Sport on TV: Keeping the memory alive, even if it's time to move on
Sunday 10 February 2008
Gregg saves. And Gregg is saved. 'One Life: Harry Gregg's Journey' (BBC1, Wednesday) was one of several programmes to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster that featured Gregg, the Manchester United goalkeeper who pulled other survivors from the wreckage of the plane. But 'One Life' provided a more personal perspective.
It traced the outspoken, often irascible 75-year-old's return to Munich and Belgrade. His daughter said he had been very excited at the prospect of making the trip at first, but as the date approached he became quieter and eventually stopped calling her.
The emotional toll on his "top four inches" was all too clear as he trod the tarmac of the Munich runway, white handkerchief fluttering against his black overcoat. But there was to be more sadness piled on top of his agony. He saved a 20-year-old woman, Vera Lukic, and her two-year-old daughter from the wreck. The woman was pregnant at the time, and Gregg met Vera for the first time, and the son she gave birth to.
What should have been a happy reunion was made terribly awkward because Vera's husband had died three months earlier. "Harry in some way always lived with our family," said the son. "That accident ruled our lives." Gregg, in his intense way, found himself trying to lighten the load on a grieving family. But it seemed to bring him out of himself, after he had been rather brusque with two local men who were among the first people to arrive at the crash scene.
In 1958, Gregg had tried to get over his grief in the only way he knew how. "I couldn't wait to get back to Old Trafford, to swear, to fight, to argue, that was the escape valve." By June, he had gone to the World Cup finals in Sweden, where he was hailed as the greatest goalkeeper in the world as Northern Ireland reached the quarter-finals.
But there was no escape from tragedy. His daughter revealed at the end of the programme that her mother died three years after the Munich disaster.
"I played football, and I was good on good days and rubbish on bad days," he closed by saying. "That's what I want to be remembered for, not for something that happened on the spur of the moment." It won't happen – he will always be a hero of Munich.
Yet he seemed to find some closure on his travels – and even a laugh when the old Red Star Belgrade team he had played against gave him a shirt with his name on the back and suggested a £100 million transfer might be in order.
* Amid all the fears that the minute's silence at Old Trafford will be ruined, the one held at Wembley on Wednesday was well observed, except by John Motson in the BBC commentary box, who was rambling on even after it had started. "Fans who disrupt it will be rightly banned from football grounds in the future," he said afterwards. So what about the commentators?
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