The last time Manchester United were in Belfast was five years ago in a pre-season friendly against Glentoran, and last night the fans had an opportunity to see them once again and also to honour one of Northern Ireland and Manchester United’s finest goalkeepers – Harry Gregg.
Harry Gregg’s Testimonial match between an Irish Premier League XI and Manchester United saw over 14,000, mostly Man United, fans gather to show our respect and gratitude for such a great and humble servant of the club.
This gratitude was not only shown by the fans but also by Sir Alex Ferguson, who brought a full strength squad to honour the ex-goalkeeper and hero of the tragic Munich Air Disaster. Harry Gregg was and is symbolic of what United stands for and Sir Alex wanted to make sure that people know it.
”He is part of the rich history of our club and we should never forget that.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
Harry Gregg played over 200 games for Manchester United and was bought for a world record fee (for a goalkeeper) of £27,000 in 1957. Harry started his footballing career with the Windsor Park Swifts (the reserve team of Linfield), so it was a fitting tribute to have his testimonial held at Windsor Park. “I began here, I belonged here and I’m back here now,” he said.
“Manchester United means a lot to me. It was a great part of my life and still is, that’s why I feel very emotional and moved that they have remembered an old carpenter like me.” – Harry Gregg
Who could forget such a hero and true United legend. The terms legend and hero are banded about a lot these days but there are no more fitting words for Harry Gregg. This was shown by the fans before kick off as they held up green banners to make a mosaic across the crowd which simply read “Hero”, along with loud cheers and clapping from the entire crowd, the match was ready to start.
Harry’s fellow countryman Jonny Evans was made captain for the game and led out a strong starting squad including Ferdinand, Jones, Evra, Park, Valencia, Nani, Berbatov and Owen.
It wasn’t long before United found the net from an unlikely suspect – Patrice Evra. Evra had linked up well with Michael Owen on the left wing and found himself through on goal and slotted the ball nicely past the goalkeeper, showing just why he used to be a striker in France.
The second half kicked off with United leading through Evra’s first half goal, and saw the addition of Manchester United youngster Luke Giverin and also Ashley Young. Martin O’Neill and David Jeffery must have had a word with the Irish XI at half time as they came racing out of the blocks. Within a couple of minutes they had forced a corner and then a fine save from Lindegaarrd, before scoring a well worked header from Chris Scannell.
The equaliser lifted the crowd but it wasn’t long again before the Reds were in the lead through a curling Ashley Young free kick. Wayne Rooney was then brought on to and the crowd showed their appreciation with massive chanting and shouting and the atmosphere was electric. Within a couple of minutes, Rooney converted a penalty to more cheers of “Rooney, Rooney”.
The match quietened down for a while but with the introduction of Scholes and Giggs the atmosphere was sure to be lifted again, and it was. Scholes was controling the game from the middle of the park with his short passing game and opening up the Irish XI defence with crossfield balls to the wings, much to the delight of the fans. Giggs was making his trademark jinking runs harrassing the defenders and tearing through the midfield. It was a joy to watch and reminded me of the Giggs of old when he ran rampant down the left wing, and I think this was felt by all of the fans as he charged up the pitch.
The final goal was a great ending to the game as it gave the fans something cheer about as the evening was becoming bitterly cold.
When the match finished, the players did a lap of honour to show their appreciation to the fans for coming out to watch and support the various charities where the money was being donated on behalf of Harry Gregg.
All in all it was a good evenings entertainment and the Irish XI put in a good shift to keep the game competitive. The game was played in good spirits and I was honoured to be in attendance to show my gratitute to the Manchester United players and staff for their endeavours over the course of the season, but most importantly to show my appreciation to a United legend, hero and most importantly – gentleman.
Harry Gregg is a quiet man and didn’t ask for the testimonial, rather it was suggested to be played by Manchester United. He doesn’t like a fuss to be made of him, even though he is often regarded as one of the great United and Northern Ireland goalkeepers. Former Northern Ireland and Manchester United player George Best often cleaned Gregg’s boots at Old Trafford and said that it was an honour to do so.
“Bravery is one thing but what Harry did was about more than bravery. It was about goodness.” – George Best