killed, Gregg survived the crash and twice returned to the burning fuselage to drag team-mates and strangers to safety.
In nine years at Manchester United, he played 247 times, including in a 3-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday just 13 days after the Munich tragedy.
Originally from Magherafelt, he made 25 appearances for Northern Ireland between 1954 and 1963.
Long-time friend Liam Beckett raised a laugh among the mourners when he joked that so many of his stories about Gregg would not have been suitable for a church.
Referring to the stopper's renowned forthright manner, Mr Beckett said: "He could be quite outspoken, we all know that, and he didn't always say what people wanted him to say and that's another reason why I admired him immensely.
"He spoke what he felt, he spoke what he thought was right. So many people nowadays, and sport in many ways has become false, (but) never when Harry was about, because he told the truth."
Former Manchester United player Sammy McIlroy was also among the mourners, as was his ex-international teammate with Northern Ireland, Gerry Armstrong.
First Minister Arlene Foster and Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters were also present.
Mr Gregg is survived by his widow Carolyn, daughters Linda, Julie, Jane, and Suzanne, son John-Henry, sons-in-law David and Keith, daughter-in-law Tina, and sister Elizabeth.
He was predeceased by his first wife Mavis and daughter Karen.